Do communists know about communism?

If there is a group of people interested in communism that should be communists. But do they really know about communism? By this I don’t mean their proficiency in Marxism-Leninism or Historical Materialism, but about the economic history of actually existing communist (Okay, socialist in Marxist parlance) regimes. In this post, I investigate this.

My method is the following: First, I assemble a list of experts on communism. This list includes people that I’ve referenced before in my Soviet series, and on the basis of reading their names over and over I’ve come to identify them as key authors. Second, I explore a number of communist outlets and forums to see if these authors are mentioned, even if it is to criticise them. A low number of such citations will count as evidence supporting the fact that communists don’t know about communism in the sense mentioned above.

The authors

  • Robert C. Allen
  • Anders Åslund
  • Igor  Birman
  • Alec Novakovsky ‘Nove’
  • Gertrude Schroeder
  • Michael J. Ellman
  • Mark Harrison
  • CIA reports (various authors)
  • Joseph Brandeis
  • William Easterly
  • Paul R. Gregory
  • Philip Hanson
  • János Kornai
  • Vladimir Kontorevich
  • Steven Rosefielde
  • Stanislaw Gomulka
  • Abram Bergson
  • Gur Ofer

The communist websites

  • Forocomunista (Spanish)
  • /r/communism
  • /r/communism101
  • /r/socialism
  • /r/debateacommunist
  • RevLeft
  • Soviet-Empire

Results – First pass

In this list, 0 means that there is no mention, and 1 means that there is. The number of asterisks indicates how substantial the mention is. 1* means mentioned in passing and 1*** means mentioned and discussed with some level of depth. In cause of doubt between two levels of *, the greater one is granted.

User count 16825 62767 17751 5905
Forocomunista /r/socialism /r/communism /r/debateacommunist
Robert C. Allen 0 1** 1* 1*
Anders Åslund 0 0 0 0
Igor  Birman 0 0 0 0
Alec Nove 1** 1*** 0 1*
Gertrude Schroeder 0 0 0 0
Michael J. Ellman 0 0 1* 0
Mark Harrison 0 0 0 0
CIA reports (various authors) 0 0 0 0
Joseph Berliner 0 0 0 0
Paul R. Gregory 0 0 0 0
Philip Hanson 0 0 0 0
János Kornai 0 0 0 0
Steven Rosefielde 0 0 0 0
Stanislaw Gomulka 0 0 0 0
Abram Bergson 1** 0 0 0
Gur Ofer 0 0 0 0
Stephen G. Wheatcroft 1* 0 1*** 1**
User count 89650 3739
Revleft Soviet Empire
Robert C. Allen 1*** 1**
Anders Åslund 0 1**
Igor  Birman 0 1**
Alec Nove 1*** 1***
Gertrude Schroeder 0 0
Michael J. Ellman 1*** 1**
Mark Harrison 1*** 1**
CIA reports (various authors) 1** 0
Joseph Berliner 0 0
Paul R. Gregory 1*** 1***
Philip Hanson 1*** 0
János Kornai 1** 1**
Steven Rosefielde 1** 1**
Stanislaw Gomulka 0 0
Abram Bergson 1** 1**
Gur Ofer 1** 0
Stephen G. Wheatcroft 1** 1**

Results – Second pass

Now, I study how these  authors are referenced.


Alec Nove

Link 1

Por parte si cogemos los datos de NOVE en su Historia Económica de la Unión Soviética, y comparamos la sitaución de 1921 con la 1940 el crecimiento es implemente incoparable:

Carbon Millones de Toneladas

1921 – 9

1940 -165,9

Petroleo Millones de Toneladas

1921 – 3,8

1940 – 31,1

Acero – Millones de Toneladas

1921 – 0,2

1940 – 31,1

Exportaciones Millones de Rublos

1921 – 20

1940 – 240

Translation for those unable to read Spanish: These measure production of coal, oil, and steel, plus exports. This is used to back that claim that the Soviet industrialisation was impressive.

Abram Bergson

Link 2

Crecimiento económico 1928-1975:

1928-40: URSS- 5,8% EEUU- 1,7%
1940-50: URSS- 2,2% EEUU- 4,5%
1950-70: URSS- 4,8% EEUU- 2,9%
1975-85: URSS- 1,8% EEUU- 2,9%

Fuente: The Real National Income of Soviet Russia since 1928, Abraham Bergson, 1961; Measures of Soviet National Product in 1982 Prices, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress.

These are growth rates for the USSR and the US.

Stephen Wheatcroft

He is cited in a discussion of Holodomor, so I skip this. (I’m not interested in that)



Link 1 

You won’t find a lot of really fine, cutting edge scholarship that is “sympathetic,” but you will find them to be far more realistic in their assessment of Soviet politics, society, and economy. By this I mean that they tend to understand that many of the problems the USSR faced were not merely a result of the evils of communism (or at all in some cases) but were impacted by pre-existing Russian social, political, and economic organization, and impacted by geographical factors (in the case of agricultural production).


