By Tatyana Shvetsova
The 1970’s was a time of rapid development with hydro power stations mushrooming all over Siberia and Central Asia and nuclear energy progressing at equally rapid pace. New industrial giants were springing up including metal-working combines and car and machine-building plants.
The Baikal-Amur Railway was a major construction project of the second half of the 1970’s. In the Russian abbreviation it is BAM and sounds like a bell.
More than 1000 kilometers of rail track were laid through permafrost and highly seismic areas from Siberia to the Far East.
The scope of the construction was massive beyond description — the railway got 8 tunnels, 142 bridges, more than 200 stations and over 60 settlements were built along the track.
It was no wonder that romantically-minded young people responded with readiness to the appeal from the Communist Party and Young Communist League to build the railway. It was an endurance test in a challenging job which was well-paid and highly prestigious.
The newspapers published daily interviews and radio and television carried daily news and reports about the BAM builders, who were in the limelight of publicity and were treated as heroes, in whose honour poets wrote verse and composers — songs. The lyrics told of the heroic builders blazing the trail through the impassable taiga to make way for trains and of the joys and hardships in the harsh conditions of Siberia and the Far East.
Historian Leonid Katzva wrote:
“The project to build the Baikal-Amur Railway pursued strategic rather than economic purposes — it was to run parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway, which ran-in dangerous proximity to the border with China.”
Nowadays BAM and the surrounding areas draw the interest of commercial structures. There is a project under which Sakhalin Island in the Pacific is to be connected with the mainland, which would make the Baikal-Amur Railway the shortest route to carry transit cargoes from Japan to Europe. Such costly a project is unlikely to be implemented within the next ten years.
In the 1970’s the country continued explore outer space. The more than 2-month-long flight by Comrades Pyotr Klimuk and Vitaly Sevastianov aboard the Salyut-4 orbital station confirmed yet again that orbital research stations with rotating crew are crucial to further study of the Universe and our planet and man's deeper penetration into space. Vitaly Sevastianov had this to say about the flight:
“We're taking the first steps to work long in outer space and we're actually exploring outer space. And these steps, though the very first in terms of the future, are as important as the very first steps of a child.”
The 1970’s saw intensive development of vast oil and gas reserves which had been discovered in Western Siberia in 1964.
Historian Leonid Katzva comments: “Oil and gas became a major Soviet commodity to be sold abroad. A rise in world oil prices from the second half of the 1970’s brought more currency revenues into the public coffers, which provided an opportunity to buy equipment, consumer goods and food on the foreign market. The inefficient Soviet economy was supported by the oil dollars.”
News media abound in rebukes to the Brezhnev leadership for weakening the state, when placated by the oil dollars, it did nothing to upgrade domestic industry and science to a proper level.
Historian Leonid Katzva writes of the negative tendencies that accumulated in the Soviet economy despite the achievements:
“Capital productivity dropped, the expenditure on raw materials and energy increased and the gap in product quality and technology level as compared to developed countries widened. Any attempts to implant market regulations broke against fierce resistance from ministry officials and conservative party ideologists.
Though party resolutions repeatedly called for intensification of the economy, production grew more and more costly.”
The party seemed to acknowledge the flaws. Here is an excerpt from Leonid Brezhnev's report to the 26th Congress of the CPSU:
“With due regard for the historical achievements of the Soviet people, the CPSU's Central Committee is fully aware of the difficulties, the drawbacks and the unresolved problems. Ministries and enterprises have yet to fulfill their plans and there are still disproportions in the economy.
The reasons include the influence of situational circumstances, flaws in planning and management, softness from a number of party structures and leaders, breaches of discipline.”
But the major reason was the inertia of those years and a tradition which valued quantity beyond quality.
The CPSU Central Committee's plenary sessions spoke at length on the matter
and passed concrete resolutions:
“Now it is time to remove the obstacles to economic growth in a more radical way on the basis of accumulated experience. To this end, we have to learn to work with maximum efficiency, which is not easy. But the Communists are persevering and ambitious and won't drive off the track.”
However, the intention to work efficiently was implemented most listlessly. And still, there were obvious positive shifts in the social development of the country.
The 1970’s witnessed an impressive growth of the population in our towns, coupled by a boost in their living standards. A majority of our citizens were improving their housing conditions at the expense of the state, receiving apartments gratis. Some well-to-do citizens joined housing associations and were able to buy flats at their own expense.
Ever more people were acquiring furniture, household appliances, other niceties of life.
