Soviet Union demonstrated the first experiment in human history of the application of science and scientific methods for building socialism. Planned scientific and technological research had contributed hugely to successful building of socialism in USSR, especially during the first three plan periods after October revolution. For the first time, science was liberated from the dictates of Private ‘Capital’ and ‘profit’ and was put to the service of people . This resulted in building a self sufficient advanced industrial socialist society free from wars, hunger, disease and unemployment. For nearly seven decades, USSR (till its collapse in early 90’s) was a major force to reckon with in sectors such as heavy industry, engineering, atomic energy, space research, public health and housing and others. A major contribution goes to the accomplished advanced research in science and technology and the untiring efforts of Soviet scientists in making USSR , a backward agrarian nation in just two decades after October revolution in to a major power that defeated Nazi Fascism. With developed advanced industrial and engineering might it victoriously fought against Nazi fascism and saved the world. It all largely became possible due to application of Marxism to scientific planning of science and its application for development of society but not for individual profits.
In the beginning of 20th century soon after the October revolution, Russia was primarily an agrarian state with a mere 20 percent literacy and few industries located in major cities of Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad. Unemployment was prevalent widely with limited health and educational opportunities available. Universities and Higher institutions of scientific research were few enrolling a few thousand scientists. Till a decade after revolution the nation was confronted with inner civil wars, shortage of food and other essentials. The plan of scientific development in a socialist state must, of course, link up with the state economic plan. Accordingly, from that beginning during the three plan periods (from 1928- 41) USSRR grew in to a self sufficient advanced industrial state, capable to produce almost all goods, accomplishing electrification of two thirds of all villages, manufacture tractors, automobiles, fertilizers, medicines, cloths and almost all machinery required for domestic industry. It provided free housing and medical care to all its population. Second World war was a test for Soviet science, a test of redoubled severity. When the Nazi Germany invaded in 1941, USSR was capable to manufacture all required aeroplanes, tanks, arms and food for soldiers. At this juncture, on one hand, science was called upon to solve entirely new and often extremely intricate problems in every conceivable field, set before it urgently by the front, the war industries, and the national economy as a whole. On the other hand, it was compelled to work in unaccustomed conditions, often involving great hardships. Every new detail of military equipment and materials, every new drug and method of treatment during war time, bore the imprint of scientific thought and labour.
Science and technology were planned so scientifically so as to meet the requirements of industry and needs of population. For example, in 1918, there were only 80 institutions of higher learning and scientific research enrolling just 1,12,000 students. By 1941, number of scientific institutions went up to 800 spread over almost all areas of science with 6,67,000 students. Various scientific laboratories toiled and came out with new discoveries and much needed products. This was done in in active linkage with industry and agriculture. Often worker collectives were actively consulted to know the needs of industry and improving the productivity and production. The war torn nation having lost nearly 20 percent of its youth and active population could recoup and emerge as a major world power soon after the World war. The fact that science was able to make discoveries and generate new technologies to meet the rapidly growing domestic industry and rural electrification. The Soviet scientists, at that period of time have made the idea of planning in science a natural and accustomed concept, an essential attribute to their work. Untiring efforts of legendary scientists like Lebedov, Lomonosov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (the pioneer of Russian rocket science), Vavilov and Petrov who took the task and organized scientific institutions, researching in areas beginning from geology, physics, chemistry and medicine and succeeded in developing technologies, and machinery for manufacturing new products. It should be noted that all through this period USSR was under economic and scientific embargo imposed by imperialist powers and with absolutely no scientific communication with scientists from other nations.
During my long teaching tenure with Universities in USA and Australia I found many in the scientific community acknowledging (though grudgingly some times) that Soviet Union had been strongest in fundamental science, particularly in mathematics and theoretical physics (what some people call “blackboard science”). How ever they also comment on its weakness in applied sciences. On the other hand I observed American strength on the other hand, lies in the applied sciences and cleverness in delivering new products to fetch high profits.
Major achievements of science and Technology :
- Resolutely following the slogan given by Communist party- ‘Science for needs of people’, teams of scientists led by scientists like Petrov, Tsiolkovsky, Vavilov, Archangelsk, worked in laboratories for 16 to 20 hours a day to make scientific discoveries and came out with much needed new technologies for production of new products in the industry.
- Electrification of almost all villages was completed by 1950 strictly following Lenin’s popular slogan “Electrification of Russia is Communism”.
- Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was the pioneer of Russian rocket science. For the first time in human history in 1957, the Soviet Union introduced the satellite, ‘Sputnik’, into the space and launched the Space Age. In 1961, the first astronaut Yuri Gagarin, and later first woman astronaut Valentina Terezkova, would go into space. The Americans thought this was an insult. In 1969, Apollo was sent to the United States manned by the spacecraft to stand up to the competition.
- Soviet Union demonstrated that space exploration could be used for peace and human development rather than for military needs. In this area, Soviet scientists have worked under the leadership of best scientists like Tsiolovsky, Karolov, Karchatov, Chelomie and Kajalov.
- In areas of Space, Remote sensing and atomic energy assistance of USSR in laying the foundation and successful development is remarkable and well acknowledged by U.R. Rao, M.G. K. Menon, Abdul Kalam and other scientists.
- Astronomer Lomonosov even in in the 1930s predicted the atmosphere around the planet Venus. His name was given to a famous university in Moscow from which I took my doctoral degree.
- Iron, aluminum and crude oil sources are essential for quick industrial development. Renown geologists Archagelsk, Karchensky, John Jerky, Fyodor Tanning, Women scientist Maria Carnova and Andrewsv have explored the wide arena from Kiev to Siberia and discovered valuable and much needed metals and formed the basis for establishment of heavy infrastructure industries like steel and metallurgy.
- Bhilai steel plant in India built with Soviet assistance during 50’s has formed the basis for Indian steel and engineering industry in modern India.
- Research in Physics especially in the areas of electro technical materials, photoelectricity, theoretical radio and mechanics led by Academy members L. I. Mandelstam, N. D. Papalexy, A. A. Andronov, and N. M. Krylov, and N. Bogolyubov exceled and paved the way for birth of modern communication systems especially in satellite communications.
- Systematic investigations conducted by Academy member A. F. Joffe and others in the semi-conductors, opened up new prospects in the fields of electrotechnical materials, photoelectricity in heavy industry and electronics.
- In Chemistry fundamental research conducted by Academy members A. E. Favorsky, S. V. Lebedev, A. N. Nesmeyanov, D. Zelinsky and A. A. Balandin paved the way for the establishment of the synthetic rubber industry in the U.S.S.R. The ground breaking investigations during 50’s in fields of organometallics and petroleum compounds and their catalysis formed the very basis for development of plastics and other synthetic products in the world.
- Nikolai Lobachevskii, was the first person to develop non-Euclidean geometry.
- Russian women were among the first in the world to receive doctorates in mathematics, physiology, zoology, chemistry, and other fields.
- Soviet scientists have received 25 Nobel Awards. Soviet and other socialist countries had no scientific and technical relations with the rest of the world. However, Soviet scientists have researched with existing resources and equipment. Even though the Nobel Committee, known for its anti- communist bias had to recognize the contributions of Soviet
Every advance in science, every new scientific idea and invention, in a capitalist society, is regarded as an item of private property. The state has no jurisdiction over it, and its development, consequently, cannot be planned. Soon after revolution science was put to the service of the people and the state has made planning in science an absolute necessity and allocated huge funds. Planning included not only scope institutions, personnel, equipment but also content, i.e., the themes of scientific research. The plan of scientific development was linked up with the state economic plan. Scientific research was not patented and imprisoned to gain individual profits as the case with western multinational corporations.
However not everything went smooth in USSR and there were serious blunders commited ablations while application of science in the name of social development. During Stalin’s regime communist party excessively started dictating science in what direction it should move ahead. Up to some extent science especially basic sciences possesses certain independence and universality. It can not always be subverted to the ideologies or regimes in power. Imprisonment and later tragic death of renown geneticist Nikolai Vavilov who refused to accept distorted and non scientific ideas dictated by Lysenko and Beria during Stalin’s regime is clear case of too much encroachment in to autonomy of science. This episode had left Soviet Genetics almost two centuries behind compared to rest of the world. As a result agriculture in USSR suffered for three decades to recoup. In later years of Soviet development basic science was exclusively employed for meeting military objectives, neglecting development of new and attractive products for population. However, arms race was a trap lied by United states to destroy Soviet economy. Eventually for this USSR finally collapsed and paid for its unequal application of science for meeting societal needs in last decades of its existence.
In this context it is worth to remember Karl Marx where the whole crux of the question is exposed. Capitalism, in developing machine production, pursues the purpose not of developing the forces of production, but for increasing the profits. Therefore, capitalism introduces a new machine only when the difference between the price of this machine and the cost of labour-power that it replaces is sufficiently large to secure an average profit (Capital, Volume I, p. 961, Russian Edition, 1920). In Capitalism advances in science are merely used in military industry or for mass production of luxury products such as vanity cars, iPhones or medicines for consumption of super rich. In India we witness how population is suffering from lack of drugs and vaccines for treatment of major vector borne diseases like Dengue, yellow fever where as the markets are flooded every month with a new model of a mobile phone, that fetches higher profits to multinational corporations. While in USSR by 1940, a very advanced and modern Metro and rail net work spreading all over the country was laid out and every citizen was provided with free housing. That is one of the chief distinguishing features of science! A socialist state demonstrated, how Marxist planning of science can be put to development of society. The tempo of economic development in the Soviet Union is many times faster than in all the capitalist countries, including the United States of America especially during the first decades after revolution. In the words of the prominent British scientist JD Bernal there are two major reasons for the Soviet Union to achieve such a great deal of progress. First of all, to spend most of the national income to meet the needs of the population, the second is scientific planning based Marxism and Leninsm to develop an advanced socialist society.
Soviet scientists worked hard to make Soviet Socialism successful.
Dr. Soma Marla, is a Principal Scientist ( Bioinformatics) with ICAR.NBPGR, New Delhi.