Social Inequalities and Industrialization in the US and Soviet Union Essay

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Soviet Union and United States

Comparative Analysis of Industrialization in the Former USSR and United States

The political, economic, and cultural impacts of industrialization in North American and European countries are still widely evident today and have heavily affected international relations and global politics. The Industrial Revolution is usually considered to have originated in Great Britain in the mid 1700s, which at this point in time was the dominant empire in term of trade, commerce, land ownership, and influence. Other countries with sophisticated economic systems, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom soon developed technology, which allowed for mass production of commodities, more efficient travel over longer distances, and greater participation in formal economic activity for non-elite persons.

One of the hallmarks of technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution was undoubtedly the harnessing of steam power, fueled by coal and petroleum. Cities saw rapid growth throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as people moved closer to urban centers where manufacturing, processing, shipping, and construction jobs were in plentiful supply and allowed people without any land or titles to earn a steady, if paltry, cash income. With the mass production of goods and influx of money into populations who had no had regular access to it before, came a greater demand for commodities and a shift in political and philosophical beliefs pertaining to individual rights and property. The American and French Revolutions occurred within the general timeframe of the Industrial Revolution and are indicative of this greater emphasis upon a democratic rule of law, the abolishment of monarchy, and the legal enshrinement of the right to individual property.

When one thinks of industrial and technological development in relation to the former Soviet Union and the United States, one of the first images that come to mind might be that of the Cold War and arms race between the two countries through the middle of the last century. Both of these countries were able to develop the industrial capacity and technological prowess to become major world powers, although neither of their economies has grown at the same vigorous rates as was once the case. The United States is only now beginning to feel the effects of becoming the first true post-industrial nation as the economy has become more service and information-based rather than industrial. China has become the industrial superpower and more and more postindustrial countries have outsourced manufacturing to countries where workers can be paid less and there is less governmental regulation (Kynge 2006).

Russia has both benefitted and suffered from a turbulent history in the modern era; the political upheaval generated enough control by the time Stalin was in power to rapidly industrialize the economy, but these efforts were brutal on the people and brought many negative consequences along with the economic benefits. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. jeopardized the industrial growth that had been accomplished through the preceding decades and the productive capacity that had been methodically developed since the 1920s lay fallow for a time as the economy collapsed (Sterns 1998).

A great deal can be learned through an examination of the factors leading to the industrialization of each country. By assessing the context in which industrialization occurred and why countries with ostensibly similar economic goals ended up engaged in a brutal detente for decades. Finally, the historical context of each of these industrialization efforts provides clues as to why the influence and success of each former superpower is waning in the 21st century as countries like India and China are rapidly expanding economically and politically (de Vries 1994).

Historical Context of Industrialization in United States

Following the Revolutionary War in the United States, the technological developments which indicated proto-industrialization came quickly due to many favorable factors, including rich natural resources, many waterways suitable for commercial travel, arable land, and a spirit of innovation and hopefulness following the American victory over King George. The natural resources across the vast expanse of land in the Americas were key to energy production and construction. In the space of under 200 years, between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, the young United States went from a primarily subsistence farming economy to the preeminent industrialized country in what was now being referred to as the "developed world." The industrial output of the Americans between 1790 and 1913 increased by over 450% (de Vries 1994).

On a macroeconomic scale, one of the incentives for centralizing and formalizing the nascent American economy around the time of the American Revolution was the cost of that war, sixty-six million pieces of gold and silver. The first federal issue of paper money occurred in 1775 and was meant to be used for redemption on state taxes, but this money, as well as a second attempted issue to readjust the new economy were depreciated rapidly. The paper money was valuated at 1% of the face value and functioned as a covert tax on the populace in order to assist in the finance of the war. Through the next several decades, there was a great deal of ambivalence about the need for a national bank, until the War of 1812 proved the necessity for such an institution in order to equip a sufficient national defense.

The development of industrialization in the United States was due to the plentiful land and opportunity in the young nation. With Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton soon became a highly lucrative crop and more and more people moved into the Midwest to take advantage of cheap land. Slavery was legal in the United States until 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment banned it and the Civil War victory secured the rule of law of the federal government in Washington D.C. over all of the states, including those that had ceded over the issue of slavery. The free labor done by the estimated 12 million African people who were brought into the United States was a highly influential factor in the economic success that brought the exponential growth of the Industrial Era. Mills were built in the north, in towns such as Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts to turn all of the cotton produced on slave-owning Southern plantations into fabric for many industrial and consumer goods.

Historical Context of Industrialization in Russia

The process of industrialization in the former Soviet Union occurred under drastically different circumstances and in a later time period than the industrialization of Western Europe and the United States. The first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution in Russia began around 1917 and industrialization was a catalytic factor in the Russian Revolution. Industrialization proceeded in a condensed time span in Russia between the first and second World Wars, starting in the last years of the 1920s. In about 15 years, the net change to the economy of the U.S.S.R. was remarkably similar to the changes that had occurred in the United States over the course of well over 150 years; the agrarian subsistence culture was transformed into a prominent industrial economy.

The reasons for the slow entry of the former Soviet Union to enter the industrialization race were directly tied to the political structure of Imperial Russia up until the beginning of the 20th century. Russia was still functioning as a serfdom until 1861. Following the Crimean War, Nicolas II came to power and declared the abolishment of serfdom throughout Russia, one of the most significant events in Russian history as nearly one-third of the population were serfs at this point in time. Industrialization was not the immediate product of the abolishment of serfdom, however. Russia went through a period of Nihilism, where faith in public institutions was lost and anarchy gained philosophical traction. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. His son, Alexander III was named the new tsar and had a reactionary leadership style, indicating that many of the problems that Russia had been going through, especially edging toward Revolution, were due to the destructive influence of the West (Gregory 2001).

The political parties in Russia through the early 20th century concerned themselves primarily with advocating for modern economic reform in Russia, though they disagreed with each other over the means and the ends. The Socialist-Revolution Party wanted democratic distribution of land amongst former serfs and the Constitutional Democratic Party wanted peaceful reform, greater ability for capitalist opportunity, and the preservation of a constitutional monarchy. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party wanted nothing less than a total Marxist revolution in Russia.

By World War I, the economic effects of industrialization in America and Western Europe were extraordinarily clear. These world superpowers had the ability to mass-produce weaponry and planes and ships with a speed and precision that non-industrialized countries, such as Russia, had no hope of matching. The relationship between economic growth, industrial capacity, battle capability and political power and influence was obvious by the outcome of World War I, which left Russia very weakened. Industrialization was indeed a catalyst in the revolution: it was during a strike on March 03, 1917 at a factory…

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