The Nove / Millar debate was a debate amongst economic historians in the 1970s, where the Western understanding of Soviet economic development in the 1920 and 1930s was seriously revised. In particular the debate engaged the relationship between the agricultural and the industrial sectors of the economy, and the potential ways the party could have structured these relationships to achieve industrialisation. With greater detail:

  • what were the points of conflict in the debate?
  • what did different perspectives in the debate say?
  • what were the implications of these perspectives for the potential for Soviet industrialisation under party control?
  • what was the effect of the debate on the historiography of the Soviet Union?
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    If you know the answer, you could answer your own question; classic Q&A style. It's even encouraged. Otherwise, considering the (albeit interesting) Novar/Millar commentary on another question, this is an indirect Socratic exchange. Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 0:59

1 Answer 1


The Nove-Millar debate was one between two American economists about whether or not the the 1932 "collectivization" of the peasantry was necessary to bring about the Soviet Union's program of "crash" industrialization. This debate came about because 80% of the wealth of the Soviet Union at the time still lay in agriculture.

By 1928, a group of rich peasants, the so-called Kulaks, had arisen from the land reform/redistribution that had taken place after the Revolution. As a result, they possessed the economic surpluses necessary to drive the industrialization process.

Stalin's solution was just to expropriate (and often kill) the kulaks in order to mobilize these economic surpluses, This was achieved by placing most agricultural land (except for small private plots) into "collective" farms. These policies initially appealed to the "left" wing of the Communist party, until it became apparent that Stalin never meant to do anything to improve the lot of the poorer peasants. Instead, these surpluses were enough to do the industrialization job, at the cost of great social discontent.

The counterargument was that Lenin's New Economic Policy was enough to create an urban entrepreneurial class. Thus, a similar agricultural policy aimed at the kulaks might be enough to induce them to reinvest their surpluses in an industrialization program without a resort to the forced expropriation and the accompanying violence. For instance, in Japan, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, large landowners who were expropriated were given approximately the value of the expropriated land in 30-year bonds, which allowed them to continue their lives and even reinvest in the modern, industrial society.

The importance for historiography was that this debate originated in the United States, not in the Soviet Union, and therefore represented a rethinking of Soviet industrial policy by "outsiders." It is therefore not part of "mainstream" thinking on this topic.

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