However, the acquisition of all these goods was attended with great difficulties. The reasons for these difficulties, according to historians Sokolov and Tyazhelnikov, were as follows: the author of all plans pertaining to the development of the economy — "Gosplan", or Sate Plan, was unable to distribute resources correctly and efficiently. At a time when the technological revolution was spreading like wildfire all over the world, spawning new branches of the economy that aspired to a dominating position, the USSR continued to invest in heavy industry. Investments outpaced industrial growth. This negatively impacted the economy and resulted in deficit of goods.
Historian Leonid Katzva testifies: “In order to buy furniture, a washing machine, a fridge, not to mention a car, one had to subscribe to a waiting list in a shop, or more often — at a plant, and be ready to wait for several months or even years. At the same time if one somehow fell on the wrong side of the administration, one could just as easily lose one's place on the list.
Home light industry was cramped by numerous departmental instructions, and as such — unwieldy. It was slow in responding to changes in demand and offered the public goods that were outdated or démodé.
For a majority of soviet people the acquisition of fashionable and top-quality clothes and footwear was a laborsome task, indeed.
If imported shoes or clothes materialized in some department store, a huge queue would form quick as a flash.”
Many food products and books also found their way onto the deficit list. As for printed matter, literature was coming off the press in vast editions, yet most of the counters were inundated with useless propagandist rubbish, while the public was finding it increasingly impossible to obtain the much loved books.
A lack of consumer goods forced people to put their savings in the state savings bank. By the end of the 1970’s the people's deposits there grew three times faster than the realization of consumer goods.
People became used to stashing away at home a larger part of their savings. This was for the most part money that the owners were prepared to spend the moment the goods they needed fell into their line of vision…
According to historian Leonid Katzva, “a deficit of goods sparked a wild demand for them, a fact that many retailers and 'black market' dealers made clever use of. Official propaganda inculcated contempt for these profiteers, however few of the rank-and-file citizens could do without their services. So-called spivs emerged in the youth environment. They didn't see anything wrong in making a fast profit through resale of, say, trendy jeans, brought from abroad, or bought at the Beriozka chain of
currency stores. Most people had no access to the latter, since with only minor
exceptions, people didn’t have any currency.”
These conditions led to a flourishing of black economy, which did great damage to the state coffers. There emerged underground industrial facilities, that frequently flourished at the expense of raw material, stolen from state enterprises. Corruption took on terrifying proportions. The flourishing of the black economy, in the words of economist Tatiana Grigorova, usually leads to the following negative consequences:
“The manageability of the economy falls to a new low; there is an increased differentiation in living standards; morals plummet, since there is a growing conviction that one can escape with anything, and that one can exist quite happily outside the boundaries of official economy.”
The moral repercussions of the above-described situation were deplorable, indeed. A deficit of goods and low earnings forced morally unstable people to acquire what they needed for bribes or to simply steal. These people grabbed all they could lay their hands on at enterprises and government offices.
As for the upper echelons of power, they were chiefly far removed from the everyday problems plaguing the major part of the population. Historian Oleg Platonov compared the elite of the society at the time with 'a secret order isolated from the people'. Inside this unique order there was a severe hierarchy and rigid discipline. The historian quotes in one of his books the words of former prime-minister of the USSR Nikolai Ryzhkov, who passed through this 'order' and described the three steps of its hierarchy.
"At the top were members of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. At the middle stage — candidates for membership in the Central Committee of the CPSU. At the third — Secretaries of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Everything pertaining to them was clearly defined: who sits alongside whom in different presidiums, who follows whom when ascending the Mausoleum rostrum, who conducts which meeting and who has the right to be stamped on which photograph. Not to mention the fact what country residence, or 'dacha' they get, how many bodyguards, and what make of car they drive in."
Oleg Platonov notes that back in 1966 the political leadership of the country bt special decree of the Politburo established for themselves a 7-hour work day and two vacations a year lasting 2,5 months (1,5 in summer and 1 month in winter).
The historian says: “For the political and soviet leadership on top and medium level and for their family members there was a well-oiled system of special disbursements and fringe benefits. They were provided with food rations.
Special food rations in kind, state country houses, called 'dachas', gratis leisure at special sanatoriums, free-of-charge housing of the highest quality. There emerged whole blocks of houses, separated from the rest of the residential buildings, where families of top and medium rank party and soviet functionaries lived. Thus, Moscow's Kuntsevo district had just such a township consisting of dozens of such houses, which were dubbed "Tsarskoye selo", or "Czar's settlement".
And so there gradually emerged an elite environment providing sanctuary for the top-echelon party and state functionaries and their families. There lived, surrounded by luxury and staff, concerned entirely with their own well-being, and quite isolated from the rest of the country and its national interests."
Hardly surprising that this gradually corroded both the upper crust, and soviet society in general. This couldn't but impact the destiny of our state.
Source:The Voice of Russia