In February 1920, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets established The State Electrification Commission (GOELRO), kicking off the first major economic overhaul under the Bolsheviks. The GOELRO sought construct thirty new power stations, reaching a total capacity of 1,000,000 kW within 10 to 15 years (up from 1,038 kW).
Expanding access to electrical power was significant for the Bolsheviks for both political and economic reasons. Vladimir Lenin, GOELRO’s fiercest proponent, saw electrical power as the “second program” of the Party. The first program, the political program, is “an enumeration of our objectives, an explanation of the relations between classes and masses.” The second program was a realization of the political objectives of the first program into tangible results. It was, according to Lenin, “a plan of work aimed at restoring our entire economy and raising it to the level of up-to-date technical development.”
GOELRO was significant not only because of the economic boom that it promised, but it showed that the Bolsheviks could capably plan large economic projects, serving as a precursor to Stalin’s Five-Year Plans. It would go on to be referenced throughout Soviet history as a key pillar of Soviet prosperity. Even today in Russia, GOELRO is seen as being a turning point in Soviet history. Even Russian president Vladimir Putin regards GOELRO as being the beginning of the USSR, saying:
The GOELRO Plan is a symbol of an entire era, an era of hopes and unheard of enthusiasm. It marked the starting point for creating the power system in the country. No less importantly, it was the first scientifically grounded long-term programme of the country’s economic development. In fact, the emergence of our country as an industrial power began with the GOELRO Plan.
The GOELRO plan interested me because it was the inspiration behind one of Lenin’s most famous quotes: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” This phrase was used throughout Soviet history, and it was at the same time a running joke:
Communism = Soviet Power + Electrification
Communism – Electrification = Soviet Power
and so forth.