Growing Poverty: The Hidden History of Stalin\'s Industrialization
Professor Bryan Caplan of the Department of Economics at George Mason University writes about Stalin's "industrialization" campaign which would be better described as "miltarization". He maintains a website at which he hosts an online Museum of Communism and blogs at EconLog.
On Sunday mornings Squealer... would read out to them lists of figures proving that the production of every class of foodstuff had increased by two hundred per cent, three hundred per cent, or five hundred per cent, as the case might be. The animals saw no reason to disbelieve him, especially as they could no longer remember very clearly what conditions had been like before the Rebellion. All the same, there were days when they felt that they would sooner have had less figures and more food.
-- George Orwell, Animal Farm
During the 1930's, the world looked at Soviet economic growth with awe. Official Soviet statistics declared that an economic miracle was underway. Western economists sometimes "adjusted" the figures to make them less incredible, but almost no one denied that Stalin was swiftly industrializing Russia. The Soviet victory in World War II cemented Stalin's reputation as an economic mastermind: If the economic statistics were fake, how did he beat the Germans?
This whole line of reasoning assumes that Soviet industrialization was basically like Western industrialization, only faster. In fact, the two were different as night and day.
In the capitalist West, industrialization was a byproduct of rising agricultural productivity. As output per farmer increased, fewer farmers were needed to feed the population.
Under communism, in contrast, industrialization accompanied falling agricultural productivity. Almost all Russians were still family farmers in 1928. Stalin seized their land, launching a deadly famine that killed about 7 million. Agricultural collectivization slashed total food production, but the government drastically increased quotas to feed industrial workers and pay for exports. As Robert Conquest explains, collectivizing agriculture was the opposite of progress:
[A]gricultural production had been drastically reduced, and the peasants driven off by the millions to death and exile, with those who stayed reduced, in their own view, to serfs. But the State now controlled grain production, however reduced in quantity. And collective farming had prevailed.
Stalin's idea of "economic growth," in other words, was shifting production from agriculture to other sectors - and mangling the former in the process. Genius it was not. If official statistics had properly counted agricultural output, Stalin's policies would have correctly been seen as a catastrophe.
So how did the Stalin win the war? The answer is that Soviet "industrialization" is a misnomer anyway. What happened in the Soviet Union during the 1930s was not "industrialization," but "militarization" - an arms build-up greater than any other in the world, including Nazi Germany's. As historian Martin Malia explains:
Contrary to the declared goals of the regime, it was the opposite of a system of production to create abundance for the eventual satisfaction of the needs of the population; it was a system of general squeeze of the population to produce capital goods for the creation of industrial power, in order to produce ever more capital goods with which to produce still further industrial might, and ultimately to produce armaments.
The only amazing thing about Stalin's victory in World War II is that he spent every spare kopek on the military and still took four years to win. Perhaps his soldiers would have fought better if they weren't fighting for the man who murdered so many of their friends and family.
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