Robert C. Allen, Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution

There is a massive amount of new literature on Soviet history since the archives have opened and since the mid-1980s when perspectives began to shift a bit. As I said, many of these people are not actually sympathetic to Stalin or the USSR, but view it as a human society like any other with great nuances, achievements, and failures.

There is much more to find in addition to this small sample. Hope that helps.

Link 2

One economic historian named Robert Allen has plotted several hypotheticals with a computer model (that he calibrated to accurately predict the economic outcomes of collectivization as it occurred) and found that such an alternative would have produced great economic growth, but not as great as with collectivization as it occurred (even taking account of the disaster of 1932-33).

Link 3

By the way, I’d highly recommend From Farm to Factory. It puts Soviet growth into perspective. Life was certainly not all laughs and rainbows, but for the vast majority of people it wasn’t all grim gulag and secret police either. There were real, indisputable gains in consumer goods production and life expectancy, as can be expected when industry works for the benefit of society and not for its own profit.

Link 4

This article is a good place to start.

It quotes a lot from Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, which is an excellent book on this topic.

Alec Nove

Link 1

When a person hears the words “planned economy” they think that all production is organised rationally according to a central plan, and everything is carried out according to that central plan. That’s a largely utopian fiction. Every modern historian from Nove, Fitzpatrick, Davies, Getty, etc accepts the idea that the calling the economy of the USSR planned is to slacken the meaning of the word. What if I were to tell you that the during the first five year plan, every statististical organ of the state was closed down as soon as data was coming out that the quality of life of people was dropping? Or even, sectors were encouraged to over fulfill plans? Just sit back and take that in for a second. Have a think and tell me that if you have a central plan, with everyone input and output measured, then how rational is it to encourage people to actively exceed plans? Plans were constantly revised all the time, in reaction to production, not the other way around.

Most soviet scholars, particularly Davies and Nove whom you should read if you’re interested in this, would call the USSR a command economy with Davies arguing that there were market forces within commodity production and within the labour market.

From my own Marxist perspective, just subsuming industries into the state and then proceeding to industrialise the country does not make it socialist. It’s a tendency that has occured in many places from Tsarist Russia from before the revolution in a limited way, to Japan, to the subsumption of the arms industry and industry in the UK, Germany, France, etc.



Link 1

Farm to Factory by Robert C. Allen is good. It’s an assessment of Soviet economic growth during the Stalin era. You might also want to read Getty’s The Road to Terror and Robert Thurston’s Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia for the political side of things.

Link 2


Link 3

Just What is History? I haven’t even touched any of the 14 volumes on the USSR, I’m sure they’re fine. Just always remember the limitations and biases of various authors. Personally I believe Carr to have serious limitations, but Soviet scholarship is so poor I’m not sure what I would recommend that isn’t polemical anti-communism. Maybe Hobsbawm? He has serious problems as well.

To throw out some random names I know/have read: J Arch Getty, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Richard Stites, Robert C. Allen. All are bourgeoisie historians and have to be read based on that.

Sadly, a serious study of the soviet Union which is not liberal garbage or Trotskyist nonsense is very difficult to find in English. There is no royal road to science and all that…

I would recommend reading Althusser though, he’s really interesting and is often ignored by orthodox Marxists.

Link 4

This is a huge topic. Definitely check out The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945 and Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, An Economic History of the USSR, 1917-91, and Planning Problems in the USSR: The Contribution of Mathematical Economics to their Solution 1960-1971

Michael Ellman

Used in the context of Holodomor, skipping

Stephen Wheatcroft

Used in the context of Holodomor, skipping

Many of the references are made by a single user, a Maoist who is also the author of this.



Link 1

Reading list:

Alec Nove, “An Economic History of the USSR, 1917-91”

Robert C. Allen, “A Reassessment of the Soviet Industrial Revolution”

Peter Kenez, “History of the Soviet Union From the Beginning to the End”

Thomas Kenny, Roger Keeran, “Socialism Betrayed – Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union”

Joseph Ball, “The Need for Planning: The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and the Decline of the Soviet Economy”


Link 1

I should have perhaps pointed out that even having a centrally planned economy, whilst such a thing might only exist on paper, does not mean an ending of the commodity form as such, the use-value and exchange-value inherent in manufactured goods common to capitalism. It does not on it’s own mean that there is an ending of capitalism or that this is socialism, for much of the reasons that I have said above.

You should read Alec Nove’s An Economic History of the USSR for an indepth study on the economy, and sections Shiela Fitzpatrick’s The Russian Revolution for a general outline of how the economy functioned. You should hold in your mind that these people, as far as I’m aware, are not Marxists so their political comments shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Link 2

I’m having somewhat a hard time finding details on specific implantation of the plan besides basic info. When you say plan-hierarchy, do you just mean with direction coming top-down from the state?

No, the hierarchy was not only about the info coming from the top – although that was the cause of the hierarchical system. You can read about the Soviet plan economy in many (old, cheap, second hand) books, for example read Alec Nove (who was very sympathetic to the system at least early on in his research of it, but found many of the problems I cite above, and was later a market socialist). Other good references can be found in that paper of mine – which you can find a copy of on my website, which should be linked to my name.

