NES CSDSI & HSE ICSID Research Seminar on diversity and development & HSE Seminar on Political Economy, joint with Economic Development and Growth Research Group: Stephen G. Wheatcroft (University of Melbourne, Australia), “The importance of the grain problem in the Russian Revolution and for the next 40 years of Soviet Economic History”. Registration (please, till 10 a.m. October 10).
This paper considers the importance of the grain problem in the Russian Revolution, and the developmental policies that emerged out of the Revolution. It argues that a major and often neglected aspect of the Revolution was the economic catastrophe caused by the grain transportation problem that preceded and accompanied the Revolution, and very much fashioned it. The threat of the recurrence of such grain problems with accompanying economic catastrophe remained a major concern for the first 40 years of the Revolution. The economic catastrophe arose in 1917 and dominated life in the Northern cities of Russia as a result of certain specifics of Russian historical development whereby the capitals and the major industrial cities were located in a food deficit region some considerable distance from the major food producing regions. Although the Russian economy of the time was in general very under-developed, in certain specifics regarding the transport system it could be claimed that the economy was over-developed, ie. that it lacked the infrastructure and resources needed to support the level of development that was already taking place.
This situation had not arisen as a result of the free interplay of economic factors on a free market. It had been built by the power of state force on a dependent and subjugated population. Odessa might have been built and supported as a free town, but Moscow, St Petersburg and the northern metallurgical and armaments industries in the food deficit regions of the north were not.
The economic system that developed and pulled Russia out of its war time economic catastrophe was appropriate for mobilizing resources and kick-starting economic development in catastrophic circumstances. It was far less appropriate for producing modern economic growth in a mature economy.
The paper begins with a brief analysis of how the causes of the Russian Revolution have been explained and the importance given to food supply factors in this process. It then looks at the nature of the main supply problem of the time and why it was moving towards catastrophe in 1917.It then considers how the Soviet government handled the catastrophe, before concluding with a brief discussion of what the October Revolution has to teach other economies.