How was the USSR/Soviet Union ever so powerful? Watch

TheRevolution
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#1
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Ok they had a large population but it has been described as a "3rd world country with missiles". It's econOmy is smaller then the uk's but somehow for years it carried way more clout. Still compared to the uk It develops it's own advvanced fighter jets, the best attack helicopters in the world and other military equipment way surpassing the uk's inventory. How can this be?
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A.galloway
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#2
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Well it has massive amounts of energy resources which where mainly government owned so the revenue flowed straight into government coffers. The work force was cheaper and easier to control, etc.
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Fusilero
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#3
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The mass exploitation of the working class on a scale that makes capitalism look like the good guys and a massive population and natural resource base.
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Aphotic Cosmos
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The USSR was not third world, it, and it's successor states in the CIS, were commonly described as the second world. The USSR was successful in it's heyday because it invested massively in science and technology and that legacy is still present today - Moscow State university is one of the best universities in the world for science, engineering and mathematics, for example, and the Russian space programme is still going strong and will soon be the only agency regularly launching independent human space flights now that the shuttle is almost retired (Endeavour is on it's last mission and then it's all over). The USSR also used it's vast tracts of land to grow cash crops like cotton in Uzbekistan - consuming so much water that the Aral Sea is today virtually non-existent due to irrigation. Finally, it also has insane reserves of mineral and oil wealth that were exported to non-aligned emergent nations like India, with which Russia still has a very friendly relationship.

The third world in a Cold War context refers to every non-aligned nation that refused to take part in the West-East divide.
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Barden
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#5
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To compare a controlled economy's performance with that of a market-economy is just irrelevant.

Sure, Soviet GDP etc was not as high as The West, however it didn't need to be since, in their eyes, creating a surplus of anything was unnecessary.

The perfect, utopian, communist paradise in which every citizen has their needs and desires met, and where nothing goes to waste, would (and should) have an overall economic output of zero.
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Aj12
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(Original post by TheRevolution)
Ok they had a large population but it has been described as a "3rd world country with missiles". It's econOmy is smaller then the uk's but somehow for years it carried way more clout. Still compared to the uk It develops it's own advvanced fighter jets, the best attack helicopters in the world and other military equipment way surpassing the uk's inventory. How can this be?
I dunno about that tbh. I rekon our tanks would easily stand up to the Russians just not in quantity. Plus I'd be willing to be our army is far better trained and able to execute operations that the Ruskkies.

Anyway. The USSR leached off Eastern Europe as well as having massive amounts of natural resource. But towards the end of the cold war it became that the only thing support the USSr and Warsaw Pact was American and Western loans.
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pol pot noodles
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(Original post by TheRevolution)
Ok they had a large population but it has been described as a "3rd world country with missiles". It's econOmy is smaller then the uk's but somehow for years it carried way more clout. Still compared to the uk It develops it's own advvanced fighter jets, the best attack helicopters in the world and other military equipment way surpassing the uk's inventory. How can this be?
Two key points- The Soviet Union collapsed twenty years ago and Russia does not equal Soviet Union.
The Soviet economy was the second largest in the world in 1990 at $2.7 trillion, behind only the US ($5.2 trillion) and over three times the size of the UK ($818 bn).
After it collapsed, the economy of it's constituent countries pretty much hit the crapper.
Plus Russia only accounted for 51% of the Soviet Union's population. Massive recession, plus only half the workforce, is why Russia's economy is relatively small now.

On top of that, by the end of the cold war the Soviet Union was spending in excess of 25% of it's GDP on defence. The UK was spending around 5%. You do the maths. 3 times larger economy spending 5 times the relative amount on defence. Ergo, awesome military.
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karateworm
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#8
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I swear this thread was posted a little while ago as well...
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Bagration
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#9
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USSR spent up to 25% of GDP on defence. UK spent ... I think up to 5% at some points, but certainly lower than 4% sometimes.
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jsb123
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#10
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Smoke and mirrors? That's how most empires are usually maintained.
An endless workforce doesn't hurt.
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Patriot Rich
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#11
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The USSR was in the right place at the right time
They defeated Nazi Germany, giving them the opportunity to create puppet states in Eastern Europe, they were so powerful even without missiles that challenging them was too dangerous.
They could basically hold the world at ransom, however it couldn't last as the economy couldn't keep up, which ultimately lead to Gorbachev having no choice but to withdraw from Eastern Europe, and then the collapse of the USSR itself.
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Scarface-Don
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#12
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The fact is that we in the west spend most money on pleasing our citizens. This has created a really bad habit for the people of Western countries who are like spoilt little children. Everyone in this country only cares about their own pocket and does not seem to care what goes on with everyone else. In soviet Russia, this was very different. People truly believed that by working hard, they were able to become one of the most successful nations. Those people were and are still deeply patriotic.
Compare that to this country where we hate our own country when our national football team loses a match.
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Aj12
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#13
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(Original post by Scarface-Don)
The fact is that we in the west spend most money on pleasing our citizens. This has created a really bad habit for the people of Western countries who are like spoilt little children. Everyone in this country only cares about their own pocket and does not seem to care what goes on with everyone else. In soviet Russia, this was very different. People truly believed that by working hard, they were able to become one of the most successful nations. Those people were and are still deeply patriotic.
Compare that to this country where we hate our own country when our national football team loses a match.
Werid that the Russians are deeply patriotic yet faith in their government is falling to lows not seen since the fall of the USSR.
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Harmonic Minor
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#14
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I think what everybody has already been saying here is close to the truth: huge military spending by the government. But I would also like to add that the Soviet Union was never a 'modern' country. The USSR in its heyday was nothing more than a great military-industrial complex and a Party-state superpower. When it became the world's 'second largest economy' just behind of the US, this number two status was true only in quantitative, not qualitative terms.

