Stalin 5 Year Plans Essays

The historical scope of this research essay focuses on the methods undertaken by Joseph Stalin in industrializing the Soviet Union through his First Five-Year Plan. Thus, the main question arising throughout this essay is the following: To What Extent Were Joseph Stalin’s Methods In Employing The First Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) Effective In Achieving His Original Industrial Aims? In order to be able to analyze such controversial topic, the essay first addresses how Stalin approached the idea for economic growth, mainly by employing three methods: centralized, directive planning, utilization of political propaganda campaigns, and a focus on heavy industry. The results of industrialization are then analyzed and compared to the originally proposed objectives. Much of the research conducted was based on primary sources of evidence as well as secondary sources that most accurately depicted the situation of the Soviet Union at the time and its progress through the specified time period of the Stalin administration.

Analysis of such documents was also required in order to correctly deduce the credibility and validity of the evidence presented in order to be able to base the conclusions on the information. Lastly, the use of historians’ interpretations was used in order to substantiate claims or provide helpful alternative viewpoints. This research essay thus concluded that, although he did managed to expand enormously investment in industry and force the nation out of its backward, agrarian state, Stalin did not achieve comprehensive industrialization for the Soviet Union. Essentially, the deep bureaucratization of the economy, in concert with the particular features of the Soviet policy, produced a combination of contradictory forces originating from bureaucratic self-interests and impulsive political will.

This would prevent the emergence of the right mix of factors that would assure the normal functioning of the economy.

Table of Contents
Abstract ———————————————————————————————————2 Abbreviations and Glossary ——————————————————————————— 4 Introduction —————————————————————————————————- 5 Stalin’s Realization for Industrialization

1. Explaining the Five-Year Plan (1928 – 1932) —————————————————-7 Analysis of Soviet Model of Industrialization under Stalin
1. Stalin and Centralized Directive Planning ——————————————————– 9 2. Stalin and Political Propaganda Campaigns —————————————————- 10 3. Stalin and Focus on Heavy Industry ————————————————————- 13 Results of First Five-Year Plan

1. Development of Overall Industrial Sector ——————————————————-10 Conclusion —————————————————————————————————-17 Notes ———————————————————————————————————- Bibliography ————————————————————————————————–19

Abbreviations and Glossary
2. Central Committee: Soviet Communist Party supreme body, elected at
Party Congress.

3. Gosbank: Gosudarstvenny bank SSSR (USSR State Bank); Soviet Union central bank and the only bank in the entire USSR from the 1930s until 1987.

4. Gosplan: Gosudarstvenniy Komitet po Planirovaniyu (State Planning Committee); committee responsible for economic planning in the Soviet Union. One of its main duties was the creation of Five-Year Plans.

5. Gossnab: State Supplies of the USSR; the state committee for material technical supply in the Soviet Union. Primarily responsible for the allocation of producer goods to enterprises, a critical state function in the absence of markets.

6. Gulag: Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei (main camp administration); eventually in charge of Soviet concentration camps.

7. Mensheviks: Minority faction of the RSDLP, founded in 1903

8. NEP: New Economic Policy (1921-1929) introduced by Lenin.

9. Pravda: the semiofficial newspaper of the Communist Party

In October 1928, Joseph Stalin(1) executed the First Five-Year Plan (piatiletka) in order to strengthen the economy of the Soviet Union and accelerate its rate of industrialization. Part of a series of nationwide, centralized exercises in rapid economic development, the First Five-Year Plan would become the basis for future overall industrial production and development of heavy industries (manufacturing and military goods).(A) Since the conclusion of the First Five-Year Plan, however, numerous accounts have surfaced either praising or criticizing Stalin’s model of economic growth (depending on the interpreter’s predilection of results) in relation to the Soviet Union’s future development. Although modern historians, including Evan Mawdsley(2) and Robert Gellately(3), debate over the extent of Stalin’s success in achieving the original aims of the First Five-Year Plan, the majority of them will agree that he did accomplish a significant and essential increase in industrial growth that would ultimately elevate the Soviet Union as a world class power.

(E) Nevertheless, due to the unreliability of primary resources originating from Soviet archives and recurring debates among historians, some difficulties continue to exist in accurately defining the extent of Stalin’s success and whether his methods were applicable in employing the First Five-Year Plan most effectively. Advocates of Marxism-Leninism assert that the coercive and abrasive methodology in achieving major industrialization was the most appropriate and necessary in both the economic and social modernization of the USSR as well as indispensable for its survival in the face of capitalist “enemies”. However, Non-Soviet Marxists, from Mensheviks to Herbert Marcuse(4), criticize this approach for its long-term detrimental effects on the economy and working class, as well as the profound mark on the Soviet cultural life and standard of living.(F) Therefore, a critical examination of the diverse range of historical interpretations and analyses concerning this controversial subject should thus be conducted, making the topic of Soviet industrialization worthy of investigation.

