Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
|Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|
Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик
Map of the USSR
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR; "СССР" in Russian), also known as the Soviet Union, was a Eurasian Marxist-Leninist state that was established on 30 December 1922, following the defeat of almost all enemies in the Russian Civil War. It lasted until 26 December 1991, and was governed as a one-party state by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with Moscow as its capital. The Russian Federation is considered to be the legal continuator of the Soviet Union, inheriting the properties of its embassies, its membership in the UN, and its permanent membership on the UN Security Council.
- 1 History
- 2 Politics
- 3 Political economy
- 4 Economy
- 5 Infrastructure
- 6 Society
- 7 Environment
- 8 Railways
- 9 References
The RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) emerged out of the Russian Revolution of 1917, with Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin as its first president. The new government created a constitution establishing itself as a Socialist republic.
Red vs. White Civil War
In 1918, following the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, a civil war between the Bolsheviks (or "Reds") and the remaining monarchists (the "Whites"), along with various disgruntled social democrats and liberals such as their rival faction, the Mensheviks, tore apart the RSFSR. Despite support from the capitalist Western Powers, the Whites were ultimately defeated in 1920.
During the war, the Bolsheviks militarily intervened in Ukraine, which was under the control of anarcho-communists (led by Nestor Makhno) and Ukrainian ultranationalists. The anarchists made a treaty with the Bolsheviks in 1920, but the Bolsheviks refused to publicly acknowledge it, leading to the arrest of Nestor Makhno and his delegation upon confronting the Bolsheviks.
New Economic Policy
The New Economic Policy was part of what historian Brinton called the thermidor after the French Revolution's Thermidorian Reaction. It involved a variety of concessions to the backward strata of Soviet society, including the restoration of obstacles to divorce, laws against homosexuality, and the abolition of the age of consent laws. Economically, it meant that industrial state owner enterprises gained autonomy in its policies while in rural areas individual private initiative and enterprise was allowed to dominate economic conduct.
In 1928 the NEP ended when the Soviet government implemented the first Five Year Plan. This became known as central planning or a command economy, which lasted until circa 1991 when the economy had reached a critical point in the crisis of the absolute over-accumulation of capital.
The Great Purge
In spite of an arguably overpowered bureaucracy and some of the reactionary concessions, the Soviets made extensive achievements which vastly improved life for hundreds of millions of people. These achievements were the result of the planned economy (built primarily during the 1930s). Even reactionaries have been unable to deny this; as antisocialist propagandist Nick Eberstadt admitted:
Stalin’s results were incontestable. This is a point those of us in the West often overlook. Stalin inherited a country that was the primary casualty of World War I, and bequeathed to his successors a super-power. It is but a single measure of the success of the ‘Leader’, and his understanding of the endurance of his nation, that between 1940 and 1953, a period marked by an immensely destructive world war costing perhaps twenty million Soviet lives and a series of purges claiming perhaps not many less, the USSR doubled its production of coal and steel, tripled its output of cement and industrial goods, and increased its pool of skilled labor by a factor of ten. These rates of growth were geometrically higher than in the less devastated and Terror-free West.
The claim that the Soviets purged ‘perhaps not many less’ than twenty-million people, however, is obvious nonsense:
The Stalinist regime was consequently responsible for about a million purposeful killings, and through its criminal neglect and irresponsibility it was probably responsible for the premature deaths of about another two million more victims amongst the repressed population, i.e. in the camps, colonies, prisons, exile, in transit and in the POW camps for Germans. These are clearly much lower figures than those for whom Hitler’s regime was responsible.—Stephen Wheatcroft, 
The Stalin administration was thus responsible for about three million deaths, and even that is only if one includes Fascist POWs, victims of an unintentional but tragic famine (Wheatcroft’s own research proves that it was unintentional), and gulag prisoners. The purges of the late 1930s are a black mark on the USSR’s legacy; this much cannot be denied. That being said, they have been the subject of decades-worth of unjustified and intolerable distortions and exaggerations by bourgeois academics, necessitating a thorough reply. While Westerners are often treated to numbers ranging from 20 to 50 million, the true figures (while worrisome enough in their own right) are nowhere near that high. According to Professor J. Arch Getty:
From 1921 to […] 1953, around 800,000 people were sentenced to death and shot, 85 percent of them in the years of the Great Terror of 1937–1938. From 1934 to Stalin’s death, more than a million perished in the gulag camps.—J. Arch Getty, 
To these figures must be added an important qualification: contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of gulag inmates were not innocent political prisoners. Professor Getty notes that those convicted of "counterrevolutionary crimes" made up between 12 and 33 percent (depending on the year) of the gulag population, with the rest having been convicted of ordinary crimes. He also rejects the common claim that non-Russian nationalities were disproportionately targeted. To quote from his article in the American Historical Review, concerning the gulag inmates in particular:
The long-awaited archival evidence on repression in the period of the Great Purges shows that the levels of arrests, political prisoners, executions, and general camp populations tend to confirm the orders of magnitude indicated by those labeled as "revisionists" and mocked by those proposing high estimates. […] Inferences that the terror fell particularly hard on non-Russian nationalities are not borne out by camp population data from the 1930s. The frequent assertion that most of the camp prisoners were "political" also appears not to be true.—J. Arch Getty, 
According to this research, alleged counterrevolutionaries never made up more than a third of the gulag population (and generally much less, around 12%). This is backed-up by a CIA report on the topic, which found that as many as 95% of camp prisoners were non-political in camps that they investigated. The majority of camp prisoners were thus genuine criminals, convicted of rape, murder, theft, and similar. In addition, the gulag camps were not death camps like those of the Third Reich; they were prisons, albeit harsh ones. Even noted antisocialist scholars (such as those who worked on the infamous Black Book of Communism) have admitted this. To quote again from Professor Getty:
Stalin’s camps were different from Hitler’s. Tens of thousands of prisoners were released every year upon completion of their sentences. We now know that before World War II more inmates escaped annually from the Soviet camps than died there. […] Werth, a well-regarded French specialist on the Soviet Union whose sections in the Black Book on the Soviet Communists are sober and damning, told Le Monde, “Death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union.”—J. Arch Getty, 
It must also be noted that, contrary to the popular conception of the USSR as a place of "total terror" (to quote Hannah Arendt), the majority of the population did not feel threatened by the purges. Referring to the time of the Great Purge, Professor Thurston notes that the Great Purge was an exceptional occurrence, which cannot be used to characterize the USSR pre-1953 as a whole:
I will not simply imply but will state outright that the Ezhovshchina (Great Purge) was an aberration. Torture was uncommon until August 1937, when it became the norm; it ended abruptly with Beria’s rise to head of the NKVD in late 1938. Mass arrests followed the same pattern. […] A campaign for more regular, fair, and systemic judicial procedures that began in 1933–1934 was interrupted and overwhelmed by the Terror in 1937. It resumed in the spring of 1938, more strongly and effectively than before. Thus more than one trend was broken by the Ezhovshchina, only to reappear after it.
