Planned Modernization

Mongolia Table of Contents

Modernization in Mongolia has meant establishing new, special-purpose organizations, expanding the scope and responsibilities of the government, generating new occupational roles and hence increasing the division of labor, as well as formulating new mechanisms to integrate and to coordinate a society that is much more differentiated than its predecessor. Mongolia's modernization has, furthermore, taken place at the direction of a political party and a foreign patron the ideology of which emphasizes rational planning and disparages the use of market mechanisms to integrate the society. In the 1980s, Mongolia's leaders and mass media continued to stress the necessity of planning, of meeting goals and targets, and of carrying on large-scale projects.

The former value of accommodation to, and harmony with, the natural world has been replaced by a fervent assertion of the dominion of man over nature and a major effort to control and to conquer the natural environment. Science in the form of veterinary medicine, artificial insemination, and selective breeding has been applied to the herds in the effort to reach the increases in sheep, yaks, horses, and goats that were set in the five-year plans. Mongolia's press has publicized the number of hectares of steppe planted with wheat and has praised the labor heroes who level mountains of copper ore or control huge excavators at open-pit coal mines. The application of the most up-to-date science and technology has been expected to result in "the comprehensive development of the productive forces of socialist society," which in turn would produce rapid economic growth and increases in people's prosperity. The value of control, over both the natural environment and the human population, was associated closely with the ideology of planning, and carrying out the dictates of the plan has been made a primary political virtue for Mongolian citizens.

Social change in modern Mongolia has consisted of the enrollment of previously self-sufficient herders into bureaucratically structured and economically specialized productive units, such as herding collectives or state factories and mines. Most Mongolians have become wage-earners, subject to labor discipline and to the supervision of a new class of managers and administrators, most of whom belong to the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. In return for submission to labor discipline and surveillance, workers have received greater security and a range of welfare benefits from their enterprise or herding collectives. Benefits include free medical care and education, child allowances, sick leave and annual holidays, and old-age pensions. The government has made considerable efforts to reduce the gap between the benefits and the opportunities available to industrial workers and urban administrators and those provided to the pastoralists.

A modernized state farm and its machine operators were described in a Mongolian magazine in the 1980s. The drivers of tractors and combines were graduates of a three-year vocational secondary school, and each had a daily quota of plowing or harvesting. Those who fulfilled their day's quota received a free lunch, "prepared by professional cooks," and overfulfillment of the daily quota brought additional remuneration. Like most Mongolian workers, they engaged in "socialist emulation" contests, a Soviet practice under which teams of workers competed to do a task quickly or to surpass a quota. Each worker was rated as a first-class machine operator or a second-class machine operator, and the skill rating, in combination with an increment for length of service, determined the wage level. The state farm's chief agronomist, a graduate of an agricultural college, toured the area on his motorcycle to check the quality of each day's plowing. The state farm's administrative center was described as an urban-style community with two-story buildings and such amenities as a secondary school, medical facilities staffed with physicians, day-care centers for children of working parents, shops, and a "palace of culture."

Modernization has meant the creation of a substantial body of planners, supervisors, accountants, and clerks. The state has clearly attempted to control and to monitor the performance of all workers, including herders, who had quotas for weekly and monthly production of milk, butter, cheese, and wool.

Unifying Structures

As the economy has developed, the population has increased, the society has grown more differentiated, the people have come to have less in common, and the need to coordinate and to integrate their activities has become more pressing. The society formerly was held together and was coordinated by a set of unifying structures, of which the most significant were the ruling party, the educational system, and a set of party-directed organizations intended to enroll nearly every Mongolian in their activities.

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, like other ruling communist parties, directed the activities of all enterprises and large-scale organizations, from herding collectives to the national government. Collective farms and factories usually were run by the first secretary of the local party branch, and the party made an effort to recruit outstanding workers and people with leadership and managerial potential. Party members belonged to two organizations, their work unit and the party, and were the intermediaries who linked enterprises and local communities with the national political system. Party members constituted most of the extensive ranks of administrators who ran the country on a day-to-day basis. They were political generalists, generic managers; those at the higher levels usually had been trained in special party schools in the Soviet Union or in Ulaanbaatar.

In marked contrast with the past, almost all young Mongolians were enrolled in schools in the 1980s. Eight years of schooling was claimed to be universal, and most cities and centers of collectives offered ten-year schools, usually with boarding facilities for the children of herders. Literacy among young people was reportedly nearly universal, and the schools provided explicit training in nationalism and party ideology. Like schools in most countries, Mongolian schools also provided the training in punctuality, respect for abstract rules and standards, and participation in collective tasks needed to prepare young people for employment in formal, bureaucratic organizations, including the military services.

