Military-Economic Planning

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In the world wars of the twentieth century, it was as important to mobilize the economy to supply soldiers' rations and equipment as it was to enlist the population as soldiers. Military-economic planning took root in the Soviet Union, as elsewhere, after World War I. The scope of the plans that prepared the Soviet economy for war continues to be debated. Some argue that war preparation was a fundamental objective influencing every aspect of Soviet peacetime economic policy; there were no purely civilian plans, and everything was militarized to some degree. Others see military-economic planning more narrowly as the specialized activity of planning and budgeting for rearmament, which had to share priority with civilian economic goals.

The framework for military-economic planning was fixed by a succession of high-level government committees: the Council for Labor and Defense (STO), the Defense Committee, and, in the postwar period, the Military-Industrial Commission (VPK). The armed forces general staff carried on military-economic planning in coordination with the defense sector of the State Planning Commission (Gosplan). Gosplan's defense sector was established on the initiative of the Red Army commander, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who pioneered the study of future war and offensive operations associated with the concept of deep battle. To support this he advocated ambitious plans for the large-scale production of combat aircraft and motorized armor. Tukhachevsky crossed swords at various times with Josef V. Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Kliment Voroshilov. The military-economic plans were less ambitious than he hoped, and also less coherent: Industry did not reconcile its production plans beforehand with the army's procurement plan, and their interests often diverged over the terms of plans and contracts to supply equipment. To overcome this Tukhachevsky pressed to bring the management of defense production under military control, but he was frustrated in this too. His efforts ended with his arrest and execution in 1937.

Military-economic plans required every ministry and workplace to adopt a mobilization plan to be implemented in the event of war. How effective this was is difficult to evaluate, and the mobilization plans adopted before World War II appear to have been highly unrealistic by comparison with wartime outcomes. Despite this, the Soviet transition to a war economy was successful; the fact that contingency planning and trial mobilizations were practiced at each level of the prewar command system may have contributed more to this than their detailed faults might suggest.

During World War II the task was no longer to prepare for war but to fight it, and so the distinction between military-economic planning and economic planning in general disappeared for a time. It reemerged after the war when Stalin began bringing his generals back into line, and the security organs, not the military, took the leading role in organizing the acquisition of new atomic and aerospace technologies. Stalin's death and the demotion of the organs allowed a new equilibrium to emerge under Dmitry Ustinov, minister of the armament industry since June 1941; Ustinov went on to coordinate the armed forces and industry from a unique position of influence and privilege under successive Soviet leaders until his own death in 1984. It symbolized his coordinating role that he assumed the military rank of marshal in 1976.

See also: gosplan; tukhachevsky, mikhail nikolayevich; ustinov, dmitry fedorovich; war economy


Barber, John, and Harrison, Mark, eds. (2000). The Soviet Defence-Industry Complex from Stalin to Khrushchev. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Harrison, Mark (2001). "Providing for Defense." In Behind the Façade of Stalin's Command Economy: Evidence from the Soviet State and Party Archives, ed. Paul R. Gregory. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

Samuelson, Lennart. (2000). Plans for Stalin's War Machine: Tukhachevskii and Military-Economic Planning, 19251941. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

Mark Harrison