Link 3

On the other hand, socialism under Lenin was had such a bad start that Lenin implemented the NEP, essentially “capitalism light” that enable the economy to reach it’s 1913 levels of production by 1928. From 1928 to 1940 growth was about 5.8% annually (Trends in Soviet Gross National Product, Laurie Kurtzweg), hardly incredible.

Of course, added to that, the increase in output was achieved mainly through the increase in the amounts of inputs, i.e. people worked longer and for less money. By 1933 workers earnings had sunk to just 10% of the 1926 level (Nove, 1972).

Stephen Wheatcroft

Used in the context of famines, skipping



Link 1

Allen’s work is controversial and has been criticised by experts. His assertion that consumption in 1937 was better than 1927* is based on flawed calculations. Wheatcroft, the man who developed some of the initial data series than Allen relied on, believes that the latter failed to apply a correction to pre-Revolution grain production statistics. The result is “an extremely low consumption norm” for 1900-13. When compared to the (corrected) post-revolution figures this considerably skews the figures

See Wheatcroft, Russian and Soviet living standards: Secular growth and conjunctural crises for more info

*This despite the famine of 1936! But then most other evidence tends to contradict Allen’s calculation

Quote Originally Posted by 
Considering the fact that the capitalist world was then engulfed in the Great Depression, achieving no growth at all, that’s not “good but not unique”, but superb achievement…

Why are you bothering me with this irrelevancy? Who mentioned the Depression? The question from the OP, and certainly my post, were written in reference to other industrialising nations. Frankly I don’t see how the Depression has anything to do with a comparison with, say, “post-war Japan and post-Mao China”. Particularly not since the collapse of the international markets had little effect on a economic system almost entirely isolated from said markets…

We should always be sceptical towards such claims and check them before accepting them at face value

And draw them from decades of respected scholarship into the question, including validation from archival sources? I can point you to literally dozens of sources that elaborate on the collapse of Soviet living standards in the 1930s. But they won’t agree with you so that probably makes them “anti-communist”…

(As an aside, given that you’ve read Allen’s work, what do you make of his conclusion that collectivisation was a mistake?)

I have no problem with Allen and that particular book is worth reading but his calculations are wrong. They are soundly contradicted both by the economic experts (Davies, Wheatcraft, Nove, etc), the more sociologically inclined (Fitzpatrick, Filtzer, S Davies, etc) and the recent crop of archive-driven case-studies (such as Rossman and Murphy). So yeah, I don’t care if Allen agrees with your particular fetish, and I’m not willing to write everyone else in the world off as “anti-communist”, but his case does not convince

March at the head of the ideas of your century and those idea
The United States and the Soviet Union were not at all at the same standard of living in 1921, so why would it be a surprise to anybody that the Soviet Union had a lower standard of living later on? What’s more informative is how the standard of living changed within the country. By all measures, Soviet economic growth was remarkable. Industrial output, life expectancy, calorie consumption, literacy, etc, all went up significantly between 1928-1970 (source: Farm to Factory by Robert C Allen)


Link 1

Some Cold War economists, such as Naum Jasny and Nicolas Spulber, argued that the Soviet Union did indeed falsify statistics for propaganda purposes (see “Soviet Statistics.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, February 1950, pp. 92-99 by Naum Jasny and The Soviet Economy: Structure, Principles, Problems (1962), pp143-44 by Nicolas Spulber). Generally, however, even Western academics support the view that whilst the USSR did withhold statistical information, as well as their methodology, it did not actively falsify statistics. Alexander Gerschenkron, Abram Bergson, Harry Schwartz and Alec Nove fall within this category.

Indeed, Gerschenkron pointed out that Jasny’s own use of Soviet statistics indicate that they hold some usable and empirical worth. Likewise, Robert W. Campbell, in Soviet Economic Power (1960) p.35, wrote:

‘By and large, our experience has been that the mass of Soviet statistics are more or less internally consistent, and this reinforces the doubt that the Russians are engaged in a process of double bookkeeping or outright statistical falsification.’

Nove also wrote:

‘Very few people believe that they are invented. The evidence against such a view is very strong. Despite captured documents, despite the presence in the West of Soviet officials who had defected, no evidence exists that the central Soviet statisticians invent figures to order, to propaganda effect. By this is meant that no one issues orders to print a figure of 400 knowing that the correct one is 350.’

Nove, quite correctly, points out that figures were suppressed – and later an explanation given that production fell in that particular year or period. Such actions would be inconsistent with falsifying.

Link 2

Observers like Alec Nove, Abram Bergson, Michael Ellman and, again Kornai, give a lot of details of the actual nitty-gritty of the Soviet planning process. They’ve got some rather ugly (but authoritative) books & articles on the subject.

