The Soviet Union efforts at rapid industrialization and technological advancement from the announcement of the First Five-Year Plan in 1929 through the Cold War space race of the 1960’s did make great strides towards catching up to the rapidly evolving West and even surpassed them in some areas. However, this rapid success came at a great cost. The increases in industrialization, agriculture through collectivization, and technological discovery happened so quickly and under such great pressure that no time was allowed to build a foundation for these fields to stand on. As a result, these early triumphs crumbled in the years towards the end of Stalin’s reign the start of Khrushchev’s era. It became imperative to take a step back and reorganize Soviet society to avoid losing everything that the Russians sacrificed so much to obtain. This reorganization required scientific and technological advancements at all levels.
These efforts of using science and technology to help revitalize the slipping Soviet Union can be seen in Leonid Brezhnev’s report of the CPSU Central Committee to the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev highlights the major shortcomings evident in the economic development of the USSR, noting the major crop failures and the declining economic growth rates, among other things. He goes on to talk about what the new five-year plan must entail in order to get the USSR back on track saying, “The CPSU Central Committee defined the chief task of the new five-year plan. It Is to ensure-on the basis of the comprehensive utilization of the achievements of science and technology, the industrial development of all social production and a rise in its effectiveness and in the productivity of labor-the further significant growth of industry and a high stable rate of agricultural development, and thereby to attain a substantial rise in the people’s standard of living and the fuller satisfaction of the material and cultural needs of all Soviet people.”(1) It is clear that the centerpiece of the recovery of the Soviet Union was the incorporation of the scientific advancements that had kept the USSR on a level playing field with the West. The Soviets success in the space race came almost entirely from the great scientific discoveries and advances of the Soviet space program, and as a result, it was very sensible to use the great achievements of this field to bolster the soviet economy. Brezhnev and the CPSU Central Committee realized that the key to keeping up with the capitalism and the West was through scientific discovery so they set out to incorporate everything that the rocket scientists and researchers had used to stay ahead into all aspects of society. The scientific methods developed in the same labs that created nuclear bombs and rockets where expanded to help increase the efficiency and productivity of factories and to solve the huge agricultural crisis that had developed from the misuse of croplands throughout Russia.
A second article entitled The Party and Science, from the Current Digest of the Russian Press, further emphasizes the Soviet goal of using science to dig the USSR out from under itself. M. D. Millionshchikov, the Vice President of the USSR Academy of Sciences, discussed the importance of science in building a new communist society in Russia. He says,” Concern for the development of science and the utilization of its achievements for the continued progress of our society is reflected in the C.P.S.U. Program as one of the important directions of Party activity.” He goes on to highlight the major areas of scientific development in the USSR and describes how the individuals who were responsible for successes in these fields were working together to solve the most pressing problems in the Soviet Union. But towards the end of this article, Millionshchikov makes an interesting observation. He states, “The elaboration of measures ensuring the speediest introduction of scientific results in the national economy must occupy a special place in the implementation of the decisions of the Party. Unfortunately, there are many shortcomings in this field of our activity. There are still instances in which discoveries of great importance made by Soviet scientists find their first technological application abroad. As a result, we are sometimes forced to run after foreign technology in those fields in which we have fundamental discoveries and excellent research institutions and scientists.” From this statement we can begin to see how this heavy focus on science and the broadening of the boundaries of the field take a toll on the success of Soviet science. The USSR placed so much attention on using scientific research to stay ahead of the West that they fell behind in industry and production of the equipment necessary for further studies in the fields they pioneered. As a result, they essentially just blazed the trail for other developed countries to jump in and reap the benefits of what should have been a Soviet victory.
This expansion of the scientific and technological methods used by Soviet researchers did help to right some of the wrongs that arose from the rapid advancements of the late Stalin era; however, the diversification of the field minimized the focus placed on the space race and putting a man on the moon. This was one of the major reasons that the US was able to catch up to the USSR and put a man on the moon first, pulling ahead of the Russian’s in a field they had dominated for over a decade. It is very interesting to follow how the incredible success of the Soviet space program and Soviet science as a whole ends up being its own downfall in terms of staying ahead of the US and the West.
(1) Original Source: Pravda, 30 March 1966.
Current Soviet Policies (New York: F. A. Praeger, 1973), Vol. IV.
(2) The Party and Science, By Academician M. D. Millionshchikov, Vice-President of the U.S.S.R.Academy of Sciences. Pravda, March 29, p. 4.1,400 words.