This research paper, in spite of the limited availability of Soviet primary sources and their dubious credibility, will thus attempt to answer the following question: To What Extent Were Joseph Stalin’s Methods In Employing The First Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) Effective In Achieving His Original Industrial Aims? In this way, valuable insight into historians’ methods in incorporating evidence to support their claims and constructing their arguments based on such evidence will be gained. In order to maintain clarity and focus, this research paper will essentially discuss industrialization and will thus revolve around two themes: First, the Soviet model of industrial advancement was not comprehensive and its achievements can only by attributed and limited to certain sectors. Second, the methods employed by Stalin to achieve industrialization and economic modernization were fallible and precluded complete achievement of the proposed goals.

Stalin’s Realization for Industrialization
Explaining the First Five-Year Plan (1928-1932)
It is important to first gain an understanding of what Josef Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan entailed and what he aimed to accomplish in the industrial sectors by the end of the five year period. The latter approach will enable a qualified analysis examining how the results of the plan compared to the originally established objectives, thus, providing the necessary perspective in evaluating Stalin’s methods for economic reformation. In October 1928, Stalin incorporated the Soviet blueprint for the institution of socialism in the First Five-Year Plan, representing the first attempt by a major power to transform all aspects of economy and society. This new Soviet strategy focused primarily on establishing a heavy industrial sector to expedite the growth of manufactured products and armaments as well as reconstructing the agricultural sector on a new technical foundation.(G) This would create a self-dependent USSR in terms of military and industry and, more importantly, propagate the socialistic doctrines throughout the nation.

Overall, the plan would mainly impact the industrial and agricultural sectors, but it was also set to transform the social and cultural aspects of the Soviet populace. The aims were to surpass capitalism’s per capita output; to make greater technological advancements; employ a radical transformation of agriculture through the employment of machinery and modern techniques; to give priority to heavy industry, rather than consumer goods; produce the infrastructure of a modern, efficient state; raise the standard of living, providing people access to better education, health care, and welfare; and to secure the country against foreign invaders.(H) However, this research essay will narrow the scope of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan objectives by focusing on the industrial aspects of the plan. Quantitatively, in terms of industry, the projected growth for overall industrial production was to increase by 250% and heavy industry by 330%.(I) The extent to which this economic feat of modernization was plausible was a matter often discussed and disputed inside the Communist Party.

Sergo Ordzhonikidze, the commissar of heavy industry, admitted the challenge to be formidable considering the agrarian, industrially-backward state of the USSR. Stalin himself admitted in his 1933 speech on the results of the First Five-Year Plan that “the restoration and development of heavy industry, particularly in such a backward and poor country as [USSR] was at the beginning of the five-year plan period, was an extremely difficult task.”(K) Their justification in making such statements probably was that heavy industry requires both the enormous financial expenditure and the existence of experienced technical forces (both of which the Soviets could not afford or did not have), without which, generally speaking, the restoration of heavy industry is impossible. Certainly, with Stalin’s steep demand in industrial development, the Five-Year Plan appeared barely achievable. Historian Evan Mawdsley correctly points out how the two major policies stipulated in the plan were extremely demanding and in the long run proved to be unattainable. It is probable he based such observation on several factors including unavailable seed capital because of international reaction to Communist policies, little international trade, and virtually no modern infrastructure. Essentially, Stalin’s proposition of the First Five-Year Plan seemed unviable and unsustainable, but it is for this same reason that it is necessary to evaluate how Stalin achieved his goals and to what extent.

Analyzing the Soviet Model of Industrialization under Stalin Stalin and Centralized Directive Planning
Perhaps one of the clearest distinctions in Stalin’s methods of Soviet industrialization was that it was not based on private enterprise, but that it was totally state-driven and was largely based on centralized directive planning.(J) Most effective, argues Evan Mawdsley, was the system of economic administration that was based on the party leadership, Gosplan, the ministerial system, the commissariat of heavy industry (Narkomtiazhprom), and the supervisory role of the Central Committee. In contrast to Lenin’s NEP, the First Five-Year Plan represented this new system’s movement towards establishing central planning as the basis of economic decision-making and the stress on rapid heavy industrialization.

