Some corrections would also have to be made for inflation increasing poverty and illegal job activity decreasing it. Matthews attempts the exercise and comes up with revised figures for some cases, but the deviation is not substantial, although it slightly increases the number of people in poverty. In terms of food, Sarkisian and Kuznestova calculated the food that the average family described above needed, you can see it in the first column:. Matthews does not fully believe that this reference diet was an average diet for the poor, as if you compare with column 3, the average diet for the whole USSR decades later was in many categories behind the minimum diet of In addition, scarcity of supply would have meant that not all of those items could have been purchased.
He claims that deriving the actual figures from official data is close to impossible.
Possible Reasons at the Top
One way of getting it is asking emigres what they were actually eating column 6 , and this diet was behind the national averages for and the prospective minimum diet. Note that the emigre column is the median of the whole sample, not of the poorest, so at most this is an upper bound on what the actual poor were eating. Compare with column 7, based on a sample of what poor New York families had for diet.
Both the emigre sample and the model budgets do point that Soviet consumption of fruit, vegetables, and meat was even below the average. Like with food, the model budgets allocate a certain amount of money to a certain amount of clothing.
Clothing was quite expensive in the Soviet Union, and a winter coat, which seems like a basic thing to have if you happen to live in Russia, was extremely expensive, and could consume a whole month worth of salary or more for an average worker roubles. A shirt was more reasonably priced, roubles.
To put it into perspective, for the average monthly UK wage, around pounds after tax, it would mean an average shirt would cost about pounds. And this is, remember, a sample of mainly Jewish emigres from an urban setting , not of poor people in particular. From this Matthews infers that the situation for the poor must have been worse. Housing would seem to be a non-issue, as it was mentioned before, it was heavily subsidised. Housing was divided in houses provided by different public bodies government, corporations No one was allowed to have more than one house, except for dachas, but those were only legally usable in summer.
Poverty in America 50 Years After Michael Harrington's The Other America
A system such as this, oriented towards the provision of standard amounts of housing for all, with strict financial restraints, might be regarded as protective of poor people's interests. One might further imagine that the relationship between poverty and slum-dwelling, so characteristic of' capitalist' lands, would be weakened. This has not happened for several cogent reasons. Firstly, Soviet towns have always been characterised by acute housing shortages from which most people suffer.
Secondly, the provision of superior accommodation has long been used as a reward for service to the state, or as an incentive to work harder. The sharp fall in the per capita provision of urban housing during the first Five Year Plans, for example, necessitated special provision for managers and outstanding workers. The destruction wrought by the Second World War, and the neglect of the sector in the post-war decade, had the same effect.
The Khrushchev leadership endeavoured to increase housing stocks, but it still had to urbanise rapidly in the interests of economic growth, and most housing privileges were retained. When the rate of urbanisation began to slow in the mid-sixties, the housing sector, though lacking the variety found in capitalist society, was still characterised by a good deal of differentiation. The Brezhnev leadership adopted a highly protective attitude to most forms of privilege, and maintained the existing accommodation benefits. Thirdly, the allocation system has over time developed subtle informal mechanisms which work to the detriment of the less privileged citizens.
The poor, for instance, have fewer chances of acquiring the better-quality accommodation erected by powerful organisations or enterprises, and are more likely to end up in meaner flats belonging to local Soviets. Poor people cannot usually buy living space in cooperative housing projects because, compared with the nominal rents in the state sector, such housing is extremely expensive. The poor have less of the political influence needed to speed progress through the local waiting lists see Chapter Six.
The problem of Soviet slums has, of course, always been veiled in secrecy. The term, like 'poverty' still cannot be officially ascribed to any Soviet dwelling. But such dwellings continue to exist and are likely to house the poorest members of society. Basic equipment like sanitation or water supply improved throughout the decades, but didn't fully reach everyone by , especially in smaller towns. While in larger settlements in Russia The budgets are an endless source of details, and so they also contain guidelines for what a minimum supply of household durables was, down to the number of chair eight , cupboards three , and kitchen stools four.
But Matthews again says that it is implausible that the poorest would have afforded this minimum budget. The cost of the furniture was around roubles, and that of 'cultural goods' TV, radio, television, refrigeration, bicycle, camera, watches, and sport items was around roubles In Eight years worth of payments would have been required to acquire all of this, assuming that nothing breaks or deteriorates. One could make the critique that a person lacking eight chairs and a television is not poor, that we should look only at food, water, housing and other core essentials, but the point wouldn't be much changed, as even these basics did not fully reach everyone.
And finally, it is worth having a look at what were the poorer and richer citizens of the USSR with their leisure time, as to some extent this mirrors the patterns found in the West.
That is, the richer citizens preferred intellectual and active activities study, art, scientific hobbies, and reading while the poorer citizens preferred less intellectual and passive activities radio and television, and what Matthews dubs 'relaxation and amusement'.
One might wonder why this was the case. Why despite of having the explicit goal of ending poverty and the State commanding the resources of the whole economy they didn't manage to end poverty. From the analysis here and the other posts in the series, it seems that it was an issue of miscalculation: thinking that the poor were better off than they were, and that they were able to acquire the resources that they needed with the money that they had. To end poverty, the government would have needed to lower prices but this would have caused further shortages , or implement a rationing scheme, like in contemporary Cuba.
The fact that the study of poverty wasn't an ongoing activity - as poverty officially, like unemployment, didn't exist- surely made it more difficult for the State to deliver on their promises of a guaranteed existence for everyone. It is an open question for me whether in States with an extensive rationing system, poverty is effectively abolished. What I sketched there could be explained in part by the low representation of the poor in politics, a factoid that is similar to what we find today in the West. In the Central Committee, one of the highest organs of Soviet politics, only 4.
In lower ranks of the State, there were more poorer citizens in their composition, but in none were they an established bloc. The USSR managed to reduce inequality and poverty with respect to pre-revolutionary times, and it did deliver in bringing a level of equality comparable to that of Nordic social democracies. However, it wasn't successful in eliminating poverty, inequalities between republics, differences between the urban and rural areas, and even the 'distinctions between physical and mental work'.
Though not mentioned here, Matthews observes that it was commonly regarded across social classes in the USSR that mental jobs were of higher status and more desired than physical jobs. At the end of the day, regardless of the ownership of the means of production, someone has to flip the burgers and sweep the floors, and that won't be as liked as other jobs. Well, maybe. Would it have been possible to, through massive State investments, reduce the differences between the republics?
Again, maybe. But in doing so, resources would have been detracted from elsewhere. A study on the possibility of such a system would be interesting to undertake.
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