Link 3

Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism sounds exactly what you’re looking for. Although IIRC it only covers the 1930s. Fitzpatrick also has a good chapter in Beyond Totalitarianism but that is not strictly concerned with the Soviet Union

For a more economic perspective, both Nove (Economic History of the USSR) and Davies (Economic Transformation of the USSR) detail the rise/fall in living standards with the creation of the Stalinist economy but they may be too statistical/abstract for your taste. Wheatcroft also has a number of papers in the same vein – particularly The First 35 Years of Soviet Living Standards (2008) and Soviet Statistics During Times of Famine (1997) – which you might be able to find online

I’ve got a few posts about as well that might be of interest. Try this thread(and particularly this post). Other posts include here and this thread


Link 1

I’d recommend Ellman’s Socialist Planning for a relatively detailed (if ugly) introduction to the topic. For a more in-depth reading, Alexander Nove wrote a number of excellent (if equally difficult) works on the subject

Link 2

Quote Originally Posted by
“Statistics demonstrate that during the post-war period,the country’s national production increaesed 24 times and national income 16 times. I remember very clearly in the early years of Perestroika, the level of production in agriculture and industry reached its highest level. Housing construction also showed similar growth.
During those years people enjoyed their highest standard of living” – Lygachev , quoted from Bahman Azad – Heroic Struggle, bitter defeat

Davies’ The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union has an execllent chapter on the “crooked mirror” of Soviet statistics. Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism paints a vivid picture of Stainist Russia during the 1930s (particularly the housing crisis). Unfortunately I don’t have these works on hand but try Google books, Davies in particular has a wealth of figures

Needless to say the image painted in your above quote is almost entirely wrong. To quote from a previous post, “even the most optimistic estimates quoted for consumption growth during Stalin’s reign are no more than 11% from 1928 to 1953”. This compares unfavourably to the 44% increase seen during the following decade. The housing crisis in particular was a noted feature of Stalin’s USSR

Also, whereas economic growth in Capitalism can simply mean more people have had car accidents or less people decided to do DIY (as these count to GDP), IIRC in the Socialist country’s they measured their Economy not by exchange but industrial production.
Also, whereas an increase in growth in Capitalism may just mean more profits for the capitalists, in Socialism the increased surplus for growth is used for either reinvestment or is used for the populations benefit

You don’t see the contradiction there? Measuring output solely, or even largely, in terms of industrial production (which in reality meant heavy industry) leads to the neglection of the consumer sector. Soviet citizens did not have to worry about increased car accidents because the car industry was woefully underdeveloped when compared to Western nations. Its hard to argue, on the basis of statistical or testamonial evidence, that the Soviet consimer goods sector (ie, those industries that produced goods for consumption by the average Soviet citizen) did not consistenly lag heavy industry in terms of growth and prioritisation

Ellman’s Socialist Planning is good on the gap that arose between the allocation of resources to these different sectors.

Mark Harrison

Link 1

I’ve got mixed feelings about the economic data, because it turned out to be largely exaggerated.

As for my references I promised…well, here is the list:

Harrison, Mark (1998). “Prices, Planners, and Producers: An Agency Problem in Soviet Industry, 1928-1950.” Journal of Economic History, 58(4), 103-162.

Harrison, Mark (2000). “Soviet Industrial Production, 1928 to 1955: Real Growth and Hidden Inflation.” Journal of Comparative Economics, 28(1), 135-55.

Harrison, Mark and Nikolai Simonov (2000). “Voenpriemka: Prices, Costs, and Quality in Defence Industry.” In Mark Harrison and John Barber, eds. The Soviet Defence Industry Complex from Stalin to Kruschev, London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 223-245.

Link 2

Probably a lot more than that. One of the most succinct summaries of US aid, and its impact, is from Mark Harrison (very good on the economic and statistical side of WWII) in The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union:

…Allied aid did not matter very much until after Stalingrad. Eventually, however, it acquired a massive scale. Aid to the USSR amounted to roughly $10 billion; nearly three-fifths of which arrived in the eighteen months from mid-1943 to the end of 1944…

Through the war as a whole, up to the beginning of 1945, one in six combat aircraft supplied to the Soviet front, and one in eight armoured fighting vehicles, came from the West. The Soviet Union supplies its own guns and ammunition, but its mobility and communications came to rely upon American trucks and jeeps, field telephones, tinned and concentrated goods. This confirms that the Soviet firepower that denied victory to Germany in 1941-42 was home produced. But the defeat of Germany in 1943-45 was significantly aided by foreign supply, and the Soviet capacity to chase the retreating armies thousands of kilometres from Stalingrad to Berlin depended on imported means of mobility

This is, incidentally, paying little attention to the vast material, agricultural and industrial resources provided from the West. Putting actual numbers to this is exceptionally difficult. Most works deal in percentages, and even these were played up/down during the Cold War, but if you really want exact figures, or attempts at such, then you may be best checking out some specialist works. Harrison would be a good place to start.

CIA reports

Link 1

You’re better off searching these things by yourself since most of the people here are too invested in the crap they believe (all revolutions created state-capitalist economies, central planning is awful etc) to offer anything important. If there are any crazy right wing pundits in your countries, I’m sure they’d nod in agreement with most of what is said here. “Reasonable” right wing pundits would find most of it excessive.

