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Song of the Forest

Song of the Forest: Russian Forestry and Stalinist Environmentalism, 1905–1953

Stephen Brain
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    Song of the Forest
    Book Description:

    The Soviets are often viewed as insatiable industrialists who saw nature as a force to be tamed and exploited.Song of the Forestcounters this assumption, uncovering significant evidence of Soviet conservation efforts in forestry, particularly under Josef Stalin. In his compelling study, Stephen Brain profiles the leading Soviet-era conservationists, agencies, and administrators, and their efforts to formulate forest policy despite powerful ideological differences.By the time of the revolution of 1905, modern Russian forestry science had developed an influential romantic strand, especially prevalent in the work of Georgii Morozov, whose theory of "stand types" asked forest managers to consider native species and local conditions when devising plans for regenerating forests. After their rise to power, the Bolsheviks turned their backs on this tradition and adopted German methods, then considered the most advanced in the world, for clear-cutting and replanting of marketable tree types in "artificial forests." Later, when Stalin's Five Year Plan required vast amounts of timber for industrialization, forest radicals proposed "flying management," an exaggerated version of German forestry where large tracts of virgin forest would be clear-cut. Opponents who still upheld Morozov's vision favored a conservative regenerating approach, and ultimately triumphed by establishing the world's largest forest preserve.Another radical turn came with the Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature, implemented in 1948. Narrow "belts" of new forest planted on the vast Russian steppe would block drying winds, provide cool temperatures, trap moisture, and increase crop production. Unfortunately, planters were ordered to follow the misguided methods of the notorious Trofim Lysenko, and the resulting yields were abysmal. But despite Lysenko, agency infighting, and an indifferent peasant workforce, Stalin's forestry bureaus eventually succeeded in winning many environmental concessions from industrial interests. In addition, the visionary teachings of Morozov found new life, ensuring that the forest's song did not fall upon deaf ears.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7749-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-10)

    The Song of the Forests, Dmitrii Shostakovich’s seventh choral piece and his first oratorio, debuted in Leningrad on 15 November 1949. The Moscow debut, eleven days later, so delighted the Party’s cultural arbiters that they awarded Shostakovich the Stalin Prize the next year. The oratorio’s success was scarcely accidental, as the project had been designed specifically for propaganda purposes. The score, soaringly harmonious and studiously accessible, used folk themes to evoke patriotic fervor, while the libretto unself-consciously celebrated Stalin’s brilliance:

    In the Kremlin, the first rays of dawn shone.

    The Great Leader, in wise contemplation, went up to a great...

  2. 1 OLD GROWTH: The Origins of Russian Forest Management
    (pp. 11-28)

    In the decades before the Bolshevik revolution, Russian foresters began to suspect, to their great alarm, that their mighty red Russian forest was turning white. Ruddy-barked pine and spruce, for centuries an invaluable source of foreign currency and construction material, were disappearing across Russia, replaced after logging with pale-skinned aspen, alder, and birch. Distressingly often, though, even white forest failed to grow among the stumps, and especially in the far north and south, valuable forests were changing into worthless swamps or barrens. Although such wastelands could be reclaimed, the costs associated with draining remote swamplands made this measure too expensive...

  3. 2 SEEDS: New Visions of the Russian Forest
    (pp. 29-53)

    A thoroughgoing reevaluation of forest management was just one small part of a deep wave of national self-examination disquieting nearly all aspects of Russian life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the time the monarchy fell, educated Russians had been engaged for almost a century in a vigorous debate about Russia’s relationship with Europe and the meaning of Russian history—at its core, a debate about the worth of Russian culture itself. The dispute, triggered by the publication of Petr Chaadaev’s “Philosophical Letters” in 1836, pitted admirers of European civilization, or “Westernizers,” against “Slavophiles,” or defenders of Russian...

  4. 3 GROUND FIRE: The Russian Forest and the Bolshevik Revolution
    (pp. 54-78)

    Forests and revolutions are implacable enemies. Revolutions are radicalism made real, whereas forests are nature’s hereditary monarchs, conservatism in landscape form. As they stabilize soil, moderate air temperature, and regulate water flow, they create conditions favorable for their continued domination of a landscape. Without relatively constant conditions, forests would not exist at all. Forest management, as an economic discipline, proceeds from the conservative assumption that this stability is a desirable quantity and devises strategies to ensure that expected yields and regular, predictable conditions will prevail as far into the future as possible. Politically, managed forests (like other objects of environmentalist...

  5. 4 CLEAR-CUT: The Forest Felled by the Five-Year Plan
    (pp. 79-104)

    Pioneer species thrive on disturbed ground, places where the rapid destruction of the prior occupants has freed up resources for new inhabitants. Soon after colonizing an area, they begin to compete aggressively with one another and crowd each other out. In the absence of further disturbances, they will then recede into a secondary role in a forest under members of “climax species”—that is, larger, slower-growing trees that need stable conditions to germinate and survive. Climax species cannot live in the unsettled places where pioneers thrive. Every human-wrought clear-cut is thus a kind of revolution in the forest, destroying the...

  6. 5 REGENERATION: Forest Conservationism Returns to the Soviet Union
    (pp. 115-139)

    Dictators like trees. Perhaps the appeal lies in the fact that forests vibrate with a kind of cultural resonance most helpful to authoritarian political actors, tying a dictatorship to the nation’s distant poetic past and creating an impression of stability for the future. The Nazi regime famously endorsed green politics in general andDauerwaldin particular, mouthing the rhetoric of forest conservation even after war demands madeDauerwald’s tenets impractical.¹ Benito Mussolini created a “National Forest Militia,” a black-shirted paramilitary group under the direction of the General Command of the Voluntary Militia for Natural Security, to assist in “technical work,...

  7. 6 TRANSFORMATION: The Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature
    (pp. 140-167)

    The story of the Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of Nature, the world’s first explicit attempt to reverse human-induced climate change, replicates in miniature the larger story of Stalinist environmentalism, which emerged in 1931 with the creation of the forest cultivation zones and developed steadily through the 1930s and 1940s. Both the Stalin Plan, which aimed at creating nearly six million hectares of new forest in southern Russia so as to cool and moisten the climate, and Stalinist environmentalism, which reorganized Soviet forests for hydrological reasons, were motivated by the beliefs that landscapes without forests are fundamentally unstable and...

    (pp. 168-172)

    Civilizations are like forests. They grow and change over time; they expand, and they contract. Neighbors invade them, and natural calamities alter their composition. Yet at the same time they are embodiments of continuity, and they create conditions that promote their own survival. They generate unique subcultures that defend the collective against incursion, and given favorable circumstances, they produce self-propagating entities capable of surviving for millennia. When they are knocked down, they grow back—but they do not grow back as they were before.

    Anxiety that the Russian national culture was failing to regenerate itself drove a wide array of...