The most important consequences of the Second World War were the emergence of two super powers – the United States of America and the Soviet Union.
They emerged as the most powerful nations in the world. The USA had suffered relatively little from the war and had enjoyed great prosperity from supplying the other allies with the war materials and food. The Soviet Union though severally weakened still had largest army the main base which lent the auto of strength to Soviet Union_ was the economic and political prowess of her communist system.
However by the 1980s the Communist system of the Soviet Union was incapable of maintaining the country’s role as a superpower. First Stalin tried to build the economic strength of Russia by making determined effort to overcome the problems. Immense problems faced communist Russia which was still a few years old.
Industry and Agriculture were backward and inefficient, there was constant food shortages, pressing social and political problems. There was also the danger of another attempt by foreign capitalist powers to destroy the new communist state.
Stalin though had no economic experience whatsoever, had no hesitation in plunging the country into a series of dramatic changes designed to overcome these problems in shortest possible time. Industrial expansion was tackled by series of five year plans, the first two of which were said to have been completed a year ahead of schedule.
The first plan concentrated on heavy industry- coal, iron, oil and machinery which were scheduled to triple output. The two later plans provided for some increases in consumer goods as well as in heavy industry. Despite all kinds of mistaken and exaggerated figures, the plans were a remarkable success.
Hundreds of factories were built, many of them in new towns east of the Urals. The cash was provided almost entirely by Russians themselves. Some came from grain exports, some from charging peasants heavily for use of government equipment, and the ruthless plunging back of all profits and surpluses.
Hundreds of foreign technicians who brought in and great emphasis was placed on expanding education in colleges and universities and even in factory schools to provide a whole new generation of skilled workers. Medical were given to workers who enlivened record output. Ordinary workers were ruthlessly disciplined, there were severe punishments for had workmanship.
The collectivization dealt with the problem of agriculture. The idea was that the small farms and holdings belonging to the peasants should be merged together to form large collective farms (Kolkhor) jointly owned by peasants. There was no problem in collectivizing landless labourers, but all peasants who owned any property whether they were benefited or not were hostile to the plan, and had to be forced to join by armies of party members.
In one sense, Stalin could claim that collectivization was a success it allowed greater mechanization, which did achieve a substantial increase in production in 1937. On the other hand, so many animals had to slaughter that it was 1953 before livestock production recovered.
With the death of Stalin, the situation was similar to that after Latin’s death with no obvious candidate to take over reins. Gradually, Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader. He had to encounter severe problems of low standard of living among industrial and agricultural workers and the inefficiency of agriculture, which was still a long way from providing all of Russia’s needs.
Khrushchev was fully aware of the problems and was keen to bring important changes. Industry continued to be organized under the five year plans but the industries now got to concentrate more on light industries producing while goods. A
Regional Economic Council was set up to take decisions about and organizing local industries. Managers were not just to meet quotas and wages depended on output. A vast housing programme was started in 1958. Between 1955 and 1958 the number of ratio per thousand of the population increased from 66 to 171, TV sets from 4 to 82, refrigerators from 4 to 40 and washing machines from 1 to 77. However, this was way behind the USA.
In agriculture, there was a desire to increase food production. Khrushchev’s special brain child was the virgin lamb scheme, 1954 which involved cultivating huge areas of land in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Government increased the payments for crops from the collectives thus providing incentives to produce more.
In 1958 the total farm output had risen by 56 percent, grain production more from 82 million tons to 147 million tons. But then things began to go wrong; the 1963 grain output was down to 110 million tons mainly because of the failure of the virgins load scheme.
The failure of agriculture policy and the ill-health with loss of prestige over urban missile crisis led to Khrushchev’s fall. Ultimately, Brezhnev came to power after Kosygin. His policies were similar to Khrushchev. Economic policies maintained wage differentiate and incentives and some growth took place.
But the rate of growth was slow. The system remained strongly centralized, and Brezhnev was reluctant to take any major initiatives. By 1982, therefore much of the Russian industry was old fashioned and in the need of new production and processing technology.
There was concern about the failure of the coal and oil industries to increase output, and the building greatly. Low production and agricultural yield was still a major problem not once in the period 1980-1984 did the grain production come anywhere near the targets set. The 1981 harvest was disastrous and 1982 was only slightly better, throwing Russia into an uncomfortable dependency on American wheat.
It was calculated that in the USA in 1980 one agricultural worker produced enough to feed 75 people, but his counterpart in Russia and other republic could manage only to feed ten. In May 1982, Andropov immediately launched a vigorous campaign to streamline the system. He introduced a programme of economic reform hoping to increase production. But by then the systems had stagnated and had lost much of it vigor.
When Gorbachev came, he tried to reform the system; by his policies of glasswort and perestroika, only to see the whole system collapsing like a park of cannels before his eyes.