The Soviet Union was planned before the 50s as well. In fact it was more planned before the 50s. During the 50s there was a reform according to which each state in the Soviet Union (which was a federation) had its own plan, something leading to less synergies. Also in the 1960s enterprises were given increased autonomy in decision making with the Kosygin reforms. Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s didn’t happen out of the blue in an economy that has remained “frozen” for decades. There was no stakhanovism in 1980. The reforms were gradual but they were there so if someone talks about the soviet economy post-50s he needs to take them into account.

You probably know that the Soviet Union became an industrialized economy in a decade, that it covered much of the ground that seperated it from the developed capitalist economies of the west (which after all had a headstart of more than a century in some cases).
What you probably don’t know is the extent to which the US and other capitalist countries had shit their pants.
They monitored the soviet economy, waged wars against people that rebelled, there was a whole covert cia operation in Europe, ready to pull of coups if needed.…0000493918.pdf…0000474401.pdf

When Nixon and Khrushchev had their kitchen debate and Khrushchev was joking that the soviet union would wave to the US as it passed it by, he really believed that. And at that time probably Nixon believed that as well.

And later on, the economy’s results were poorer (which I think has to do with the reforms already put in place) but still they were comparable or better to everyone else’s.…0000308018.pdf

The economy was in an upward trend when compared to the american economy all the way until the late 70s, early 80s.…0000498181.pdf

60% of the us economy in today’s numbers would mean a gdp around 9-10 trillion dollars. That’s China’s gdp but of course the Soviet Union only had a fraction of China’s population.

There were of course inefficiencies until the 1950s and after that there was a clear mismanagement (at best) and a disregard of socialism’s economic laws, the equivalent of having a capitalist country print money to the point of hyper-inflation. But the only thing that could improve that performance was a better organized planned economy. Not markets and capitalism. The results of those things became apparent in the disruptions of the late 80s and the rampant poverty in modern capitalist Russia.

If you’re looking for inefficiency in an economy, you don’t need to look any further. I’m sure there are unemployed people in your country along with a load of unproductive jobs or jobs that cater only to the needs of the few.
That kind of inefficiency is phenomenal but seems to go unnoticed for some reason, I guess because it’s better for the rich if it does.

Paul Gregory

Link 1

There’s an article I read recently by two economic historians, Paul Gregory and Andrei Markevich. They’re not Marxists by any means, but the article drew on post-1991 research sources including CPSU party archives, which apparently indicate there was rather extensive horizontal trading going on between the various branches and departments of the planned economy. It was mainly because of an extremely autocratic style of leadership from the top down which expected only results in return – to get things done department leaders sometimes had to result in capitalistic trades “off the record.” But this was actually going on in the ’30s and ’40s, and the Yezhovschina didn’t actually help things at all, in fact if anything it made it worse as it created new motivations to lie to the central government.

Phil Hanson

Link 1

So, in the first decades of Soviet Union, productions of means of production or investing was what was given priority. This didn’t mean workers’ lives weren’t improving. In fact, it was the constant and rapid expansion of the soviet economy that allowed the gains in standard of living, that are demonstrated primarily with the improvements in life expectancy, litteracy etc

Which is only true for a very selective reading of the facts. The reality is that the real wages and living standards of the Soviets workers were deliberately suppressed during the Stalin era as such a curtailment of consumption was considered necessary for rapid industrialisation. Soviet living standards plunged from the late twenties onwards (rationing was a fact of life in the cities until at least 1935) during the most intense period of industrialisation and continued to be of a very poor standard (the housing crisis being the most obvious sign) until the 1950s. So to simply state that living standards follow on automatically from industrialisation is simply false

In fact it was not until the Khrushchev years, with the abandonment of the Stalnist coercive economy, that the Soviet workers saw a real and sustained increase in living standards. Philip Hanson reckons that in the decade 1953 to 1964 Soviet per capita consumption increased by 44%. In contrast even the most optimistic estimates quoted for consumption growth during Stalin’s reign are no more than 11% from 1928 to 1953

Very quick references:
Hanson (The rise and fall of the Soviet economy)
Davies (Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev)
Davies (The transformation of the Soviet economy)
Ellman (Socialist planning)
Kuromiya (Stalin’s industrial revolution: politics and workers)


Link 1

Robo is being reduced to ridulous expedients in jutifying his claims about the USSR. He gives as evidence that in the UK:

They have generally produced not only enough profit to accumulate new capital but also enough to provide a property income for the private individuals who originally owned the nationalised industries. For the old private owners nationalisation meant a change in the form of ownership from private shares to interest-bearing government bonds, while some chose to receive payment in cash from the state to the full value of what was being purchased from them.

