Stalin implemented the Five Year Plans to gain admiration from both the Russian people and international supporters of Communism. His primary goal was to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union and strengthen his authority. The execution of this industrialization initiative led to the removal of his political opponents, namely Tomsky, Bukharin, and Rykov, who objected to abandoning the NEP as it impeded industrial progress in the Soviet Union.
Despite initially disagreeing with Trotsky on modernization, Stalin ultimately changed his stance and decided to industrialize the economy within five years after removing Trotsky and the Left Party. This reveals Stalin’s cunning nature and primary concern for his own supremacy. However, there are other distinct reasons behind Stalin’s choice to initiate industrialization.
In addition to his personal agenda, one of the main goals of Communism in the Soviet Union was rapid industrialization in order to achieve an industrialized economy comparable to European countries.
Although Lenin’s NEP improved the Russian economy, it did not reach the required level of industrialization necessary for successful socialism and economic modernization.
By 1926, the industry in many parts of the country had returned to pre-war levels, but it did not reach its full potential due to a lack of organization in achieving industrial targets. The Russian Revolution and World War I caused significant damage to Russian industries, resulting in disruptions in goods distribution. Furthermore, Russia was producing fewer industrial goods compared to smaller countries.
Under Stalin’s leadership, support for capitalism was abolished and the Five Year Plans were implemented with the aim of modernizing the USSR and making it a competitive industrial power on par with Western countries.
In a public speech in 1931, he emphasized his belief in Russia’s inferiority and stated that the country had been repeatedly defeated because of its backwardness in military, industry, and agriculture. Additionally, he predicted that Russia would either perish or surpass advanced capitalist countries. In order to accomplish this, he introduced the Five Year Plan which aimed to guarantee adequate production and effective transportation of goods.
By setting industrial targets and strict deadlines for each industry in every Russian region, the leader hoped to utilize the country’s abundant resources and achieve rapid industrialization. This was seen as crucial for protecting the nation from future challenges and ensuring its survival. Additionally, political considerations played a significant role in the implementation of these plans by Stalin. The Russian Communists lived in a predominantly non-industrial society where there was a perceived threat to the survival of ideologies like Communism and Socialism. To counteract this, the industrialization program was initiated with the aim of creating a larger workforce that would indirectly contribute to the communist revolution by serving as proletariat and actively participating in the industrialization process.
Thus, the introduction of the Plans would exacerbate nationalization significantly, enabling state control to eliminate private traders (capitalists Nepmen) who selfishly benefited under the Tsar’s NEP without following Communist principles. The primary aim of the Five Year Plan was to eradicate the selfish values of Capitalism that had been introduced into Russian society by the Nepmen. Furthermore, both the fiscal and political issues that motivated Stalin to intensify industrialization were linked to concerns about foreign invasion and the impending threat of war, which were prominent topics of discussion among the Russian public in the 1920s.
The insufficient industrial and economic progress of the NEP put the Soviet Union in danger of being conquered by capitalist Western countries. The support from France, Britain, Japan, and the US to the Whites during the Russian Civil War should also be considered. Furthermore, there were concerns about potential threats from China in the east and Britain in the West.
In addition, in 1927, there was a raid by the British government on the Soviet Trade mission in London and a Soviet diplomat was assassinated in Poland. These occurrences reinforced Stalin’s conviction that foreign nations were plotting to weaken Russian industry. He had concerns that this would make Russia susceptible to foreign attacks without adequate defense capabilities. Consequently, Stalin expanded the scale of industrial development within the country and established targets for the Russian industry to manufacture advanced weapons for self-protection.
In retrospect, it is clear that the phrase “Stalin is the Lenin of today” became popular around 1925 because Stalin was a devoted follower of Lenin. This suggests that Stalin used the praise he received as an opportunity to establish himself as a hardworking and disciplined individual. It is evident that his commitment was instrumental in the renaming of Tsaritsyn to Stalingrad. Moreover, his childhood home was transformed into a shrine after 1945. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence to support the notion that Stalin went to great lengths to enhance his popularity.
