4.2.08

THE IRON HORSE IS UNMOVED BY IDEOLOGY. Some time ago, I borrowed E. A. Rees's Stalinism and Soviet Rail Transport, 1928-1941, to get some idea about the thinking behind A. Andreyev's eponymous light-axle-loading super power. That Book Review No. 9 appears only now suggests it wasn't the most compelling reading in the world. True enough. It should come as no surprise that in the absence of price signals (yes, even of the crude form permissible under Interstate Commerce Commission rules in force on the U.S. railroads of that era) the Soviet railroads (in those days, the People's Commissariat of Ways of Communication, NKPS) could never find the right balance between investment in improvements to ways, structure, and stock, and making more productive use of the existing ways, structure, and stock. Despite the absence of wage signals, changes in work rules that worsened the working conditions of train crews led to an exodus of experienced train crews (the book does not say to where.)

Unsurprisingly, given the tenor of the times, the troubles of the railroad led to ideological struggle, including "bourgeois specialists" who, not surprisingly, had to be repressed, "limiters" whose recognition of the laws of physics manifested a false consciousness not conducive to the interests of the working classes, and "wreckers", a catch-all category including Trotskyites, White Guardists, and fascists who somehow put aside their differences long enough to hamper the railroads. It all sounds like some of the loopier theories about the Kennedy assassinations, except that Stalin and his inner circle had more power than Oliver Stone to act on the information. In a macabre twist, some of the people who attempted to improve the performance of the railroads using Stakhanovite methods were also purged. Despite all the troubles, the NKPS were able to re-equip the railroad with a stable of simple, dependable steam locomotives that served the country in war and tempted ferroequinologists in the waning days of the Cold War. Ah, but for a few Santa Fe or Norfolk and Western comrades on the lines.

Several individuals whose names you might know served as "narkoms" (that's Russian for capo di tutti capi) of NKPS, including L. D. Trotsky in 1920, F. E. Dzerzhinsky from 1921 to 1924, A. A. Andreyev from 1931 to 1935 (the push for the seven-coupled locomotive rather than the more practical FD class mudsuckers occurred on his watch and could have contributed to his firing) and L. M. Kaganovich, the last of the Old Bolsheviks to die, for most of the nine years from 1935 to 1944. Andreyev, Dzherzhinsky, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze had classes of locomotives named for them (the latter an early form of "rehabilitation?") although Kaganovich, Trotsky, and the other narkoms did not.

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