What this shows is that nationalisation does not dispossess private capitalists but simply changes their property titles. And what Buick and Crump go on to illustrate with many practical examples is that historically state intervention in industry (or “state purchase” as it used to be called) has taken place not for ideological reasons but to protect the interests of the private-owning class as a whole so that individual or groups of capitalists could not, by their monopoly of an essential good or service, hold the rest of the capitalist class to ransom

Yes this was true in the UK, bonds were issued to previous owners who thus continued to derive an income from the National Coal Board etc. But this was not the case in the USSR.

Actually it was legally enshrined back in the 1930s under Stalin that state enterprises must make a profit and must keep profit and loss accounts.

Yes but if you read Kornai you will know that this was not a real obligation. State factories whose accounts showed a loss did not go bankrupt and shut down as would happen in the case of capitalism. It was an accountancy rule analogous to those that are imposed on government ministries in all countries. The factories were no more threatened with liquidation than a government department that overspends is.


Used in the context of Stalin’s killings, skipping.


Link 1

The source you are citing appears to be a secondary one by two economists primarily concerned with ensuring a smooth transition to capitalism in Russia post Yeltsin, so they are not an ideal source to go to for. If Bergson is the source of their data you should bear in mind that this is a guy who devoted his academic career to attempting to show the superiority of free market capitalism over socialism. That by itself does not condemn his results, he may be right, may be capitalism is better than socialism and all of us here may be wasting our time. For my part I doubt that, and I have published a critique of his maths and statistics in the appendix to this paper :…RKET_SOCIALISM
though this covers his work on total factor productivity not income inequalities, I have not seen that.

Link 2

The article also mentions interesting facts about the economy of the USSR:

Economic Growth 1928-1975:

1928-40: USSR-US-5.8% 1.7%
1940-50: USSR-US-2.2% 4.5%
1950-70: USSR-US-4.8% 2.9%
1975-85: USSR-US-1.8% 2.9%

Source: The Real National Income of Soviet Russia since 1928, Abraham Bergson, 1961, Measures of Soviet National Product in 1982 Prices, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress.

(This is a translation from the Forocomunista article)


Link 1

If you want economic statistics, I’ve got plenty, and from capitalist sources to boot. For example, from 1928 to 1985, the economy of the Soviet Union grew by a factor of 10, and GNP per capita grew more than fivefold. The Soviet economy started out at roughly 25% the size of the economy of the United States. By 1955, it climbed to 40%. In 1965 the Soviet economy reached 50% of the contemporary US economy, and in 1977 it passed the 60% threshold. Source: Ofer, Gur. ”Soviet Economic Growth: 1928-1985”, RAND/UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet International Behavior, 1988.


Covered already

Many of the references in this forum were made by this user.

Soviet Empire


Link 1

Robert C. Allen and others have argued that socialism proved very capable at developing industrial economies in previously agricultural countries (the industrialization of the USSR being perhaps the best example) but not as capable when it came to intensive growth after reaching a certain technological level. This level is often described as the “post-industrial” or “information technology” phase of development.

I would like to ask fellow comrades here if they have thought of any possible solutions to this problem and what a “21st century” socialist economy could look like.

Link 2

Was this historian Robert C. Allen? I referenced his work in my earlier post and I do believe he did a computer simulation of Russian economic performance under a continued NEP and under a continuation of the Tsarist-era system of protectionist capitalism and neither alternative did better than Stalinist industrialization. Next to Japan, the USSR was the most successful developing economy in the 20th century. I doubt Russia could have won World War II without Stalinist industrialization. The relatively poor performance of the Imperial Russian Army during World War I revealed the weakness of Russian capitalism when it came to withstanding major shocks such as an invasion and world war.

Link 3

To everybody who wishes to know how life was under Stalin ruling i recommend the reading of “The standard of living in the Soviet Union, 1928 – 1940” and “Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution” both written by ROBERT C. ALLEN. These works show us how much the USSR’s standard of living improved during Stalin era. The numbers are absolutely overwhelming to say the least.

I will transcript an exert from the book “Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution” which resumes the extraordinary improvement in soviet life during the thirties: “By the late 1930’s, urban residents and industrial workers, teachers and bureaucrats had economic reasons for supporting the Soviet State”. This written by an american author and Oxford professor acquires a special meaning and says it all about the question if Stalin improved the living conditions of the soviet people, leaving little space for debate.

Just to give you an idea someone working in the education sector was earning 633 rubles annually in 1928. Nine years later was earning 3442 rubles annually. The same applies for all sectors of labor activity (administration for instance: 1928- 790 rubles; 1937- 3937 rubles).


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So far you’ve congratulated conservatives on their austerity measures, sided with the USA’s and EU’s foreign policy, repeated every cliché against every socialist country in history and now you’re quoting Anders Aslund???
It’s alright if you say you’re a conservative rightist. We don’t ban them as long as they don’t break the rules.

By the way, let’s see Aslund get his ass kicked on a debate on this ukranian putsch right here.


