chapter  4
26 Pages

The impact of Stalinism, 1930–48

After 1930, Slutsky was forced to significantly modify his research programme as a response to the dramatic closure of the Conjuncture Institute and the arrest of some of its leading members, an unhappy consequence of Joseph Stalin’s final ascent to political power. At the end of the 1920s, Kondratiev had become the leading supporter of the pro-market path of industrialization for the USSR, an approach to economic development that clashed fundamentally with Stalin’s state-led centrally planned approach. Given that the USSR was becoming a totalitarian corporate state, no significant political dissent could be tolerated when it came to the task of setting overall growth strategies and targets. Consequently, Slutsky moved decisively away from economics and back to his original corpus of research interests in mathematics and statistics, by transferring institutionally to a centre devoted to the study of meteorology, and then to various mathematical institutes. It is difficult accurately to convey a sense of what it must have felt like for a solitary intellectual in the USSR to be caught up in the era of high Stalinism, when scientific standards and rational debate were often ignored and sometimes wilfully perverted, being frequently replaced by forced herd behaviour and sycophantic acquiescence to the political authorities. Slutsky managed to avoid the worst of what this period had to offer (a bullet in the back of the head), but in 1930, there would have been no way for him to know with certainty that he would eventually emerge physically unscathed at the end of the decade. When the Conjuncture Institute was transferred from the People’s Commissariat of Finance to the Central Statistical Administration, a memo was written in 1930 evaluating Slutsky personally in which it was stated that he was the author of many works which had given him a ‘world-wide reputation’ as a scholar. Politically he was not a member of any particular party and his character was reserved and secretive (zamknut i skryten). According to some colleagues he was anti-Semitic in nature (RGAE, f.7733, op. 18, del.8089, p. 26). Whether this last accusation was in any way true or not, it was certainly not a major part of his intellectual constitution, as no other expressions of it have so far been found.