My pile of Books to Read grew considerably over the past two months (though not as much as my pile of books to not read). Robert C. Allen’s Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution sounds interesting, though I’m not likely to get to it. It makes the argument that, comparatively, the Russian economy was very successful from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. The gray world of ’70s Communism wasn’t exactly Big Rock Candy Mountain, but economically it was in the same league as second-tier capitalist countries like those on the European semi-periphery. Considering that Russia was barely post-feudal when the Soviets arrived, this is (to coin a phrase) a big leap forward—at least comparable to the growth-rates of many of the advanced capitalist democracies, and much better than almost all other “developing” countries over the same period.
The book seems like a strong effort to separate the question of economic growth from the political dimensions of Soviet failure. Allen argues that Stalin’s brutal collectivization schemes didn’t do much for growth rates and that most of the benefits of mid-century growth were squandered by bad decisions from the Kremlin gerontocracy. I’ll wait for a full book report from Brad DeLong.