Creating the Soviet Arctic, 1917–1991
Armed with a worldview that explicitly valorized urban life as a more advanced stage of history, the revolutionary regime that ruled the former Russian Empire from 1917 to 1991 created new settlements throughout its terrain. Part of the thinking was that a predominantly peasant country had to embrace industrial modernity in order to achieve socialism. But the longing extended to places, usually near mineral deposits or in militarily strategic locations, that had few to no rural populations anywhere in the vicinity. With the constant discovery of rich reserves of natural resources, the Soviet north became one of the most rapidly urbanized areas in the USSR. Several hundred industrial cities, towns, and workers’ settlements were built from scratch there, often in previously uninhabited territories and by drawing in completely migratory populations. These permanent towns not only possessed economic and administrative functions, but also served as symbols of having conquered new and distant territories and incorporated them into the particular national, economic, social, and cultural space of the Soviet Union. We contend that the push to people parts of the Arctic sat at the centre of the Soviet Union’s approach to its vast polar territories.