AS in the past, Russia still is protected from foreign interference by the immense distances of the Eurasian plain, which extends from the Baltic almost to the Pacific, and from the Arctic to the southern seas and the mountain wall of middle Asia. And these same factors still, as in the past, hold back her social and economic development.

The various regions of that vast domain are peculiarly interdependent, yet their products circulate with the greatest difficulty. The food surplus is concentrated in the producing areas of the south and in Siberia; the available timber and manufactured goods are in the consuming areas of the centre and north; the oil is in the Caspian area; and the minerals are in southwestern Ukraine, the Urals, and Central Asia. The arteries for the interchange of these products over the vast distances involved consist of ancient "water roads," an inadequate railway system, and wagon roads belonging to the dark ages.

The natural difficulties in year-round transport are enormous. Most of the river ports are frozen over from four to six months of the year. The water levels are very irregular; spring floods, followed in turn by summer droughts, shift the innumerable sand bars and increase the hazards of navigation. Road-building is particularly arduous because of the frozen subsoil, and that because stone and gravel are very scarce in most regions. It often happens, too, when a railroad is built the terrific heat of summer, especially in the southeast and in Central Asia, makes expansion of the rails and other materiel a troublesome problem. These factors contribute to the high cost of road-building, and partially explain Russia's historic inadequacy in transport facilities. The result is that calamities are always on a large scale in Russia. The most recent example was the rotting of grain under the open sky along the Trans-Siberian Railroad while the population of European Russia was reduced to ration cards.

Failure to provide sufficient means for the conquest of Russia's vast barriers of distance is now recognized as a costly miscalculation of the Five Year Plan. Industrial production is mounting steadily at the rate of 25 percent a year, but the facilities for distributing it have not kept the same pace. The first serious tie-up occurred this last winter when the railroads could meet only one-third of the demand for trains to move the crop and to keep industry supplied with raw materials. The problem was intensified by the rapid socialization of the land in January and February, when nearly one-half of the total sown area was collectivized. This transformation of agriculture increases the burden on the transport facilities more rapidly than was anticipated in the Five Year Plan. The new collective farms, to be successful, must be quickly supplied with machinery, fertilizer, seed, and the other means of production which were held out as inducements to the peasants who joined them.

In this light the so-called "socialist front" appears not unlike a fighting army which has advanced too fast for its wagon train. The Soviet Government has accordingly shifted the focus of its attention to the compelling problem of bringing up the rear. The production part of the Five Year Plan is expected to be realized in four years; the transport part of it is now scheduled for completion in three years. Meanwhile, a fifteen-year program in transport is under consideration, involving a capital investment of 18 billion rubles on railroads, 3.8 billion on sea and river transport, and 2.6 billion on highways.

The highway program is of particular interest to travelers who have roamed the steppes. Until recently the only highways worthy the name were the Georgian Military Road, the coastal roads of Crimea, and certain sections of the old Siberian track, down which the Tsars' prisoners were sent to exile. In summer the peasants drive their light wagons in the fields alongside the rutted roads, making a series of tracks several hundred yards wide. The "winter road" runs anywhere over the beaten snow. In spring and autumn the roads are impassable troughs of mud. The state now maintains 49,000 kilometers of road, of which 30,000 are dirt and 11,400 are macadamized. About one-half of the million kilometers of provincial and village roads supposed to be maintained out of the local budgets are in need of major repair.

Russia has only recently become "road-conscious" in the American sense. A voluntary organization, the "Avtodor," began working last year for the " automobilization " of the Soviet Union. It has established a permanent bureau of road research to recommend types of road for the various regions, in so far as the limits of available building materials allow. The type generally favored is a dressed dirt road, with a covering of asphalt emulsion, which is supplied by the Oil Combine. The new roads are being built for heavy motorized traffic. There are now some 22,000 automobiles in the Soviet Union, which will be increased by 14,900 this year. The plant at Nijni-Novgorod will have a capacity production of 140,000 Ford A and AA models a year. The Moscow and Yaroslavl plants are being expanded to produce a total of 45,000 trucks. Naturally the most insistent demand for motorized transport is coming from the new collective farms and the tractor brigades. It is too early to make predictions as to the success of the transport program, but certainly a note of progress is heard in the impatient honking of the automobile horn in the mudbound villages of the Volga.

Russian river traffic has been restored to only four-fifths of what it was before the war, and the Soviet sea fleet has only 40 percent of the pre-war tonnage. On the other hand, the civil air services are developing rapidly. Last year there were 13 air lines operating, covering 18,461 kilometers. Mail, passengers and freight are carried from Moscow not only to Riga and Berlin, but to the Black Sea, to the Caucasus, and as far east as Irkutsk. These services are to be trebled by 1933.

But in the Soviet plans these forms of transport are secondary. The main reliance continues to be on the railroads. With the exception of the early railroads, built to carry agricultural produce from the Volga to the European markets, most of the Tsarist railroad construction was governed by political and military strategy. Economic service was not an essential. The railroads to the Caucasus and Turkestan followed the military conquest of the tribal states. The Trans-Siberian line was inspired by Russia's anti-western feeling at the end of the nineteenth century, and led to the disastrous conflict with Japan. And the Murmansk line, rushed across the tundra to the ice-free part of the Arctic in 1915-16, was primarily for military supply.

Under the Soviets, the railroad problem is no longer to connect the extremes of the country by trunk lines, but to build feeders and to intensify the existing service. Transport is considered an instrument of industrialization and socialization; it is employed to control and remold the life of the country in the interests of socialized economy and the new culture.