He also points out that some arrests which took place during the Great Purge were based on previously ignored (yet arguably still legitimate) crimes against the Soviet state, such as fighting with the reactionary forces during the Civil War:
People were suddenly arrested in 1937 for things that had happened many years earlier but had been ignored since, for example, serving in a White army.
The question arises: why arrest former White Army soldiers, among others? The answer lies in the general fear of counterrevolution which pervaded the party at this time. According to Professor James Harris:
By the mid–1930s, the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the militarists in Japan, both stridently anti-communist, posed a very real threat to the USSR. War was then on the horizon, and Stalin felt he had no choice but to take preemptive action against what he saw as a potential fifth column — a group that would undermine the larger collective.—James Harris, 
Bear in mind that since the moment of its founding (still a recent event, at this time), Soviet Eurasia had been invaded by multiple capitalist powers (including the United States) in the early 1920s, and had also been subject to espionage and internal sabotage. Combined with the looming threat of war with an increasingly powerful Third Reich, it is hardly surprising that these factors came together to form an atmosphere of paranoia, which lent itself to the sort of violent excess seen during the Purge. This coincides with Professor Thurston’s interpretation of the events, from his book Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia:
[B]etween 1934 and 1936 police and court practice relaxed significantly. Then a series of events, together with the tense international situation and memories of real enemy activity during the savage Russian Civil War, combined to push leaders and people into a hysterical hunt for perceived ‘wreckers.’ After late 1938, however, the police and courts became dramatically milder.
This general atmosphere of fear (not of the purges, but of external and internal enemies) is most likely why the majority of the Soviet people seemed to support the government’s actions during the Purge period:
The various reactions to arrest cataloged above suggest that general fear did not exist in the USSR at any time in the late 1930s. […] People who remained at liberty often felt that some event in the backgrounds of the detained individuals justified their arrests. The sense that anyone could be next, the underpinning of theoretical systems of terror, rarely appears.—Robert Thurston, 
World War II
Nikita Khrushchev won a power struggle that ensued after Stalin's death, coming to power in the mid-1950s and lasting until 1964 when he was ousted. During his "secret speech" at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, he denounced Joseph Stalin and decentralized control within the party on top of easing control over society, this being known as de-Stalinization. The speech he gave caused many people to leave non-ruling communist parties, especially in the West, with an estimate of approximately one-half given by Grover Furr. However, there were also those who were merely shaken by the news and remained in said parties until Soviet intervention in Hungary later that year, which was considered the "last straw". Stalin's reputation was at a high during World War II, when the USSR was fighting with the Allies against the Axis, though it wasn't flawless before de-Stalinization. As an example, during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact plenty of commentators wrote of the USSR and Nazi Germany as totalitarian twins and the term "Communazis" gained widespread use. FDR, not known for any hatred of the Soviets, stated in a February 1940 speech: "The Soviet Union, as a matter of practical fact, as everybody knows … is run by a dictatorship, a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world." The USSR's invasion of Finland was also not popular in the West. Then of course came the Cold War, in which Stalin was frequently portrayed as a demented and bloody tyrant who betrayed promises at Yalta and threatened freedom across the globe. By the time of his death everything he was ever accused of (mass bloodshed and famine as a consequence of collectivization, the assassination of Kirov and consequent bloody purges, deportation of nationalities, anti-Semitism in his last years, the gulag system, allying with Nazi Germany against the democracies, Katyn, etc.) had already been covered in the West. Obviously among "official" communist parties Stalin would, of course, be respected as both a leader and a theoretician, whose works were (as in the USSR itself until 1956) upheld as being on the same level as Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The view of Khrushchev's speech in the West is that it was shocking simply because a leader of the Soviet Union was speaking out against Stalin, not that he was saying anything new. Numerous commentators pointed out that Khrushchev left out much else that could be said, and that Khrushchev had exclusively fixated on Stalin as an individual so as to absolve "the system" from any blame. Glasnost would echo this situation later, mostly being seen as confirming what was already alleged about Stalin (e.g. Gorby handing over Katyn documents to Poland in 1990).
In 1987, Gorbachev passed a law that decentralized much of the economy and expanded market activity, however was not by itself a restoration of capitalism. Nowhere within the law were capitalist relations of production legalized.
The Basic Provisions stress that the economy shall continue to be planned and managed as "a unified national economic complex" as the principal means for carrying out the Party's economic policies. These policies are to be embodied in a 15-year plan that sets goals and priorities and outlines a program for implementing them. This plan, which is to contain specific targets for the 15- year period, is to be the basis for detailed formulation of the plan for the initial 5-year period, with a breakdown by years. Per the current procedure, this plan will be worked out by Gosplan and sent down to republic Councils of Ministers and to ministries. These bodies, in turn, send "initial planning data" to firms, on the basis of which the latter work out and ratify their own 5-year and annual plans. Plans are reviewed annually and revised if required. Proposals for revisions are submitted to Gosplan, which reviews them, revises the 5-year plan if necessary, and submits a report to the Council of Ministers and to the Central Committee, along with the draft state budget.
The firms receive: (1) "non-binding control figures" that specify the value of output, profit, foreign currency receipts, and major indicators of scientific and technical progress and social development; (2) a mandatory bill of state orders for output that "ensure meeting society's priority needs"; (3) limits, which include rationed goods and centralized investment allocations; (4) long-term economic normatives based on a list approved by the Council of Ministers regulating, among other things, growth of total wages, payments for capital and labor, and the allocation of profits among various kinds of taxes and reserve funds set up by ministries and enterprises. Three major funds are the bonus fund, the social development fund, and the fund for financing research and development and investment.
