AS told in previous numbers of FOREIGN AFFAIRS,[i] the Soviet regime has completely changed the political organization of Russia's vast territory. The program has been carried through with ethnic considerations primarily in mind. Simultaneously, there has also been under consideration an elaborate scheme providing for the redivision of Soviet territory into new administrative units based entirely on economic considerations.

The idea of dividing up the Russian Empire on scientific principles made its appearance in the early part of the last century, and in the intervening years not a few books were written discussing this question and proposing various territorial arrangements based on natural characteristics, such as soil or climate, or on economic factors such as density of population, degree of industrial development, and so forth.

With the consolidation of the Soviet power in 1920--1921, the Communist leaders turned their attention to this problem, and the VII All-Russian Congress of Soviets instructed the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to work out a plan of an administrative-economic division of Soviet territory. After considerable discussion and investigation certain general principles were agreed upon, and from these a concrete plan was elaborated by the State Plan Commission in 1922.

The primary objective being to facilitate the development of the productive forces of the country, the State Plan Commission set out to divide the Russian territory into economic Regions which would be at the same time new administrative units, but which first and foremost would be economic production units best adapted to fulfill certain clearly defined functions in the general economic life of the whole country. In determining the composition of the various Regions, attention was given primarily to economic factors, such as natural resources, density of population, transportation facilities, economic centers, and industrial and technical equipment. Each Region was to be guaranteed the possibility of independent economic development, and to a certain extent was to specialize in a definite branch of economic activity.

The Region (Oblast), therefore, was made the fundamental unit of the new administrative division. It was agreed that it should enjoy certain economic administrative rights, especially in financial matters, and in the management of large industries situated within its bounds. It was to have a budget of its own and was to be empowered to impose local duties and taxes with the approval of the central authorities. According to the plan, the Region was to be divided into Okrugs, designed primarily as administrative units, these in turn to be divided into Raions. It was hoped to effect through this reorganization a considerable economy in the cost of the administrative apparatus. Thus under the project the Soviet state was to be divided into 21 Regions in place of the old 93 Provinces.

Of the 21 proposed Regions, 12 were planned for European Russia and 9 for Asiatic Russia. The European Regions were to be as follows:

Region Administrative Economic
  Center Function
Northwest Leningrad Industry
Northeast Archangel Timber, fishing, hunting
Western Smolensk Timber
Central Industrial Moscow Industry
Viatka-Vetluga Viatka Agriculture, etc.
Ural Sverdlovsk Industry
Middle Volga Samara Agriculture
Central Black Earth Voronezh Agriculture
Southwestern Kiev Agriculture
South Mining Kharkov Industry
Southeast Saratov Agriculture
Caucasus Rostov Diversified

Asiatic Russia was to be divided into 9 Regions, namely: West Russia, Kuznets-Altaisk, Enisseisk, Lena-Angara, Yakut, Far East, West Kirghiz, East Kirghiz and Turkestan.

Although the project was approved in principle by the IX All-Russian Congress of Soviets in December, 1922, it has encountered many difficulties in being carried into effect. One of the chief obstacles has proved to be the opposition of autonomous national units which did not consider that their individual interests had been sufficiently safeguarded. The administrative center of the Middle Volga Region, for instance, was located, on the basis of economic considerations, at Samara; the Tatar Republic, however, has insisted for political reasons that the capital should be at Kazan. The center of the Western Region is fixed at Smolensk, but this can hardly be pleasing to the White Russian Soviet Republic, which is comprised within that area.

The whole question was considered at length at the XII Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April, 1923. A resolution of that Congress, while recognizing that the existing administrative-economic division of the state does not correspond to the new economic and political needs of the country, finds that the introduction of the new system requires careful consideration and a longer period of time for its definite realization. The Central Committee of the Party is directed to carry the plan into effect as an experiment in two Regions -- one industrial and one agricultural. The realization of the plan in the other Regions is to await the result of this preliminary test.

In accordance with the directions of the Party, the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee selected the Ural and the Lower Volga Regions as the first areas to be organized under the new plan, the former as a type of an industrial and the latter as that of an agricultural Region.

The Ural Region is one of the richest areas of Russia in mineral wealth. There are vast deposits of iron ore, copper and platinum; and such minerals as graphite, asbestos, gypsum, slate, salt, gold and manganese are found in considerable quantities. Furthermore, it is both a grain and timber exporting region, and is therefore capable of supporting a large industrial population. The organic act of the Ural Region was confirmed at the III session of the Central Executive Committee on November 3, 1923. The new Region's administrative center is at Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg).

The second area to be formed was the North Caucasus Territory, which was organized in the early part of 1924. The economic significance of this Region, of which the capitol is at Rostov, is agricultural; there also are important natural resources, notably the oil deposits at Grozny and Maikop. Although certain autonomous Regions are absorbed in the new unit, their autonomy does not appear to be impaired thereby. In such matters as education, health, internal administration, justice, local economy, etc., they are independent of the general administrative organs of the Territory. It is to be noted that whereas the project of the State Plan Commission contemplates the Caucasus as a single economic Region, the North Caucasus Territory does not include, due to political considerations, the Trans-Caucasus Federation or the autonomous Daghestan Republic.

By a decree of May 25, 1925, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee announced the formation of a Siberian Territory out of the Provinces of Omsk, Novo-Nikolaevsk, Altaisk, Tomsk and Enisseisk and the autonomous Region of Oirat, with administrative center at Novo-Nikolaevsk. This Siberian Territory comprises no less than three of the Regions appearing in the original project of the State Plan Commission for the reorganization of Asiatic Russia.

The fourth Region to be definitely delimited is the Lower Volga Region, which is being constituted out of the Provinces of Saratov, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, the autonomous Kalmuck Region and the Republic of the Volga Germans, with capital at Saratov. The economic importance of the Lower Volga Region is based on agriculture, it being one of the great granaries of the country, supplying both domestic and foreign markets.

On the accompanying map of European Russia are indicated the three economic Regions which have already been constituted, and (in broken lines) the nine other Regions projected by the State Plan Commission. With regard to the Ukraine, it is to be noted that the division of that area into two Regions -- South West and South Mining -- as worked out by the State Plan Commission, has been rejected by the Ukrainian authorities, so that the Ukraine will constitute one economic Region when the reorganization is complete.

The small insert map of Asiatic Russia shows the recently delimited Siberian Territory and (in broken lines) the six projected Regions of the State Plan Commission. In view of the recent territorial rearrangement of Central Asia on ethnic lines, and the creation of the Uzbeg and Turkoman Republics, it is probable that the plan will undergo revision before being carried into effect.

It will be observed that whereas the original plan contemplated an administrative redivision of all the territory under Soviet control, -- purely on economic considerations without regard to existing territorial arrangements based on ethnic considerations, -- the realization of this plan has not failed to take into account national interests and has been largely restricted to the territory of one of the constituent republics -- the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic. If the plan was originally intended to counteract the development of nationalist and separatist tendencies, which might have been expected to follow the application of the principle of national self-determination to the territorial organization of the Soviet power, especially in the case of the larger national groupings, it would appear that this purpose has been largely abandoned. The economic Regions will not run counter to the boundaries of at least the larger national entities.

R. F. K.

[i] Vol. III, No. 1, p. 91 and Vol. III, No. 3, p. 511.

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