This economic mechanism displayed particular strengths at periods when the political objectives of the regime demanded a rapid breakthrough in some branches of the national economy or during the emergency of war. However, Evan Mawdsley further argues against other historians that referring to the Soviet economy as a “planned” economy would be misleading, especially for the initial period of Soviet industrialization.(M) First of all, Stalinist planning did not make for the balanced growth of industry, or consider investment rates versus consumption rates. Historian Andy Blunden makes a similar argument in which he proposes that the Stalin economic model of development was not based on the Marxist concept of planned economy, but rather (to some extent) on a bureaucratic centralist-command economy.(N) Combining both historical interpretations, it thus follows to infer that what the system did provide was a means of rigid prioritization, concentrating production in key areas of the Soviet economy (heavy industry), but at the same time limiting the expansion and diversification of the economic sector as a result of stringent political issues.

Thus, Alex Chubarov, a professor at Coventry University in England, makes a rather true statement about the overly centralized planning system in the Soviet Union: It did not always work in practice. Stalin’s policies to “tighten work discipline” often worsened economic output instead of promoting production. Because of the stringent political climate that permitted few people to provide negative input or criticize the plan, Soviet planners had very little reliable feedback which they could use to determine the success of their plans.(O) Thus, economic planning was often done based on faulty or outdated information, especially in sectors with a large clientele. As a result, certain goods, especially consumer goods, tended to be underproduced, leading to shortages, while some goods such as manufactured goods, armaments, etc. were overproduced and put in storage. Furthermore, factories took to inflating their production figures due to the severe punishment of failure and the poor quality of products inhibited their use.(P) Stalin and Political Propaganda Campaigns

The next important distinction was that Stalin’s industrialization was greatly politicized. Industrialization as a process usually accompanies the movement towards modernization in any country. However, in the Soviet Union, the achievement of industrialization was greatly a result of political influences, mainly the power of carefully stage-managed propaganda campaigns. These political campaigns ultimately focused on socialist industrialization as the essential and indispensable step in building the material foundations of socialism, a theme constantly used by Stalin in several of his public appearances. The Stalinist political regime and the inflation of ideological principles for the rapid economic growth to prevent hindrance in the global “competition” would thus prove to be perhaps one of the most necessary components of the economic success. During the late 1920s, the need for rapid industrialization arose from the question of whether Soviet Russia could provide the needs to support socialism in a country that was industrially underdeveloped and agriculturally backward. Thus, as reiterated constantly by Stalin in his public speeches, socialist industrialization was the key element in instituting the material basis for socialism in the Soviet Union as well as ensuring its success. In November 19, 1928, Stalin delivered a speech warning the populace about the vulnerability of socialism to the capitalist nations, and the survival of the ideology through industrial fronts: “…[Soviets] have overtaken and outstripped the advanced capitalist countries by establishing a new political system. That is good. But that is not enough.

To secure the final victory of Socialism in our country, we must also overtake and outstrip these countries technically and economically. If we do not do this, we shall find ourselves forced to the wall.” (B) In this excerpt from his 1928 speech, Stalin instilled fear in the population about imminent attacks from the capitalists if the USSR “did not overtake and outstrip” the Western nations through technical and economic means. However, this method of conveying war panic through the manipulation of the “catch up and overtake” (dognat’ i peregnat’) theme was used as justification to dissolve Lenin’s New Economic Policy and attain populist appeal to adopt major industrialization. Robert Gellately, the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University, argues that Stalin inflated a “war scare” inspired by “Anglo-French” imperialism that came up in 1927, “one he deliberately exaggerated to drive home the point that the USSR was vulnerable to the hostile West.”(N) He denotes how Stalin used the elimination of diplomatic relations by Britain in May and the presence of political friction with France, Poland, Romania to the west and Japan to the east accordingly in “his demand to industrialize the country as rapidly as possible, to focus on heavy industry, and to drop the NEP in favor of a more Communistic five-year plan.” (D) Based on Gellately’s observation, it would follow that Stalin could then make the argument that it was crucial to the health and security of the Soviets that the Party take this change of course, facilitating popular support for the Five-Year Plan. (C) Stalin was not the only communist to take the threat seriously, and the crisis had an important influence on the decision to industrialize. But of those nations, Romania was the only threat to ever develop. More important, however, was a subsequent “war scare” in his speech to industrial managers on February 1931 (during the height of the enthusiasm for the Five-Year Plan), when Stalin proclaimed: “To reduce the tempo, means to fall behind. Those who fall behind get beaten…We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall be crushed.” (C) Ten years later, in 1941, Adolf Hitler commences military mobilization for “Operation Barbarossa” to invade the Soviet Union.

