“The stagnation of BAM propaganda after its initial formulation indicated the ideological staidness that, by the early 1970s, had gripped the corpus of Soviet governance like some form of mental rigor mortis. While official representations of BAM remained stagnant, the real world around these representations did not. Perhaps this helps to explain the events of the Brezhnev era, a time during which the government refused to acknowledge reality to a greater degree than any regime before it in Soviet history.” – Christopher Ward, Brezhnev’s Folly
The excerpts we read from Brezhnev’s Folly demonstrate how the Baikal-Amur Mainline Railway (BAM) construction project, which Brezhnev proclaimed to be the “project of the century,” perfectly mirrored the social and political environment of the Soviet Union at the time. Social unrest and change was abundant both on BAM worksites as well as across the Union. The organization and oversight of BAM was in the hands of the Komsomol, and ultimately the youth group did not prove equal to the task. In fact, many youths who joined the BAM project did so in order to be a part of the next great product of the Soviet Union, and were sorely disappointed and therefore disillusioned.
There were several ideas behind BAM, most notably to build a transportation system that would connect Western Europe to East Asia, making Russia vital to the expanding economic systems on the two continents. A second driving factor was to spark a new “soviet” flame in the Union’s youth. Like so many of the Soviet’s plans, BAM had the near-opposite effect as officials hoped, and much of the failure can be attributed to the Party’s stubborn blindness towards the reality of the situation.
I chose the title of this post because as I repeatedly read the phrase “project of the century,” I kept asking myself: is the author talking about BAM, or about the Soviet Union? And I realized it applied to both. The idea of creating a communist state was certainly a mighty project, and as we know, a project that ultimately failed. But no one can deny that the Communist Party put forth an immense amount of human, financial and material capital in an attempt to attain their goal. Indeed, one could call their dream the “project of the century.”