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Plans for significantly increased investment in computers, computer education, mechanization and computer-based automation of assembly lines show that the government was gradually coming to understand the need to follow the rest of the world in developing the potential of these tools to improve efficiency, quality and speed of production. It is unclear whether they realized just how important a role computer technology could play in the planning process itself. For the Soviet central planning system, the need to develop mathematical theories and computer technologies which could accomodate the ever-more complex demands of ‘the plan’ was far more crucial than it was for capitalist states. As Igor Birman pointed out in a 1988 article about the task of Soviet central planners in the 1980s: “The economy produces more than 20 million types, varieties and sizes of goods, and the number of links between enterprises and other establishments within the ‘productive sphere’ are about one billion. The decisions affecting the balances are made in many thousands of places -among them are 45,000 industrial, about 60,000 agricultural and about 33,000 building enterprises.” (Igor Birman, “The Imbalance of the Soviet Economy,” Soviet Studies. Vol 40, No.2 Apr. 1988). This means (in my view) that there was really no way for the government to put too much focus on technology’s role in improving planning, because the successful integration of computer technology in production and planning was crucial to the survival, success and competitiveness of the Soviet model of development in the long term.


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Yeah, those points should override the ones I made. TBH I only know as much as I’ve read and it’s hard for me to do much beyond that since I didn’t live through it.

As I mentioned in the end of my post selections from Nove’s book is where I’ve gotten a good amount of information as well as lurking on various boards. Most of my high school economics was dominated by the usual “capitalism encourages innovation and productivity, Communism causes stagnation and poor quality” or something along those lines.

My University is not much better either. TBH it’s difficult to learn there because the economics department is unsurprisingly dominated by capitalists and anti-Communism is particularly virulent. I’m more in the natural sciecnes department and have no classes in economics, but just looking at the cirriculum for some of them, I’m seeing books like The Road to Serfdom by Hayek as “reading”.

In this atmosphere Nove’s book comes across much more levelheaded to me and provides a more clear picture of things, beyond the usual cookie-cutter arguments I hear in this part of the world. Of course this is not mentioning the morons who place Reagan in a pantheon for destroying Communism.

I have an interest in central planning. While it isn’t workers’ control, it’s a workable model we have, which is important- our theorizations and words are fine and all, but they are meaningless without a practical way to implement them. I think with some adjustments and incorporation of technological advancements could really have made it reach its potential.

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Figures taken from ‘Achievements of the first Five Year Plan’ in Sotsialisticheskoe stroitel’stvo Journal(1934), which I found in Alec Nove’s ‘An Economic History of the U.S.S.R.'(1969):-

National Income(1926-7 roubles in 100 milliards), 1927-8 – 24.4; 1932 – 45.5

Gross industrial production(1926-7 roubles in 100 milliards), 1927-8 – 18.3; 1932 – 43.3
– Producers goods, 1927-8 – 6.0; 1932 – 23.1
– Consumers’ goods, 1927-8 12.3; 1932 – 20.2

Gross agricultural production(1926-7 roubles in 100 milliards), 1927-8 – 13.1; 1932 – 16.6

Electricity(100 million kilowatts), 1927-8 – 5.05; 1932 – 13.4

Hard coal(million tons), 1927-8 – 35.4; 1932 – 64.3

Oil(million tons), 1927-8 – 11.7; 1932 – 21.4

Iron ore(million tons), 1927-8 – 5.7; 1932 – 12.1

Pig Iron(million tons), 1927-8 – 3.3; 1932 – 6.2

Steel(million tons), 1927-8 – 4.0; 1932 – 5.9

Machinery(million 1926-7 roubles), 1927-8 – 1822; 1932 – 7362

Superphosphates(million tons), 1927-8 – 0.15; 1932 – 0.61

Woll cloth(million metres), 1927-8 – 97; 1932 – 93.3

Total employed labour force(millions), 1927-8 – 11.3; 1932 – 22.8


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The economy wasn’t planned nearly as efficiently as it needed to be.


When you talk about increase in work meaning increase in pay, that only applies if everyone in society is willing to work harder and longer, ‘for the good of everyone’.

I agree, this is why, people need to be educated that their hard work is good for not only the collective, but for themselves.

I’m not sure but I think industrial output growth was higher in the USSR pretty much every year since 1930. I may be wrong but I think I read it in ‘socialist planning’ by David Ellman. This is a great book by the way, it offers a very balanced analysis of socialist planning and capitalist production.




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Analyzing the transformation of the public debate on economics, Vladimir Shlapentokh notes that “ideological imperatives” shared among liberal economists led them to the construction of “illusions that mixed desirable values and realities.”135 Promising economic ‘El Dorados’ and mystical ‘hidden reserves’ to be tapped with the implementation of meaningful market reforms,136 economists eventually came to promote the idea that mass private ownership would end alienation, decrease inequality, and encourage individual responsibility and the personal dignity argued to be lacking in socialism.137 Larisa Piyasheva even asserted in 1990 that the capitalist societies of the West were actually free from economic coercion, their people depicted to be working not out of the need to survive but for the sake of social prestige and the expression of creativity.138 After 1989, as the economy began to collapse, economists began arguing that only a radical program of privatization and marketization could “save the country from disaster.”139