But to see the German invasion as proper justification for Stalin’s rapid industrialization solely from the perspective of the 1941 invasion would be misleading. During 1931, Germany was suffering deep economic turmoil from the Great Depression and Hitler was still a fringe politician, so it was no real danger to the USSR. Germany’s army had also been limited to 100,000 soldiers, without tanks or aircraft. Historian Mawdsley also identifies the elaborate propaganda machine, “coupled with upward mobility and popular nationalism at critical periods,” as successful in winning support for the program of industrialization.(M) However, unlike Gellately, he proposes that the acceleration of industrialization as a result of tentative attacks may have been justified. Industrialization came from the Soviets’ general mistrust of the outside world which, in turn, had root both in the Russian tradition and in the Communists’ perception of the outside world. Russia’s rulers had promoted industry for military opposition and defense as well as to assure the country’s power status. In part, Stalin and the Communist Party proselytized the ideology of “capitalist encirclement” and the real memories of invasion from European powers and Japan during World War I and the Russian Civil War. Stalin’s Method and Heavy Industry

Finally, the doctrine of “socialist industrialization” put great emphasis on massive expansion of heavy industry, particularly the means of production, as a necessary first step on the way to the technological restructuring of the entire economy. Only after a massive surge in heavy industrial capacity had been achieved would it be possible to embark on a more balanced economic strategy, including the development of consumer-oriented light industry. As a result of a whole number of factors, the Soviet industrialization would be confined, for the most part, to the one-sided priority development of heavy industry. Aside from receiving special attention from the planning the economic system of administration, industrial production was relatively easy to plan even without minute feedback, which led to significant growth in that sector. Consequently, industrial production was disproportionately higher in the Soviet Union than in Western economies, with production of consumer goods also being proportionately higher.

However, one of the most eminent Marxist scholars in the world of economics, Maurice Dobbs, points out the problems of Soviet economic “planning” and explains the fallible economic logic behind the Soviet way of industrialization with investment priority for heavy industries. First of all, the rate of investment or the average savings ratio in an economy will be rather static, largely determined within fairly narrow limits by past history and past decisions. Therefore, focus should be given to distribution of investment because it may essentially determine the future output and consumption in a major way. Dobbs argues that “it may in fact be more important than the overall rate of investment.”(Q) Dobbs seems to base his argument on the theory of factor proportions, a doctrine of ‘comparative costs’ in terms of marginal productivity, which states that those factors of production that are relatively abundant have a low marginal productivity and hence a low price and conversely with factors that are relatively scarce. Consequently, those forms of production that use relatively more of the abundant factors and economize on the scarce ones would have the lowest expenditures. He argues that in a country like Russia with plentiful labor and scarce capital, relatively labor-using techniques are most economical (rather than capital-expensive ones). It is thus more beneficial and appropriate for the applications on handicrafts and light industries rather than heavy industries, where there is a large expenditure of fixed capital (plant and equipment).(R)

Results of the First Five-Year Plan
Development of Overall Industrial Sector
After having analyzed Joseph Stalin’s methods in employing the First Five-Year Plan, it is then necessary evaluate their impact on the proceeding industrialization results. First of all, by directing and focusing investments on heavy industry and not consumer goods, it was possible to attain industrialization over a relatively short period. The industrialization enabled the Soviet Union to mass-produce aircraft, trucks, cars, tractors, combine harvesters, synthetic rubber, and different types of equipment designed primarily for the expansion of heavy industry and military might. In the years of the “great leap” industrial production grew at an average annual rate of 10 to 16 percent, displaying the remarkable dynamism and seemingly boundless potential of the new economic system. Table 1-1 shows the specific advancements made in heavy industries as a result of concentrating in such sector, thus, illustrating Stalin’s accomplishment of his aforementioned goal of focusing in heavy industry. Table 1-1: Russian Industrial Growth under Stalin.

| 1928| 1932| Prescribed Target| Percentage Increase|
Pig Iron (million tons)| 3.3 | 6.2 | 8.0 | 87.8%|
Coal (million tons)| 35.4 | 64.0 | 68.0 | 80.8%|
Steel (million tons)| 4.0 | 5.9 | 8.3 | 47.5%|
Oil (million tons)| 11.7 | 21.4 | 19.0 | 82.9%|
Electricity (mill. kWhs)| 5.0 | 13.4 | 17.0 | 168%|
However, it is important to evaluate these results and compare them with the larger global context. Table 1-1 shows significant growth for heavy industries in the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1932 despite only achieving the prescribed target in one of the five areas of production. Nevertheless, these results were relatively small compared to Western standards and were accomplished at a great human cost. Furthermore, reported Soviet aggregate output figures were too high, not least by failing to take into account of the rising prices. Thus, Stalin’s aforementioned methods of industrialization did indeed make advancements in heavy industrial output but did not accomplish his previous goal of the ‘catch up and overtake’ slogan considering that the Soviet Union still lagged behind Western capitalist nations in terms of economic power. In terms of manufacturing infrastructure and technological advancements, a colossal industrial complex and city were constructed at Nizhni Novgorod on the Volga with the help of the Austin Company (a large American firm), which was designed to produce over 100,000 vehicles per year. Other American companies were also involved in building tractor plants in Kharkov, Stalingrad and Chelyabinsk.

