Economic Potential

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Economic Potential


the aggregate capacity of branches of the national economy at a given point in history to produce industrial and agricultural output, undertake capital construction, transport freight, and provide services to the population.

Economic potential is determined by the quantity of labor resources and the quality of their vocational training, by the volume of production capacities of industrial and construction organizations, by the production capacities of agriculture, by the extent of transportation arteries and the means of transport, by the development of sectors in the nonproduction sphere, by advances in science and technology, and by the resources of explored mineral deposits—in other words, by the elements that in their aggregate make up the productive forces of society. Economic potential depends on the extent of a country’s national wealth.

Economic potential is a social category. Under the conditions of capitalism, economic potential is a factor in the economic and military pressure exerted on countries in the socialist community, in the economic and political subordination of countries with poorly developed economies, in the struggle for markets, and in the realization of superprofits. It is also a means of increasing the influence of monopoly capital on state administrative bodies and increasing the exploitation of the working masses. Economic potential depends on the absolute production capacity of economic branches and on the degree to which the capacities are used. Labor resources and production capacities in capitalist countries are not fully used because of certain patterns of reproduction. (It is estimated that in 1976 the USA had more than 8 million unemployed and industrial production facilities were operating at approximately 77 percent of capacity.) Economic potential is therefore calculated on the basis of the actual output and total use of production capacities.

Under socialism, economic potential is used to ensure the economic independence and defensive capability of socialist countries and the better satisfaction of the needs of the working masses by raising the living standard and cultural level of the people. Since economic potential is defined with respect to absolute production volume, a high economic potential may be enjoyed by large countries with developed productive forces and great national wealth. In 1977 the USSR produced one-fifth of the world’s total industrial output and occupied second place in the volume of industrial production.

Labor resources and the level of vocational training are a key element in economic potential. In 1977, 92 percent of the able-bodied population was employed in the national economy of the USSR. Industrial and nonindustrial workers numbered 106.4 million, of whom 10.0 million had higher education and 14.0 million had specialized secondary education. Nearly 34.2 million industrial and nonindustrial workers upgrade their qualification each year.

Economic potential is in large measure determined by the level of industrial development, in particular, the development of the machine-building industry, which supplies all branches of the national economy with the means of production (seeECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, LEVEL OF). Soviet industry comprises 44,000 associations and enterprises that in 1977 manufactured products valued at 554 billion rubles. Industry employs 35.4 million industrial and nonindustrial workers. The growth rates of industrial production are more rapid than those of other branches and promote the growth of economic potential as a whole. Between 1940 and 1977 the gross social product of the USSR increased by a factor greater than 12; during the same period industrial output increased by a factor of 18.

In 1977, USSR agriculture had 27,000 kolkhozes and 20,000 sovkhozes; 217.7 million hectares were under cultivation, and the number of livestock held totaled approximately 329 million head. Agriculture had at its disposal 2.4 million tractors, 692,000 grain-harvesting combines, 1.5 million trucks, and a large quantity of other equipment. Gross agricultural output in 1977 was valued at 123.5 billion rubles.

Capital construction promotes the growth of economic potential. The USSR has 24,400 construction organizations, which put 407.8 billion rubles’ worth of fixed capital stock into operation between 1971 and 1975, 95.4 billion rubles’ worth in 1976, and 98.2 billion rubles’ worth in 1977. This capital included 250 new, large-scale state industrial enterprises, a large number of new shops and production facilities at existing enterprises, new livestock complexes and farms, roads, housing, schools, hospitals, and other projects. Construction organizations employ 8 million persons. They have 151,400 excavators, 44,000 scrapers, 165,300 bulldozers, and 200,500 mobile cranes.

The USSR has at its disposal a high-capacity transportation system that incorporates 270,000 km of railroad track (belonging to the Ministry of Railroads) and sidings (belonging to industrial enterprises and organizations); 689,000 km of surfaced roads; 162,100 km of oil and gas pipelines; and well-developed oceangoing, river, and air fleets equipped with modern means of transport. In 1977, the total freight turnover for all types of general-service transportation amounted to 5.6 trillion ton-kilometers; more than 26 billion tons of freight and 42 billion passengers were transported.

Scientific institutions (including higher educational institutions) make up the scientific and technical potential of the USSR. They employ approximately 1.3 million scientific workers (one-fourth of all scientific workers in the world), including 35,400 doctors of sciences and 353,400 candidates of sciences. In 1976 and 1977, 7,800 new models of machines, equipment, and instruments were developed and production technology was improved, thereby effecting a significant increase in the nation’s economic potential.

The growth of the economic potential of the USSR is promoted by the country’s vast reserves of explored mineral deposits, many of which, including iron ore, coal, and potassium salts, are the largest in the world.

Economic potential also depends on the degree of development of sectors in the nonproduction sphere—education, public health, and housing and municipal services—that ensure the reproduction and functioning of labor power. The USSR has 154,000 general education schools, 861 higher educational institutions, 4,300 specialized secondary educational institutions, 24,300 hospitals and health care facilities, extensive housing facilities, and other social and cultural facilities.

In the stage of developed socialism, economic potential is characterized by a high level of development of the productive forces, by a dynamic and proportional economic growth, by the increasing efficiency of production, by the integrated mechanization and automation of production, and by the improvement of qualification levels. The economic potential reached by the USSR has made it possible for the country to create a material and technical basis for socialism and to use the scientific and technological revolution to construct the material and technical basis for communism. The economic potential of the USSR is supplemented by the economic potential of other socialist countries; together they constitute the economic potential of the world socialist economic system. In 1977 all socialist countries combined accounted for more than 40 percent of the world industrial output. Their growth rates significantly surpass those of the capitalist countries, which results in an increase in the share of the socialist economy in world production.


Belousov, R. A. Rost ekonomicheskogopotentsiala. Moscow, 1971.
Gorbunov, E. Struktura i effektivnost’ obshchestvennogo proizvodstva. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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