Technology and Soviet society
Education, science and technology
"Science and technology played a special role in the history of the Soviet Union," explains Dr. Mikhail Turnyanskiy of the EURO-fusion organization. EUROfusion coordinates the activities of the European states in the construction of the Tokamak fusion reactor ITER in Southern France. Dr. Turnyanskiy emphasizes the special role of the broad educational efforts that the Soviet leadership began immediately after the October Revolution of 1917. For the communist revolutionaries, the fulfilment of their dreams for the future was linked to the development of education, science and technology.
Consequences of Stalinism
The period of Stalinism, in which numerous scientists and technicians were arrested and disappeared in the GULAG, significantly slowed down the modernization of Russia, but after the Second World War the technological change accelerated rapidly. "If you imagine the state in which the Soviet Union was after the Second World War and that only 10 years later this country was able to transport the first Sputnik into space, then this is something that has astonished the world public," explains the historian Professor Julia Richers of the University of Bern.
Technology and the Cold War
Many of the major Soviet technological projects are related to the Cold War arms race. So was space travel. Or nuclear energy - in the form of nuclear fission and fusion. But Soviet scientists and engineers are intensively involved in civilian projects. So Andrei Sakharov, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize. Sakharov was shocked by the effect of the H-bomb, which he had co-developed himself. "Your test changed everything in me," he writes in his memoirs.
A further example is Sergej Koroljow, the developer of the R7 rocket, which carried the Sputnik into space and is still very reliable as Soyuz rocket in civil space travel. Korolyov convinces the party and state leader Nikita Khrushchev of the benefits of civil space travel - for the prestige of the country and for science. The launch of Sputnik, mankind's first earth satellite, and Yuri Gagarin, mankind's first space traveler, stand for the great pioneering achievements of Soviet technology. Just as the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, became the celebrated symbol of the social world of socialism, in which equality between men and women was to be achieved. Prestige and propaganda play a major role in financing major technological projects.
The technological superpower
At the end of the 1950s, the Soviet Union presented itself as an impressive scientific and technological power. "Soviet science and technology was then among the best in the world," explains Professor Paul Josephson of Maine University. The negative sides of Stalinism seem to have been overcome and the road to a bright communist future seems wide open. But it comes differently.
The Brezhnev Era - Time of Stagnation
As early as the mid-1960s, the technological innovative power of the Soviet Union began to weaken. The reasons for the demolition of the Soviet success story lie deeply in the system of the Soviet planned economy and in the changed leadership of the country. The charismatic and impulsive Khrushchev, under which the great successes could be celebrated, was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev after the Cuban crisis. While before it was often instinctive to focus on the right projects, now a bureaucratic regime like mildew is spreading over research and technology.
The weaknesses of the planned economy and the traditional command structures in society come to light in the failure of prestigious technical projects: the Soviet lunar flight program fails, the first supersonic aircraft, the Tupolev 144, becomes an expensive flop. Sloppiness and a lack of technological level, especially in microelectronics, cause scientists and technicians serious problems to continue on their chosen paths. "It doesn't work to decree from above, 'You will be innovative' or 'You will do this and that new thing in five years', because how can you plan tomorrow's inventions if you can't even know which they will be," historian Paul Josephson describes the context.
The investments required for the increasingly complex tasks of researching microelectronics for control systems and regulators are being "missed out" in the Soviet Union, as the researcher Klaus Gestwa puts it in his film.
On the other hand, toughness and endurance are typical Russian characteristics. In nuclear physics, the Soviet research teams around Lev A. Artsimowitsch made their breakthrough in the late 1960s. "At the Kurtschatow Institute in Moscow they managed to reach temperatures of over 10 million degrees for the first time with the Tokamak," says Dr. Denis Kalupin of EURO-FUSION, and the Munich physicist Professor Harald Lesch adds: "Immediately a lively scientific tourism to Moscow developed. And the Tokamak principle became the recognized concept in fusion reactor research."
The collapse and what remains for us
The Brezhnev era ends in the 1970s with the loss of the Soviet Union's technological leadership in some areas. The country slides towards collapse. Professor Klaus Gestwa of the University of Tübingen describes the state of the Soviet Union as an "archaic modernization built on the heavy industry of coal, oil and steel. With his reforms, Gorbachev tries to turn the tide. During his time in space technology, he once again developed major projects. The space station MIR and the Soviet Space Shuttle Buran. The Buran experiences a tragic fate. As soon as it is finished, the Soviet empire collapses and the project is buried under the rubble. But the ISS space station, based in core and concept on further developed modules of the MIR, again shows what remains: the international peaceful cooperation in scientific and technical projects.
Alongside the ISS, the ITER reactor is the second major symbol of international cooperation based on former Soviet research. On the basis of Andrey Sakharov's theoretical considerations, the fusion power plant ITER is today being built jointly by 34 nations. The Tokamak could meet the energy needs of technical civilization in a clean and climate-neutral way. Andrei Sakharov's dream, which he communicated to the world public in his famous memorandum "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom" of summer 1968, consisted precisely in this: in the peaceful cooperation of the world community for scientific, technical and civilisational progress.