Among the other spectacular projects was the construction of the steel complex at Magnitogorsk, a brand-new city built from the ground up. (S) The colossal project of Magnitogorsk was one prime example of the sixty or more towns created out of nothing during the First Five-Year Plan. Through the accelerated pace of industrialization employed in the Five-Year Plan, the Soviet Union began producing all the machinery and manufacturing plants necessary to supplement heavy industrialization. Major works included the Moscow, Nizhni-Novgorod, and Gorky automobile plants, the Urals and Kramatorsk heavy machinery plants, the Dnieprostroi hydro-electric project, the mammoth steel plants at Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk, and the network of machine shops and chemical plants in the Urals. Entirely new branches of industry were developed, such as aviation, plastics, and synthetic rubber. The plan constituted an important milestone in the process of the socioeconomic transformation of Russia. At the end of the Five-Year Plan in 1932, Stalin declared that the First Five-Year Plan had been achieved ahead of time.

However, the extent to which it was achieved was vague and unclear, with newspapers only allowed to report “outstanding achievements” of the Soviet Union advance toward socialism and local state agencies prohibited from publishing any economic data other than the official figures given by Gosplan. Based on the figures in Table 1-1, Stalin declared that the Five-Year Plan for industrial development had been fulfilled by 93.7% in only four years, while development for heavy industry was achieved by 108%. But considering the levels of deception and figure inflation, it is hard to determine how accurate these figures are and to what extent the statements of “success” can be trusted. Certainly, it was not surprising that the plan did not achieve its prescribed goals of 250% projected growth for overall industrial production and 330% projected growth in heavy industry.

Essentially, the coercive and abrasive methods of industrialization employed by Stalin during his First Five-Year Plan were admittedly successful when viewed from a holistic perspective. However, it cannot be acknowledged that the plan and how it was particularly executed was comprehensive in achieving its originally proposed objectives of economic development and that the methods applied were completely effective and appropriate for the Soviet Union. Overall, this essay explicitly raises the question of exactly what constituted the “achievements” of the Soviet industrial system as a whole, and whether, in fact, the Stalin model of industrialization was ultimately the most effective solution based on its particular approach. First of all, there were several consequences of the over-centralization and very high level of state power reflected in the economic policy of the USSR.

The ‘planning’ system established targets emphasizing quantity at the expense of quality, with the particular system of reward and punishment distorting output reports and encouraging ‘storming’ (last-minute attempts to achieve targets) and hoarding, i.e. waste, of raw materials. This system of economy was responsive to a small number of ‘customers’ but inherently inflexible for it could not change to rising demands. Furthermore, due to the stringent political climate that drove the command, bureaucratic economy and encouraged severe output inflation among factories, the extent to which the industrialization results are credible is still unknown. Secondly, the incorporation of the Stalinist political regime into the promotion of economic success would prove to be effective yet also damaging. The elaborate propaganda campaigns set out by Stalin and the injection of popular nationalism at critical periods, won popular support for the program of industrialization. Furthermore, there was a particular kind of motivation present in the enthusiastic officials to establish the pace of industrialization.

Now, whether such enthusiasm was felt by the Communist Party as much as Stalin is still under question. However, the darker side of the system was that the pace of industrialization could only be accomplished at the human cost and real sacrifices. Lastly, the urban economy was kept static and investment exclusive to heavy industry at the expense of consumer-oriented production. Certainly, the prominence of military production in the economy can be potentially beneficial, but at the same time imminently harmful. Paul Kennedy would later disclose an analysis of the rise and fall of great powers that applied especially to the Soviet Union in which he warned that “if…too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the longer term”. (T) The huge investments in producer-goods industries led to acute shortages of labor, capital, and material in other crucial sectors. Factories did not meet their expected targets and would provide quantity at the cost of quality. Instead of producing the projected 2,000 tractors by September 1930, the Stalingrad tractor factory produced only forty-three, which began to fall apart after seventy-two hours of operation.

