The Turkestano-Siberian Railroad, or Turksib, was one of the great construction projects of the Soviet Union’s First Five-Year Plan. As the major icon to ending the economic “backwardness” of the USSR’s minority republics, it stood apart from similar efforts as one of the most potent metaphors for the creation of a unified socialist nation.
Built between December 1926 and January 1931 by nearly 50,000 workers and at a cost of more 161 million rubles, Turksib embodied the Bolsheviks’ commitment to end ethnic inequality and promote cultural revolution in one the far-flung corners of the old Tsarist Empire, Kazakhstan. Trumpeted as the “forge of the Kazakh proletariat,” the railroad was to create a native working class, bringing not only trains to the steppes, but also the Revolution.
In the first in-depth study of this grand project, Matthew Payne explores the transformation of its builders in Turksib’s crucible of class war, race riots, state purges, and the brutal struggle of everyday life. In the battle for the souls of the nation’s engineers, as well as the racial and ethnic conflicts that swirled, far from Moscow, around Stalin’s vast campaign of industrialization, he finds a microcosm of the early Soviet Union.
Payne does a superb job of addressing a wide array of issues that defined the Soviet First Five-Year plan and the construction of Turksib. His work explores the ethnic and racial conflicts that ensued from a project that had, among its stated purposes, a civilizing mission that aimed to overcome Kazakh 'backwardness' and to bring 'new life and culture to the East.' A unique study, with intriguing and provocative qualities.
Discusses the construction of the Turkestano-Siberian Railroad, one of the major projects of the First Five Year Plan; sets the effort in its wider political, economic and social context.
"...a work of remarkable achievement and considerable importance. . . ."Payne ... has discovered a rich microcosm of the early Soviet Union in the Turksib project. ... Payne adds significant insight into the ethnic and racial conflicts that resulted from Turksib and a fresh interpretation of Stalin's crusade to overthrow all of existing society.
Scholars looking to more fully comprehend the complex dynamic of Soviet industrialization and its interplay with nationality policy will learn much from this thoughtful study.
Payne's research ... is exhaustive, and his style eminently readable ... A valuable book.
. . . Provides valuable insights on the first years of the Soviet great industrialization drive. Those interested in Stalinisn, socialist industrialization, and ethnic relations will find it an enjoyable and stimulating reading.
A review does less than justice to this book, whose readability lies so much in its details. The Turksib provides a case study which the author has well exploited to show, among other things, that the view from the center of the Soviet labor and nationalities policies did not always reflect the complexity of the situation on the ground.
Payne's book adds significantly to our knowledge of social and economic change in a non-Russian region of the country during a crucial period of Soviet history. For those interested in Stalinist industrialization, it is a very welcome addition to the existing literature.
A careful and detailed assessment of the complexities of planning and executing a grandiose, Stalinist-style project in a region that had neither the institutional capacity nor the social foundation for accommodating such an ambitious scheme. . . Payne's book can be added to the list of required reading for anyone wanting to understand how Soviet Central Asia was built.
Matthew J. Payne is assistant professor of history at Emory University.learn more