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Having inherited from the tsarist government a large number of territorial divisions and subdivisions, the Soviet leadership attempted to reduce their numbers and simplify their bureaucracies. Undertaken in the 1920s, this project to reorganize the internal administrative map of Soviet Russia was called raionirovanie, which can be translated as regionalization. Soviet planners implemented raionirovanie not only as a way of rationalizing administrative structures, but as an essential tool for the centralized planning of economic activity.

Before the reforms, Soviet central officials regarded the territorial divisions they inherited as cumbersome and archaic obstacles to economic growth. The basic divisions in tsarist administration were the province (guberniya ), county (uezd ), rural district (volost ), and village (selo ). Their number expanded quickly in the first five years of the new regime, fueling Bolshevik concerns about bureaucratismthe perils of an expanding, unruly, and unresponsive state administration. Specialists in Gosplan (the State Planning Commission) desired to reshape territorial administration to conform to their vision of the economic needs of the country. Its planners designed new territorial units that sought to follow the contours of regional agricultural and industrial economies, based on natural resources, culture, and patterns of production.

As a result of raionirovanie, the country's provinces were replaced by regions (oblast or krai ), which were divided into departments (okrugs replaced the counties), which were themselves divided into districts (raions, which replaced the old rural counties.) In light of a scarcity of trained administrators, each of these new units was larger than the old, and therefore had less contact with the population. The first areas subject to regionalization were the Urals, the Northern Caucasus, and Siberia, between 1924 and 1926. Raionirovanie continued in other areas of the country throughout the decade, and was largely complete by 1929. The process of creating regional economic planning agencies under the direct, centralized leadership of Moscow became a part of the essential infrastructure of the Five-Year plans, first adopted in 1928.

Objections to regionalization were raised by the Commissariat of Nationalities and local leaders in the autonomous and national republics, especially in Ukraine, on the grounds that the centrally designed plans overlooked diversity in local culture and tradition as they sought to rationalize and centralize administration while maximizing economic growth. Indeed, regionalization sought to eliminate much of what remained of the tsarist administration in the countryside and the provinces. Beyond the reorganization of territorial subdivisions, names of cities, towns, and capitals were changed, as were traditional borders, and, so planners hoped, loyalties to the old ways. Similar to Napoleonic-era bureaucratic reforms in France, the ultimate aim was not only to rationalize administration and economy, but to reshape popular mentalities in line with conditions in a new, post-revolutionary era.

See also: local government and administration; nationalities policies, soviet


Carr, Edward Hallett. (1964). Socialism in One Country, 19241926. London: Macmillan.

James Heinzen

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