Clearly, the state intends to determine the rate and direction of the bulk of investment. To what extent will depend on how state centralized investment is defined. The state also intends to determine the directions of economic development and to enforce programs of scientific-technical progress that are worked out from the top.—Gertrude E. Schroeder, "Anatomy of Gorbachev's Economic Reform" in Milestones in Glasnost and Perestroyka: The Economy, pp. 205-206
The 1987 reforms were still somewhat "moderate" compared to Yugoslavia's system, and clearly didn't go nearly as far as Deng's reforms.
One of the reasons used to justify Perestroika was because the USSR had problems with shortages beforehand. The continued existence of shortages are evidence the reforms didn't work and instead made the situation far worse than it had been before. Shortages clearly weren't an unknown phenomenon in socialist economies during the 20th century. It's something bourgeois economists usually focus on when criticizing socialism, hence the two-volume Economics of Shortage by János Kornai. Not coincidentally, Kornai's text had a lot of influence among Chinese reformers and he personally worked to convince them to enact market reforms at the 1985 Bashan conference, whereas Kornai's influence on Soviet reformers (at least those who advised Gorbachev) was a lot more limited. Furthermore, shortages are not proof of capitalist restoration. Marxists frequently argue that capitalism displays a very different problem: a crisis of overproduction caused by the purchasing power of workers declining amid an ever greater abundance of goods flooding the market.
Collapse and dissolution
In the 1980s, the United States expanded its arms chase, terrorizing the Soviets into catching up, a process made more stressful by the struggle in the Afghan war. Antisocialist officials also pressured banks and other businesses, and even the Swedish state, into ignoring the Soviet Union. Gorbachev introduced new reforms to both the economy and politics, which worsened the condition of the workers by increasing wealth inequality — though it never reached the same rate as it had in capitalist countries, e.g. the U.S. — as well as breadlines, and allowed more critical opinions to be voiced politically. But heads of newspapers were now in fact being replaced or pushed towards a more right-wing view by that same government, meaning such policies did not actually result in more discourse. Nonetheless it became a more and more accepted view to advocate for regulated or even free markets, which then led to the rising popularity of Yeltsin. He criticized the Soviet elite and advocated for market reforms, promising less waiting lines and a decrease in inequality. In April 1990 Yeltsin became the chairman of the Russian parliament. The direction the country was taking triggered a coup attempt in August 1991, but which failed as Yeltsin called for a strike against it. While according to a referendum from 1991 most people did not want a complete dissolution of the Soviet republics, this is exactly what happened until the end of 1991: Parts of the government were simply dismantled, the party lost its power, and eventually republics started declaring independence — the union, in a sense, was falling apart.
After the Soviet Union’s discontinuation, living standards decreased dramatically and to this day many former citizens of it regret its fall, as many polls show, though the results sometimes strongly vary among some of the former republics.
Modern evidence suggests that the masses did indeed support the Stalin administration, which likewise encouraged mass participation from the working people:
Stalin, the press, and the Stakhanovite movement all regularly encouraged ordinary people to criticize those in authority. […] If the citizenry was supposed to be terrorized and stop thinking, why encourage criticism and input from below on a large scale? […] my evidence suggests that widespread fear did not exist in the case at hand [the ‘Great Terror’ period].—Robert Thurston, 
These states were not entirely non-participatory as some have suggested; the working masses did have a genuine voice in political affairs. Professor Thurston states that ‘at the lower levels of society, in day-to-day affairs and the implementation of policy, [the Soviet system] was participatory.’ He notes that workers were frequently encouraged to take part in decision making:
The regime regularly urged its people to criticize local conditions and their leaders, at least below a certain exalted level. For example, in March 1937 Stalin emphasized the importance of the party’s ‘ties to the masses.’ To maintain them, it was necessary ‘to listen carefully to the voice of the masses, to the voice of rank and file members of the party, to the voice of so-called “little people,” to the voice of ordinary folk.’
While there were limits to criticism, Professor Thurston notes that ‘such bounds allowed a great deal that was deeply significant to workers, including some aspects of production norms, pay rates and classifications, safety on the job, housing, and treatment by managers.’ The workers had a voice in various official bodies, and they generally had their demands met:
The Commissariat of Justice also heard and responded to workers’ appeals. In August 1935 the Saratov city prosecutor reported that of 118 cases regarding pay recently handled by his office, 90, or 73.6 percent, had been resolved in favor of workers.
Workers also took part in direct oversight of managers:
Workers participated by the hundreds of thousands in special inspectorates, commissions, and brigades which checked the work of managers and institutions. These agencies sometimes wielded significant power.
The rights of Soviet workers were often noted in later accounts of the pre-1953 era:
One émigré recalled that his stepmother, a factory worker, ‘often scolded the boss,’ and also complained about living conditions, but was never arrested. John Scott, an American employed for years in the late 1930s as a welder in Magnitogorsk, attended a meeting at a Moscow factory in 1940 where workers were able to ‘criticize the plant director, make suggestions as to how to increase production, increase quality, and lower costs.’
Professor Thurston makes the following observation:
Far from basing its rule on the negative means of coercion, the Soviet regime in the late 1930s fostered a limited but positive political role for the populace. […] Earlier concepts of the Soviet state require rethinking: the workers who ousted managers, achieved the imprisonment of their targets, and won reinstatement at factories did so through organizations which constituted part of the state apparatus and wielded state powers.
These facts are all the more impressive when we recall the dismal state of workers’ rights in the market economies at this time:
This occurred at a time when American workers in particular were struggling for basic union recognition, which even when won did not provide much formal influence at the work place.
Professor Thurston also states:
Stalin did not intend to terrorize the country and did not need to rule by fear. Memoirs and interviews with Soviet people indicate that many more believed in Stalin’s quest to eliminate internal enemies than were frightened by it.
Perhaps one of his most interesting statements (indeed, one of the most statements from any bourgeois historian dealing with the Stalin administration) and perhaps the most succinct summary of this issue is the following:
There was never a long period of Stalinism without a serious foreign threat, major internal dislocation, or both, which makes identifying its true nature impossible.
