The Moscow Metro

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

A modern city should have a modern transport system; and as the most modern of Soviet cities, Moscow received most modern conceivable system of transport in the year 1934. Under the direction of new Moscow Municipal Soviet chairman Nikita Khrushchev, a trolley system was built first. Although Stalin feared that the trolleys would all tip over, he was eventually convinced that the non-polluting electric motors would be the most efficient first project. Upon completion, city leaders turned their attention to the metro, a project whose magnitude they did not fully understand.

The publicity campaign that accompanied construction from 1932 guaranteed that the Soviet state would devote its full resources to the project. The reputations of several leading politicians were at stake, including Kaganovich and the younger Khrushchev. The directors took their initial models from German subway constructors, who dug with an open-pit method that ensured speed, but limited subway lines to already operating transportation routes, and wreaked havoc by closing off larges sections of the city. Eventually excavations developed during construction of the London subway system were adopted, calling for deep underground construction. Initial investments in equipment were massive, but Stalin approved them. Construction no longer disrupted city life, and routes could cut all over the city, going under any existing structure. The elevators originally planned could not move foot traffic to the deep stations rapidly enough, and the new escalator technology was approved. These decisions would prove extremely wise, as subway stations served as effective bomb shelters during the coming war; and the subway system has continued to expand easily until the present, allowing the city to grow.

The subway system served as a showpiece for Stalin’s government, and rightly so. Managers dispatched by the party dealt with overwhelming obstacles, including the complexities of tunneling for miles under the earth, and a massive shortage of skilled labor. Yet the first line of the subway opening in 1935, and has continued to operate since as the finest system in the world. Initially named the L. M. Kaganovich Metropolitan System (outraging Khrushchev, who felt that he had done all the work), and later renamed for Lenin when Khrushchev purged Kaganovich in 1957, it demonstrated how effectively the socialist state could mobilize itself for great projects. Stations in central Moscow are like palaces, walls clad in precious stone, decorated by mosaics and grandiose sculptures. Tourists came from across the Soviet Union, even the world, to see its wonders; Muscovites used the subway to move about their great city. In time of war it saved them from German bombs; in finer times, it served young people as a place to meet and fall in love. Although none of these things were mentioned in the original plans, they did great credit to the party that built the subway.

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