Russia's Restive Consumers

March 17, 1971

Report Outline
Kremlin's Preoccupation with Consumers
Past Struggles to Raise Production
Direction of Efforts to Meet Demands

Kremlin's Preoccupation with Consumers

Debate Over Economic Goals at Party Congress

The political infighting taking place as the Soviet Communist Party prepares to open its 24th Congress in Moscow on March 30 is thought by experts to center on the question of how much to concede to Russia's restive consumers. That the Party Congress has been delayed a full year indicates Kremlin planners have had great difficulty in laying out the ninth Five Year Plan (1971–75) for the development of the Russian economy. Draft directives of the plan were announced in Moscow on Feb. 14 and are destined to be approved by the Congress. While the stamp of consent is usually automatic, the plan's emphasis on the need to raise living standards and augment the output of consumer goods is bound to put strains on the Soviet leadership—a leadership which often is portrayed as uncertain and divided.

Russia's economic problems, ranging from stagnation to inflation, have attracted far less notice than America's in the past year. This is due, in part, to Soviet reluctance to produce statistics. However, Western observers perceive that the Brezhnev-Kosygin regime has failed to make the economy function more smoothly, as it promised to do. And it has failed to meet many of the goals of the last Five Year Plan. These failures have affected the long-suffering Soviet consumer. He is frustrated by his frequent inability to find such everyday items as gloves, towels and razor blades or even food staples like meat, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Robert Conquest, a Soviet-affairs analyst, speaks of “a great reservoir of discontent among the masses.”

Russians, however, have traditionally shown a far greater tolerance than Poles, Czechs, Hungarians or Yugoslavs for the shortcomings of their leaders. While Russia's economic problems are serious, they are not regarded as acute enough to force an overhaul of the archaic distribution system or a change in the over-centralized and bureaucratic economic direction from Moscow. The Soviet consumer has remained quieter than his Eastern European neighbors despite queues and shortages. He has seen some progress over the past decade. Each year, more Russians move into slightly better quarters, enjoy greater amenities, and receive a slightly improved variety of consumer goods. While these improvements are not dramatic, over a period of years they are noticeable.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Russia and the Soviet Union
Jan. 13, 2017  U.S.-Russia Relations
Feb. 07, 2014  Resurgent Russia
Feb. 21, 2012  Russia in Turmoil
Jun. 06, 2008  Dealing With the "New" Russia
Jun. 17, 2005  Russia and the Former Soviet Republics
Jan. 18, 2002  U.S.-Russia Relations
May 22, 1998  U.S.-Russian Relations
May 03, 1996  Russia's Political Future
Mar. 12, 1993  Aid to Russia
Jul. 12, 1991  Soviet Republics Rebel
Nov. 03, 1989  Balkanization of Eastern Europe (Again)
Feb. 14, 1986  Gorbachev's Challenge
Jan. 07, 1983  Russia Under Andropov
Feb. 19, 1982  Soviet Economic Dilemmas
Feb. 06, 1981  Russia After Détente
Feb. 04, 1977  Sino-Soviet Relations
Feb. 20, 1976  Soviet Options: 25th Party Congress
Jun. 28, 1972  Dissent in Russia
Mar. 17, 1971  Russia's Restive Consumers
Dec. 03, 1969  Kremlin Succession
Oct. 18, 1968  Czechoslovakia and European Security
Apr. 22, 1964  Changing Status of Soviet Satellites
Jan. 29, 1964  Soviet Agriculture: Record of Stagnation
Aug. 08, 1962  Jews in Soviet Russia
Jul. 16, 1958  Tito and the Soviets
Jun. 26, 1957  Soviet Economic Challenge
Aug. 29, 1956  Restive Satellites
Mar. 11, 1955  Soviet Economic Strains
Nov. 04, 1953  Russia's European Satellites
Aug. 03, 1951  Soviet Peace Offensives
Jul. 01, 1948  Russia's War Potential
Jun. 21, 1943  Evolution of Soviet Policies
Mar. 01, 1943  Soviet Russia and the Border States
Aug. 15, 1930  The Soviet Five-Year Plan
Aug. 26, 1929  The League and the Sino-Russian Dispute
Feb. 04, 1924  The Problem of Russian Recognition
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Regional Political Affairs: Russia and the Former Soviet Union