The predominant account of Soviet industrialization in Western literature is that it aimed at accelerating economic growth by concentrating investment in heavy industry, a strategy credited to Preobrazhenskii and Feldman. Using evidence from the Soviet sources, this article proposes an alternative origin of the strategy of industrialization and suggests different motives for the policy. It finds no support for Preobrazhenskii’s and Feldman’s authorship. Similar policies were undertaken earlier without the sophisticated economic analysis. It also traces the emergence of the standard view, and offers an explanation for why it became accepted in the face of the readily available contradictory evidence.
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Heavy industry includes power generation, coal mining, oil and gas, metallurgy, machinebuilding and metalworking, chemical, and some other industries.
Indeed, this was the view of Erlich (1950, p, 58), Jasny (1964, p. 214), Spulber (1964, 1969, pp. 66, 223), Prybyla (1965, p. 69), Moravcik (1965, p. 246), Kaser (1970, p. 83) with qualifications; Dyker (1985, p. 3), Gregory and Stuart (1986, p. 93), Allen (2003, p. 63), and Gregory (2004, p. 31). Miller (1965, p. 835) disagreed; and Dobb himself had reservations.
The third reason was the need to provide agriculture with modern equipment.
On this, one of Stalin’s harshest critics concurred: ‘Undoubtedly the most important successes … have been achieved in the war industries’ (Trotsky, 2004 , p. 10).
Leontiev (1946, pp. 11–13) lists the same three reasons in reverse order.
Dobb and Jasny did not explain why they thought Stalin was wrong in characterizing his own motives of industrialization. Erlich’s reasoning is discussed below.
Thus, Shakhnazarov (1993, pp. 42, 49) stating that military expenditures constituted up to 40% of the Soviet Net Material Product , and quoting Gorbachev as saying that arms procurement and expenditures on KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs together accounted for 20% of the ‘national income’ is both inconsistent and economically nonsensical.
Later Soviet accounts of industrialization and the growth pattern it established were more pacific than Stalin’s original formulations. Thus, priority of heavy industry came to be explained by the ‘law of the faster growth of output of producer goods’, reflecting the nature of modern technological change (Notkin, 1984, pp. 145–155).
For an elaboration, see Kontorovich and Wein (2009, pp. 1586–1587).
Allen (2003) is an exception here.
Allen (2003, p. 63) inverts this argument. His estimates, unlike the generally accepted ones, show a rise in the standard of living in the 1930s. If Stalin followed the policy prescriptions of Fel’dman model, this serves as the additional proof of the first Five Year Plan aiming at raising consumption.
Paul Bushkovitch, a historian of the period, argues that Stalin overstated the actual extent of Peter’s military industrialization (private communication). What is important for our purposes is the monarch’s image.
Goldstein (1971, pp. 78–79) sees the need to highly qualify suchstatements. Again, it is the perception by posterity that matters for us.
Also Mendershausen (1943, pp. 87–88) on both Germany and Japan.
‘Study of growth, balanced or unbalanced, development and dynamic equilibria are all the rage; and it is academically fashionable to conduct empirical studies of “underdevelopment” ’ (Dobb, 1967, p. 126).
An example of this bias in another social science is the rush to apply a series of Western political models to the USSR described by Engerman (2009, pp. 221, 226).
Unusually for this literature, Nove (1969, p. 121) suggests that fears of the plots of Poincare and Chamberlain were partly fabricated.
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The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Earhart Foundation. Thanks are also due to Michael Ellman, Linda Gerstein, and Mark Harrison for their valuable comments on an earlier draft, James Novak for research assistance, and Kenneth Gudel for editing.