When the Soviet republic of Tajikistan was established in 1924, officials saw it as little more than an idea. It had had borders and a government, but it had never hosted a car or a train or any industrial economic activity. This lecture will explore the ways that the Communists worked to overcome what they saw as the isolation and “roadlessness” (bezdorozhnost’) of the territory in order to fulfill political geography through economic development. Efforts to establish land transportation were meant to support the foundation of large-scale cotton agriculture in southern regions of the new republic as the basis of a new economy. More fundamentally, they were a way of physically altering the natural landscape to create a built environment for the state. This lecture will show that Tajikistan’s almost entirely mountainous terrain persistently interrupted and interfered with road projects, and frequently influenced the routes they could follow. The impact of the natural environment on early work plans demonstrated the weakness of the Soviet state, and the instability of its geography. Because planners, engineers, laborers, and others often found themselves compromising with the natural environment on behalf of the state, through efforts they saw as extraordinary and unanticipated, the process of developing Soviet mobility in southern Central Asia frequently determined the pace and scale of efforts to realize Communist ambitions and planning in Tajikistan.
Patryk Reid is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is writing a dissertation entitled “Managing Nature, Constructing the State: The Material Foundation of Soviet Empire in Tajikistan, 1917-37.”