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Europe-Asia Studies

ISSN: 0966-8136 (Print) 1465-3427 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ceas20

The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia 6. The Years

of Progress. The Soviet Economy, 19341936

Olaf Mertelsmann

To cite this article: Olaf Mertelsmann (2016) The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia 6. The
Years of Progress. The Soviet Economy, 19341936, Europe-Asia Studies, 68:3, 529-530, DOI:

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2016.1152055

Published online: 19 May 2016.

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Download by: [CAPES] Date: 03 April 2017, At: 07:08

Vol. 68, No. 3, May 2016, 529547

R.W. Davies, The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia 6. The Years of Progress. The Soviet Economy,
19341936. London & New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xvi + 496pp., 120.00 h/b.

the story to the few good years between the famine of 19321933 and the Great Terror. Definitely, it is
an impressive accomplishment by R. W. Davies to work for decades on the detailed research of Soviet
industrialisation and to present his findings in major books. Davies is for sure the leading expert in the
field and, here, he takes the reader through the first three years of the second five-year plan. This volume,
incidentally, saw the participation of Oleg V. Khlevnyk and Stephen G. Wheatcroft.
The text is well structured, chronologically coherent and features a set of subchapters covering a variety
of different issues from finances, industry and agriculture to the defence sector, etc. An appendix and
40 pages of tables provide a wealth of data. Unfortunately, the three-page preface is too short and an
introduction is lacking. As a result, the existing literature is not thoroughly discussed. The author often
writes directly from the sources and, throughout the main body of the text, he fails to engage with the
literature: the groundbreaking work by Paul R. Gregory on Stalinist planning is ignored, for instance.
In general, the historical circumstances are presented and Davies does not really concentrate on the
economy alone. Nevertheless, the reader needs previous knowledge of Soviet history to follow Davies
line of argumentation.
1934 is characterised by Davies as a year of relaxation in contrast to the previous period. The new five-
year plan was intended to be more moderate than the first one, and the living standards of the population
were expected to increase more than previously. Despite the initial poor performance of consumer
industries, bread rationing was terminated by 1935 (p. 114). The international situation led in 1935 to
rising defence expenditures, but more resources were also allocated to the social sector and education.
The author does furthermore analyse the movement of Stakhanovism, which led, in 1936, to an increase
in productivity (p. 298). The plan for the year 1936 was very ambitious; expectations were however not
completely fulfilled. According to Davies, the industrial outcome of the year was particularly successful.
However, heavy industry lacked investment and the harvest remained poor. A large famine was avoided
due to sufficient grain reserves but, according to the author, mortality had increased by 50% in July
and August 1936 (p. 364). In this context the reviewer might ask how sustainable Soviet economic
development was at all, when one bad harvest could raise mortality to such an extent. In the reviewers
opinion, drastic declines in living standards are not an indicator of wider success. The author does not
discuss this question in depth but he seems to take the given situation for granted.
Davies correctly remarks that, in its first three years, the second five-year plan featured a higher
increase in labour productivity and a slower growth in industrial employment than the previous pyatiletka
(p. 392). General investment was higher than planned, while fewer facilities than planned were put
into operation (p. 390). In comparison to more developed countries, the workforce of the Soviet Union
remained poorly qualified while labour turnover was high. The productivity of industry increased due to
mechanisation and the more efficient use of capital. The reduction of cost succeeded, too, and the size
of the Red Army doubled throughout this period. The question of the defence burden is unfortunately
not explored as Davies presents the high defence spending as a sheer necessity under the international
circumstances (p. 387).

This book is very detailed but, regrettably, highly descriptive. It seems that recent developments in
the field of economic history are largely ignored. In addition, the author uses Soviet statistics without
explaining them extensively to the reader. Davies himself is, of course, aware of the pitfalls of these
statistics, but the reader is left alone with often incredible figures, like the 24.9% increase in productivity
experienced by Soviet industry in 1936 (p. 353). It would seem necessary to explain to the reader that
this increase in productivity did not mean the same as in market economies, but rather that this happened
according to Soviet statistical rules. Some of the growth numbers are so fantastic that they would indicate
Stalinist economics to be much more efficient than it actually was. As we know, this is nonsense. The
author ought to have revealed more about the statistical problems he faced while researching the book.
In addition, he does not deal sincerely with the problem of inflation, which is, of course, quite difficult
in the absence of reliable data.
To be sure, Soviet economic performance was impressive in those years. Still, some comparison
with former parts of the Tsarist Empire, including the Baltic states, Finland and Poland, would put
the Soviet experience into perspective. While Stalin was able to produce more steel and arms, these
countrieswhere no famine was experiencedfeatured higher per capita GDP, living standards, and
occupation level than the USSR itself. In other words, the book lacks an adequate comparative outlook.
The main question concerning the industrialisation of the USSR, namely whether the Soviet model was
sustainable, is not successfully addressed. Without comparison, we have no way of knowing.
To sum up, this monograph offers a deep insight into three years of Soviet economic development
and is recommended for libraries and specialists. Still, this reviewer thinks that some fresh air and new
approaches to economic history of the Soviet Union remain drastically needed.

OLAF MERTELSMANN, Associate Professor in Contemporary History, University of Tartu, Institute

of History and Archaeology, Jakobi 2-223, 51014 Tartu, Estonia. Email: omertelsmann@yahoo.co.uk

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2016.1152055OLAF MERTELSMANN 2016

Nikolay Zakharov, Race and Racism in Russia. Basingstoke & New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan,
2015, vii + 233pp., 65.00 h/b.

in their choice of subjects of research and how they are approached. Of course, no formal censorship
exists. Still, anyone who engages in research of this or that subject takes into accountin many cases
without even cognising thisthe attitude of potential publishers and reviewers and the extent to which
the manuscript is likely to promote his/her scholarly career. This certainly explains the treatment of such
subjects as race/racism in post-Soviet Russia. During the 1990s and early 2000s transitology ruled
supreme. Most Western pundits believed that after a short period of transition, post-socialist states,
Russia among them, would move from socialist abnormality to Fukuyamian end of historycapitalist
democracy with ethnic/racial tolerance as its essential attribute. The very fact that racismas an attribute
not just of the white majority but also of the black minorityis rampant in the USA, contributing to
horrific racial riotssome of which, as in Los Angeles, led to widespread destruction and were stopped
only by the National Guardis benignly ignored. This also explains the fact that racism and racist-related
violence in Russia is basically ignored by Western researchers. Zakharovs book is the first monograph
which deals with the subject.
As Zakharov notes, Russian racism did not emerge as the leading intellectual trend immediately
after the collapse of the USSR. The ideology of a multi-ethnic Soviet state survived for a while, even
when the imperial body was already dead. This explains the role of Eurasianism in the early post-Soviet