November 2017 marks 100 years since Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin seized power in Russia through an armed coup d’etat, having failed to win the first free elections in Russia. The move would signal the beginning of over 70 years of Communist rule in Russia. Despite the widely documented mass killings, persecutions, purges, repressions and famines that the Soviet regime was responsible for, revisionist left-wing figures at the forefront of British politics have openly praised the ideologies and actions of Communist Russia. Their arguments usually rest on the supposed progress that Communism achieved in Russia, industrialising the country and raising the living standards of a largely agrarian economy based on peasant labour.
However, analysis of available figures demonstrates that since the collapse of Communism, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26th December 1991, Capitalism has achieved more for the people of Russia by almost every metric.
Soviet figures for economic growth were wildly over-inflated, and intended to demonstrate the superiority of the Socialist planned economy. More reliable figures from academic sources give much more modest estimates for growth in GDP, and estimate that for the period 1928-1987 (the first of Stalin’s five year plans to just before the fall of the Berlin Wall) the average growth was 3.9% per year. The period of greatest growth was between 1928 and 1940, when the economy expanded by an average of 6.1% per year. Contrast this with the post-Communism figures from 1992-2016, when average growth based on World Bank Figures was 4.2%, with a period of greatest growth between 2000 and 2008 of 7%. Mishandling of the transition from a Soviet-Controlled economy to a market based economy of private ownership saw a contraction of Russian GDP of 14% in 1992. However, even this recession pales in comparison to the downturn under Lenin of 1921-1922, which saw an estimated five million Russians starve to death due to a famine brought about by Lenin’s policy of forced food requisitions to feed the Red Army.
Bodies are transported through the streets of Samara during the 1921 famine
Although life expectancy improved somewhat under the Soviet regime, in the final 25 years (1967-1992), the trend was reversed and life expectancy actually decreased. World Bank data shows that life expectancy for Russians in 1967 was 67.86 years, but by 1992 it was 66.87 years, a reduction of almost a year. Conversely, in the 25 years from 1992 to 2017, life expectancy has increased by over 5 years- to 72.5 years.
A right to tertiary education is often a rallying cry for left-wing campaigners, and a Socialist approach to providing degree level qualifications is often touted as a magic bullet for improving social mobility and access to learning. However, according to Library of Congress information, participation in higher education has increased since Russia embraced capitalism: 5.6% of the population are now enrolled on tertiary level courses, compared to 3.4% in 1989.
Despite growing tension between Russia and the West in recent years, Russia today is far less bellicose than she was under Soviet rule. Estimates for the proportion of Russian GDP spent on the military during the cold war range from 10% to a staggering 25%. Russian defence spending in 2016 was at a record high since the dissolution of the USSR, and still only reached a little over 5% of GDP, demonstrating how even after conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, Russia is far less committed to catastrophic confrontation with the West than at any time under Communism.
In addition to this, in 2010, the Russian Federation signed the New START Treaty with the U.S., agreeing to continue Nuclear disarmament, and reduce stock piles of Nuclear Weapons by half. This furthered the work achieved by the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which Russia signed in 1994, agreeing to refrain from testing Nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Although moves in this direction had occurred towards the end of the cold war, it is doubtful that they would have been possible or as comprehensive, without the thaw in tensions between Russia and the U.S. as a result of the collapse of Communism.
Perhaps of greater importance in terms of the decline of Communism in Russia and its implications for global security is the fact that some 22 countries which were formerly part of the USSR, or satellite states, have now been given their independence from Russian occupation or influence over their internal affairs.
Ironically, often the greatest proponents of Marxist-Leninist ideals and revolutionary policies in modern politics are avowed pacifists. This flies in the face of the inevitable need for such a repressive ideology to arm itself extensively against its opponents, both international and domestic, in order to maintain the hegemony on power that Marx called for when he spoke of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”.
Soviet troops parade through Moscow’s Red Square in 1961
So a romanticised, rose-tinted view of Russia’s Socialist past is just that; an illusion based on ignorance or denial of the truth. Capitalism has improved the lives of ordinary Russians faster than Communism ever could, and decreased the prospect of armed conflict between Russia and the West.
Perhaps those who wrap themselves in the ideologies and symbols of this murderous ideology, whilst ignoring its crimes because of its supposed benefits, should avail themselves of the facts.