The Industrial Revolution in World History

By Peter N. Stearns | Go to book overview

7
The Industrial Revolution in Russia

Russia and Japan, which began their industrial revolutions at least a half century behind most of the West, had to meet a number of special challenges. They had to acquire Western technical expertise. Outright invention was not necessary, but the process of imitation in societies not accustomed to technological change was at least as demanding. Both societies had to make reasonably explicit decisions about not only how to further but how to control the process of foreign imitation. These new industrializers had to provide capital--this had been true in the West as well, but for societies that had scanty preindustrial capital resources, trying to catch up imposed special burdens. Both societies had to provide motivation. Neither Russia nor Japan had a large preindustrial merchant class burning to set up factories; Russia had little merchant class at all, while Japan's was heavily tied into the feudal order. The two nations proved capable of producing vigorous entrepreneurs and managers, but this group relied more on government to launch the process in the first place. Government in turn, concerned about military issues and diplomatic position, gave the industrial revolution a distinctive twist. Certainly the state's ability to guarantee loans and to invest tax resources was crucial to early industrialization, given the distinctive conditions of Russia and Japan. In broad outline, industrializing as a latecomer required more explicit policy decisions and a more careful shepherding than had been necessary in the West in the early nineteenth century. This was true in the two great industrial revolutions that took shape around 1900; it was true later for post-1950 industrializers as well.

Both Russia and Japan moved to industrialization in stages. A tentative experimental phase--which Russia had already experienced to an extent before 1870-- included larger reforms that helped free up economic change. This preliminary period was followed by more rapid growth in a society still overwhelmingly agricultural. Russia and Japan had well-developed industrial sectors by the early twentieth century, but both lagged well behind the West. Both also needed some

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