Thus, the deep bureaucratization of the economy, in concert with the particular features of the Soviet policy, produced a combination of contradictory forces originating from bureaucratic self-interests and impulsive political will. This would prevent the emergence of the right mix of factors that would assure the normal functioning of the economy. Completely new branches of industry were built and massive manufacturing plants were undertaken, certainly contributing to the notion of the USSR as an emerging industrial power. However, this new power was endowed with fallible features: the inherent tendency to produce harmful imbalances, the blatant ignorance to consumer goods, production of quantity at the expense of quality, ineffective economic administrative system, etc. Essentially, Stalin did not achieve comprehensive industrialization for the USSR, but he did force the nation to advance from its backward, agrarian state and into a momentum towards economic growth and industrial development.

1. Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953): born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhughashvili. In office as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 3 April 1922 – 16 October 1952 and Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. 2. Evan Mawdsley: Professor of International History in the Department of History, University of Glasgow. His previous publications include The Russian Civil War (1983/2008), The Soviet Elite from Lenin to Gorbachev: The Central Committee and its Members, 1917–1991 (with Stephen White, 2000), The Stalin Years: The Soviet Union, 1929–1953 (2003) and Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War, 1941–1945 (2005). 3. Robert Gellately: Newfoundland-born Canadian academic who is one of the leading historians of modern Europe, particularly during World War II and the Cold War era. He is presently Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University and was the Bertelsmann Visiting Professor of Twentieth-Century Jewish Politics and

Stalin's Five Year Plan

In 1927 Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity. Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was not until 1927 that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War. Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to increase production.

According to James William Crowl, the author of Angels in Stalin's Paradise (1982), there were political reasons for the introduction of the Five Year Plan: "Stalin With the defeat of Trotsky and the Left Wing in 1927, Stalin apparently began to look for a way to outmaneuver the final power bloc in the Party: the Right Wing led by Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. It was not by accident that the economy provided him with the issues he needed to destroy his erstwhile allies. Midway through 1927 the Politburo had initiated an ambitious economic program that included a number of expansive construction projects such as the Turkish-Siberia railroad and the Dnieper dam. Such an undertaking involved a risk since it was to be underwritten largely by the sale of grain, and the grain collection program had become increasingly unreliable during the mid-1920's."

The first Five Year Plan introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Joseph Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 110% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.

Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.

With the introduction of the Five Year Plan, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.

Ella Winter visited the Soviet Union in 1931. While there she wrote to her husband, Lincoln Steffens: "In the midst of the new and visionary I found an inefficiency that could drive one to desperation. I suppose it's because they've had to be so hurriedly trained and have no experience, and centuries of apathy to overcome, and perhaps just because they can get jobs whether they're good or not. But it takes days to get anything done. They never make an appointment, they tell you to come and then they'll arrange when you must must telephone again to ask for an appointment. Lifts are always out of order; a current anecdote has a 'lift factory' entirely devoted to manufacture of the notices LIFT OUT OF ORDER".

Some people complained that the Soviet Union was being industrialized too fast. Isaac Deutscher quoted Joseph Stalin as saying: "No comrades... the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities. To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten.... The history of old Russia... was that she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol Khans, she was beaten by Turkish Beys, she was beaten by Swedish feudal lords, she was beaten by Polish-Lithuanian Pans, she was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists, she was beaten by Japanese barons, she was beaten by all - for her backwardness... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. we must make good this lag in years. Either we do it or they crush us."

In 1932 Walter Duranty won the Pultzer Prize for his reporting of the Five Year Plan. In his acceptance speech he argued: "I went to the Baltic states viciously anti-Bolshevik. From the French standpoint the Bolsheviks had betrayed the allies to Germany, repudiated the debts, nationalized women and were enemies of the human race. I discovered that the Bolsheviks were sincere enthusiasts, trying to regenerate a people that had been shockingly misgoverned, and I decided to try to give them their fair break. I still believe they are doing the best for the Russian masses and I believe in Bolshevism - for Russia - but more and more I am convinced it is unsuitable for the United States and Western Europe. It won't spread westward unless a new war wrecks the established system."

Some people argued that Duranty had been involved in a cover-up concerning the impact of the economic changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union. An official at the British Embassy reported on the 21st June 1932: "A record of over-staffing, overplanning and complete incompetence at the centre; of human misery, starvation, death and disease among the peasantry... the only creatures who have any life at all in the districts visited are boars, pigs and other swine. Men, women, and children, horses and other workers are left to die in order that the Five Year Plan shall at least succeed on paper."

By John Simkin ( © September 1997 (updated November 2017).

Primary Sources


(1) Joseph Stalin, speech, quoted by Isaac Deutscher in his book, Stalin (1949)

No comrades... the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities. To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten.... The history of old Russia... was that she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol Khans, she was beaten by Turkish Beys, she was beaten by Swedish feudal lords, she was beaten by Polish-Lithuanian Pans, she was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists, she was beaten by Japanese barons, she was beaten by all - for her backwardness... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. we must make good this lag in years. Either we do it or they crush us.

