(Above: Uzbek Peasants building the Canal. Notice that instead of large trucks to move dirt, there was a large wagon instead.)
The year is 1939, imagine building a canal over 167 miles long in under forty-five days. The best part is, you do not have any heavy machinery to work with, only shovels and picks. Most would consider this to be a bit outlandish and impossible, but not under Stalin. This massive project had an enormous impact not only on the region, but on the USSR as a whole. The main reason for building this massive canal was to help the Soviet Union become more self-dependent from other nations. It allowed water to be supplied to the Fergana Valley, making it easy to plant crops that were needed to help the countries growth, especially cotton. At this time, the Soviet Union was prospering in almost everything except agriculture. Massive and widespread crop failures in 1932 and 1936 made it known that agriculture was by far the “Achilles Heal” for this relatively new nation.
Industrialization with Stalin begun with the first Five Year Plan, and kept going on from there. The three biggest years of the industrialization process occurred between 1934-36 though. During this time period, steel output had grown by three times, the amount of coal being mined had doubled along with production of electricity. The country was on a role, but lagged severely in agricultural since its resources were not allocated in this direction. After the 1936 crop failure, it was clear that this had to be changed. Yet money still was tight due to increased military spending for the suspected war that was looming in the future. Although there was not much improvement, there was some, mostly in the form of canals (Freeze).
The Moscow-Volga Canal was the first to be put up, connecting the Moscow River to the Volga. This project moved slowly, mostly because of the labor they used to build it. Instead of using trained workers, they used inmates from the gulags. These prisoners were unmotivated, and really were not adequate for the job, causing it to take much longer than it should have. To learn more about the labor problem in the Soviet Union, you can refer to this link on Labor Discipline. For the Fergana Canal, Uzbek peasants were used instead of inmates. They proved to be much more motivated, because they understood how helpful and beneficial this would be to their area. As seen from this video, you can see some of the 160,000 peasants that were used working on building it. The agricultural advantages that this canal gave to this region (after the war had ended) was enormous, allowing it to prosper in agriculture and industry. Eventually though, the Fergana Canal caused the Aral Sea to dry up, which caused large problems in the mid 1980’s for the Soviet Union.
Freeze, Gregory L., Russia: A History.
This was a great post with tons of helpful links in it. This large scale project is so typical of the Soviet Union using more muscle than brains for a massive industrial operation. It is also ironic in the 1930’s that the Soviet Union had such difficulty with agriculture when not too long before it had been their only means of support. It was also an interesting fact to learn that the Aral Sea had been dried up by a project that had been intended to help the Soviet Union and the long term effects ended up being more detrimental.
This is a good post, very informative and a large variety of sources. Its pretty impressive that the Russians were able to accomplish such a large scale project through such archaic methods and in a short amount of time at that.
Awesome post. I think the video really gives a good view of why projects like this and the metro were able to be accomplished under the terrors imposed by Stalin. The people were happy and proud of what they were doing. I think you nailed it when you said that the people worked hard because they understood the benefits that it would provide them. Workers are much more efficient when they understand how helpful the work they are doing will be in the future, and feel like their contribution is important. It is really fascinating to see just how much people can accomplish with a positive attitude and teamwork, even under a dictator like Stalin.
Great post, I think this is one monumental Soviet project that often gets overlooked. I think it is interesting to compare this to projects such as Magnitogorsk, especially on points such as the motivation of the workers, which you pointed out. Also, very good insights on the struggle between industry and agriculture when it came to the state’s priorities. How did the focus on industry affect the state and its ability to influence its people?
I like the way this post engages so many themes: the use of human power to build socialism, construction projects using convict labor vs. collective farmers, the importance the canal to the region’s economy and the environmental devastation that resulted from dessicating the Aral Sea. This post also looked at the construction of the Fergana Canal: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/joeconnorwilly/2013/10/13/the-great-fergana-canal-and-uzbekistan/