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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The state of the Soviet Union, December 1982

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

An overview of the accomplishments of Soviet socialism that was published for the 60th anniversary of the formation of the USSR, including the astonishing fact that its share of the world's total industrial production had grown from 1% to 20% in that time.

In December, 1982 the English language magazine Soviet Life published a concise statistical overview of the progress of the Soviet Union over the 60 years since its formation on December 30, 1922.

This overview includes some remarkable facts about the accomplishments of socialist construction in the USSR. One is shown in the graphic above which relates how in the year of its formation the republics of the Soviet Union combined accounted for a mere 1% of the world's industrial production. Yet in 1982, despite the staggering devastation during the Second World War, this had grown to 20%, a truly astonishing achievement.

We learn as well that in 1981 in the USSR "the national income obtained in 2.2 days...was equivalent to that produced in the whole year of 1922", how with its constitutional commitment to housing as a human right, on average housing costs accounted for only 2.7% of a Soviet family's budget, and that due to the allocation of public consumption funds, Soviet citizens did not have to pay tuition fees or for skill improvement courses or health services, among other things.


The Soviet Union covers an area of 22.4 million square kilometers, one-sixth of the world's land mass, and is inhabited by 270 million people. It is the world's largest country in territory and the third largest in population, after China and India.

Social Composition, Educational and Cultural Standards

There are 80 million workers and 13.2 million farmers in the Soviet Union. Every fourth able-bodied person is engaged in mental work. There are 833 people per 1,000 of those employed in the country's economy with a high school or college education. The corresponding figures by sex are 829 for women and 837 for men. In 1939 the proportion of women was much lower-104 against 136, whereas 60 years ago it was simply not possible to compare the two levels. In Central Asia or Kazakhstan, for instance, there were practically no women with a higher education then.

Of the country's student body of 100.5 million in the 1981-1982 academic year, 9.9 million were students at higher educational institutions and at specialized secondary schools.

Annually, 42.2 million people are trained for a profession, learn new specialties or raise their skills at their places of work in cities or on collective farms.

There are 4,393 specialized secondary schools and 891 higher educational establishments in the country. The college and university student body is 5,284,000.

The Soviet Union is the world's most reading country. It has 132,400 public libraries. Including scientific, school and technical libraries, the total comes to 329,000. They contain 4.7 billion volumes, not counting the books people have at home, of course.

And one more thing - 4.2 billion tickets are sold annually at motion picture theaters all over the country.

National Income

The Soviet Union's national wealth, apart from the value of land, minerals and forests, is estimated at 2.9 trillion rubles. (One ruble equals $1.39) It has increased by more than 30 times in Soviet years. The national income makes it possible to expand and develop production and raise the standard of living. Diagram 2 shows that the national income obtained in 2.2 days last year was equivalent to that produced in the whole year of 1922.

Industry and Agriculture


The Soviet peoples are responsible for the dynamic growth of their national economy. Diagram 3 shows a 537-fold increase in Soviet industrial output in the past 60 years.

The following table gives an idea of the industrial output in the union republics. The 1922 level equals one. For Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the 1940 level (when they joined the USSR) equals one.

At present the Soviet Union accounts for 20 per cent of the world's industrial output (see Diagram 1), or four-fifths of the U.S. volume. However, it is ahead of the United States both in average annual rates and in absolute growth. Here are the figures for the country's basic industrial products.

The Soviet Union produces more of the above than any other country in Europe. As for oil, iron ore, pig iron, steel, mineral fertilizers, cement, lumber, prefabricated reinforced concrete structures and units, woolen fabrics, leather footwear and several other commodities, it is the world's biggest producer. Gross agricultural output has risen by 5.2 times in the past 60 years. Today Soviet Kazakhstan alone produces as much grain as all of prerevolutionary Russia. The energy and power capacities of Soviet agriculture have sharply increased. The country had 732,000 grain harvesters in 1981 as against just two in 1928. And it had 2,580,000 tractors, compared to 27,000 in 1922.


What has the Soviet Union, as a country, given its citizens? It would hardly be fair to compare the situation of Soviet citizens in 1982 with that of their counterparts 60 years ago. In 1922 the young Soviet republic was fighting interventionists in the Far East, hunger was raging along the Volga, and the country had been ravaged by the First World War and the Civil War.

The citizens of the fifties are also at a disadvantage compared with our contemporaries, for they lived during the difficult restoration period following the Second World War. The middle six-ties are better since by that time the country had scored tangible achievements in raising the people's living standards, relying on the economy of a developed socialist society.

In 1965 four per cent of the population had an income of more than 100 rubles a month per fam-ily member. In 1981 more than half the country's population was in this group. The prices for the main goods and services remained stable over the period.

In 1976-1980 the population received benefits and allowances from the public consumption funds totaling 527 billion rubles, or much more than it did in the 10 years between 1965 and 1975.

Thanks to the public consumption funds, Soviet citizens do not have to pay tuition fees or for skill improvement and health services. Allocations from the public consumption funds are also used to cover allowances, pensions and students' monthly maintenance grants, as well as annual paid leave and accommodations at sanatoriums and rest homes at reduced prices or sometimes at no charge. Public consumption funds also pay the greater part of the cost of day-care facilities.

Housing construction is vivid proof of the Soviet people's well-being. In the past 15 years the living conditions of 160 million people improved. In the same period more than a billion and a half square meters of floor space was built. Rent has not changed since 1928, six years after the formation of the USSR. The price of utilities has remained stable since 1946. On the average, housing costs a Soviet family 2.7 per cent of its budget.

Food accounts for 32 per cent of the budget of an average Soviet family; footwear and clothing, 16.5 per cent; and taxes 8.1 per cent.

One of Sixty

What has one year of the sixty in the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics brought to the Soviet citizen, for example, the year 1981?

• The population's real income increased by 3.3 per cent.

• The sale of consumer goods rose by 4.4 per cent or 11.8 billion rubles.

• Retail prices for prime necessities and services remained stable.

• Two million apartments and one-family houses were built.

• 1.9 million apartments received gas, and 400,000 apartments and one-family houses were renovated.

• Schools were built for 1.1 million pupils, kindergartens and nurseries for 550,000 children, and hospitals for 61,000 patients.

• Fifty-eight million people spent their vacation at the country's resorts, rest homes, hotels and tourist centers. The capacity of Soviet sanatoriums and resorts has increased, so that they can now accommodate an additional 40,000 people.

• The government decree on greater state assistance to families with children is being implemented. In addition to the usual maternity leave, a working mother can now have a partially paid leave to look after her baby until it is one year old. Working mothers with two or three children get three extra days of paid annual leave.

• Fourteen million pensioners had their pensions increased.

• Eighty per cent of the Soviet Union's national income was used for consumption (including housing and sociocultural building work).



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