Though the thread begins in 1908, it is the continuation of the TL Es Geloybte Aretz - A Germanwank with a POD in 1888 which is why I put it here. The format differs, with entries now taken from fictional history books later in the TL rather than 'live' novelistic vignettes. This being a work in progress, comments are very welcome. Me having other projects including a toddler in the house, patience on my readers' part is appreciated.
Among the lasting achievements of the Patriotic Union of Russia, and cited by many supporters of Integralism as outweighing the by now undeniable horrors of its regime, is the creation of a modern infrastructure and system of government in Russia. Indeed, among the four paradigms of top-down modernisation that defined the twentieth century (Chinese, Indian, Ottoman and Russian), the Russian case is widely considered the most lasting success. For all its shortcomings, nobody would doubt that despite the political calamities and economic misgovernment afflicting it, Russia must today be accounted a modern state. Of all modernised non-European areas, only Japan’s status is similarly uncontested. As we will see, the manner in which these modernisations were implemented differed significantly.
David Ignatieff (Princeton) demonstrates in his contribution that the tension between the ideological suspicion of industrial work and the objective need for industrialisation proved fruitful in many instances. The Union’s twinning of industrial developments with rural rayons and its policy of favouring small, dispersed industrial clusters over agglomerations in metropolitan areas resulted from a desire to create a labour force of peasant-workers who carried out skilled industrial labour, but did not relinquish their ties to the land. Much of the initial workforce was migratory, returning to the villages at times of slack demand and retiring into their rural communities rather than staying in cities. Criticised at the time as a drain on infrastructure spending and a hindrance to modernisation, this system proved effective at spreading wealth from the growing cities to the countryside, lessened housing shortages, and was instrumental in creating a unitary Russian identity that returnees from industrial employment helped spread. The need to develop a denser network of roads and railways and the dispersed nature of much industrial production, though initially imposing higher costs, turned out beneficial both for the project of modernisation and for national defence in the Second Russo-German War.
Johann v. Petrikovits (Marburg) meanwhile draws attention to an often overlooked aspect in Russian industrial development between 1910 and 1930, the role of German joint ventures especially in infrastructure and extractive industries. In the decades immediately following the war, Russian reparation payments were frequently extracted in raw materials that fed Germany’s export industries. This process was greatly hampered by the parlous state of Russia’s transport infrastructure and industry, and once the German government began the auctioning of contingents to its cartels, many German firms developed lasting relations with Russian suppliers. Assistance in developing smoother supply chains, including the construction of storage and loading facilities, processing plants, and transport infrastructure was provided on a barter basis, offsetting deliveries above those required by the indemnities against the cost to the German partners or allowing for outright co-ownership of the new facilities. The Russian government, initially opposed to these ventures, quickly adopted a supportive role as the benefits became clear. Though the claim by Chief of Staff von Seeckt that “…German cartels built the armaments industry that killed our men in the Second War” is an exaggeration, it is not entirely baseless. German engineers and specialists helped develop modern industries throughout the country, and German capital goods underpinned especially the development in the greater Donbass and Volga regions. Though exact numbers are notoriously difficult to find, the estimate of ten billion gold marks over the course of twenty years suggested by the author seems plausible.
The essay by John Rawlins (Tuskegee) was created as part of a comparative study of electrification in rural areas in China, Russia, India, Brazil and the United States. It looks especially at rural electrification and the role that telegraph and telephone infrastructure played in establishing initial generating capacity. Though Russian state propaganda routinely pointed to major developments such as the Volga hydroelectric dams, the majority of generating capacity in rural and small-town Russia remained decentralised until the 1960s. Its backbone was provided by small hydroelectric dams and coal- or wood-fired power stations that had often been established to provide for the needs of local telephone exchanges and administrative offices. Overland power meanwhile spread mostly along the major railway trunk lines where burgeoning new industrial cities benefited most from the abundance of cheap electricity.
Olga Kaulitsas (Berlin) focuses on the use of convict and corvee labour in the development of Siberian mineral resources in the years between 1908 and 1942. Depending on prison accounts and a newly published collection of letter duplicates held by censors’ offices from the Lena and Tunguska superdistrict, she highlights the often atrocious conditions under which the initial gains were achieved. The heroic narrative of Russian scientists and engineers taming the wilderness needs to be contrasted with the suffering of political prisoners and displaced natives who were often enough forced from their ancestral lands to facilitate the displacement of other tribes elsewhere in the country.
The interconnections between a supposedly independent business community, the state, and the supposedly private and voluntary Union are explored in the essay by Artyom Kaminer (Kyiv). He supports his conclusion that Russian business had in effect become an extension of government operated through the Patriotic Union’s various agencies and associations by a careful study of shareholder reports, meeting minutes, and public speeches dating to the years between 1909 and 1927. Though they often profited personally, many businessmen resented the loss of their independence and some resorted to illegal means to export capital abroad, investing in France, Germany and the United States. Police and court records pertaining to these cases were studied by Harald Peemöller (Kiel), demonstrating that the Russian authorities, though careful to observe the required niceties, could and regularly did impose severe financial penalties for noncompliance while rewarding the compliant with choice investment opportunities in immediately profitable extractive industries and government contracts.
Policing and the role of the ‘greenjacket’ militias in the pacification of postwar Russia and the imposition of modern government on its rural areas is the focus of three essays by John Reed (Oxford), Eduard Bretschneider (Berlin) and Arik Boumedienne (Toulouse). Though approaching the problem from different perspectives, the authors manage to create a unitary image of a dispersed, but highly disciplined and ideologically committed police force deploying modern technology such as the telephone, radio, aviation and automobiles to impose the will of the central government on a fractious populace. The funding of these efforts depended largely on the membership dues of Russia’s industrialists and landowners rather than the still inadequate tax revenues of the Moscow government that controlled them, a situation that would increasingly allow Union militia forces to deteriorate into corporate enforcers in the years running up to the Second War. To call this corruption as many Russian historians have done is overly simplistic given the interweavings between the Union’s various organs, its government commanders, and its purportedly voluntary funders.
(Preface to J.R. Adams & A.A. Neithard (eds.): Waking Giant. The Economics of Interwar Russia, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1988)