A Failed Environmental Turn? Khrushchev’s Thaw and Nature Protection in Soviet Russia

in The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review
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This article aims to identify a “Thaw” in Soviet environmental history. Focusing on the attempts from some actors, above all writers and scholars of the Academy of Sciences to promote an ambitious law at the all-Union level in the second half of the 1950s, it uses new evidences from the central Russian archives to show the existence of an offensive by activists and experts in this field, but also their failure to obtain the creation of a unified state committee of ministerial rank. If the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature (VOOP) was sidelined in this battle, the 1960 Law on Nature Protection was significant for its members. It cited the VOOP as the main organ of control in the environmental field, and created an opportunity for new “social organizations” to emerge in the country: the Brigades for Nature Protection (DOP), the first of which was created at Moscow State University.




O. N. Ianitskii, “K 50-letiiu druzhiny okhrany prirody biofaka Moskovskogo universiteta,” Blog O.N. Ianitskogo, December 20, 2010, http://www.isras.ru/blog_yan_15.html.


Douglas R. Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom: Russian Nature Protection from Stalin to Gorbachev (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 269.


 See, for example, Repenser le Dégel: versions du socialisme, influences internationales et société soviétique (Paris: Éd. de l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 2006) and Polly Jones, ed., The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization: Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006).


Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom, 129.


Stephen Brain, “Stalin’s Environmentalism,” The Russian Review 69, no.1 (2010): 93-118. Paradoxically on certain general issues, especially exploitation of the forest, Stalinism produced a series of conservationist laws, giving official framework and support from above for limited forest protection.


Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom, 205.


In 1958, Gosplan had created such a commission with Nesmeianov at its head. In 1963, the recently transferred Gosplan Commission on nature protection was suppressed. See Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom, 258, 307-308.


Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom, 217-230.


F.R. Shtil’mark, “The evolution of concepts about the preservation of nature in Soviet literature,” Journal of the History of Biology 25, no.3 (1992): 429-447, 436.


Brain, “Stalin’s Environmentalism”, 115-117. The Minleskhoz succeded to the Main Administration of Forest Protection under the USSR government, created in 1936.


L.K. Shaposhnikov, “Okhrana prirodnykh bogatstv strany”, Vestnik AN SSSR 9 (1958): 120-122.


Shaposhnikov, “Okhrana prirodnykh bogatstv strany”, 121.


Oleg S. Kolbasov, “Environmental Law Administration and Policy in the USSR,” Pace Environmental Law Review 5, no.2 (1988), 439-444.


Weiner, A Little Corner of Freedom, 312-315.


Larin, et al., Okhrana prirody Rossii: Ot Gorbacheva do Putina, 44.


  • Cover of the book Reports from the Twenty-First Century (1960)

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  • Commemorative stamp for the 21st Congress of the CPSU (on the picture, the V. I. Lenin Volga Hydroelectric Power Plant, one of the largest of the world, put into operation in 1957). Source: http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BB:Stamp_of_USSR_2274.jpg.

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  • At the DOP Conference (first all-Union seminar of the DOP of USSR) in September 1972. One can see the ambivalent position of this organization with the diagram on the blackboard behind the orator, showing a double tutelage by the Communist Youth (Komsomol) and the VOOP. Courtesy of Svyatoslav Zabelin.

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