Light Industry

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Light Industry


the aggregate of the specialized branches of industry that produce articles for mass consumption from a variety of raw materials.

In the USSR light industry is one of the most important sources of the gross national product. It accounted for 17 percent of the total volume of industrial production in 1971 and for 25 percent of the commodity turnover; on an average annual basis the industry employed more than 5 million people. Light industry handles both the primary processing of the raw materials and the delivery of the finished product. Its major branches are textiles, clothing, leather, fur, and footwear. In addition to the consumer markets, its products are sold to furniture, aviation, motor vehicle, and other enterprises, as well as to enterprises in agriculture, transportation, and public health.

Initial stages. Light industry became established as a branch of large-scale manufacturing industry in the second half of the 18th century. Technical progress in one of its oldest branches— the textile industry—began in the 18th century; major inventions created the base for shifting the industry from a capitalist workshop system to a machine industry of considerable importance. The first large enterprises appeared in Russia during the 17th century; in the early 18th century government help facilitated the establishment of broadcloth, linen, and other textile mills that filled chiefly government orders. The majority of its branches started to expand rapidly in the second half of the 19th century, when the country estate mills of the pomeshchiki (landlords), which were based on serf labor, were forced out by capitalist factories based on the labor of hired workers. The development of light industry was held up by the poor development of the raw-materials base and also by the backwardness of machine construction. Russia imported approximately half of its raw materials and dyestuffs and almost all of its light-industry equipment, chrome-tanned leather goods, and raw silk. At the same time fine leather hides, silkworm cocoons, morocco leather, Russian leather, and furs were exported. Light industry was a major component in the structure of industrial production and was to a considerable extent the foundation of industrial development. A number of its branches, including, for instance, the knitwear sector, were practically nonexistent. The distribution of light industry was very uneven. The overwhelming majority of the enterprises were located in the provinces of Moscow, Tver’, Vladimir, and St. Petersburg, which had cheap labor available and which were the former centers of such craft industries as weaving, tailoring, and lace-making. Manual labor was predominant in all the branches and the situation of the workers was extremely difficult.

The workers in light industry were active in the revolutionary movement. Some of the landmarks of the workers’ movement of Russia were the weavers’ strikes at the Morozov factory in Ore-khovo-Zuevo in 1885, at the Thornton factory in St. Petersburg in 1895, and in Ivanovo-Voznesensk in 1905, along with the December 1905 armed insurrection in Moscow, in which a large role was played by the workers of the Prokhorov factory (now the Trekhgornaia Manufaktura Combine). The Ivanovo-Voznesensk weavers in 1905 created a soviet of representatives that to all intents and purposes was the first soviet of workers’ deputies in Russia. The workers from light industry were active in the October Revolution of 1917 and fought in the Civil War of 1918–20.

Light industry in the USSR. As a result of World War I and of the Civil War and military intervention of 1918–20, the gross product of light industry was sharply reduced; in 1921 it was approximately 10–15 percent of the 1913 level. Under these very difficult conditions of economic dislocation the Communist Party took steps to increase the production of consumer goods. During the period of reconstruction from 1921 to 1925, the reconstitution of the ready-made footwear, clothing, and knitwear manufacturing industries was begun; in Middle Asia and Transcaucasia the reconstitution of the silk and silk-spinning industries began. New enterprises were built, including cotton, worsted, and silk-weaving enterprises, as well as silk-spinning, knitwear, clothing, and footwear factories. By 1928 the light industry in the USSR had surpassed the 1913 level.

Under the prewar five-year plans (1929–40) cotton combines were constructed in Tashkent and Barnaul; linen combines in Smolensk, Orsha, and Vologda; and woolen combines in Kiev, Semipalatinsk, and Monino (Moscow Oblast). Footwear factories and leather and artificial leather works were built, and a haberdashery industry was developed.

With the powerful advance of heavy industry and with the availability of the necessary raw materials from socialist agriculture and industry, the production of consumer goods by light

Table 1. Production of the principal products of light industry in the USSR from 1913 to 1940 (in millions)
Cotton cloth, linear m...............2,6722,6783,954
Woolen cloth, linear m..............107.786.8119.7
Silk cloth, linear m................42.69.677.3
Linen cloth, linear m...............121.4174.4285.5
Knitted underwear and outerwear, pieces...8.3183
Hosiery items, pairs................67.7485
Leather footwear, pairs..............6858211

industry has been substantially increased (see Table 1).

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) Soviet light industry sustained great damage. The fascist German invaders destroyed many enterprises. However, under the difficult conditions of the war, light industry kept the soldiers of the Soviet Army fully supplied with uniforms, footwear, and other articles of clothing. During the fourth five-year plan (1946–50), light industry was rapidly rehabilitated and developed. Output was 12 percent greater in 1950 than in 1940; the technical level of many enterprises was raised through mechanization and automation of production.

The successes of light industry were assisted by the broad scope of socialist emulation. As far back as the 1930’s the workers in light industry were mastering new technology and new procedures and were shifting over to the simultaneous operation of several machines. The Vichuga weavers E. V. and M. I. Vino-gradova became well-known innovators in 1935. During the postwar years, work practices that were picked up by workers throughout the country were initiated by M. M. Volkova, a weaver in the Orekhovo Cotton Combine (1946); V. I. Matrosov, a cutter in the Moscow Parizhskaia Communa Footwear Factory (1946); O. Ia. Mushtukova, a foreman in the cutting shop of the Leningrad Skorokhod Footwear Factory (1948); A. S. Chutkikh, an assistant foreman of the Krasnyi Kholm Worsted Combine in Moscow (1949); M. I. Rozhneva, a spinner in the Kupavna Fine-fabrics Factory (Moscow Oblast), and L. F. Kononenko, a weaver in the same plant (1949); and V. I. Gaganova, a crew leader of the Vyshnii Volochek Cotton Combine (1958).

