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Planned Modernization

Mid-rise apartment building, Ulaanbaatar
Courtesy Steve Mann.

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The former value of accommodation to, and harmony with, the natural world has been replaced by a fervent assertion of the dominion of man over nature and a major effort to control and to conquer the natural environment.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 (see Socialist Framework of the Economy). 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.

Last Update: 2010-12-07