Thursday, June 9, 2016

Andy Bruno's "The Nature of Soviet Power"

Andy Bruno is Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Faculty Associate in Environmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Nature of Soviet Power: An Arctic Environmental History, and reported the following:
In the twentieth century the Soviet Union transformed a sparsely-populated territory called the Kola Peninsula into one of the most industrialized and environmentally-damaged parts of the global Arctic. In a day and age when climate change is rapidly altering the future economic possibilities of polar regions, it is well worth exploring the history of the earlier communist experiment to industrialize the north.

The Nature of Soviet Power tackles the environmental history of economic development on the Kola Peninsula, but also interrogates a myriad of questions about how the Soviet Union worked. It is organized around case studies of five industries that burgeoned while the Soviets were in power: railroads, phosphate mining and enrichment, reindeer herding, nickel and copper smelting, and the energy sector.

Page 99 of the book falls in the middle of the chapter focusing on the effort to build a new socialist city, Khibinogorsk (later Kirovsk), in the early 1930s. It was designed to mine and enrich apatite from the nearby mountains in order to manufacture phosphate fertilizers. The project combined much pomp and circumstance about the state’s Pollyannaish objectives and brutal conditions faced by forced peasant migrants laboring in a harsh environment. I label this experience “Stalinism as an ecosystem” because of the multifarious ways that interactions with the natural world affected the Soviet industrial campaign.

This page touches on evidence for two of my larger claims in the book. The top paragraph discusses a business trip that a pair of Soviet engineers took to America to learn about foreign enrichment techniques. While a certain cosmopolitanism appeared in this approach, the managers of the Soviet firm were also quick to denounce “bourgeois specialists” abroad who raised doubts about the viability of mining apatite in the Arctic. International engagement in these opposing guises was important throughout the Soviet era.

The bottom paragraph provides evidence for my argument that the material environment should be seen as a participant in Soviet industrialization. It describes the difficulties that enterprise personnel faced as they tried to lower ore from the mountains with slides that had worked in coalmines. The physical properties of the apatite ore rendered this method ineffective and forced an unanticipated revision to the operations scheme. Time and again throughout the book, rocks, reindeer, and radiation prove capable of interfering with Soviet goals.
Learn more about The Nature of Soviet Power at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue