“Stalin was more successful in modernising Russia’s economy than either the Tsars or Lenin between 1855-1956. ” How far is this a valid assessment?
Over the time period 1855-1956, Russia underwent hugely dramatic changes, in such a relatively short amount of time the country and its people was ruled by different groups and people, with different ideologies and stances and the economy, and more specifically industrialization. Although on the face of things, it is obviously apparent that Stalin was the most successful at achieving a ” modernised economy “, the context of the situation he inherited and manipulated was unique, and this modernisation came at great cost. Stalin and Lenin both built on the structure that the Tsars created, although it was not nearly enough to stabilize Russia’s economy, it was a start.
Before explaining what impact each of these individuals had on the economy, it is important to understand the background of Russia’s economy, both agricultural and industrial. One of the most startling features of Russia at this point, was its size, and ironically how this size and potential was not being properly utilized. Communications across this huge area were extremely poor; roads outside the big cities were poor at best. The vast majority of Russia population at this point, were the serfs (making up around 70-75% of Russia’s total population). Serfs were virtually owned by their masters, they did what they were told and had little or no free will, the vast amount of surfs working in agriculture.
It would be assumed that because there was so much emphasis on agriculture and so many numbers behind it that agricultural input would have been high, but in fact, the opposite was true. The state of agriculture in Russia in 1855 was abysmal; the method of farming was backward so efficiency levels were extremely poor, the strip system and wooden ploughs were still used, and there was not enough land for each serf. Concerning industry, there was a low level of this also considering the size of Russia, because the majority of the working population lived rurally, urban factories and workers had only a limited amount of available work. In 1855, it is safe to say that Russia’s economy needed a kick start; it was starting to become left behind and was being outranked by the other world powers.
Tsar Alexander II 1855-1881, inherited the aforementioned situation, and it seems as though he was determined to make some sort of change. In 1861 he passed the Emancipation of the serfs, meaning that the vast majority of serfs, were granted freedom, allotted land, or were allowed to find work in the cities. It is estimated by 1864 some 50 million serfs had been granted ” freedom”. The reasons for this turnaround are varied, but most believe that Alexander II had finally realized that Russia’s economy and industrial progress called for a free labour force.
Although the intentions may have been good, there were problems with this act, first of all, landowners had to be compensated through redemption payments by the freed serfs, but because of the small amount of allotted land the serfs received, they were not much better off than they previously were because they amassed so much debt. The idea behind this emancipation was to free up a new work force, and let the peasants farm their own crops, with the excess to be sold for export thus revitalizing the economy. Many of the freed peasants moved into urban areas and a labour force was created, but the root problem of subsistence farming still remained, and without strict guidelines from their masters, agricultural production declined.
Other changes made by Alexander II were the huge increase in the railway network (increase of 2000% by 1881 of its 1855 levels) and the amount of factory workers increased by 150% respectively. Although these numbers seem positive, considering the vast population and potential Russia had, these increases could have been much higher and are only just a start. Under Alexander II the state bank and ministry of finances in 1860 was established, giving the capital a strong position.
Alexander III (1881-1894) took on a slightly less sympathetic position than his father, after Alexander II’s assassination, his son believed that the only way forward for Russia was one through traditional autocratic ruling. One of his biggest shortcomings was the fact he emphasized hugely on industry and failed to utilize the potential of Russia’s agriculture. Although this was negative, some advancement in industry was seen, such as the huge amount of railway development, namely the near completion of the vastly important trans-Siberian railway, and the production of coal doubled between 1892 and 1902. The policies of Sergei Witte had effects from this reign into that of Nicholas II. Investment from abroad and state subsidies to heavy industry all played a part in stabilizing the economy. However, the neglect of agriculture contributed to the 1891 famine.