The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System

The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System

The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System

The Great Urals: Regionalism and the Evolution of the Soviet System


Political histories of the Soviet Union have portrayed a powerful Kremlin leadership whose will was passively implemented by regional Party officials and institutions. Drawing on his research in recently opened archives in Moscow and the Urals-a vast territory that is a vital center of the Russian mining and metallurgy industries-James R. Harris overturns this view. He argues here that the regions have for centuries had strong identities and interests and that they cumulatively exerted a significant influence on Soviet policy-making and on the evolution of the Soviet system. After tracing the development of local interests prior to the Revolution, Harris demonstrates that a desperate need for capital investment caused the Urals and other Soviet regions to press Moscow to increase the investment and production targets of the first five year plan. He provides conclusive evidence that local leaders established the pace for carrying out such radical policies as breakneck industrialization and the construction of forced labor camps. When the production targets could not be met, regional officials falsified data and blamed "saboteurs" for their shortfalls. Harris argues that such deception contributed to the personal and suspicious nature of Stalin's rule and to the beginning of his onslaught on the Party apparatus. Most of the region's communist leaders were executed during the Great Terror of 1936-38. In his conclusion, Harris measures the impact of their interests on the collapse of the communist system, and the fate of reform under Gorbachev and Yeltsin.


When regional representatives come to us and brag that they've established a plan, I tell them that the plan will be valued only in so far as it is not a projection of fantasy, but rather an expression of the real situation and resources in industry at the present time.... When you read the regional three- and five-year plans, [you see that] they are based on a healthy appetite, on pure fantasy.... They are not production plans, but plans of demands.

F. Dzerzhinskii (VSNKh USSR) to a conference of regional representatives, December 1924

We still lack elementary plan discipline, particularly in the regions, where the spontaneous drive to industrialize has resulted in the execution of a large number of projects without the permission or even knowledge of the center.

I. Kosior (VSNKh RSFSR) to A. Rykov (Sovnarkom), 22 October 1928

Local patriotism can occasionally do a lot of damage.

S. Khrennikov (Glavmetall) to his OGPU interrogators, October 1929

This book grew out of a paper on the attitudes of regional leaders to the first Soviet five-year plan. The paper attempted to deal with a striking, intuitive problem. As Moscow turned its attention to long-term economic planning in the mid-1920s, regional leaders pushed central party and state authorities to increase the size of their plans. Their proposals for construction consistently exceeded the maximal targets set by Moscow. When the center rejected their demands, the regions often proceeded with construction in the absence of formal approval. Despite Moscow's persistent criticism of “localism” (mestnichestvo) and “local patriotism, ” regional pressure to expand plan targets continued into the 1930s. The behavior of regional leaders seems baffling. We are accustomed to think of the Soviet planning system as the quintessential expression of central control and of the industrialization drive so key to Stalin's “Revolution from Above.” Why would the regions ask to . . .

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