Economy of Russia: 1855-1964

Notes on the problems of Russian economy between 1855-1964

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Main problems throughout the period

1. How to modernise Russia

2. How to catch up with the West

3. How to prepare Russia in case of War

4. How to improve living standards of the peasants/workers


  • Are any of these issues ever successfully resolved?
  • Do things improve or do they actually get worse?
  • WHY are some leaders more successful in solving these issues than others?
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  • Were the peasants better off under Tsars or Communists?
  • How successful were leaders agricultural policies?
  • How far did leaders manage to modernise?

Key Events:

  • Emancipation of the Serfs: 1861
  • Famine (1891): 500,000 deaths
  • Stolypin reforms
  • NEP
  • War Communism
  • Famine (1921): 5 million deaths
  • Collectivisation (99% of land)
  • Forced Grain requisitioning (also in Ukraine)
  • Famine (1928)
  • Famine (1932-34): up to 8 million deaths
  • Virgin Land Schemes
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  • Were the workers better off under the Tsars or Communists?
  • How successful were leaders industrialisation policies
  • How far did leaders manage to modernise?

Key Events:

  • Trans-Siberian railways
  • Witte's Great Spurt
  • Miners strike at Lena Goldfields (200 killed by army)
  • Putilov works (February revolution)
  • NEP
  • 5 Year Plans (Gosplan)
  • Banning of trade unions
  • Riots over living standards
  • 7 year plans
  • Novocherkask riots (20 workers killed and ringleaders executed)
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Overall Judgement of the Economy

  • Each leader seemed to have a "big idea" to deal with Russia's economic problems (e.g. emancipation, NEP, 5 Year Plans)
  • Each leader benefitted from the groundwork of their predecessors; they built on previous achievements
  • The same issues (to modernise and catch up with industrial nations) plagued all leaders
  • Industrialisation seemed to be more successful when it was state led and there was a concerted effort made (e.g. Gosplan/Witte's Great Spurt)
  • Peasants had a raw deal throughout the period but suffered particularly when a leader focused on industrialisation as a priority (e.g. Alex III or Stalin)
  • There were food shortages at the start, middle and end of the period. NO ONE SOLVED THIS PROBLEM
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