Soviet achievements in railroading are noteworthy, even when measured against the immensity of the problems involved. The inheritance was a railway net of 58,549 kilometers (after cutting off the 12,000 kilometers which went to the detached states of Finland, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Bessarabia). A picture of the remaining network was like a many-pronged fork, with no connecting lines, and with useless junctions. Only 27 percent was double-tracked. Most of the equipment was old-fashioned; a quarter of the locomotives have been in service for twenty years. During the Civil War the railroads were the object of fierce contest, with the result that 3,672 bridges and 22,000 kilometers of track were destroyed; most of the rails and ties were ready for renewal; and 52 percent of the locomotives and 22 percent of the freight cars were "sick" (in need of repair).

Last year the railway system was considered restored. New building had extended the total length of lines in operation to 77,600 kilometers, a third more than the pre-war figure. The "sick" locomotives were reduced to 12.7 percent, and the "sick" freight cars to 4.5 percent, which compares favorably with the respective "sick" figures of 17 and 6 percent in 1913. The traffic last year exceeded the 1913 level -- 62.4 percent more ton-kilometers of freight, and 17.1 percent more passenger-kilometers. And for the first time the Soviet railroads showed a profit, amounting to 71.6 million rubles, despite the fact that freight rates average only one kopek per ton-kilometer, and passenger rates are 40 or 50 percent of the American average.

The central object of Soviet transport development is an intensification of the existing services. A technical reorganization is now under way. The program includes the use of longer trains, larger and more powerful locomotives (types of 80 and 100 tons), 50-ton freight cars to replace the prevailing 20-ton type, and special gondola cars for ores. Automatic couplers and automatic brakes are being installed throughout the system. Orders for new equipment in the Five Year Plan include 4,032 locomotives, 6,708 passenger coaches, and 162,000 freight cars.

Turning now to the general question of transport, we see that there are two dominant problems confronting the Soviet Government, one of industrial supply, the other of agricultural export. The first arises from the necessity of providing for the increasing traffic between the industrial centres of Leningrad and Moscow and the raw material supply -- the Donetz coal basin and the Krivoi-Rog iron region to the south, and the Kuznets mineral fields in Siberia. By way of solution, it is proposed to convert the existing lines into a supertrunk system, especially adapted to huge locomotives and longer trains. Some engineers are urging the abolition of passenger traffic on these lines until the conversion takes place. The second problem is to open a southern exit from Siberia, so that the grain surplus can reach the foreign market. The Don-Volga canal, scheduled to be started next year, will partially solve this problem, but the canal will operate only 240 days of the year. The proposed southern trunk line, Troisk-Orsk-Orenburg-Uralsk-Saratov, and thence to the port of Rostov-on-Don, can be built by connecting up existing links with the necessary new roadbed, and by an additional bridge over the Volga. When completed, this southern exit from Siberia will be the chief route of Russia's export grain, which some think may eventually smash the grain market of the world.

The most interesting part of the Soviet transport program is the development envisaged in Siberia and Central Asia. The over-population of European Russia is to be relieved by offering free transportation for colonists of all occupations to the empty spaces in the east. The Urals have disappeared as a boundary, and have ceased even to be a geographical expression. In "Winning the East" the Soviets revive Russia's old economic and cultural mission, and seek again the quiet Asiatic markets, sheltered from foreign competition. In the new push to the east, however, Karl Marx instead of the Orthodox Church goes in the baggage.

Of particular significance in this respect is the Turkestan-Siberian Railroad, opened for traffic on May first of this year. This new road, 1,445 kilometers long, skirts the western borders of China, and makes possible the transport of Siberian grain and timber to Turkestan. The inhabitants of the latter region are now free to grow cotton exclusively. The completion of the road eighteen months ahead of the original schedule has caused a sharp upward revision of the plans for cotton production. The total area planted to cotton last year in the Soviet Union was one million hectares, of which 85 percent was in Central Asia. The yield was 976,000 tons. Cotton planting this year is expected to reach 1,452,000 hectares. The budget assignment to irrigation, mostly in the cotton regions, was 36 million rubles last year, and is 110 million rubles in the revised 1929-30 budget. An immediate result of the quickened tempo in the growing of cotton is that the Soviet import of cotton from America dropped from $51,-000,000 in 1927-28 to $31,000,000 last year, and a further decrease is planned for this year. Moscow's enthusiasm for cotton has also led this year to the establishment of a technical school of cotton culture in Tashkent, with a student body of 3,000 and a faculty drawn from the 180 cotton experts and 350 agrarian technicians in the region.

But aside from these economic considerations the "Turk-Sib" railroad has opened what promises to be a romantic chapter in empire building. The region traversed is rich in raw materials for industry and has a splendid climate. The soil is adapted to rice, fruits and other products. New villages are springing up along the line; streams of settlers and adventurers have been arriving since last autumn. And Lake Balkash suddenly arrives on the map as a resort within the reach of the average man.

The Russians built a railroad across Manchuria. Within twenty-five years that region has increased in population from 3 to 30 million, and is now the bread-basket of the Far East. It will be interesting to watch how the Communists build the social and economic scheme of the virgin territory in Central Asia, in which they have absolute control of all the forces of life. And it will be interesting to observe the effect on a rejuvenated China of a booming neighbor on her sleepy western frontier. For it is probably China which will have to test out in her dawning industrialism the comparative merits of capitalism and socialism.

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  • BRUCE C. HOPPER, formerly Instructor at Harvard University, recently returned from two years of study in Soviet Russia
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