A set of organizations--trade unions, children's Young Pioneers, the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League (modeled on the Soviet Komsomol, for people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight), the Mongolian Women's Committee, and various sports and hobby groups--was intended to enroll every member of the population and to ensure that citizens who were not members of the elite party nonetheless were exposed to its ideology, example, and leadership. Mass organizations were controlled by the party. Although the extent to which mass organization actively enrolled and mobilized the citizenry was unclear, they claimed huge memberships--94.7 percent of all laborers and office and professional workers in state-owned enterprises belonged to trade unions in 1984; they were obviously intended to unify the populace and to promote identification with national goals. The responsibilities of the Mongolian Women's Committee included "the enlistment of women in the conscious performance of their civic and labor duty," which was accomplished through such means as annual rallies for female stockbreeders. By cutting across local and regional boundaries, the mass organizations promoted identification with the nation rather than the locality and with vocational or avocational rather than regional or ethnic interests.

Increasing Social Differentiation

Mongolia's economic development in the 1970s and the 1980s produced a population increasingly divided along occupational, educational, and regional lines. There were growing distinctions between workers and white-collar administrators; between urban and rural residents; between factory workers and pastoralists; between professionals, such as teachers and engineers, and the politically elite generalist managers; between those with only a primary school education and the graduates of post-secondary institutions in Mongolia or the Soviet Union; and, perhaps, between residents of the economic core in north-central Mongolia and those of the larger, but more sparsely populated, peripheral regions. All these distinctions entailed differences in income, life chances, prestige, and power, and they indicated potential strains in the social and political system. The strains took the form both of increased competition for the more desirable occupations and of concern within the government and the party over the way policies and practices favored some segments of the population over others, such as industrial workers at the expense of pastoralists, or urban universities at the expense of rural primary schools.

The 51 percent urban population reported in the 1979 census reflected rapid migration to the cities in the 1970s. The influx of rural people created housing problems, among them long waits for assignment to an apartment, expansion of ger districts on the edges of built-up areas, and pressure to invest in more housing, roads, and other urban infrastructure. The 1979 census showed Mongolia's class structure to consist approximately 40 percent of workers, 39 percent of herders in cooperatives, and 21 percent of intelligentsia. The last term was not defined but presumably referred to those with at least secondary schooling and non-manual occupations.

Mongolia has suffered from a continual shortage of skilled labor and has had to rely on foreign workers. They come from the Soviet Union and the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) on short-term contracts. At the same time, the ranks of Mongolian clerks, accountants, and low-level managers grew many fold, and Mongolian leaders occasionally alluded to problems in persuading young people to aim for careers as skilled workers or engineers rather than as office workers. The result of the government's great efforts to expand education has been a society very conscious of educational credentials; in some instances, the diploma is more significant than any substantive knowledge or skill it might represent.

The elite consisted of bureaucrats and ranking members of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. Such people were usually male graduates of universities or military academies; they possessed a good command of Russian, had experience studying or working in the Soviet Union, and tended to live in Ulaanbaatar. They held positions in the nomenklatura, the Russian term denoting, narrowly, the elite administrative positions the ruling party filled by appointment and, more broadly, the elite "New Class" that dominated Soviet society. They had urban apartments, scarce consumer goods, opportunities for foreign travel, the use of official vehicles, and access to first-rate medical care; they probably sent their children to universities and into professional occupations.

Under the managerial elite were technical specialists, such as engineers, doctors, professors, and financial and planning experts, who also were university-trained, fluent in Russian, and predominately urban. Below them were the comparatively large categories of industrial workers, employees of state farms, and administrative and clerical personnel. Such people had an occupational title or certification, and they received a regular wage from the state payroll.

At the bottom, or the edges, of the system were the nomadic herders, the arads. They had no vocational certification or formal job titles, and their incomes and livelihood still depended to a large extent on the vagaries of the weather. Although they were honored publicly as the prototypical Mongolian working class and the repository of traditional values, they were a shrinking segment of the population and one that few urbanites aspired to join. In spite of government efforts to raise their living standards, their dispersed and nomadic mode of livelihood limited access to such public services as health care and education. Their children could rise through the school system to the professional or administrative elite, but at the cost of long separation from their families in boarding schools. Unlike those of workers in the state sector of the economy, herders' incomes depended on the performance of the cooperatives, and that in turn rested on the weather and the health of the herds.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress