Could the USSR have ever competed with the US economically like China is now?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Mitchell Hundred, Oct 8, 2019.

  1. Mitchell Hundred Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2010
    With the right factors in place could the Soviet economy have became a rival to the US in a way which China is right now?
  2. Jack Brisco NWA Powerhouse

    Jan 18, 2017
    If the New Economic Policy of the 1920's had been allowed to continue, you would have seen a more diversified economy, with a somewhat better chance to compete with the USA. Stalin quashed the NEP in the late 1920's.

    The present Russian economy is a descendant of the old Soviet economy. It is primarily an extractive economy - oil, gas, metals, other natural resource-based things. The only things of Russian manufacture that are competitive on the world market are weapons.

    So in this case the right factors would have had to flow from a decision by Stalin to allow the NEP to go on, and likely eschew agricultural collectivization. The buildup of heavy industry could and should have continued. But Stalin being Stalin, that didn't happen.
  3. Cubert Member

    Jul 19, 2019
    I'm no expert but assuming there's some PoD that prevents Soviet collapse and that they manage to get even >0% GDP growth (or rather just enough to mitigate the loss of the Baltics I guess) from 1989 to today they'd have a GDP of ~2.6 trillion in 1989 dollars, which when adjusted for inflation (assuming that's how it works, I'm no economist) gives them a GDP of ~5.4 trillion in 2019 dollars, making them a distant third behind China and the US. So I'd assume if you did some more drastic PoD that mitigates the economic stagnation under Brezhnev and/or later stagnation in the late 80s they'd absolutely be a significant player in the world economy today. Whether or not they'd actually be able to seriously compete with the US/China is another issue entirely though.
  4. Mitchell Hundred Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2010
    Would a surviving economically dominant USSR have had any impact on whether China would still rise as an economic power?
  5. pattersonautobody Well-Known Member

    Jun 13, 2014
    I think with NEP, butterflying away Nazi Germany, and perhaps a war with Japan than results in Manchuria and Korea becoming absorbed as Soviet Republics it is possible. Granted, IOTL, Warsaw Pact nations were technically never part of the USSR so it would take some sort of different policy ATL for Russia to expand the borders of the Soviet Union beyond imperial Russian borders. But, not impossible.
  6. RousseauX Well-Known Member

    Oct 25, 2011
    It depends on relations, it's actually possible China end up in the Soviet supply chain just as it for america
    Pauh the federalist likes this.
  7. Sam R. Well-Known Member

    May 11, 2011
    Not really. As a civil war basket case replicating China under (probably) French and US capitalism the warlord states post USSR would have been monolithically agrarian. The NEP headed off a nasty third revolution where the urban workers were intent on grain even at the cost of liquidating the nomenklatura. If Stalin doesn’t tail end the Ural Siberian method, the party will be (once again) at war with the proletariat—and less likely to survive this time.

    The best way to get vast output would be the abolition of the value form under democratic workers control. Within capitalism it is harder. Like the UK economy of 1890 or the US economy of 1970 the USSR was locked into capital goods technically from the 1930s and 1940/ with corresponding labour techniques.

    A qualitative breakthrough via automating wasn’t possible due to defence, waste, nomenklatura and social expenses. See the post USSR bourgeois’ purge of 1 and 4. A quantitative breakthrough via speed up was impossible as it subverted the state’s system of governance.

    With capital goods out of date but still depreciable the economy stagnated and the average rate of profit declined. Little opportunity for primary accumulation by proletarianisation with the newest capital goods (China).

    Breaking this means breaking the qualitative lock in the 1950s with working class support. Shame about 56 eh?
  8. Mad Bad Rabbit Well-Known Member

    Aug 18, 2007
    No, because Russia cannot into warm water port. Pretty much all their rivers dump into the Arctic, so they can't easily ship manufactured goods anywhere even if they had them. Yes, Crimea, but from there they have to go through the Black Sea, Istanbul, and Suez or Gibraltar; whereas China can ship cargo straight out of Hong Kong.
  9. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

    Aug 29, 2007
    Yes, the only way forward was theft. Somehow the US, GB, France, Germany, Italy and a whole host of other countries were able to transform from agriculture to industry without a "scissors crisis" but somehow the USSR was virtually the only country in history to suffer one. It couldn't possibly be the result of their own policies, could it?
    Jack Brisco likes this.
  10. Sam R. Well-Known Member

    May 11, 2011
    You’ve been repeatedly referred to Hammond and Hammond. Have Making of the English Working class for dessert.

    All industrializations are based on mass empoverishment. Ask the Japanese peasants on factory ships, Indian peasants, or black and Irish Americans.
  11. interpoltomo please don't do coke in the bathroom

    Sep 18, 2007
    book titles for the hammond and hammond? legit curious
  12. Sam R. Well-Known Member

    May 11, 2011
    Rural labourer
    Urban labourer
    Skilled labourer

    Out of copyright, readily available on, seminal
    rossw and interpoltomo like this.
  13. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

    Aug 29, 2007
    All industrialization has impoverishment, as did the previous agricultural age. Rural poor wasn't rare in the pre-industrial age, mostly they changed from being rural poor to urban poor.

    What you didn't have is the violence anywhere close to that in the Soviet Union. Trade unionists were mostly beaten up by Pinkerton in the US and shot (If they weren't the "official worker's representatives" ) under the USSR. The latter being set up by the government itself which would be like GM setting up the UAW.

    Landlords fenced in land to raise sheep and sent the peasants to the city to try and find jobs, which some did. Stalin did the same, after stealing all their food.

    The British and the US had slavery in an era when slavery was the rule for thousands of years although on the late side for the Southern states. The USSR reinstituted slavery decades after it was banned virtually everywhere else in the Western World.

    It may be a matter of scale but scale matters, particularly when it is this large.
  14. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

    Mar 18, 2015
    In total GDP, it is difficult because China's Population is so much larger. In GDP per Capita, why not? Adopting a Deng-like mixed economic policy instead of transitioning from fully state planned through a very cautious Perestroika into shock therapy May have been difficult because the Cold War confrontation would have prevented them from accessing Western markets, so probably earlier detente is necessary, too, and If that happens, preventing or managing the disintrgration of the Comecon and Warsaw Pact would have been a massive challenge. So, Not easy. But in principle, there's nothing to say that it's impossible.
  15. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

    Mar 18, 2015
    There is a TL Here about a continued NEP (Peasants, Enrich Yourselves!). I am curious to see how it answers this question. But such an early PoD, possibly butterflying WW2 and creating an entirely different Soviet industry is Always an option, too. It could always Fall into Latin America's dependency trap, of course.
  16. Richard V Well-Known Member

    Jul 5, 2013
    Look at Russia and the former Soviet republics today, do they have the combined economy to compete with America? Look at modern Eastern Europe, including eastern Germany, how do they stack up against American allies like France, UK, western Germany and Japan? Modern Russia has about the same GDP as Italy or Canada.

    The Warsaw Pact was economically doomed. Even if they were not Communists their economy is completely out classed. Being inefficient command economies just made things worse for them. They made the mistake of believing Communism was superior in the long run and the West would eventually collapse from within in a replay of the Great Depression. When Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium declaring “we will bury you”, he wasn’t talking about wiping the West out with war, rather his ideological certainty that Capitalism is unsustainable and that Communism will outlast them.

    The Soviet Union didn’t collapse because the system can’t keep going any longer, instead by the 80’s it was clear they were mistaken and thus there was no point trying anymore.
  17. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    Certainly I think War Communism was a major factor contributing to the Scissors Crisis. However, on top of that there was also the general damage done to the Soviet economy by the Russian Civil War and by WW1.

    Considering that WW1 alone did a serious job on the non-Communist economies of the world, especially the agricultural sector, is it any surprise that the Soviets had their own crisis?

    Because the Soviet Union (and Russia before it) was starting a very, very, very, very long way behind. Catching up with the US on a per-capita productivity level is the matter of future history. (Japan, with much better geography, wiser policies and luckier circumstances than the USSR started on par with Russia in 1900 and still has not caught up to the US economy in per capita productivity - Japan is rich because the Japanese on average work longer hours than Americans, but the GDP/capita/hour worked is still behind the US.)

    The NEP was still a rotten Leninist policy. Just because Collectivization was even worse doesn't mean the NEP can be the basis of a remotely healthy Soviet economy. As such... Well. Yes, a continuing NEP probably means things are a little bit better, but as mentioned above, the Soviets are faaaaaaaaaaaaaar behind the US. Being a whisker closer does not mean they have a hope in heck of competing on an even footing.

    China a couple years ago reached about the same per capita GDP that the Soviets had reached in 1985. The Soviets in 1991 collapsed. China today is doing pretty well in the eyes of the world. Why? But by far the largest one is that China has a whole lot more people, so even though per capita GDP is still very low compared to that in the US, the total economic power of the Chinese state is much closer to the total economic power of the US even though the US is a far more advanced and efficient economy.

    So what could allow the Soviets to do a similar thing, even though there is no way they can ever be as efficient as the US in the 20th Century? No collectivization and no WW2 means hundreds of millions more Soviet citizens by the present day. Combine with the lack of material damage from WW2 meaning the Soviets progress further economically. Throw in a few smart policies by smart people who in OTL were murdered by Germans or starved in Stalin's famines, and you could maybe get a Soviet economy half the size of the US economy. Still clearly inferior, but not by as wide a margin as OTL.

    For the US to be at immanent risk of being overtaken by the Soviets by the modern day, you need the US to mess up on top of the Soviets doing better. Or just have the Soviets follow their OTL trajectory and the US REALLY messes up, but that would be pretty hard to do without something really crazy going on.

  18. Viralworld Éirí Amach an Ghealach Donor

    Mar 23, 2017
    The Villehardouin Principality of Achea
    Instead of looking at the post civil-war economy which, no matter what path it took, would be fraught with conflict and hard times due to the reality of a country in turmoil after a decade of war and scarcity, we should look to the crossroads of the planned economy following Stalin’s death. I think a stronger push for automation under Khrushchev that continues into the 1960’s and a successful OGAS cybernetics program would do wonders for the Soviet economy. This was a real possibility and would have made the central planning of goods far more efficient and less subject to the corruption of individuals in the supply chain of resources - the only problem with this is getting a PoD where these programs achieve the proper state funding consistently and push against the nomenklatura.
  19. Anti-GrammarNazi Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2013
    Beria wanted to normalize relationships with the West and he apparently wanted to do a lot of Gorvachev-like reforms, when it actually could had worked.

    So say Beria takes over and hands over East Germany in return for Marshall Plan level of aid. This combined with Gorbachev style reforms might do the trick.
  20. Clandango Disestablishmentarianist

    Jun 15, 2012
    The Back of the Car
    The West German government refused to recognize the land gained by the Poles and Soviets around this time. I also don't see why the Us would give swathes of aid to the Soviets. After all, the Soviets already too, all the industry of Eastern Europe they wanted, as well as getting half the reperations from the Rhur. And then of course there is how the Soviets got literal fleets worth of aid, which they denied being given and which they didn't pay for, unlike everyone else.
    Viralworld likes this.