In 1929, for his fiftieth birthday, Stalin received greetings from fictitious organizations that did not actually exist. Over time, the number of artistic depictions portraying Stalin as an all-powerful being, including paintings, posters, poems, and photographs of sculptures, dramatically increased. From December 21, 1949, to August 1951, greetings were sent almost every day. This suggests that the implementation of the Five Year Plans may have played a significant role in elevating Stalin’s individual status, aiming to enhance his fame and prestige to the highest level.
Personally, in conclusion, I believe that Stalin’s decision to embark on his industrialization program was not solely driven by the idea of glorifying himself. The issues discussed above were all interconnected and played a significant role in achieving rapid industrialization, which was Stalin’s primary goal as the leader of the USSR. The fear of foreign invasion and the uncertainty surrounding the survival of communism were directly influenced by Russia’s underdeveloped economy. These circumstances compelled Stalin to strategize ways to expedite industrialization, with the intent of earning admiration and esteem from his supporters in Russia and globally.
Undoubtedly, the introduction and implementation of the Five Year Plans were the primary foundation for Stalin’s glory as a leader of the Communist Party in power. Upon assuming leadership, Stalin was driven by the fear of foreign invasion and uncertainty regarding the survival of communism in Russia’s underdeveloped economy. Thus, he devised plans to rapidly industrialize, earning praise and admiration from supporters within Russia and around the world. This strategy proved successful when Russia emerged in 1937 as a modern state equipped with robust heavy and light industries, positioning it on par with the Western countries that had long been feared for their potential incursion.
Russia’s ability to match the industrial forces of other powerful nations allowed her to overcome the invasion by Germany in 1941. However, evidence of Stalin’s desire for glory is still evident through propaganda posters, cinema, radio, and newspaper campaigns that highlight his role in Russia’s industrial development. A famous poster depicts Stalin marching with Moscow underground miners, emphasizing his superiority and implying that he is responsible for all achievements. While glorification is not the sole or most significant description of Stalin’s ambitious agenda, it remains a prominent feature.
Stalin’s motivated plan greatly improved Russia’s heavy and light industries, communication, agriculture, and academic system. The first Five Year Plans focused on developing “Heavy industries” such as iron, steel, coal, oil, and electricity. This foundation was crucial for the future second and third Five Year Plans which aimed to enhance Russia’s wealth. Stalin recognized the need to develop industries in remote areas like Siberia that lacked organized transportation for goods distribution despite the country’s abundance of natural resources.
In order to accomplish his objectives, he relocated numerous workers from different regions of the country and established new factories as centers of industry in cities that were previously not industrialized. He improved the communication system by constructing new railways, canals, and roads, which greatly facilitated the distribution of manufactured goods. This also resulted in an increase in sales of farming equipment like tractors. Stalin and the Soviet Union made significant advancements in Russian communication during the 1930s through notable projects such as the construction of the Moscow – Volga Canal, the Dnieper Dam on the River, and the Moscow Underground Metro with impressive stations spanning multiple areas. The combination of efficient communication and newly constructed industrial plants led to a substantial growth in agricultural machinery production.
The production of armaments in industries significantly increased due to the notable rise in pig iron production. In 1927, pig iron production reached 3.3 million tons and by 1933, it almost doubled to 6.2 million tons. This development provided relief for Stalin as it allowed the prosperous USSR to prepare for defense against a potential invasion from foreign capitalists. It also empowered the USSR to compete with Western industrial countries, which historically dominated Russia because of its disorganization and backwardness, according to Stalin. In a speech in 1931, he stated, “we are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries.”
In ten years, either we close the gap or they overpower us. The rapid construction of dams and hydroelectric power stations, along with the skyrocketing electricity production, alleviated Stalin’s concerns about sourcing energy for his industries. Unquestionably, the Second Five Year Plans built upon the successes of its predecessor. They significantly bolstered heavy industries, resulting in a nearly threefold increase in electricity and steel production. Specifically, from the completion of the First Five Year Program in 1933 (with respective production levels of 13.4 million tons and 5 million tons) to the end of the second set of Plans in 1937 (where production reached 36.3 million tons and 17.7 million tons).
