Was Stalin necessary for Russia’s economic development?
Anton Cheremukhin, Mikhail Golosov, Sergei Guriev, Aleh Tsyvinski 10 October 2013
Soviet Russia’s industrialisation was a pivotal episode in the 20th century, and economic historians have spent decades debating the role of Stalin’s policies in bringing it about. This column argues that Stalin’s industrialisation was disastrous even in purely economic terms. The brutal policy of collectivisation devastated productivity, both in manufacturing and in agriculture. The massive welfare losses in the years 1928-40 outweighed any hypothetical gains from Stalin’s policies after 1940, and Russia would have been better off under a continuation of the ‘New Economic Policy’.
In 1962, a prominent British economic historian, Alec Nove, asked whether Russia would have been able to industrialise in the late 1920s and 1930s in the absence of Stalin’s economic policies (Nove 1962). This question is still important for several reasons.
- The transformation of Soviet Russia from an agrarian to an industrial economy is a key episode in economic and political history.
The industrialised Soviet Union played a key role in the victory over Nazi Germany during WWII and, as one of the two superpowers during the Cold War, reshaped the postwar world.
Development Economic history
Russia, Stalin, Soviet Union, industrialisation, collectivisation
Russia’s national income in war and revolution, 1913 to 1928
Mark Harrison, Andrei Markevich 11 May 2012
At the start of the 1920s, Russia’s economy suffered the greatest economic catastrophe of a turbulent 20th century. This column argues that measuring this experience yields lessons for the relationship between state capacity, government policies, and economic development.
In 1914, Russia joined in the First World War. With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 Russia’s part in that war came to an end. A civil war soon began, that continued with varying intensity until 1920. It was followed immediately by a famine in 1921. Economic recovery began, but by 1928 the Russian economy had been caught up in Stalin's drive to “catch up and overtake” the West through forced-march industrialisation.
Development Economic history Europe's nations and regions
Stalin, Soviet Union, Russian Revolution, state capacity
The dictator’s approach to electoral patterns
Konstantin Sonin 09 August 2008
Stalin’s mass killings are often viewed as the acts of a deranged dictator. This column suggests that such violence may have been the Soviet leader’s rational attempt to avoid losing power in a revolution.
While the people of the developed world are fascinated by electoral campaigns, more than a half of the world’s population does not have a chance to participate in elections. Yet any dictator needs some popular support; the difference is that he can trim his constituency, eliminating those who do not support him.
Politics and economics
Stalin, Soviet Union, revolution
Punishment without crime? The Gulag as a worker-discipline device
Marcus Miller, Jennifer Smith 10 January 2008
In capitalist economies, firms pay higher wages to motivate workers who fear unemployment. In Soviet Russia, Stalin used the Gulag to discipline workers. The economic rationale of the ‘efficiency wage’ model helps explain the cruel brutality of Stalin’s prison camps.
In the 1930s, when Western economies were laid low by mass unemployment, Stalin could claim to have found a cure: a command economy with ambitious five-year plans to promote rapid industrialisation. Deficient demand was not a problem, but what about supply? Stalin, who was planning for great increases in productivity, faced a problem: how was he to motivate workers with low levels of skill – including millions pouring in from the countryside who were entirely lacking in training or experience of the rigour and rhythms of life in a factory or on a construction site?
Russia, Gulag, Stalin, worker discipline