Electrification Campaign

Subject essay: James von Geldern

On February 7, 1920, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets announced the
formation of a State Electrification Commission (GOELRO) under the chairmanship of the Bolshevik
electrical engineer, Gleb Krzhizhanovskii. The task of the commission was to devise a general plan for
electrifying the country via the construction of a network of regional power stations. Ten months later,
GOELRO presented its plan, a document of more than five hundred pages, to the Eighth Congress of
Soviets in Moscow.

The plan, forecasting demand to 1930, represented the first attempt to establish “one single plan of the
state economy,” and thus may be seen as a precursor of the Five-Year Plans under Stalin. For Lenin, who
devoted a substantial portion of his report on the work of the Council of People’s Commissars to GOELRO’s
plan, electrification constituted “the second program of our Party.” It was critical to transforming Russia
from a “small-peasant basis into a large-scale industrial basis,” and quite literally would bring
“enlightenment” to the masses. Thus, as he intoned, “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification
of the whole country.” This slogan was repeated often thereafter and eventually appeared on a huge sign
on the banks of the Moscow River opposite the Kremlin.

GOELRO’s plan, put into operation by the Main Electrotechnical Administration (Glavelektro) within the
Supreme Council of the National Economy, was infused by a utopian vision of a technologically
advanced society, brimming with productivity and beaming with brightness. “We must snatch away God’s
thunderbolts,” wrote Vladimir Maiakovskii in Mystery-Bouffe (1920-21). “Take ’em/We can use all those
volts/for electrification.”