This relates to how the Soviet government reacted to the genuine material conditions faced by the Soviet Union, rather than simply following its own whims and desires. Working people did not only have the right to take part in decision-making at the workplace; they also had a voice in national policy decisions. Professor Kawamoto (Hitotsubashi University) states that the USSR had ‘a more democratic face than what is usually imagined, especially among Western people.’ As they put it:
The Soviet regime was democratic in its own sense of the word. [P]articipation through sending letters and attending discussions gave self-government a certain reality and helped to legitimize the Soviet regime. Therefore, listening to the people was an important obligation for the authorities. [T]he government encouraged people to send letters to the authorities and actively used the all-people’s discussions.
It is also noted that Soviet citizens ‘believed that they were entitled to demand policy changes, and the draft writers, including specialists, officials, and deputies, felt obliged to respond to those demands.’ The process of gathering public opinion was intensive enough that it often slowed down the process of legislation:
Regarding the process of creating the Principles, direct participation worked largely as expected in the ideology of Soviet democracy, although it took many years.
As Professor Kawamoto says, "the reason why it took so long was deeply rooted in the ideas of Soviet democracy".
In addition to the aforementioned means of popular participation, Soviet officials also traveled throughout the nation to gather information on popular opinion. Using the development of Soviet family law as an example, Professor Kawamoto states:
The draft makers were not only passive recipients of letters but also traveled throughout the Soviet Union to listen to the people. When the work in the Commissions of Legislative Proposals was reaching its end, members of the subcommittee and officials working for them visited several union republics from April to June 1962 to research the practice of family law and collect opinions on important standards in the draft of the Principles… After these research trips, the commission finished the draft and presented it to the Central Committee of the Party in July.
While Soviet democracy was not without its flaws (as mentioned, the process was often rather slow, and there were limits on the extent of criticism), it would be highly inaccurate to describe the USSR as a "totalitarian" society, with no democratic structures; on the contrary, the USSR did practice its own form of democracy, and it did so rather effectively.
The government's authority over cities was uncontested throughout its existence, bar areas which were under foreign occupation during the Great Patriotic War. There were however cases of villages being seized by the Basmachi movement in Central Asia, which was in essence defeated in 1931, with its remnants extinguished in Kirghizia by 1934. In the Baltics there were the "Forest Brothers", who were anti-Soviet resistance forces that were pretty much defeated by Stalin's death. There were also some anti-collectivization rebellions.
In capitalist theories of the Soviet Union labour-power is considered a commodity in the Soviet Union, bought and sold on a labour-market.
In capitalist theories of the Soviet Union, commodity production is regarded to have had a generalised character, with inputs and outputs being commodities. Labour-power was sold to and bought by individual state enterprises, the means of production were sold between individual enterprises, and outputs, capital and consumer goods, were likewise sold to a market of consumers.
Competition of Capitals
In capitalist theories of the Soviet Union there is some debate about the existence of the competition of capitals. Tony Cliff and Raya Dunayevskaya claim that the law of value operated nonetheless due to international trade. Paresh Chattopadhyay disagrees, arguing that the law of value couldn't exist under such conditions and maintains that enterprises were reciprocally independent and were "competitive" in the Marxist sense by confronting each other through the exchange of commodities.
Accusations of imperialism
The USSR has been accused of imperialism primarily by left communists, Trotskyists, and Hoxhaists. In the Marxist sense, the USSR was not imperialist because it was not capitalist; a prerequisite of imperial exploitation. As Harry Haywood (a veteran CPUSA member-turned-Maoist-turned-critic of China's foreign policy) put it:
History demonstrates that, overall, Soviet foreign policy has been basically defensive and non-aggressive. This fact does not mean that everything the Soviet Union does is correct or that it cannot make serious mistakes or pursue wrong lines. For example, its relations with China and other socialist countries have been marked at times by chauvinism and hegemonism. But these problems do not make the Soviet Union a social imperialist power. Without a monopoly capitalist class and without capitalist relations of production there is no fundamental and compelling logic in the Soviet economy that creates a need to export capital and exploit other countries through trade. As a result it also has no colonies and no empire to sustain.
Chapters 6-8 of Is the Red Flag Flying? develops on this.
It was possible for the USSR to use its political power to impose onerous or otherwise "lopsided" economic arrangements on other countries, e.g. the joint-stock companies in parts of Eastern Europe and China after WWII, but these were just as easily abolished after Stalin's death. By contrast, if a communist were elected President of the United States they would not be able to change the imperialist nature of the American capitalist economy, let alone of capitalism more broadly.
In contrast to supposed imperialism, Soviet reformers in the late 80s were lamenting how the USSR's foreign policy was oriented toward subsidizing allies' economies rather than dealing with them on a more "businesslike" footing (e.g. Cuban sugar was bought at prices considerably higher than that of the world market).
In terms of "imperialism" in a non-Marxist sense, e.g. in terms of political control, then the lines are blurred a bit. Just as the United States presumably wouldn't stand by if France or Italy went communist, the USSR was clearly willing to deploy troops to prevent any possibility of counter-revolution in the Warsaw Pact states. But this sort of analysis obscures the fundamental differences between the US and USSR in favor of "power politics" and other general concepts typical of bourgeois relations.
Non-mode of production
Some Marxists provide an alternative theory of the nature of the political economy of the Soviet Union. The theory was first formulated by Hillel Ticktin.
With the exceptional periods of the 1910s and the 1990s, the Soviet Union was a planned economy. It achieved massively positive economic results until the 1970s, when revisionist policies and the Cold War began to cause a stagnation.
Unemployment was widespread during the NEP period, but disappeared during socialist construction and didn't return until Perestroika. People who studied for a higher education had to go into a certain line of work for a few years as compensation for the state educating them, after which they were free to work other jobs.
In 1917, Russia was a backwards, semicapitalist and feudal society. They had only recently abolished the manor system, and replaced it with the most brutal and primitive form of capitalism. The nation was dreadfully underdeveloped, with no sign of improving in the future, and what little growth did occur led to massive inequalities. According to a Professor of Economic History at Oxford University:
Not only were the bases of Imperial advance narrow, but the process of growth gave rise to such inequitable changes in income distribution that revolution was hardly a surprise. Real wages for urban workers were static in the late Imperial period despite a significant increase in output per worker[.] The revolution was also a peasant revolt, and the interests of the peasants were different[.] As in the cities, there was no gain in real wages.
