The Soviet Union had the biggest iron ore deposits in the world and led all countries in output of iron and steel products. It was also the top maker of refined nickel, smelted zinc, and manganese; second in primary aluminum and refined lead; and third in copper mining and milling. It was believed to rank second in gold and diamond production after South Africa.
Its mineral wealth was located in many different regions. Seventy percent of iron reserves were east of the Urals in the European USSR, chiefly in the Donets Basin of the Ukrainian republic and the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly in the RSFSR. Bauxite was primarily located in the Urals but was also found in Ukraine and several other areas. Precious metals and stones were concentrated in eastern Siberia and the Far East, base metals in Central Asia and the Noril’sk area of Siberia, and nickel ores in western Siberia and the Urals. Soviet planners aimed at self-sufficiency in minerals. However, the Soviet Union exported sizable amounts of gold, diamonds, platinum, and nickel to earn convertible currency (the Soviet currency was non-convertible to foreign currencies and could not be used to purchase imports). The main mineral import was bauxite, which supplied aluminum smelters.
Manufacturing was the heart of the Soviet economy. At its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union had about 46,000 industrial plants and factories. Its manufacturing enterprises tended to be very large; more than 20 percent of workers were found in firms with more than 10,000 employees. Published statistics showed 35 percent of industrial output in 1989 being in machine building, 17 percent in food processing, 16 percent in light industry, 12 percent in metallurgy, 10 percent in wood products and building materials, 8 percent in chemicals, and 2 percent in other products.
More than 60 percent of Soviet industry was located in the RSFSR. The huge military-industrial complex, much of it concealed in the machine-building category, had first call on manpower, materials, and equipment.
Western intelligence sources reported in the 1980s that the USSR was first in the world in the manufacture of military aircraft, tanks, artillery pieces, and submarines. The largest civilian branch of machine building was the automotive industry, which assembled mostly trucks, tractors, and farm equipment rather than passenger vehicles. The USSR in 1984 produced 1.3 million trucks and cars, 564,000 tractors, and 118,000 combine harvesters. In the consumer sphere, it put out 8.6 million television sets (all of them in defense-industrial plants), 5.7 million home refrigerators, and 68.1 million watches; it also produced the most textiles and footwear of any country in the world. It ranked first in production of cement, and its building industry, mechanized in the 1950s, put up prefabricated homes, offices, and factories.
By any reckoning, qualitative performance of Soviet industry lagged far behind quantitative performance. Comparative studies suggested that productivity was only 25 to 40 percent of that in U.S. industry, in part because much machinery was obsolete. Industrial pollution was endemic, as environmental regulations were easy to circumvent so long as managers met their production quotas. One report found that 70 million Soviet citizens in 103 cities were vulnerable to life-shortening diseases due to levels of airborne contaminants at least five times the permitted amount. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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