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In Viktor Suvorov's books, most notably The Liberators, Inside The Soviet Army, Inside Soviet Military Intelligence, a bleak picture is painted of a system where official figures were exaggerated or fabricated, corruption was widespread because no one of importance believed in the system, and that the economy's primary purpose was to supply the Red Army. In this context he argues that the entire system was given pretence only to confuse people at home and abroad.

For example: At one point Suvorov alleges that the entire civilian shipbuilding budget for the USSR was spent on military craft, and that civilians vessels were acquired overseas by other means. The budget was faked in order to pretend that the USSR wasn't just a military-industrial complex.

How accurate is this assessment? How widespread was the fabrication of Soviet records? Is it fair to say that the USSR's economy was dedicated to supporting its military, and that economic measures often used to compare with the USA are thus meaningless? Is there any investigation or evidence to justify this opinion?

As kubanczyk pointed out, Suvorov's premise was that the USSR mirrored Thomas Moore's book Utopia: where the society which attempted to create equality ended up enslaving its own people, and thus had to enforce that upon everyone else by being in a constant state of war. In strategic terms, the USSR needed to prepare for a war of global liberation, and thus their economy's only real purpose was to provide the means to achieve this.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Sep 29 '16 at 16:28
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    One may argue that most economic statistics are an illusion, and that that is the point of them. – James Oct 1 '16 at 14:30
  • What time period are we talking about? The USSR existed for 69 years. Lenin wasn't the same as Stalin, and Stalin wasn't the same as Gorbachev. – Ben Crowell Feb 17 '18 at 22:18
  • @BenCrowell The example was from the 60s? So that's the focus, but any context of saying if it was more or less common before or after would be helpful. – inappropriateCode Feb 19 '18 at 14:57
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The stated goal of existence of Soviet Union was to make its citizens happy, and to establish socialism in the whole world (to make all people happy). This does not mean that this stated goal coincided with the personal goals of the rulers (as in any other society, these things rarely coincide). The first goal had to be achieved by higher labor productivity in a socialist society and by more fair distribution of goods.

Prevailing opinion on how to achieve the second goal varied with time. On the early stage it was assumed that the proletariat of the other countries, inspired by the example of Soviet Union will make social revolutions and Soviet union will help. They also hoped that a world war will help. These hopes did not realize.

In the later years, (after 1960s) the prevailing (official) opinion was that as a result of "peaceful coexistence" and competition, socialism somehow will win everywhere. This hope also collapsed.

When it became clear to everyone that the life standard in Soviet Union is also far behind its main competitors, and is not increasing as expected, the Soviet Union lost its reason of existence and collapsed.

The system did not prove its expected efficiency. They lost the competition.

As I said in the beginning, the stated goals of an organization does not coincide with the personal goals of the individuals making this organization. The communist party which was planned as a governing body performing the "dictatorship of proletariat" quickly degenerated, and the real goal of many of its members was to hold its privileged position.

  • The economic system remains quite contradictory...even today. On the one hand Russia remains very much a bulk commodity producer on a truly massive scale. An interesting corollary to that is how urbanized Russia is as well...just truly vast open spaces of land with nothing there. But on the other hand they have no financial system to speak of and are ridiculously dependent on Europe trade...which is an awful small market to be selling into...and one that competes with Russia I might add. The USSR was autarkic so it didn't suffer from these problems. – Doctor Zhivago Sep 29 '16 at 1:46
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    I would appreciate if you could further your answer by citing anyone of repute (and contextualising their position within the zeitgeist of historical analysis) as to how true to their ideology the Soviet elite remained or drifted over time, and thus how accurate Suvorov's claims about the regularity of disinformation and corruption were. – inappropriateCode Sep 29 '16 at 8:48
  • So "historical revisionism" was quite common in the USSR. Simply read Nikita Kruschev's autobiography. Yes of course there were fabrications as a matter of disinformation in order to defend and re-arm Soviet Russia for fear of an American nuclear attack. Kruschev was pretty clear though that this was a bad way to run a "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." So I wouldn't look at "fabrications" meaning made up numbers per se although certainly the economic system resembled Enron more than Exxon. The USSR always remained fighting World War 2 imho and that was its downfall. – Doctor Zhivago Sep 29 '16 at 20:22
  • While this answer offer a decent description of the Soviet Union's regime, I think that it fails to adress the question: How widespread were fake figures ? How big a part of the economy was dedicated to sustaining the Red Army ? – Evargalo Feb 15 '18 at 15:10
  • This answer does not really address the core question in any meaningful way. – VivaLebowski Mar 13 '18 at 19:38
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The Soviet Union started as essentially 150 million illiterate slaves, and within a half century became one of the world super powers, with nuclear weapons, a space program, world class physics and engineering. It developed its people to be educated, and to expect everyone to live a middle class lifestyle.

