Did Communism Help Russia and China Modernize and Become Major Powers Again?

mariusj

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,057
Los Angeles
Just to add some quality analytical detail to this conversation I am attaching a CIA report on their study of the Soviet Economy during the era of 1951 to the fall of the Soviet Union, and their determinations on cause and effects within the Soviet economy. Very interesting document, here is an excerpt:

CIA's productivity analysis took a major step forward in 1954 in Long-Run Soviet Economic Growth. At a time when production-function analysis was in its infancy in the West, the paper developed measures of combined factor productivity--the efficiency with which labor, capital stock, and land were used--for the Soviet Union. Especially noteworthy was the paper's treatment of labor quality, economies of scale, and the possibility of diminishing returns to increases in the Soviet capital stock. Factor-productivity analysis became the backbone of CIA's analysis of Soviet economic trends. Thus, Trends in Factor Productivity in Soviet Industry, 1951-63 (November 1964) found that more than half of the growth in industrial output from 1950 to 1963 was due to the "employment of additional labor and capital" and the remainder to an increase in factor productivity--output per unit of labor and capital combined. From 1961 to 1963, however, the rate of growth of factor productivity fell to about 2 percent per year compared with nearly 5 percent per year from 1954 to 1960. The paper's analysis suggested that the decline was not a short-run phenomenon "but is also, in part, a trend that is likely to persist over the near future." Estimates of factor-productivity growth in the several branches of industry showed substantial variations but broadly similar trends. The paper put forward several possible causes of the slowdown in factor-productivity growth: the immediate postwar recovery as a nonrecurring event; the rapid increase in defense spending and its claim on scarce science and engineering resources; the effect of declining rates of growth in investment on the average age of capital stock; and a lessoning of the pressures on Soviet managers to maintain output that prevailed during the reduction in the work week from 1956 to 1959.

CIA's Trends in Factor Productivity paper concluded that because the USSR could not continue to increase inputs to industry at past rates, the slowdown in industrial growth could not be halted unless the efficiency with which resources were used could be improved. The prospects for raising factor-productivity growth through administrative measures or partial economic reforms were central to subsequent macroeconomic analyses of the Soviet economy. The paper on agriculture cited above reached a similar conclusion--that factor-productivity growth in agriculture had slowed abruptly in the early 1960s and that future growth in farm output depended on a reversal of this trend.

A 1970 CIA paper offered an even more pessimistic view of the Soviet economic future. The Cobb-Douglas production functions used in earlier reports had a particular form: a given percentage increase in labor or capital resulted in a specified constant increase in output. Thus a one percent increase in labor might increase output by 0.75 percent and a 1-percent increase in capital might increase output by 0.25 percent. The paper, Investment and Growth in the USSR (March 1970), investigated a different production function, one in which the returns to capital declined as the ratio of capital to labor increased. This 1970 paper concluded that this type of function, when fitted statistically to Soviet postwar experience, indicated that returns to new investment were "strongly diminishing." Thus a change in leadership priorities favoring a higher rate of capital formation would "not insure even a continuation of present rates of economic growth." In any event, controversy in CIA and in the academic community over the appropriate form of a production function for the Soviet economy and Soviet industry proved inconclusive. CIA's production function analysis continued to be based on the more familiar and simpler Cobb-Douglas form.

Miss-allocation of resources, common problem with command economies, was a prime cause of their more detailed research.

I would argue against applying the USSR model on China given China has explicitly rejected the exact same model. And I am also not challenging whether or not the Chinese economy was 'efficient' or 'well run' but rather against the idea that it was running to the ground.

Now granted we all have a DIFFERENT version of what exactly runs to the ground meant. in my head, it was how Commodus ran the empire, that was running the empire into the ground (or I would call it straight off a cliff) which I why I ask the previous person what he meant by that. Is an Economic Contraction one year running the country to the ground, how much of that contraction does it have to be, does it have to be sustained? Again, if someone wants to apply one standard that same standard should b applied across the board.
 

MG1962a

Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
2,400
Kansas
Boolean Algebra is of course the backbone on which computer software and hardware design is based. It made the Soviet Union a backward nation in the development of computers.
Not going to disagree with you on that. However the heavy lifting to be both a power and modernized by the early 50s. They managed to keep pace with the US in weapons development and even managed to lead the space race for a few years before the US got serious about the program.