As Martin Malia writes, 'Almost all Soviet products were imitative, archaic, crude, or outright defective. Almost nothing the Soviet Union produced, outside of military hardware, was competitive on the international market, and it could sell its products on the internal market only because it had a monopoly that excluded more efficient foreign competition. Even in its most successful decades, under Stalin and in the early years of Khrushchev, the Soviet Union was never a great industrial power, and still less a "modern" society'.
-Malia, 'To the Stalin Mausoleum' in Dallin & Lapidus, The Soviet System (p.658)

It was Tatyana Zaslavskaya's Novosibirsk Report of 1983 which finally admitted that the USSR's system of centralized planning had become obsolete and was simply a burden on the country's economy. Of course, this helps explain why the Soviet Union reached its inglorious impasse in the final years of its existence. The economy had not matured adequately enough since the death of Stalin and the problems had become so deeply ingrained that any attempt at genuine reform would be a herculean task, as Gorbachev realized.
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Perfidious me
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#15
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I disagree with everyone so far. Lets be reasonable:
1) If the key to power is merely military spending, then France and the UK would easily have been too powerful for Moscow(i.e. the actual entity behind the Russian Empire, USSR, and the Russian Federation) to be able to challenge their hegemony. Even when you consider the war fatigue of the Second World War, it'd have been very easy to just arm more minor powers and even the somewhat neutral ones to take down the USSR which was even more war fatigued than everyone except Germany. Also, if military might was the independent variable, then game theory alone suggests that everyone would seek it and only highly militaristic countries could thrive.
2) On the economic system debate(communism vs capitalism), the idea of implying that an economic system defines a country is mostly false. Its the other way around and for a number of reasons. For instance, during the 20th century, The United States, Great Britain, and the various Commonwealth states throughout the world all had poor people, communists, and "national socialists" within their societies who, in turn, often had great influence in the shaping of the views of Communist and Nazis in mainland Europe. The 2 key differences between the UK/USA/Commonwealth group and mainland Europe were their legal systems(Common Law as opposed to Civil/Socialist law) and the fact that they were very resistant to the radical movements of Europe. Even Common Law India, despite a history of good relations with Moscow, never really embraced communism. Another issue with the "communism vs capitalism" argument is that both the USA and the Soviet Union started the 20th century being both geopolitically irrelevant(in the Old World) and opposite in their systems yet, by the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, both were more powerful than anyone else on earth. If the economic system was the deciding factor, then Moscow would've either been irrelevant or would have conquered the world.
3) A third key point to remember is that people often over simplify or miss-attribute the reasons for the success and failures of various empires in order to justify their own views or protect their own egos. Cognitive dissonance alone seriously clouds our understanding of why things occur the way they do since we don't want our ideals challenged and, even more so, we don't want our deeply-held beliefs to be revealed to be products of our condition rather than choice. For instance: Rome didn't fall because of Christianity or lead in their aqueducts(the Eastern half had both, was more religious, and lasted till the 1453); Nazi Germany wasn't powerful because of Hitler and his ideas but instead because, for the first time, there was a unified German nation-state(which, in turn, due to the presence of ethnically non-German people coupled with the German nation trying to define itself, led to both the Holocaust and the obsession with eugenics); and lastly, the United States is not the most powerful nation on earth because of freedom, the aftermath of WW2, or any anti-American conspiracy theories but rather because of its political decentralization, its use of Common Law augmented by a Bill of Rights, and its civic, rather than ethnic, national identity due to the combined effects diseases and war killing off the indigenous population and the new population being made up of immigrants who's descendents became too mixed to be caught up in Old-World conflicts and, lastly, because of its relative isolation from the affairs of the Old World. When you try to re-write history so it matches your political/religious views, then you end up adopting a distorted worldview that dissuades you from trying to understand why it is the way it is.