The University of Warwick corroborates these observations:
Agriculture had reached North American levels of productivity by 1913 and wheat prices collapsed after 1914. The expansion of the railroads had run its course and there was no prospect of protected light industry becoming internationally competitive. The appropriate comparators for the prospects for Russian capitalism in the twentieth century are not Japan but Argentina or even India. Moreover, Russian capitalist development had brought little if any benefit to the urban and rural working class, intensifying the class conflicts that erupted in Revolution.
With the 1917 revolution (and after the bloody civil war, with its policy of war communism), the Soviet economy began to grow rapidly. The New Economic Policy (which nationalized large-scale industry and redistributed land, while allowing for the private sale of agricultural surplus) succeeded in transforming Russia from a semicapitalist existence into a developing state capitalist society, laying the groundwork for a planned economy.
Following War Communism, the New Economic Policy (NEP) sought to develop the Russian economy within a quasi-capitalist framework.
Economic circumstances came to require the transition to a planned economy:
However, the institutional and structural barriers to Russian economic development were now compounded by the unfavorable circumstances of the world economy, so that there was no prospect of export-led development, while low domestic incomes provided only a limited market for domestic industry. Without a state coordinated investment program, the Soviet economy would be caught in the low-income trap typical of the underdeveloped world.
In 1928 (after they selected the new head of the Communist Party), the RSFSR instituted a fully planned economy, and the first Five Year Plan was enacted. This resulted in rapid economic growth:
Soviet GDP increased rapidly with the start of the first Five Year Plan in 1928. […] The expansion of heavy industry and the use of output targets and soft-budgets to direct firms were appropriate to the conditions of the 1930s, they were adopted quickly, and they led to rapid growth of investment and consumption.
Bourgeois economists often alleged that this rapid growth came at the cost of per-capita consumption and living standards. However, more recent research has shown this to be false:
There has been no debate that ‘collective consumption’ (principally education and health services) rose sharply, but the standard view was that private consumption declined. Recent research, however, calls that conclusion into question. […] While investment certainly increased rapidly, recent research shows that the standard of living also increased briskly. […] Calories are the most basic dimension of the standard of living, and their consumption was higher in the late 1930s than in the 1920s. […] There has been no debate that ‘collective consumption’ (principally education and health services) rose sharply, but the standard view was that private consumption declined. Recent research, however, calls that conclusion into question. […] Consumption per head rose about one quarter between 1928 and the late 1930s.
From Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution by Robert C. Allen contains a good defense of collectivization, rebutting the claim that the same level of industrialization could have been achieved by continuing the NEP. Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, authors of Socialism Betrayed, gave a good summary of why the NEP ended when it did in The Collapse of the Soviet Union Reconsidered:
In explaining why the Soviets abandoned the NEP, the historian E. H. Carr pointed to three grave problems. First, in 1922-23, the so-called "scissors" crisis occurred, in which wildly fluctuating grain prices led to food shortages, unemployment and the suffering of poor and middle peasants. Second, most Soviet leaders came to realize that the NEP condemned the Soviet Union to a long period of industrial backwardness, and this was a fearsome and intolerable prospect in the face of the growing threat from external enemies. Third, in 1927-28 falling agricultural prices caused peasants to hoard their produce creating starvation in the cities. For these reasons, reliance on the market and private incentives became untenable. Thus, real economic problems, as well as ideological preferences, compelled Soviet leaders to adopt new policies and to embrace public ownership and centralized planning. Under these circumstances, to call the Soviet move to state ownership and central planning "utopian" is preposterous. By making this move the Soviets industrialized quickly, defeated the Nazi invasion, and rebuilt quickly after the war. […] Moreover, they did so while steadily increasing the standard of living of Soviet workers. To imagine that the Soviets could have achieved the same results by continuing the problematic policies of the NEP constitutes wishful thinking in the extreme.
Calorie consumption rose rapidly during this period:
Calories are the most basic dimension of the standard of living, and their consumption was higher in the late 1930s than in the 1920s. […] In 1895-1910, calorie availability was only 2100 per day, which is very low by modern standards. By the late 1920s, calorie availability advanced to 2500. […] By the late 1930s, the recovery of agriculture increased calorie availability to 2900 per day, a significant increase over the late 1920s. The food situation during the Second World War was severe, but by 1970 calorie consumption rose to 3400, which was on a par with western Europe.
Overall, the development of the Soviet economy during the interbellum period was extremely impressive:
The Soviet economy performed well. […] Planning led to high rates of capital accumulation, rapid GDP growth, and rising per capita consumption even in the 1930s. […] The expansion of heavy industry and the use of output targets and soft-budgets to direct firms were appropriate to the conditions of the 1930s, they were adopted quickly, and they led to rapid growth of investment and consumption.
The USSR’s growth during the interbellum period exceeded that of the market economies:
The USSR led the non-OECD countries and, indeed, achieved a growth rate in this period that exceeded the OECD catch-up regression as well as the OECD average.
This success is also attributed specifically to the revolution and the planned economy:
This success would not have occurred without the 1917 revolution or the planned development of state owned industry.
The benefits of the planned economy become obvious upon closer study:
A capitalist economy would not have created the industrial jobs required to employ the surplus labour, since capitalists would only employ labour so long as the marginal product of labour exceeded the wage. State-sponsored industrialization faced no such constraints, since enterprises were encouraged to expand employment in line with the demands of the plan.
Economic growth was also aided by the liberation of women, and the resulting control over the birth rate, as well as women's participation in the workforce:
The rapid growth in per capita income was contingent not just on the rapid expansion of GDP but also on the slow growth of the population. This was primarily due to a rapid fertility transition rather than a rise in mortality from collectivization, political repression, or the Second World War. Falling birth rates were primarily due to the education and employment of women outside the home. These policies, in turn, were the results of enlightenment ideology in its communist variant.