(2) British Embassy report (21st June 1932)

A record of over-staffing, overplanning and complete incompetence at the centre; of human misery, starvation, death and disease among the peasantry... the only creatures who have any life at all in the districts visited are boars, pigs and other swine. Men, women, and children, horses and other workers are left to die in order that the Five Year Plan shall at least succeed on paper.

(3) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937)

The period of the Five Year Plan has been christened Russia's "Iron Age" by the best-informed and least sensational of my American colleagues in Moscow, William Henry Chamberlin. I can think of no more apt description. Iron symbolizes industrial construction and mechanization. Iron symbolizes no less the ruthlessness of the process, the bayonets, prison bars, rigid discipline and unstinting force, the unyielding and unfeeling determination of those who directed the period. Russia was transformed into a crucible in which men and metals were melted down and reshaped in a cruel heat, with small regard for the human slag.

It was a period that unrolled tumultuously, in a tempest of brutality. The Five Year Plan was publicized inside and outside Russia as no other economic project in modern history. Which makes it the more extraordinary that its birth was unknown and unnoticed.

The Plan sneaked up on the world so silently that its advent was not discovered for some months. On the momentous October first of 1928, the initial day of the Five Year Plan, we read the papers, fretted over the lack of news and played bridge or poker as though nothing exceptional was occurring. It was the beginning of a new fiscal year, precisely like the October firsts preceding it. The "control figures" or plan for the ensuing twelve months were rather more ambitious, with new emphasis on socialization of farming through state-owned "grain factories" and voluntary collectives of small holdings. But they were not sufficiently different from other years to arrest the attention of competent observers.

The fact is that the Kremlin itself was far from certain that a new era had been launched. It had not yet charted a course. Or rather, it had charted alternative courses and hesitated in which direction to move. Not until Stalin and his closest associates see fit to reveal what happened in the crucial months of that autumn will we know how close the Soviet regime came to choosing a course which would have altered the whole history of Russia and therefore of the present world.

There was nothing in the figures for the fiscal year of 1929 that committed the ruling Party to a Five Year Plan of the scope eventually announced. But a feeling of tense expectancy now stretched the country's nerves taut. A sharp turn of the wheel to one side or the other was inevitable, and the population squared for the shock. Economic difficulties were piling up dangerously and the Kremlin could not steer a middle course much longer. Food lines were growing longer and more restive. The producers of food had tested their strength and tasted a measure of victory; they rebelled more boldly against feeding the urban population and the armies for rubles which could buy nothing. Millions of grumbling mouths had to be either filled with food or shut by force.

A partial crop failure in southern Russia aggravated the situation. Grain collections were not going well and, as always happened under these circumstances, the collectors began to resort to strong-arm tactics. Arson and assassination flared up once more in the villages, and Red troops were said to be "pacifying" the most unruly districts with lead. Schools, clubs, government buildings, and other institutions typifying the Soviet power were burned down in dozens of places. The published details of the peasant revenge were sufficiently harrowing, and what the press reported, we all assumed, was no more than a fraction of the picture. Death penalties, with and without trials, were the government's automatic answer. But they did not suffice. Something decisive had to be done that would either placate the peasants or end their insubordination.

(4) James William Crowl, Angels in Stalin's Paradise (1982)

With the defeat of Trotsky and the Left Wing in 1927, Stalin apparently began to look for a way to outmaneuver the final power bloc in the Party: the Right Wing led by Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. It was not by accident that the economy provided him with the issues he needed to destroy his erstwhile allies. Midway through 1927 the Politburo had initiated an ambitious economic program that included a number of expansive construction projects such as the Turkish-Siberia railroad and the Dnieper dam. Such an undertaking involved a risk since it was to be underwritten largely by the sale of grain, and the grain collection program had become increasingly unreliable during the mid-1920's. The yearly crises stemmed in part from insufficient supplies of consumer goods, but they were even more the result of the low price the government offered for grain. As a result of that price, peasants turned over to the state only the grain they were required to deliver through the procurement quotas, and they sold the rest through Nepmen on the private market where the price was substantially higher. Yet, in order to raise the additional revenue needed for the industrial program in 1927, the state dropped its price for grain still lower and cracked down on the private market in an effort to force the peasants to sell their grain to the state at the lower price. The peasants responded, however, by feeding their grain to their cattle, turning it into alcohol, or hoarding it in expectation of higher prices. By late 1927, grain collections fell off more sharply than in earlier years, and the regime faced a crisis.

