While researching my article on Soviet economic performance relative to the US (it was bad), I came across this fascinating graph showing income inequality in the USSR since 1946.

As you can see, the 10% richest Soviet citizens in the first postwar year were more than seven times as rich as the 10% poorest. That is actually substantially higher than in many capitalist social democracies today: Czech Republic (5.2), Finland (5.7), Germany (6.9), Japan (4.5), Sweden (6.2). Russia’s current R/P ratio is about 13 IIRC.

And there’s lots of factoids that support this assertion:

(1) Stalin increased his own salary as General-Secretary from 225 rubles (until 1935), to 500 rubles in 1935, 1,200 rubles in 1936, 2,000 rubles by the end of the war, and a cool 10,000 rubles by 1947.

(2) While in the 1920’s there were strict limits on managerial salaries as a percentage of workers’, in 1929-1934 they were quietly lifted. In the 1920’s, the “Party maxim” was 175 rubles compared to average worker salaries of 50 rubles; whereas by 1937 the average manager-worker differential increased to 5:1 (higher than in contemporary Paris, where it was 4:1). This figure doesn’t include unofficial payments in envelopes and huge bonuses for over-fulfillment of the Plan.

(3) In the military, a lieutenant’s salary in 1939 was 625 rubles, compared to a colonel’s 2000 rubles. This was a higher differential than in France, where it was 2,000 francs and 5,000 francs, respectively. Or for that matter far higher than in today’s “oligarchic” Russia, where a lieutenant now gets 50,000 rubles and a colonel 75,000 rubles.

(4) The highest administrative salaries reached into the 10,000’s of rubles, e.g. the director of one Kharkov enterprise in the late 1930’s got 22,000 rubles. The chairman and deputy chairman of the Supreme Council got salaries of 25,000 rubles. These figures are 100x the salary of an average worker which was 250 rubles and a minimum industrial wage of 110-115 rubles.

Another interesting factoid I discovered was that the supposedly education-worshiping Soviet government made people pay for it from 1940 onwards. The 8th-10th classes of schools, as well as colleges, now cost 150-200 rubles per year to attend (10% of an average worker’s yearly salary), while higher education cost 300-500 rubles. This system was only removed in 1954.

So apart from the well-known features of Stalinism (repressions, etc) it seems to have also been a period of privilege – in which bureaucrats may have been very unsafe but did enjoy incomes that were unprecedented compared to the rest of Soviet history. Overall inequality wasn’t astoundingly high because private enterprise had been banned for the most part, but inequality within the actual state structure was; quite possibly, more so even than today. Needless to say it was also full of informal hierarchy in terms of privileged access to scarce goods – the 1930’s-40’s was a horrible period for Soviet consumers.

I wonder what Russian Stalinists who idealize the period would make of all this?

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