Post-war industrialisation in Soviet Estonia

​In 1944, Moscow worked out the guidelines for economic reconstruction after the war. For Estonia, as for all other Union republics, this meant focussing on heavy industry and especially the armaments industry, neglecting light industry and keeping the standard of living low to finance industrial investment and military spending. In post-war Estonia, approximately 40 percent of investments went into the oil shale industry, 20 percent was spent on the military and the rest on all other industries.

The official statistics boasted 6.7 times increase in the output of industry in Estonia between 1940 and 1955. This meant that during Stalinism Estonia became an industrialised country and briefly witnessed incredible growth rates. Recent research has shown that the statistics were not true. Assessing the capacity of pre-war industrial production, the Soviets used five times smaller exchange rates, thus diminishing the results of the comparative year. The wartime heavy losses of capital stock could not be compensated. A hidden inflation of fixed prices led to an overestimation of output. The workforce in the secondary sector was only slightly larger than before the war, but less qualified and experienced. The same might be said about managers and technical staff. The Soviet industry developed along the pattern of extensive growth, not an increase in productivity. The post-war rapid industrial growth was thus a game with numbers that had nothing to do with reality.

During the post-war Stalinist period, the draconian labour legislation remained in place exerting harsh punishment for small breaks in rules and regulations. In addition, a large share of the industrial labour force consisted of different kinds of forced labour, such as inmates of camps and prisons, POWs, ‘mobilised’ youths from the countryside or members of construction and labour battalions. In the immediate post-war years, real incomes were so low that many workers suffered malnutrition and serious health problems. They sometimes lived in dreadful conditions in barracks or even in former concentration camps still surrounded by barbed wire. In the 1950s, the situation improved, but even by 1955 real wages were 50 percent below the pre-war level.

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