What if the Soviet Union took steps to reform its economy exactly along the lines of China but...

What would have happened if the Soviet Union 1) never invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, 2) Starting in 1980, enacted precisely the same economic reforms that China did, 3) harshly cracked down on any protests or other “pro-democracy” reforms with its military, as the CCP did in response to the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989.

Given that the Soviet Union’s population in 1991 was 293,000,000, what would be a reasonable estimate for the Soviet Union’s GDP, had it maintained its political and military integrity, and enacted the economic reforms (market based) that China did, while ruling with an iron fist politically and especially militarily, crushing any revolts, but not invading any nations that it did not already have control over (i.e. Afghanistan)?

For comparison, the population of the United States in 1991 was 252,000,000, and that of China was 1,158,000,000.

I think the USSR could be the third or fourth largest economy in the world today, following the US, China, and maybe Japan. In spite of the lack of population, I can see the USSR maintaining itself as a military and political superpower, its GDP being somewhere in the range of half of that of US. The possibility of two rapidly growing economies that are tending toward market economies but are governed by Communist nations, with their combined GDP matching or even exceeding the US GDP is somewhat fascinating. There’s even a possibility of the United States eventually being the first to collapse out of the USSR/China, given that our national debt is so high today…and shows no sign of going down.

I think the fundamental policy mistake that the Soviet Union made was to refuse to look to China as a model for its future. The USSR could have taken the road of China up until the early 1980s imo.

What do you guys think? Remember that hindsight is 20/20, but nobody expected China to become this prosperous within 20-30 years.

If they had done everything the Chinese are doing now, sure, they could still be around. The problem is how unlikely that is. The Soviets weren’t the Chinese, and they didn’t have the history or culture the Chinese did.

China was an economic graveyard in the early 80s. They were only just starting their own reconstruction system, there was absolutely no guarantee it wasn’t going to turn into another great leap forward. Wages had not increased in decades, GDP and manufacturing were stagnant or shrinking, and every other country around them were comparatively flourishing. The Russians, by the time Gorbachev took over, were already done. The social and political system built up by Stalin for so long was too rigid, it couldn’t be fixed without a massive reconstruction program. And unlike the Chinese, the Russians didn’t see it as feasible. Considering it’s taken 34 years for China to start being competitive again, can you really blame them?

A big factor, if not THE factor, in China’s economic success was its huge pool of low-cost labor. By the mid-70’s the Soviet Union was providing a generally comfortable 20th century style standard of living to its citizenry, albeit one massively behind the west in consumer goods. In China, the average standard of living was closer to medieval, and there were hundreds of millions of people willing to work long and hard hours simply for the most basic amenities the modern world has to offer. It seems that they have managed to move their economy beyond simply providing bargain-basement cost labor, but that was certainly what got things going.

The Soviet Union’s potential pool of labor (once freed from the command economy) simply wasn’t big enough or cheap enough to have an economic miracle along the lines of the Chinese. Certainly better planning might have led to a smoother transition to a market economy (possibly leaving the CPSU in power), but I don’t think in the end the potential of a reformed Soviet economy is that much more than the current economies of Russia and the former Soviet states.

Of course, another factor you don’t mention is the massive spending associated with continuing to contest the Cold War. China is certainly a regional power, but they don’t have the gigantic economic drain of maintaining a super-power sized defense budget. Additionally, its maintenance of the eastern bloc nations in Europe was at best a breaking-even proposition for the USSR and, with the costs of keeping them subdued included, were probably costing them money. For true economic reform, they probably would have needed to essentially concede defeat in the Cold War and turn the satellite states loose while still maintaining a hold on the core of their empire, which I don’t think was ever going to be politically possible.

The cultural background plays a big rule.

The dominant nations that made up the USSR (first and foremost Russia) basically had a Western cultural tradition. Introducing capitalist elements in society would have meant granting individual and political freedoms. This would have put into question the essence of the social system and the rule of the communist party.

Without being able to provide a thorough analysis, I guess it is fair to say that in China, it seems possible to have a functioning capitalist system without the individual and political freedoms which in Western thinking often is considered a prerequisite for economic success.

I would add that the Russian post-war “empire” cause Russia to be technically backward. Russia imported high-tech products from East Germany, Czekoslovakia…this prevented development in Russia. Example: all of Russia’s spy satellites were equipped with cameras made by Zeiss (Jena, E Germany).
So having an empire hurt the Russians, economically and militarily.

One thing you miss is that is it easier to grow fast if you start really poor. In the early 80s China’s economy was practically medieval. It has grown by leaps and bounds but it is still at least twice as poor as Russia on a per capita basis. It has at least another decade of high growth to go before it can be as rich as Russia and there is no guarantee it will ever get there.
Much poorer nations than Russia have been able to crack down on its citizens enough for an authoritarian government to stay in power so if they had wanted to they could have crushed any revolt, but they did not have their own example to learn from. I am sure the Red Chinese are very aware of the dangers of granting small measures of political freedom in large part because of what happened to Russia and the rest of the easter bloc.

Keep in mind Russians made up little over half of the USSR’s population while the Han Chinese make up 90% of China’s population.

Russia today is still far richer on a per capita basis than China today, so what Chinese policies or reforms should the Russians have adopted? :confused:

Chinese growth rates aren’t so impressive when you remember that 30 years ago the place was literally worse than Haiti.

Despite Cold War rhetoric about the “ChiCom Menace”, the fact is that China was a far lesser threat to western interests than the Soviet Union. After Nixon opened diplomatic relations with China, the US went so far as to back the pro-Maoist Khmer Rouge (!!!:eek:!!!) in it’s struggle against the Soviet-backed Vietnamese. The geopolitical friction the USSR had with the west meant that the Chinese could open trade with the West to an extent that the Soviets would never have been allowed.

Another big factor was oil prices. Gorbachev started his reform program with the belief that oil prices would remain high and the sale of oil would prop up the Soviet economy during his reforms. He counted on a strong economy minimizing any political dissent.

But his timing was terrible. Just as he got his reforms in place, oil prices dropped and the Soviet economy declined. His economic reforms meant people weren’t insulated from the economic problems and his political reforms meant they could complain about the economic problems.

Russia was never a manufacturing power-they could make tanks , guns, weapons, etc.-but consumer goods? They were terribly backwards in that area. For example, they hired FIAT (Italy) to set up a car factory in Russia. Three decades later, they are still cranking out obsolete Fiat 124/Ladas-a design from about 1965.

The Chinese have higher average lifespans, have healthier populations, less crime, and less depression than the Russians.

I am willing to bet that as the infrastructure develops and they become more “modernized”, with the resulting pollution, obesity, and other fun First World Problems, all those stats will normalize.

Nonsense, the US has a lifespan higher than China and so do other First World countries in Europe. Plus pollution is worse in Third World countries.

I think it would’ve been especially interesting if the China (plus North Korea and Vietnam, of course) had become democracies, while the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states survived.

I don’t think there’s the slightest chance that the Soviet Union could have followed the path China has.

China’s success in manufacturing has been due to extremely low labor costs, willingness to invest in infrastructure, massive incentives and a butt load of sea ports for transportation

The Soviet Union could not have offered the same kind of low wage workforce for starters.

It is also, and this is the major point, extremely unlikely that Western Nations would have been willing to transfer manufacturing of anything to the Soviet Union as it stood. We knew damned well their economy sucked donkey balls. We weren’t about to build it up, we weren’t going to place any part of the supply end of our markets in their power and we certainly were not going to transfer any technology to them in the process.