But I dont think it was just computers, the Soviets never did well with electronics in general. On the other hand they were at God level when it came to metallurgy.....so go figure lol
 
Nov 2019
350
United States
Not going to disagree with you on that. However the heavy lifting to be both a power and modernized by the early 50s. They managed to keep pace with the US in weapons development and even managed to lead the space race for a few years before the US got serious about the program.

But I dont think it was just computers, the Soviets never did well with electronics in general. On the other hand they were at God level when it came to metallurgy.....so go figure lol
They had some pretty good physicists also, as long as they didn't send them to the Gulag. They tended to get into a lot of trouble when they decided to let Soviet ideology dictate how physics should work ... see Chernobyl.
 
Nov 2019
350
United States
I would argue against applying the USSR model on China given China has explicitly rejected the exact same model. And I am also not challenging whether or not the Chinese economy was 'efficient' or 'well run' but rather against the idea that it was running to the ground.

Now granted we all have a DIFFERENT version of what exactly runs to the ground meant. in my head, it was how Commodus ran the empire, that was running the empire into the ground (or I would call it straight off a cliff) which I why I ask the previous person what he meant by that. Is an Economic Contraction one year running the country to the ground, how much of that contraction does it have to be, does it have to be sustained? Again, if someone wants to apply one standard that same standard should b applied across the board.
China's ultimate problem is one that Russia is also suffering (though in a different and even more pernicious way). A Demographic Bomb, as I first discovered when reading the Economist 12 years ago:
 
Jun 2017
3,027
Connecticut
Communism took hold in 2 huge what had been close to absolute monarchies, which were losing power. Russia unlike China was still a major power at the time. Russia became a much bigger power under Communism. China was more unified and stronger internationally under Communism than before. China has been more successful recently while officially Communist but allowing a partially capitalist economy. Did it Communism in a sense work for those empires?
No it's irrelevant because being industrialized is a pre req for Communism(according to Marx) that Russia and China(and every other Communist country) skipped. Communism has never occurred according to the definition laid out by Marx, Marxist revolutions have only occurred in agrarian societies. So the answer is it's irrelevant. And if people think Stalin's cruel centralized controlled industrialization was just because of trying to get there sooner, Russia was technologically behind the other great powers and modernizing was always a priority/concern. Stalin was in practice a non hereditary monarch who happened to be in charge of the Communists, he was not really a Communist like Lenin believing in the traditional concept of a country(the second main part of Marxism that isn't talked about as much) ruling Soviet Union more like a country exploiting it's satellites less like the center of a global revolution. Soviet Union was ruled by a Communist with Lenin but Lenin never really got to rule during peacetime.

China is economically capitalist. Communism is more important to them because their country's Communist party founded and still rules the country. It's like the Democratic and Republican parties in the US. The words Democracy and Republican are not really relevant, and Communism is the same way. That being said the Chinese have a lot of their society and culture being based on Marxist philosophy's but this co exists with the Capitalist economy. Also while Stalin was an evil monster, Mao gets a bad wrap and many of his worse crimes were at least partially the fault of the Soviets. Once that pressure from the Soviets went away(I imagine starting with Stalin's death and after)the Chinese were free to take their own course. With a larger population and without the burden of the Cold War/eventually detente China had advantages over Russia that's for sure. The Soviet's Union at least for a while after Stalin's death was more prosperous and was brought down by the Iron Curtain(which was not doing well and was being exploited in the imperialist sense) and political decisions more than being a failure.
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,563
The most charitable interpretation of events is that communism rebuilt the Russian and Chinese economies after first running them into the ground.
The first 10 years of the PRC saw an average growth rate of 5.7% and the increase of steel production by many folds. Even the disasters of the GLF did not override that growth. One must also separate the different sectors of the economy when they talk about growth. The growth of heavy industry during Mao's time was on average quite high, this infrastructure laid the foundation of the later growth of the reform era. The GLF saw a disaster in the agricultural sector, but did not in anyway undo the achievement of the heavy industrial sector in the previous years. Even before the reform era, the average growth rate of the PRC was 5.3 percent, higher than those achieved by many contemporary developing nations such as India. After the reform era, by encouraging inter-provincial competition, the PRC economy grew faster than at any point in Chinese history.

