Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

Font Size: 
Ekaterina Vladimirovna Khaustova

Last modified: 2014-03-10


After 1917 Russia underwent extraordinary transformations. Its capitalist based economy was reshaped to centrally-planned economic system.   

Even on the threshold of a hundred year anniversary of Russian revolution many unsolved issues still exist. 

Some scientists emphasizing different origin and causation, these studies rest upon the shared assumption that the effect of adverse social, geographical, political or historical conditions persisted over that time, keeping pre-revolution Russian economy behind and stimulating labor class to the fight. Others have attributed Russian revolution 1917 to economic failure and weakness.   

Russia’s bad set of financial institutions have often been cited as a possible cause of Revolution also.

There is a lots of complications exist on a way to study this aspect.

Perhaps the most discussed problem is the fact that many samples of previous research drawn by economists of Soviet era, which were reflected on the results. They main conclusion is that the labor class were effected by horrible poverty. Perhaps not the most surprising is that this conclusion is based on limited evidence.    

Was the labor workers effected by poverty or economical and political change were “on the air” and easily change mood of people? Much has been written on the importance of fast change for economic development. However was it really so bad?

  This paper takes a preliminary look at life or Russian labors from 1900 till 1917.

By focusing in variation over time, rather than just on path dependence since Soviet time, we looking at real wages, food prices, life conditions, working hours, GDP consider by the regions. I am using data from rare books 1900-1916 in Russian archives sources in different regions of the country, analyzing field data for an actual problem. All the data presented graphically.

The appeal of this approach to the study of the past is obvious. Many historical sources record economic failure and by studying direct measurements we can hope to achieve a broader picture of how the economic problems affected human behavior.

My reconstruction of Russian living standards scrutinizes the assumed persistence in the cross-country distribution per capita income levels divided by different regions and groups. This study has shown the that the annual wages earned by male adult workers sufficed to sustain a household at subsistence level for the entire pre-revolution period, with the exception of 1916-1917 years.

A global comparison has shown that welfare levels were surprisingly high. Material living standards in major cities were comparably good. Only since 1915 real wages continued to rise in most cases, but prices tended to rise faster than nominal wages.

The result of my analysis point out that we are missing an important layer of complexity. My paper concludes that we need to be capable of capturing dimensions of economic well-being that the real wage or GDP per capita cannot.

The picture of Russian labor-class living standards much wider and need historical and economical revision.