By organizing campaigns, workers were motivated to boost grain production. The objective was twofold: to ensure an adequate food supply for the expanding industrial workforce and to generate revenue by exporting surplus grains. These funds would then be utilized to acquire advanced machinery, thus enhancing efficiency and increasing agricultural output through mechanized farming practices in collectivized harvests. The ultimate aim was equitable distribution of food resources, prevention of famine, and allocation of labor towards urban industries via the process of collectivization. Consequently, this initiative spurred rapid growth in the mining sector as extraction of minerals such as coal, tin, lead, and others intensified to support the chemical industry.
The production of coal increased significantly, more than doubling from 64.3 million tons in 1933 to 128 million tons in 1937. Furthermore, the implementation of collectivization had a profound effect on grain production, raising it from 69 million tons in 1933 to an impressive 95 million tons by the completion of the second Five Year Plans in 1940. In general, these Plans successfully reduced unemployment rates in Russia by creating ample job opportunities in industries and hydroelectric power plants. Additionally, Stalin’s competitive and efficient approach led to progress within the education and healthcare systems.
This is evident in the fact that education in schools became compulsory and free for all people in Russian society. Stalin invested a large amount of money in training centers and universities, as well as in the world of work. Statisticians estimated that there were more doctors per capita in developing Russia than in already developed Britain. Additionally, hospitals and nursing rooms were built in each region to accommodate the growing population and its hardworking workers. Overall, I disagree with the notion that Stalin’s glorification is the sole way to describe the achievements of the Five Year Plans. It is only a small part of the comprehensive description that they deserve. There is significant evidence to suggest that the Five Year Plans brought glory to the whole of the USSR under Stalin, transforming its backward and disorganized state into a modern and competitive one necessary for competing with Western industrialized capitalist countries or defending against attacks like Germany’s in 1941, as well as protecting the communist beliefs of the Soviet Union to a notable extent.
The achievements of the Five Year Plans played a crucial role in portraying it as a successful scheme for improving the USSR’s economy. They instilled the notion in Russia that diligent work, particularly voluntary work and sacrifices, were valuable as they contributed to the advancement of a prosperous and thriving society for future generations in Russia.
Stalin’s aim to modernize the USSR was driven by the desire to compete with Western capitalist countries. Despite not meeting all its targets, the first Five Year Plans achieved remarkable accomplishments. For instance, while oil production surpassed its target of 19 million tons, steel production fell short by nearly two million tons compared to the predicted 8.3 million tons. On the other hand, pig iron production exceeded its target by two million tons above the intended 6.2 million tons. The rapid industrialization significantly improved the lives of urban dwellers, as evident in the construction of immense steel mills in Magnitogorsk in the Urals and the establishment of dams and hydroelectric power plants that served as major employment centers for heavy industries.
The second Five Year Plans expanded on the achievements of the previous plan. However, in this new program, the focus was not only on heavy industries like coal, oil, and iron, but also on boosting the mineral industry, communication, and transport. This can be seen in the intensified lead, tin, and zinc industries and the construction of numerous new canals and railways. The most impressive project was the construction of the Moscow underground railway. These efforts significantly reduced unemployment in Russia. Dr. Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, and other foreign observers were impressed by the enthusiasm of Soviet workers and saw Russia as a land with no unemployment.
Furthermore, by the late 1930s, Soviet workers had improved their conditions by acquiring well-paid skilled jobs and earning bonuses for meeting targets. This second industrialization program contributed to Russia’s thriving state. In fact, by 1940, there were more doctors per head of population in the USSR than in capitalist countries like Britain.
The education system also experienced significant improvement, with schooling becoming free and compulsory for all individuals. Stalin invested heavily in teaching methods, both in colleges and in the workplace. Additionally, by implementing collectivization, Stalin ensured enough grain was available to feed the hungry Soviet workers in cities before the onset of famine.
Stalin’s goal of improving agriculture in Russia resulted in a significant increase in grain production from 36 in 1921 to 95 in 1940. This improvement also led to advancements in the machine tool and modern chemical industries. As a result, modern machinery like tractors was utilized on the collectivized farms, boosting agricultural yields and benefiting the Russian economy through exporting the surplus food for profit. Additionally, individuals who were willing to work extra hours in factories and hydroelectric power plants experienced improved living conditions, higher salaries, and reduced exposure to poverty and overcrowding.
