Metro By the People for the People (or for Publicity?)

The Moscow Metro is one of the crown jewels of public transportation.  Today, as in Soviet times, it is a prime example of Russian workmanship, architecture, art, and engineering skill.

Example of the architecture found in the Moscow Metro. Source: The Guardian, “Celebrate the Moscow Metro’s 8th Anniversary in Pictures,”

The idea for a Metro system was first pitched to Tsar Nicholas II in 1902 and one of the main goals of the system was to match, and hopefully out-do, the subway systems in London, New York, and Paris.  The system was finally approved and began construction in 1932 with much fanfare.  Josef Stalin saw it as a way to show off the power and excellence of his socialist nation.

The construction efforts were lead by Lazar Kaganovich and future leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev.  Their success or failure would dictate the future of their political lives, and possibly their actual lives.  The publicity campaign surrounding the construction ensured that Stalin and his minions pumped all the necessary resources into this project.  Obviously both of the men succeeded and Khrushchev went on to lead the USSR.

The first line opened in 1935 to great fanfare and eventually it grew to the 12 lines it has today.  Many times people have remarked that the metro system is the most efficient, best part of Russia.  Now that may be an exaggeration, but it is known as one of the finest mass transit systems in the world.


The metro system was ostensibly built to provide good, cheap transit for Muscovites but it also was a publicity stunt for the Soviet Union.  Josef Stalin saw this as an opportunity to show the world what a socialist society could do and he jumped at the chance.  No matter the cost in people, time, or money Stalin was only concerned with the restige of the SOviet Union.


Further Reading:


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6 Responses to Metro By the People for the People (or for Publicity?)

  1. Parker Leep says:

    Metros were definitely a sign of technological achievement and prestige during this period and this seemed to give Stalin the respect he wanted, especially within Russia and among the Russian people. This is a really cool aspect of Russia’s industrialization process so thanks for writing about it!

  2. A. Nelson says:

    Even after all these years I have a soft spot for the Moscow Metro. The efficiency with which it moves millions of people every day is just incredible, and Moscovites are justifiably proud of a mass transportation system that was once way ahead of its time and is still among the best in the world. You raise an important issue here about the nexus between Stalin’s motivations and what the Metro “meant” to Soviet citizens. I think Lauren offers a compelling alternative (or supplemental) explanation here:

  3. A. Nelson says:

    Also — Check back on Kaganovich. He was the last, original, die-hard Old Bolshevik. Stalin’s right-hand man. Not purged….

  4. Michael Vlcek says:

    Fascinating post! The Moscow Metro was a very interesting piece of infrastructure. While definitely improving transportation the costs of it and materials used shows it was focused on gaining publicity than being an example of Soviet efficiency. With its continued efficiency and widespread praise decades later, it shows that this project was definitely well worth the resources spent.

  5. Matthew Moser says:

    Now, I’ve never been to Russia, but I would argue that calling the Moscow Metro the “most efficient, best part of Russia” isn’t all that big of an exaggeration. To think that it first opened in 1935 and still works so efficiently today is pretty amazing. Not to mention, simply from a visual perspective, it puts our NYC and Washington D.C. metros to shame.

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