In the postwar years the branches of light industry have continued to develop. Large enterprises have been constructed in Kamyshin, Engel’s, Kherson, Barnaul (second combine), Dushanbe (second stage of the combine), Cheboksary, Iartsevo, Omsk, Gori, and Kalinin for the cotton industry; in Minsk, Briansk, Krasnodar, Ivanovo, Sverdlovsk, Kansk, and Cher

Table 2. Production of the principal products of light industry in the USSR from 1950 to 1972 (in millions)
Cotton cloth, linear m....3,8996,3877,0777,4827,680
Woolen cloth, linear m....155.2341.8365.04957516
Silk cloth, linear m....129.68097937.11,2411,347
Linen cloth, linear m...282.2559.2587.3725.3776
Knitted underwear and outerwear, pieces.....1975849061,2361,290
Hosiery items, pairs......4739641,3501,3381,336
Leather footwear, pairs......203419486676645

nigov for the woolen industry; in Krasnoiarsk, Naro-Fominsk, Kalinin, and Leninabad for the silk industry; in Zhitomir, Rovno, Velikie Luki, and Panevėžys for the linen industry; in Cheboksary and Ufa for the knitwear industry; and in Ul’-ianovsk, Ulan-Ude, Velikie Luki, Dzhambul, Voroshilovgrad, Tallinn, Novosibirsk, Orel, Voronezh, Kamyshlov, and Baku for the leather footwear industry. Many existing enterprises have been reconstructed and supplied with high-production equipment.

Table 3. Production of the principal products of light industry per capita in the USSR and selected capitalist countries in 1972
 USSRUSAGreat BritainFrance
11970 21971
Cloth, sq m..........37.955.419.530.9
Knitwear, pieces.......5.28.316.026.32
Leather footwear, pairs...

The restructuring of industrial management on the branch principle and the conversion of the enterprises to the new system of planning and economic incentives have facilitated an intensified rate of growth in light industry. The progress of industrial production between 1950 and 1972 is shown in Table 2. The manufacturing output, calculated on a per capita basis in the

Table 4. Production of fabrics and footwear in selected socialist countries (in millions)
 Cotton cloth (sq m)Woolen cloth (sq m)Silk cloth (sq m)Leather footwear (pairs)
German Democratic Republic
Table 5. Production of fabrics and footwear in selected capitalist countries in 1971 (in millions)
 USAJapanGreat BritainFranceFederal Republic of Germany
1Not counting cloth made from natural silk 21970
Cotton cloth, sq m.......5,5712,2985271,016830
Woolen cloth, sq m......162.1424214170128
Silk cloth, sq m.........5,0693,7053821290380
Leather footwear, pairs....5341871782160

USSR and in selected capitalist countries, is shown in Table 3.

The increased manufacturing output is based on a corresponding increase in the production of raw materials: cotton, wool, flax, leather hides, and chemical fibers.

In 1972 the government purchased 7.3 million tons of raw cotton in the USSR (versus 4.29 million tons in 1960), 435,000 tons of flax fibers (versus 369,000 in 1960), and 452,000 tons of wool (versus 358,000 in 1960). Among the raw-material resources for light industry, chemical raw materials continue to gain in importance. In 1972 the production of man-made fibers was 746,000 tons, compared with 211,200 in 1960.

The distribution of light industry is improving because of the preferential construction of new enterprises in Middle Asia and Kazakhstan as well as in the eastern regions of the RSFSR.

The principal emphasis in the future development of light industry is being given to increasing the quality and variety of the products, mastering new types of production, and increasing the output of the products for which public demand is greatest. Among the steps being taken to make a substantial improvement in quality and provide a broader variety of products is the introduction of new cloth patterns and of modern models and fashions in footwear, clothing, and knitwear; the use of faster and brighter colors and of high-quality chemical impregnations; and the careful outer finishing of the items. The production and office workers of light industry are striving to fulfill the plans ahead of schedule, raise labor productivity, and put out high-quality products. In order to train technological specialists and artists for light industry, special higher and middle educational institutions have been set up in the USSR. The working personnel are instructed in factory-and-workshop schools, in professional-technical schools, in courses, and through individual study. The industry is served by 34 scientific research institutes and ten design institutes where about 50,000 specialists of various types were working in 1971.

Other socialist countries. Light industry is developing successfully in other socialist countries. The problems of increasing the production of fabrics, clothes, footwear, and other such goods are being solved through utilization of the internal potentialities of each country and through comprehensive cooperation among the socialist countries. The coordination of development plans for light industry makes it possible to provide raw materials and technological equipment and to exchange goods under mutually advantageous conditions. In particular, the USSR sends large amounts of cotton fiber to other socialist countries. The socialist countries cooperate in solving scientific-engineering problems to optimalize production processes. Also of great importance is the broadening of the raw-material base through the development of man-made fibers. Table 4 shows the volume of fabric and footwear production in some of the socialist countries.

The output of fabrics and footwear in some of the capitalist countries is shown in Table 5.


Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Khromov, P. A. Ocherki ekonomiki tekstil’noi promyshlennosti SSSR. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Vladimirskii, N. N. Ot domashnego tkachestva k sotsialisticheskomu tekstil’nomy proizvodstvu. [Kostroma] 1949.
Korneev, A. M. Tekstil’naia promyshlennost’ SSSR i puti ee razvitiia. Moscow, 1957.
Kisliakov, B. I. Legkaia industriia za 50 let. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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