Signs of disagreement over the response to the crisis appeared as early as October 1927. Stalin and his henchmen sounded the need for anti-kulak measures, while Bukharin and his allies worried aloud about the lagging collections but insisted on the need for caution in finding a solution. Unity was maintained at the Fifteenth Party Congress in December, however, as even the Politburo rightists agreed that action was needed to convince the peasants to relinquish their supplies. Thus the Congress that vanquished Trotsky fairly bristled with leftist declarations.

A heavier, graduated procurement tax was issued that hit directly at the kulaks and promised to bring the state additional grain. In addition, a land act rescinded the right to hire labor and lease land that had been granted to peasants in 1925 and 1926, and kulaks were deprived of their voting rights in order to curtail their power in the village soviets. The Congress encouraged collectivization as well, although it stressed that it should be a gradual and voluntary process. Because of such measures, the Fifteenth Congress is often cited as marking the end of the N.E.P, era.

In the weeks following the Congress, Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky apparently again supported Stalin in the attempt to compel the peasants to turn over their grain. Stalin was given control of the effort, and he singled out West Siberia for his personal attention since the harvest there had been excellent and the peasants were believed to be holding back substantial grain supplies. Though the Politburo still issued reassuring reports claiming that the Party had not broken with past agricultural policy, the Soviet press wrote about the grain "front" as if a military campaign had begun. Violence was widespread as officials tried to ferret out the grain, and Alec Nove claims that for some time thereafter such arbitrary and violent grain seizures were referred to as the "Urals-Siberian" method, after Stalin's tactics of early 1928. Though grain collections lagged and even the new procurement quotas fell short in January and February, by March the grain seizures were successfully at last in bringing the state the needed grain.

Until February and March of 1928, when the confrontation with the peasants reached a highpoint, it appears that Bukharin reluctantly agreed that temporary measures against grain-hoarding were necessary. The violence of the campaign was repulsive to the Politburo Right, however, and jolted it into an awareness of the deep division that had been developing in the Party since the fall of 1927. As a result, the two Politburo factions clashed repeatedly in the late winter, and Stalin found it necessary to publicly repudiate the "Urals-Siberian" methods at times over the next few months. Nevertheless Stalin had apparently committed himself to a radical economic stance by the late winter of 1927-1928, if only as a means of striking at his foes, and the power struggle had begun again in earnest.

(5) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937)

Was the first Five Year Plan a "success"? For whom and for what? Certainly not for the socialist dream, which had been emptied of human meaning in the process, reduced to a mechanical formula of the state as a super-trust and the population as its helpless serfs. Certainly not for the individual worker, whose trade union had been absorbed by the state-employer, who was terrorized by medieval decrees, who had lost even the illusion of a share in regulating his own life. Certainly not for the revolutionary movement of the world, which was splintered, harassed by the growing strength of fascism, weaker and less hopeful than at the launching of the Plan. Certainly not for the human spirit, mired and outraged by sadistic cruelties on a scale new in modern history, shamed by meekness and sycophancy and systematized hypocrisy.

If industrialization were an end in itself, unrelated to larger human ends, the U.S.S.R. had an astounding amount of physical property to show for its sacrifices. Chimneys had begun to dominate horizons once notable for their church domes. Scores of mammoth new enterprises were erected. A quarter of a million prisoners -a larger number of slaves than the Pharaohs mobilized to build their pyramids, than Peter the Great mobilized to build his new capital-hacked a canal between the White and the Baltic Seas; a hundred thousand survivors of this "success" were digging another canal just outside Moscow as the second Plan got under way. The country possessed 3 blast furnaces and 63 open hearth furnaces that had not existed in 1928, a network of power stations with a capacity four times greater than pre-war Russia had, twice as many oil pipe lines as in 1928. Hundreds of machines and tools formerly imported or unknown in Russia were being manufactured at home and large sections of mining were mechanized for the first time. The foundations were laid for a new industrial empire in the Urals and eastern Siberia, the impregnable heart of the country. Two-thirds of the peasantry and four-fifths of the plowed land were "socialized"-that is, owned and managed by the state-employer as it owned and managed factories and workers. The defensive ability of the country, in a military sense, had been vastly increased, with new mechanical bases for its war industries.

Measured merely for bulk, the Plan achieved much, though it fell far short of the original goals. On the qualitative side, the picture is much less impressive. Here, we find reflected the low caliber of the human material through which the Plan was necessarily translated from paper to life. Overhead costs were greater all along the line than expected.

Student Activities

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1905 Russian Revolution (Answer Commentary)

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The Bolshevik Revolution (Answer Commentary)

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