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Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691006963
ISBN-10: 0691006962
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Editorial Reviews


Co-Winner of the 2005 Ranki Prize, Economic History Association

"Farm to Factory . . . provide[s] new insights on several key issues and presents a stimulating and wide-ranging perspective on twentieth-century Soviet social and economic history."--Gijs Kessler, International Review of Social History

"Robert Allen considers . . . contentions about the costs and achievements of industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture in the USSR."--Paul Josephson, Technology and Culture

From the Inside Flap

"This well-written book will be quite controversial, finding as it does something good about the Soviet system when all others are saying the opposite. Allen's main conclusions--that the pre-revolutionary economy would not have done well had it been continued, that collectivization was not a disaster, and that there was considerable merit in Stalinist investment strategies--represent a lone voice in the wilderness that needs to be heard."--Paul Gregory, author of The Political Economy of Stalinism and Before Command: The Russian Economy from Emancipation to Stalin

"A magnificent accomplishment. This is a major work of synthetic research, one that will be disputed, debated, and discussed for many years to come. It is a carefully crafted piece of painstaking quantitative research but also a searching and provocative study of one of the most perplexing episodes in European history. Allen's book will be read by anyone--historian, social scientist, political analyst--interested in the deep and complex issues posed by the greatest failed experiment in the history of the human race."--Joel Mokyr, author of The Gifts of Athena and series editor, Princeton Economic History of the Western World


Product Details

  • Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691006962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691006963
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,557,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
The Soviet Union was the perfect failure, so said no shortage of people during and especially after its lifespan. So to argue the opposite, as Robert Allen's new book does, certainly presents a provocative hypothesis. Allen's argument is that from 1928 to 1970, the Soviet Union was one of the world's fastest growing economies, with few rivals in the world. By contrast, the high rate of growth under the last tsars was not sustainable. Collectivization seems to have encouraged industrial growth, though not enough to cancel out the horrible loss of lives from the 1932-33 famine. Unfortunately, unwise investment decisions in the seventies and eighties lead to rapidly falling growth rates and the collapse of the system.
Allen's argument does not start off well, as he seems to separate Russian development from Europe altogether. This coincides with Marshall Poe's argument that Russia shouldn't be considered European at all. This is misleading. It is true that in terms of poverty, rural population and demographic structure, Russia was behind the rest of Europe. But this does not mean that it was radically different from it. Russia is Christian, not Muslim. Russian is a Slavic language, and Slavic languages are European ones. Serfdom and feudalism are European institutions distinct from Ottoman and Moghul ones. However Allen soon gets back on track. The essential fact of comparative economic performance is that the high-income core generally stays the same, while those outside it fall further behind (relatively). Occasionally a country is able to enter the high-core club, like Japan, and occasionally another country is expelled, like Argentina.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Allen has done what few people have attempted - defending Soviet, in particular Stalinist, industrialization policy from the viewpoint and with the methodology of orthodox neoclassical economics. In so doing he reacts particularly against the works of Paul Gregory, the main academic defender of the thesis that the Czarist system would have developed Russia faster and better than the USSR did. Allen takes great pains to refute this position.

Allen shows that the Stalinist policy of industrialization followed the strategy laid out by Preobrazhensky, namely to use terms of trade between agriculture and industry to use the agricultural surplus for investment in heavy industry. All the heavy industry production would then be reinvested in that heavy industry, leading over time to a very fast and strong development of industrialization in the USSR. Although this meant in the short term that living standards, as measured by consumption of consumer goods, would increase but little (and even drop during certain periods), in the long run the result would be that the industrial capacity so built up could be used for production of consumer goods eventually at a much higher level than would otherwise have been the case.

This has always been much contested by most economists, both socialist and anti-socialist, especially since the system of NEP seemed to perform decently well and created much more stability than the Stalinist heavy industry planning did. Nonetheless, Allen shows through modelling the different factors involved in simulations of alternative paths that the Preobrazhensky strategy was entirely correct, and indeed had the required results.
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Format: Hardcover
A very interesting and well argued revisionist history of Soviet economic performance. Allen uses a careful review of the existing economic literature and some economic modeling to examine the relative success or failure of Soviet economic policies. He focuses particularly on the importance of the Stalinist centralized push for rapid industrialization. An important and distinctive feature of this book is Allen's use of models to examine counterfactual alternatives. Allen begins with the popular hypothesis that Imperial Russia would have industrialized without the intervention of the Communist state. Allen makes a convincing argument that Imperial Russia was an undeveloped country and would have continued along the trajectory followed by the great majority of undeveloped countries. Allen suggests that the ultimate outcome of a non-Communist development trajectory would have been an economy something in between India and most Latin American nations. In Allen's view, the Soviets achieved something quite remarkable

Allen turns next to the institution of the Stalinist industrialization in the late 1920s. Allen has a very interesting chapter on the debate within the party on the best way to pursue economic development. Talented Soviet economists developed models that predicted a centralized push for heavy industry would spillover into consumer goods and produce consumer goods and a rising standard of living. These economists argued also that the funds for this push would be realized by aggressive taxation of the agricultural sector, ie, the peasantry.
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