Reviews of Allen’s work have backed up his statements:
Allen shows that the Stalinist strategy worked, in strictly economic terms, until around 1970. […] Allen’s book convincingly establishes the superiority of a planned over a capitalist economy in conditions of labour surplus (which is the condition of most of the world most of the time).
Other studies have backed-up the findings that the USSR’s living standards rose rapidly:
Remarkably large and rapid improvements in child height, adult stature and infant mortality were recorded from approximately 1945 to 1970. […] Both Western and Soviet estimates of GNP growth in the Soviet Union indicate that GNP per capita grew in every decade in the postwar era, at times far surpassing the growth rates of the developed western economies. […] The conventional measures of GNP growth and household consumption indicate a long, uninterrupted upward climb in the Soviet standard of living from 1928 to 1985; even Western estimates of these measures support this view, albeit at a slower rate of growth than the Soviet measures.—Williams College, 
As early as 1917, forest conservation became one of Bolshevism’s duties. With one minor exception, the Politburo consistently rejected the drive toward hyperindustrialism in the forest: Moscow capitulated only briefly to the industrialists in 1929, and in the 1930s and 1940s it set aside larger tracts of the RSFSR’s most valuable forests as preserves, off-limits to industrial exploitation.
While the Soviet economy outperformed the market economies in numerous ways, the introduction of market reforms and other revisionist policies after 1953 may have contributed to the system’s deceleration and delayed the increase of living standards:
Three different measures of population health show a consistent and large improvement between approximately 1945 and 1969: child height, adult height and infant mortality all improved significantly during this period. These three biological measures of the standard of living also corroborate the evidence of some deterioration in living conditions beginning around 1970, when infant and adult mortality were rising and child and adult height stopped increasing and in some regions began to decline.—Williams College, 
Economic growth also began to slow around this time:
After the Second World War, the Soviet economy resumed rapid growth. By 1970, the growth rate was sagging, and per capita output was static by 1985.
The Cold War was another factor which contributed to slowing growth rates:
The Cold War was an additional factor that lowered Soviet growth after 1968. The creation of high tech weaponry required a disproportionate allocation of R & D personnel and resources to the military. Innovation in civilian machinery and products declined accordingly. Half of the decreased in the growth rate of per capita GDP was due to the decline in productivity growth, and that decrease provides an upper bound to the impact of the arms race with the United States.
Despite the delayed growth rates, food consumption remained at acceptable levels. By 1976 the average caloric intake of the Soviet population was 3,330. Similarly, a 1983 report confirmed that Soviets and U.S. citizens ate about the same amount of food quotidianly, but the Soviet diet may have be more eutrophic; they put the daily caloric intake at 3,280. Dr. Kenneth Gray, the White House’s top expert on Soviet agriculture, confirmed in his testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that ‘the food shortages in the USSR are occurring at fairly respectable levels of consumption.’
While the USSR did become a major importer of grain by the 1980s, they intended these imports strictly for feeding livestock, since it takes between seven and fourteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. They thereby increased their consumption of meat and dairy. Per capita meat consumption in the USSR doubled from the 1960s to the 1980s and exceeded such nations as the Kingdom of Norway, Italy, Greece, the Kingdom of Spain, Japan, and the State of Israel. Milk production increased almost sixty percent in two decades, to the point when during the 1980s the USSR became by far the world’s largest milk-producing country. According to the 1982 CIA report on the Soviet economy, ‘The Soviet Union remains basically self-sufficient with respect to food.’ These were the accomplishments of an agrarian labour force that decreased from 42% in 1960 to 20% in 1980, working in a country where over 90% of the land is either too arid or too frigid for farming.
Although Vladimir Lenin would inspire many ecosocialists in the U.S.S.R., and Moscow initiated history’s first state-directed effort to reverse artificially induced climate change, the immense pressure to compete with antisocialist régimes meant that pollution and irresponsible use of the environment would become very significant issues in later decades. For example, a series of dry years in the 1970s (particularly 1974–1975) and low flows between 1982 and 1986 contributed to the Aral Sea’s desiccation, but overconsumption of the water for irrigation was another factor. Starting in the 1960s, the Soviets proposed a large-scale project to redirect part of the flow of the Ob basin’s rivers to Central Asia over a gigantic canal system; replenishing the Aral Sea was considered as one of the project’s main goals. It was only due to its staggering costs and the negative public opinion in the R.S.F.S.R. that the federal authorities unfortunately relinquished the project by 1986. (The worst effects of the sea’s desiccation manifested after the short twentieth century: when a market economy was well in place.) The discontinuation of many Soviet industries also lead to a temporary reduction in CO₂ emissions in the Eastern world; United Nations data from 1990 indicate that the Soviet Union was emitting 13.5 tons of CO₂ per capita (lower than antisocialist states such as Australia (17.2), Canada (16.2), and the United States (19.1)).
Compared with the later period it is justifiable to talk of the indisputable advantages of the command over the market economy in Russian conditions. […] [T]hese advantages are evident even in comparison with the degenerate mid-1980s version of the command economy, which was very different from the classical model. […] The USSR economy also exceeded the main capitalist countries in this period in terms of a number of indicators of economic efficiency. […] [T]he fading of the rate of economic growth which began at the end of the 1950s was not an inevitable consequence of the faults of command economy as an economic system but was the result of its gradual dismantling and the incompetent actions of the political and economic leadership in this period.—G.I. Khanin, 
The USSR placed importance on the health of its people, and alongside quality food products, provided health care as a constitutional right.
ARTICLE 120. Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service for the working people and the provision of a wide network of health resorts for the use of the working people. - (Soviet Constitution of 1936 Chapter 10: FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENS)
- Article 41: Citizens of the USSR have the right to rest and leisure. This right is ensured by the establishment of a working week not exceeding 41 hours, for workers and other employees, a shorter working day in a number of trades and industries, and shorter hours for night work; by the provision of paid annual holidays, weekly days of rest, extension of the network of cultural, educational, and health-building institutions, and the development on a mass scale of sport, physical culture, and camping and tourism; by the provision of neighborhood recreational facilities, and of other opportunities for rational use of free time. The length of collective farmers' working and leisure time is established by their collective farms.