The ROC even during the so called prosperous "Nanking Decade" (1927-1937) only had an average growth rate of around 3.6%. Light textile industry grew but heavy industry was virtually at a halt. While there were no major famine like the GLF, there were countless minor famines which the CCP has largely eliminated through the introduction of new agricultural technology. Despite the GLF disaster, overall, the Communist government's policies were certainly more effective in generating growth than the governments before it.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,764
SoCal
Its helpful to break the question down, by looking at "help" from different angles and separating the communist and revolution parts.


1) Are China and Russia more industrialised than they WERE before their revolution?
Undoubtedly.

2) Are they more industrialised than they WOULD HAVE BEEN had the revolutions not occurred?
That's the more interesting angle, but it's hard to say as it requires a counter factual. If things had continued on their prior trajectories than Russia was industrialising reasonably fast (but slower than under Lenin, IIRC), but china was barely moving. So compared to the prior status quo, their revolutions helped. But it is entirely possible to imagine an alternative history where there is no communist revolution but other political movements compel them to industrialise fast, like the Mejii Restoration in Japan did.

3) Did have a centralised power, free of the incompetence of an ageing aristocracy and invigorated by revolution help?
I would say yes, a stark break with history often helps with massive economic change. Of course, the more violent and destructive the revolution is, the more that hurts the industrial base (not to mention the people).

4) Did the specifically communist policies of Lenin/Stalin/Mao help in industrialisation?
I'm by no means an expert on this, but my hunch is a strong no. Communalising farmland and equipment in both countries was a disaster that led to mass starvations. Allocating resources through a centralised bureaucracy is broadly regarded as inefficient.


In short, having a revolution did more good than bad, but the communist part did more bad than good. As a whole, you can only really answer the question if you have a good idea of what would have happened had there been no revolution.
In regards to China, it's worth noting that it suffered from both warlordism and war with Japan in the couple of decades before 1949. So, it might have lost three decades' worth of industrialization right then and there--at least relative to what it could have achieved without both the warlord era and the war with Japan.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,764
SoCal
The first 10 years of the PRC saw an average growth rate of 5.7% and the increase of steel production by many folds. Even the disasters of the GLF did not override that growth. One must also separate the different sectors of the economy when they talk about growth. The growth of heavy industry during Mao's time was on average quite high, this infrastructure laid the foundation of the later growth of the reform era. The GLF saw a disaster in the agricultural sector, but did not in anyway undo the achievement of the heavy industrial sector in the previous years. Even before the reform era, the average growth rate of the PRC was 5.3 percent, higher than those achieved by many contemporary developing nations such as India. After the reform era, by encouraging inter-provincial competition, the PRC economy grew faster than at any point in Chinese history.

The ROC even during the so called prosperous "Nanking Decade" (1927-1937) only had an average growth rate of around 3.6%. Light textile industry grew but heavy industry was virtually at a halt. While there were no major famine like the GLF, there were countless minor famines which the CCP has largely eliminated through the introduction of new agricultural technology. Despite the GLF disaster, overall, the Communist government's policies were certainly more effective in generating growth than the governments before it.
From where did you find economic data for China for before 1952?
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,710
The first 10 years of the PRC saw an average growth rate of 5.7% and the increase of steel production by many folds. Even the disasters of the GLF did not override that growth. One must also separate the different sectors of the economy when they talk about growth.
Even if those statistics are inflated. China was a major power politically and militarily from 1965 or so on. It was at least in the top 5 world powers, which is may above its level from say 1800-1950.
 
Jan 2020
13
Seattle
Yes, on both counts. The Soviet Union was a single party socialist republic. They succeeded in building stable and functioning society but it was a painful road not solely due to the mistakes/policies of the government. Forces from the outside caused many problems, WWII for example not to mention the Polish Bolshevik war and foreign interference in the revolution and even the Cold War. It's pretty amazing they accomplished what they did in the 1900s considering almost the entire world was against them from the start.

China is a similar story and I know less about it than the USSR and Russia but the general situation historically seems only slightly different. China still has the single party socialist republic system similar to the USSRs and the results so far are due to the stability this system brought about since WWII. It seems to me that for some peoples this system does work. There are also costs that come with it but it's a question of does the end justify the means.

It's a huge subject and in some cases the information is so unreliable, tainted, biased, salted with outright lies and basically idiotic from all sides that it hard to make an informed decision. I've been to Russia dozens of times and it's pretty amazing what they did and from what I know of China it's the same.