With the rise of Gorbachev’s doctrine of ‘new political thinking’ in international affairs, the new liberal intellectual discourse played its role in legitimizing the idealistic worldview officially subscribed to by the state. First working to discredit ‘old thinking,’ a famous article by foreign policy analyst Vyacheslav Dashichev published in May 1988 blamed Brezhnev-era dogmatism and incompetence for the failures of Soviet foreign policy, the decline of détente, and the USSR’s encirclement by hostile powers.140 As the old Marxist and realist/statist conceptions about the inevitability of Western capitalist hostility to socialism and to the Soviet Union came to be rejected, analysts from the foreign policy

134 Evans, p.179, 204.
135 Vladimir Shlapentokh, “Privatization Debates in Russia: 1989-1992,” Comparative Economic Studies Vol.35, No.2 (1993), p.20.
136 Paul Gregory, “How the Soviet System Cracked,” Policy Review Vol.151 (October/November 2008), p.54.
137 Shlapentokh, 1993, p.21, 26.
138 Ibid., p.26.
139 Shlapentokh, Soviet Intellectuals, p.261.; Also see Shlapentokh, 2001, p.195.; Nove, p.86.; Novikov and Bascio, p.115-116.
140 Viacheslav Dashichev, “East-West Quest for New Relations: The Priorities of Soviet Foreign Policy,” in Tarasulo, p.225.



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This could be of some use. It’s Janos Kornai’s outline of his own “Two-Level Planning” model and probably therefore of interest to some of you, it appears to hint quite strongly at systems theory like Katsenellenboigen’s own take on it. Not read it all yet, but I shall get round to it in the next day or two, other things are going on right now. I am looking into getting some Kantorovich and the Katsenellenboigen on “Indeterminate Economics” much later.



Used in the context of famines, skipping


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If you have access to a decent library, you should be able to get hold of Eugene Zaleski’s”Stalinist Planning for Economic Growth 1933-53,” and Mark Harrison’s “Soviet Planning in peace and War 1938-45,” I will try my best here to remember what I can.

Abram Bergson

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Economic Growth 1928-1975:

1928-40: USSR-US-5.8% 1.7%
1940-50: USSR-US-2.2% 4.5%
1950-70: USSR-US-4.8% 2.9%
1975-85: USSR-US-1.8% 2.9%

Source: The Real National Income of Soviet Russia since 1928, Abraham Bergson, 1961, Measures of Soviet National Product in 1982 Prices, Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress.

Sounds familiar? 🙂

Stephen Wheatcroft

Used in the context of famines, skipping


Some communists know about Soviet economic history. Most don’t. In the some of the above forums, the main authors are referenced at least once but not widely, and their conclusions seem to be accepted, and are not challenged by those who have read them. There is no standard counter-reply to the consensus description of the USSR by those who know about it.

The most informed communities were RevLeft’s and Soviet-Empire’s, and this does’t seem to be because they have more users.

Robert Allen’s From Farm to Factory was the most referenced work among the authors discussed.

I hypothetise that the knowledge distribution amongst communists is highly skewed, so there is a small number of knowledgeable communists, and a large mass of uninformed ones. A second hypothesis is that the degree of knowledge will be correlated with abandonment of communist ideas.

Highly knowledgeable communists will either:

a) Abandon communism (Most people who have studied Soviet economic history are not communists)

b) Deny that the USSR was a socialist State (and accept that it was terrible, but better than what anti-communists say) (Like here)

c) Accept that the USSR was a socialist State (and accept that it was terrible, but better than what anti-communists say), but that an alternative socialist (central planning) arrangement is possible. (Like here)

It is sometimes mentioned by some economists that communism has been empirically proven wrong by the Soviet experience, and that anyone who knows the facts cannot be a communist. But this post proves otherwise: There exist communists who have read the evidence about the USSR and still retain (some) of their beliefs. Some of those communists probably have more accurate beliefs about the realities of the USSR than many economists.

Perhaps what would be needed for them to change their minds is a more in depth analysis (Like the literature review that is my Soviet series), or a philosophical refutation of its principles.

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3 Responses to Do communists know about communism?

  1. Tim C says:

    Not to push against the general point, but the sentence “most communists do not know much about communism” would probably be true for most ideologies I would think. Most people do not rigorously investigate their beliefs, and factors like confirmation bias and group selection for information sources mean that what knowledge they do see will be skewed.

    So for most people, the reason they believe opinion X is not going to be connected to the idea of “the evidence supports X as the best choice” but support for X will instead be orthogonal to its truth value. So communism more or less doesnt buck the regular trend.

    • Artir says:

      I agree with the observation.

      The analysis here can be replicated for any other ideological group, and I expect similar results. What would be interesting would be to see in quantitative terms which ideological group knows more about a set of questions, but that requires a proper statistical study, and an adequate sample of people.

  2. SickOfLies says:

    You cited 16 individual authors throughout your entire Soviet Economic series(including ones you cited just to criticize) . By your logic this means that you are incompetent)

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