Economic Growth and Living Standards During the 1930s
Statistically, through the Five Year Plans the Soviet Union achieved impressive rates of economic growth during the 1930s - a decade of depression in the capitalist states. The comparison was underlined by Soviet propaganda, which convinced many to believe in the superiority of the Soviet planned economy.
In fact the statistics of economic growth were not as good as the Central Statistical Administration (TsSU) made out. According to the TSU, Soviet national income grew by 14% between 1928 and 1941. But more objective recent estimates have adjusted this figure to a growth rate of just 3 to 5% between 1928 and 1941.
There were impressive gains in heavy industries, mining and construction. The Soviet Union became the world's leading producer of oil, coal, iron ore, and cement, and it became a major world producer of manganese, gold, natural gas and other minerals. These gains enabled the USSR to develop the defence industries it needed to fight Hitler's armies during World War Two.
But there were fewer gains for consumers, and people's living standards were seriously depressed during the First Five Year Plan. In 1932, workers' real earnings were about one-tenth of their 1926 level. The Soviet famine of 1932-33 affected tens of millions. For the majority of the Soviet population these were years of poverty.