I was thinking about the industrialization of the Soviet Union, most notably the death toll involved. The policies (such as forced-labour, prison camps for those who under performed, extremely poor living conditions etc) of the government are commonly regarded as inhumane and tragic, but how much resemblance did this bear to the respective industrial revolutions in other countries, to give an example (as it is the closest to home for me), Britain's in the 18th/19th century. In terms of casualties (the death toll in the USSR was very high, but was this a result of the totalitarian government or the industrialization process, and how similar was the British casualty list?) products and success. Could this have been because of the speed of their industrialization or as a result of the Communist ideology that resulted in different/worse/better results?

  • Perhaps reading some Soviet literature (before 1937, and filtering the obvious propaganda when present) might give you a better vision of these processes.
    – John Donn
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 21:27
  • 1
    That's right, the symbol of the Soviets was a bear. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 23:11
  • It's a thought provoking comparison, but not an answerable question. Suppose we somehow worked out exactly how many people had been killed by the industrial revolution, and the five year plans. We still have to consider the technological gulf between late Victorian Britain and the early Soviet Union. Does that mean that the former must necessarily have tended to kill more people? How much of the difference does that explain?
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 17:44
  • @John_Donn what's special about 1937?
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 17:44
  • Overwhelming presence of American consultants is a whole lot of difference. Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 7:48

2 Answers 2


The USSR's experience wasn't unique. Mao's Great Leap Forward had a significantly bad effect on the population at large (20 millions dead over ~ 4 years) due to the resulting famine.

One impact of industrialization in the UK was increased urbanization, which seems to have led to horrendous mortality due to communicable disease. But it's difficult to find hard numbers on this without very strong Google-fu. In this context it will be interesting to look at the epidemiology of cancers in China over the next 20-40 years to see the impacts of industrial pollution on the health of their population.

A big challenge when looking at the UK, US, German, etc experience with industrialization is trying to segregate the positive effects. Increased industrialization in the 19th century led to a generally increased standard of living. So you have to factor in what benefits industrialization gave (e.g. how many lives were saved by reduced levels of starvation) in order to figure out the total cost.

  • Thanks for replying. Funnily enough, I deleted on Mao's Great Leap because I thought it would confuse and muddle the point of the question too much. Good point on illness-related effects; I hadn't considered this and I'm sure medical records are more readily available (and less biased) than straight forward death tolls somewhere deep down in Google.
    – jhiggins
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:54
  • Gapminder had a good database for those sorts of things. Unfortunately they took it down
    – D J Sims
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 20:58

The USSR industrialized at roughly the same rate as the peripheral European countries. Maybe a little slower.


  • That's an interesting article, but I'm not sure it supports your argument. Separately, your answer is pretty much just a link; it would be much improved if you include a summary of the key points here.
    – user4139
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 23:55
  • I don't know how to link images but it has a good graph.
    – D J Sims
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 23:58

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