Here's why Moscow's empire(s) became so strong during the 20th century and why the arguments that try to downplay or explain that due to [insert things related to store shelves or tanks] miss the point:
1) The land surrounding Moscow that we refer to as "Russia" or, during the Cold War, as the "Soviet Union", is actually owned and economically dominated by Moscow. Whereas in the "West" we're used to political capitals who have to derive their authority from the consent of economic/political rivals in the various federated states or, as in unitary states, from the various population centers, in Russia its quite the opposite and even Google Earth can show you how. While Western states derive their economic power from trade and their military power from alliances(2 things which require freer societies) and thus benefit from their governments refraining from trying to centralize too much power, in Russia, however, Moscow is overtly centralized within the network roads, rails, and, almost certainly, air lines within Russia. While this was done during its imperial days under the tsars in order to remain in control, such a layout today within a greatly multinational empire(yes, it technically still is) has the dual effects of keeping the capital centralized economically, even when doing so is wasteful, and also it has the effect of preventing regional development and thus the industrial and technological benefits that light and medium industry bring. This layout is thus the main reason the Soviet Union was so good at producing large numbers of rockets, missiles, tanks, and nukes (all products of heavy industry that benefit from central planning) while being unable to build decent consumer goods, automobiles, consumer electronics, or anything else that, in layman's terms, "had a lot of small parts that came from many different areas". Just imagine trying to build or improve any complex gadget in a country where logistics are a nightmare due to a transportation infrastructure designed primarily to connect cities and towns to the capital, where there's no Interstate Highway System to fuel the growth of light and medium industry on beltways which are essential for regional internal trade which is, in turn, essential for complex and rapidly-changing modern technology, and where there is no cheap land to build new factories despite all the undeveloped real estate that encircles virtually every city but is inaccessible. USSR could build missiles, tanks, and spacecrafts easily since those are big items that are easier to produce when the government ensures that they have priority when it comes to logistics, location, and investment. This is why the argument that the USSR was dirt poor but had a strong military is false: they were clearly able to coordinate simple and essential resources well but they focused on military hardware because they could make tanks more efficiently than cars and stoves.
2) Like the United States, Russia entered the 20th century as a relatively weak power with an inward focus. Both countries avoided getting involved in European politics and conflicts with great powers. Russian society wasn't very open to the outside world but revolutionary ideas did tend to seep in and were exacerbated by economic problems and military defeat with Japan. When the First World War occurred, Russia suffered greatly and went into a revolution which replaced the regime. America played a smaller role in the war, was by allied powers, and paid a financial price for getting involved. When the USSR rose to power, pretty much the whole structure of Russian society was changed since suddenly everything that would have gotten in the way of rapid industrialization was either killed or fled. This meant that the young USSR, much like the United States not long before, didn't have to work within a system that preferred the status quo and thus could greatly expand its power without facing either internal resistance(aristocrats/nobles) or external resistance(Europe using various means to either weaken Russia or use Russia's new growth as an investment opportunity which would, in turn, dampen expansion due to efforts to bring about more stability). Essentially, Russia was able to wipe the slate clean without lingering interests slowing it down.
3) Russian economic strength was in mass production of simple military goods. This gave them the ability to protect and hold large amounts of land within eastern Europe. Considering how uncompetitive the Soviet market was, the use of force to tie other countries to Moscow enabled the USSR to survive better than an equivalent country that engaged in free trade with the United States. While this strategy tended to work, there was only so much growth that could occur until the economy started to slow down due to the inefficient system and increasing bureaucracy overtaking the gains that they had during the early days and after WW2. Simply put, the Soviet Union failed because because the resource it relied upon - human labor - was less and less available.
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Soldieroffortune
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#16
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Size, command economy, labour force, doctrine etc.

For one its military policy was cheap and easy the wests wasn't, To say their tech - you mentioned attack chopper i assume you mean the Hind? is the best in the world is a fallacy It was a flying tank nothing more it wasn't advanced it was just armed and armored to the teeth. As for scientific advances such as missiles nuclear etc. 1] They had their own operation paperclip 2] They had their own supply of very smart scientists 3] they were very good at spying ... take the cambridge 5 for example
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CplSkippy
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#17
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USSR is great, comrade! *begins humming the national anthem*

Gulags, the KGB, comrade Stalin, vodka, snow and bears. All in a good days labour for the motherland!!


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