Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
|Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|
Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик
Map of the USSR
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (acronym: USSR; or in Russian: СССР), and also known as the Soviet Union (SU), was a Marxist-Leninist state on the Eurasian continent that existed between 1922 and 1991. It was governed as a single-party state by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union with Moscow as its capital.
- 1 History
- 2 Political Economy of the Soviet Union
- 3 Economy
- 4 Infrastructure
- 5 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 nationalists. 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.
Socialism in one country
In spite of the 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, http://sovietinfo.tripod.com/WCR-German_Soviet.pdf
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 famine (Wheatcroft’s own research proves that it was unintentional), and gulag prisoners. 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, http://sovietinfo.tripod.com/GTY-Penal_System.pdf
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, 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, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2499177
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.—Robert Thurston, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bw0h
Perhaps one of his most interesting statements (indeed, one of the most statements from any bourgeois historian dealing with the Stalin administration) 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.—Robert Thurston, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bw0h
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.
Collapse and dissolution
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 it's power, and eventually republics started declaring independence - the union, in a sense, was falling apart.
After the Soviet Union essentially simply stopped existing, 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.
Political Economy of the Soviet Union
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 by Left Communists, Trotskyists, and Hoxhaists.
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.
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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.—Robert C. Allen, []
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, https://web.williams.edu/Economics/brainerd/papers/ussr_july08.pdf
Unfortunately, the introduction of market reforms and other revisionist policies 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, https://web.williams.edu/Economics/brainerd/papers/ussr_july08.pdf
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.
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, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-95874-8_22
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, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-95874-8_22
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, the healthcare achievements of the planned economy remain unimpeachable.
- Brinton, C. (1965). The Anatomy of Revolution, p. 225-226)
- Losurdo, Domenico. "1". Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WS8cCjXDgdJaXFrkW9b1ldY3xlwiPPQ89AwZo53Amlk.
- Downey, Town; Smith, Nigel (1996). "6". Russia and the USSR 1900–1995. Great Clarendon Street: Oxford University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-19-917248-X. https://books.google.com/books?id=vYIqpmIgYZ4C&pg=PA37.
- Howard M. Leichter (1979). "7". A Comparative Approach to Policy Analysis: Health Care Policy in Four Nations. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 200. ISBN 0-521-22648. Archived from the original on 27/July/2018. https://wp.me/pa7b25-X.