- Article 42: Citizens of the USSR have the right to health protection. This right is ensured by free, qualified medical care provided by state health institutions; by extension of the network of therapeutic and health-building institutions; by the development and improvement of safety and hygiene in industry; by carrying out broad prophylactic measures; by measures to improve the environment; by special care for the health of the rising generation, including prohibition of child labour, excluding the work done by children as part of the school curriculum; and by developing research to prevent and reduce the incidence of disease and ensure citizens a long and active life. - (Soviet Constitution of 1977, Part II. The State And The Individual; Chapter 7: The Basic Rights, Freedoms, And Duties Of Citizens Of The USSR)
Health conditions in Imperial Russia had been deplorable; it was among the unhealthiest nations in Europe, if not Earth in general:
Without doubt the Soviet Union was one of the most underdeveloped European countries at the time of the October Revolution. In terms of life-expectancy it lagged behind the other industrialized countries of Europe by a gap of about 15 years.—University of Munich, 
However, after the October Revolution, healthcare conditions began to improve rapidly. By the end of the interbellum period, healthcare standards (measured by life expectancy and mortality rates) were superior to those of Western Europe and the USA:
One of the most striking advances of socialism has been and was generally seen to be the improvement in public health provision for the population as a whole. In accordance with this assumption mortality-rates in the Soviet Union declined rapidly in the first two decades after World War II. In 1965 life-expectancy for men and women in all parts of the Soviet Union, which still included vast underdeveloped regions with unfavorable living conditions, were as high or even higher than in the United States. Such a development fits perfectly into the picture of emerging industrial development and generally improving conditions of living.—University of Munich, 
Even reactionary intellectuals were forced to acknowledge these achievements; according to Nick Eberstadt (an antisocialist think-tank adviser), healthcare standards in the Soviet Union during the interbellum period surpassed those of the USA and Western Europe:
Over much of this century the nation in the vanguard of the revolution in health was the Soviet Union. In 1897 Imperial Russia offered its people a life expectancy of perhaps thirty years. In European Russia, from what we can make out, infant mortality (that is, death in the first year) claimed about one child in four, and in Russia’s Asian hinterlands the toll was probably closer to one in three. Yet by the late 1950s the average Soviet citizen could expect to live 68.7 years: longer than his American counterpart, who had begun the century with a seventeen-year lead. By 1960 the Soviet infant mortality rate, higher than any in Europe as late as the Twenties, was lower than that of Italy, Austria, or East Germany, and seemed sure to undercut such nations as Belgium and West Germany any year.
He even notes that these achievements made planned economics seem nearly indefatigable:
In the face of these and other equally impressive material accomplishments, Soviet claims about the superiority of their “socialist” system, its relevance to the poor countries, and the inevitability of its triumph over the capitalist order were not easily refuted.
While health conditions did start to decline after the introduction of revisionist policies in the mid-1960s, this was likely caused mostly by the substance abuse, lopsided age demographics due to WWII, and the disparities in mortality rates between the European and Asian regions of the union rather than actual deficiencies in the healthcare system. Either way, the planned economy’s healthcare achievements remain unimpeachable.
In January of 1960, news of a smallpox epidemic reached Moscow, which immediately mobilized all the resources of its hospitals, clinics, police departments and the KGB to search for and contain probable carriers. For example, they interrupted university lectures to quarantine one hundred fifty students, and searched elsewhere for other contacts until they establish an entire chain, interrupting trains and flights to quarantine potentially infected people. They placed a total of 9,342 people under quarantine. The Soviets prevented the spread of smallpox by vaccinating all of Moscow’s and Moscow Region’s residents of all ages. Within only a week, they successfully vaccinated more then 9.5 million people, an unprecedented case in history. By mobilizing law enforcement, epidemiologists, and all medics, they successfully defeated the virus in only 19 days, concluding on February 3, 1960. In total, they found only forty-five Moscow residents suffering from smallpox, only three of whom died.
Already in 1919, despite the lackluster economic conditions, the Bolsheviki improved education substantially:
Thousands of new schools have been opened in all parts of Russia and the Soviet Government seems to have done more for the education of the Russian people in a year and a half than Czardom did in 50 years. […] The achievements of the department of education under Lunacharsky have been very great. Not only have all the Russian classics been reprinted in editions of three and five million copies and sold at a low price to the people, but thousands of new schools for men, women, and children have been opened in all parts of Russia. Furthermore, workingmen’s and soldiers’ clubs have been organized in many of the palaces of yesteryear, where the people are instructed by means of moving pictures and lectures. In the art galleries one meets classes of working men and women being instructed in the beauties of the pictures. The children’s schools have been entirely reorganized, and an attempt is being made to give every child a good dinner at school every day. Furthermore, very remarkable schools have been opened for defective and over-nervous children. On the theory that genius and insanity are closely allied, these children are taught from the first to compose music, paint pictures, sculpt and write poetry, and it is asserted that some valuable results have been achieved, not only in the way of productions but also in the way of restoring the nervous systems of the children.—William C. Bullitt, 
Corporal punishment, common in Imperial Russia, became illegal and increasingly rare. Education continued to improve from the 1920s to the 1960s, and various nonsocialist observers, including Western government officials, have attested to the high quality of Soviet education, noting the diverse range of subjects, support for students, and complexity compared to U.S. education.
In common with primary and secondary education, all higher education is free, and students in higher education who maintain a ‘B’ average also receive a stipend. Such stipends vary according to the year of study, the subject studied, the type of school and the student’s progress; no stipend is paid for a year that must be repeated. In the mid-1970s university students received 40–60 roubles a month and technical school students 30–45 roubles. Admission to higher education is by examinations for specific institutions; there are no IQ tests or general aptitude tests in the USSR. Students who fail one institution’s entrance exam can reapply in future years or apply to other institutions. Advantages are given to higher education applicants with work experience, for example, quotas, extra points on examinations, special tutorial programmes. In 1967, 30% of admissions to higher education were of people who had been working full time. In general, Soviets are actively encouraged to continue with formal education throughout their lives. Indeed, the Soviets have one of the highest rates of attendance at institutions of higher education in the world.—Albert Szymański, 
Laws regarding social matters such as homosexuality and abortion were liberalized during Lenin's reign, though some were undone after Stalin took power. In the case of the former, the immediate reason was based on the conflation of homosexuals with homosexual pedophiles in NKVD reports. The restrictions on abortion for their part can be considered consistent with the Bolsheviks' original intentions:
A matter which has raised considerable doubts in the minds of many protagonists of sex-equality in this country is the law, passed in 1936, making abortion illegal except in cases where it is justified by consideration for a woman's health or the danger of hereditary disease. This change in the law has been treated as an attack on sex-equality.