Certainly, some of the production numbers were faked, just like everywhere in the world. Were the numbers 100% wrong? Common sense says no, the numbers were somewhat truthful.

The important context to be drawn from Suvorov's book, which I will read soon, sounds like he has the expectation that the Soviet Union should be as good as England or the United States. The fact that he wants to hold the Soviet Union to such high standards, and compare the Soviet Union with the richest, most powerful countries indicates that indeed the Soviet Union was at least in the same league.

For comparison, imagine if a book were released which revealed that there are huge inconsistencies in some minor country's GDP growth numbers. Would anyone be surprised? or even interested in the existence of accounting inconsistencies? No, of course not. Why would anyone compare that insignificant state with the US?

What about comparing the Soviet Union and the United States economy? Does it make sense? It does; they are worthy of comparison. This means the reported numbers are not completely invalid.

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    Pakistan's GDP growth numbers are interesting for a lot of people. And studying them doesn't necessarily means making a comparison with the US. Anyway, since it makes sense to compare USSR and US, it is very legitimate to wonder about the fiability of the available figures... – Evargalo Feb 15 '18 at 15:14
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    I have removed the hypothetical reference to Pakistan given that you say "Who would care or be surprised?". Pakistan is ranked 42nd in GDP (Nominal), 25th in GDP (PPP), Is World's 5th largest country by population, A nuclear power with the 13th strongest military force (GFP) and is a major regional power of South Asia. I'd dare say, a lot of People would care about Pakistan's numbers. I have replaced it with "some minor country" so that your point still stands. – NSNoob Feb 16 '18 at 11:24
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    Thanks for the edit and comments. Of course Pakistani economics in and of themselves are interesting. My point was that nobody would be shocked or surprised at accounting inconsistencies in a large, country with low per-capita income and pseudo-authoritairan rule. – axsvl77 Feb 16 '18 at 11:49
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Soviet and post-Soviet records were and are fabricated all the time, in huge quantities. In fact, the tradition dates much further back, to 18th century Potemkin villages. Before the 20th century these were rare, though, but in the Soviet Union massive falsifications were a way of life, and often the method of choice for make-belief economic growth. John Kerry was absolutely right when he called Russia parallel universe.

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    I laughed quite hard at the Potemkin village concept, never heard of that before. It does make one wonder how much progress they'd have made if everyone wasn't bullshitting everyone else all the time. – inappropriateCode Sep 29 '16 at 16:59
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    they weren't just a way of life, they were often a way to stay alive. If your factory (read any production facility) didn't produce (on paper) the numbers set down in the 5 year plan you were liable to be arrested, convicted, and shot or sent to Siberia (which had much the same effect) as an enemy of the state. Thus everyone made sure that the reports to Moscow always were on target for the required targets, even if in reality nothing had been produced because no resources had been received from suppliers (who also reported 100% complete to Moscow). – jwenting Sep 30 '16 at 6:15
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Residential building in the USSR, in million sq. meters. Blue = total, red = paid for by the customers.

enter image description here

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    Firstly, I can't read Russian. Secondly, you'll need to elaborate and explain the relevance of this. You're positively cryptic right now. – inappropriateCode Sep 29 '16 at 15:52
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    The caption reads: Construction of residences in USSR and Russian Federation, 1918-2007. Gaps in data are filled with previous year's values. Data for each year is the average for that period. The axes are - millions of square metres total area, and years. Legend: Blue for constructed residences, orange for residences paid for with citizens' money. – SPavel Sep 29 '16 at 17:14
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    In other words, the image does not answer the question. – SPavel Sep 29 '16 at 17:14
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    @Anixx No, that doesn't even answer the previous question, because it's just an image. An actual answer would include text explaining how the image answers the question. As far as I can tell, your argument is that X amount of living space was built by the government for its people for free - but you never actually make that argument, nor do you cite sources. Where does this image draw its information from? – SPavel Sep 29 '16 at 17:28
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    Ah, so you had the question moved out from under your answer? Man, I hate when that happens... – T.E.D. Sep 30 '16 at 13:27

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