Forests, Peasants, and Revolutionaries
Forests, more than most natural resources, exist throughout Russia and constitute a clearly vital resource for both the State and public alike. The study of forests thus deeply intersects with a wide range of critical social and political issues central to early Soviet history. This book examines how natural resources were protected and exploited by the Soviet system across the vast majority of Russian lands not set aside as nature reserves. What was the situation when conservation and exploitation imperatives regarding vital economic resources—coal, timber, furs, and so on—clashed on a national scale? How did conservation fit into the broader structure of early Soviet socialist construction, especially given the Bolsheviks'overarching drive toward electrification and industrialization?
To answer these questions, Bonhomme focuses on two Soviet forest-law packages. The first, "The Basic Law on Forests", passed in May 1918, represented a highly ambitious effort to inventory, allocate, manage and reproduce forest resources in the most efficient, scientific, and organized manner possible. Situated politically and conceptually within the domain of War Communism, it fell hopelessly short of its goals, victim to a variety of circumstantial stumbling blocks and internal shortcomings. It was succeeded in 1923 by a new law, "The Forest Code", which sought to apply previous lessons learned while also reflecting the wider transition of the Soviet state from an era of revolution into the calmer period of the New Economic Policy, when heavy government intervention in the economy was mitigated by the enactment of modest free-market reforms.
This study also pays considerable attention to the often overlooked late nineteenth and pre-revolutionary twentieth centuries. It closes with the Stalinist Revolution in 1929, which effectively took forest matters in a new direction, bringing an end to a somewhat coherent "chapter" in forest conservation.