It is of the greatest importance in this connection, to refer back to the text of the original law which legalised abortion in Soviet Russia in 1921. It is important to note that in this law not a word was said about sex-equality, and the right to have an abortion was never put forward as a fundamental right of the Soviet woman. On the contrary, abortion was treated as a social evil, but an evil which was likely to be less harmful when practised legally than when carried out under conditions of secrecy. Here is part of the text of the original law permitting abortion:
'During the past decades the number of women resorting to artificial discontinuation of pregnancy has grown both in the West and in this country. The legislation of all countries combats this evil by punishing the woman who chooses to have an abortion and the doctor who performs it. Without leading to favourable results, this method of combating abortion has driven the operation underground and made the woman a victim of mercenary and often ignorant quacks who make a profession of secret operations. As a result, up to 50 per cent of such women are infected in the course of the operation, and up to 4 per cent of them die.
'The Workers' and Peasants' Government is conscious of this serious evil to the community. It combats this evil by propaganda against abortions among working women. By working for Socialism, and by introducing the protection of maternity and infancy on an extensive scale, it feels assured of achieving the gradual disappearance of this evil. But as moral survivals of the past and the difficult economic conditions of the present still compel many women to resort to this operation. . .' it is allowed in State hospitals.
The essential feature of this law is that it was based on 'difficult economic conditions,' and was of a temporary nature. The right to abortion was never introduced as one of the rights of Soviet women, to be enjoyed in all circumstances. It was considered an 'evil,' and was introduced as a makeshift to combat the serious mortality rate from illegal abortions carried out under unsatisfactory conditions. There is evidence that, at the present time, owing to the increased knowledge of contraceptives on the one hand and the growing sense of economic security on the other, women will not now practise abortion in this way, and that therefore the permissive law is no longer necessary in the interests of health. Abortion in Soviet legislation has always been regarded primarily as a question of health, not of equality. Since thousands of women have been neglecting the use of contraceptives because they could obtain an abortion, the legality of the less satisfactory method of discontinuing pregnancy has actually to some extent prevented more satisfactory methods from being used of avoiding pregnancy altogether.—Pat Sloan, Soviet Democracy, pages 125-126
Alexandra Kollontai, interviewed in 1936:
One cannot compare the conditions under which women in the Soviet Union live and work with the conditions in other countries. As long as the state in the Soviet Union was not able to provide complete, broad and effective assistance for motherhood, and as long as economic prosperity for the broad masses of the population in the Soviet Union was not assured, abortions in the Soviet Union were permitted by law.
In no other country are there such guarantees as those in the Soviet Union that make motherhood easier for women. As long as women or men live under the pressure of unemployment, as long as the level of wages is not sufficient for a family, as long as housing conditions are unfavourable, and as long as the state does not make motherhood easier for every woman in various ways and does not provide social services for mother and child, it is clear that the women [of other countries] must stand up for free abortions.
The arguments for restricting abortion were thus primarily viewed as a matter of increasing the population, rather than being a question of morality. Abortion was relegalized in 1955.
The USSR produced so little plastic that it was essential non-existent, and the plastic that was produced was made to last. Most bottles were made of glass, with old ones sent to factories to be sanitized and reused, with broken glass either swept up to be melted down or otherwise disposed of. Metal and paper waste was treated just like in wartime, similar to the US scrap collection system during World War II, resulting in minimal metal and paper waste. Littering was fined and weekly cleanup volunteers helped reduce trash in public places.
Widespread availability and use of public transport meant less CO2 produced as well. Cars also tended to have 4-6 cylinders meaning they used less gas, with trucks using diesel fuel which requires less refinement and is thus cheaper, while also using less energy from power plants.
The focus on nuclear power further reduced CO2 emissions, with nuclear power gradually coming to supersede coal-based power. Windmills were also used in areas for water pumps and flour production. And furthermore Stalin, for one, had a series of ecological programs which replanted thousands of square kilometers of forests cut down or destroyed in preparation for and during World War II - The Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature (1948-1953). In all these ways, the Soviets sought to reduce the ecological effects of their rapid and massive industrialization necessary to survive their early years as a nation.
The Russian Federation, on the other hand, shirked environmental maintenance work which was regularly done in the USSR. The current system is to cut down a section of forest, dig a deep pit, dump waste in the pit, light it on fire, and then bury it while the methane and other fuel continue to let the fire burn under ground; leaking into the air and nearby villages. This has caused and still causes large protests, especially since this is a significant step down from the more efficient trash sorting and processing system present in the Soviet Union.
The Aral Sea
Aral Sea has been slowly drying up for a while naturally. If no humans effect it this would take a few millenia to eliminate. Obviously human impact has sped up this process. In the 1960s, Soviet researchers predicted the complete evaporation of the body of water, and a river used to irrigate farmland had the excess water siphoned into the lake and would have been rerouted to continue to do so. This was, however, expensive, and during the privatizations (and subsequent economic catastrophe) of the 1980s, that came with the rise of Gorbachev, the plan was abandoned. After Kazakhstan seceded, high-intensity cotton farming practices and infrastructure mismanagement - most water running through irrigation to the farms evaporated on the way there - accelerated the shrinkage. Most of the former Aral Sea is a desert. The destruction of the Aral Sea is a product of resource mismanagement both during the Soviet Union and after, with the latter being exemplified by Yeltsin's capitalist shock therapy which largely disregarded environmental sustainability rather than simple ignorance of impact.
There is only one lake with high radiation levels as a result of radioactive dumping, Lake Karachay, but that was because radiation wasn't understood nearly as well at the time. Similarly, radioactive dumping by Soviets has occurred in the Barents and Kara Seas, however this was not a phenomenon unique to the USSR.
From 1927 to 1941, the USSR expanded their freight rail network to be 20x larger than before, surpassing the US. From 1965 to 1980, the USSR build 639km of track a year (or about 1.5km a day).
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