These were the main ways in which life improved for the Soviet people. However, in order to achieve any success, the over ambitious nature of the Five Year Plans had a price. The main burden of this cost fell upon the workers in the USSR, who had to face harsh conditions set by Stalin. They were given strict goals to achieve and faced severe fines and punishments if they were unable to meet them.
Despite the existence of adequate factory discipline, there were also instances of harsh punishments, such as penalties for absences and lateness, which resulted in the loss of accommodation. Attempts by some factory workers to escape the brutal work and strict regulations were thwarted by Stalin’s secret police, who introduced internal passports to prevent workers from transferring openly between firms in the USSR. Although workers like Alexei Stakhanov, who managed to cut an astonishing 14 times the average coal amount during a shift, achieved great fame as the “Hero of Socialist Labour,” not all employees experienced the same destiny. This is evident in the merciless sentencing of many political opponents or suspected opponents of Stalin’s regime to hard labor in prison.
Furthermore, workers were frequently found guilty of sabotage if they accidentally made a mistake in their factory, resulting in their deportation to remote places like Siberia. In such desolate locations, they struggled to survive without a home or means to earn money. Additionally, the working conditions on Stalin’s major projects were extremely poor and dangerous, leading to numerous deaths and accidents. It is no surprise that it was estimated that the construction of the Belomor Canal not only cost Stalin a significant amount of money but also nearly 100,000 lives. Meanwhile, as peasants migrated to cities to work in factories, there was a severe overcrowding of essential services, with transportation such as trams and buses becoming so packed that it was suffocating.
In addition, overcrowding extended beyond transportation. The government regulated the housing system, but due to the increasing population, multiple families shared two-room flats for sleeping, living, and eating. In newly established industrial cities like Magnitogorsk, factories were constructed before houses, forcing workers to reside in various temporary structures and endure severe poverty. To compound matters, statistics demonstrate that the rapid industrialization initiative resulted in a significant decline in workers’ wages from 1928 to 1937.
In 1932, it was apparent that the earnings of a working couple were equivalent to what a man or woman would have earned in 1928. Nevertheless, the greatest challenges during Stalin’s regime were experienced by the peasants, particularly the affluent ones, due to the implementation of collectivisation. These wealthy peasants’ outdated farming techniques hindered Russia’s industrialisation efforts, which were vital for the nation’s strength and prosperity. The small, striped farms that adhered to the traditional three field system of cultivation could not adopt modern and more efficient methods like tractors or fertilisers.
The wooden ploughs or frails used to reap the grain harvest were not efficient in producing enough food for the increasing number of industrial workers in the cities. In addition, the government needed funds for new industries, transportation systems (such as railways, power stations, and mines). Peasants, being the majority of the population, were the best targets for financing these development areas. By exporting surplus food to foreign countries, Stalin would have generated revenue for his industrialization program.
Stalin announced in 1928 that the nation faced a deficit of 2 million tonnes of grain necessary for feeding urban workers, potentially resulting in famine. To address this issue, he implemented severe measures against peasants, including police raids on their farms. However, these actions proved insufficient, compelling Stalin to introduce his concept of collectivisation. This entailed consolidating peasants’ lands, animals, and tools into large joint farms called kolkhoz, enabling the implementation of modern agricultural techniques like tractors and fertilisers.
The government was the main buyer of the majority of kolkhoz produce, with profits being distributed among the peasants. However, the peasants held differing opinions as they wished to uphold ancestral traditions that had been passed down for centuries. They saw little benefit in sharing their resources with others to boost production and feed the hungry town workers when they already had enough food for themselves.
Although Stalin made attempts to persuade them through offering free seed and perks for sowing, the farmers still had concerns about their farms being controlled by the communist state. Additionally, they were required to cultivate crops like flax for industrial use instead of growing grain for their own sustenance. Stalin openly insisted that all peasants should embrace collectivisation, but he anticipated strong opposition from the wealthy five million peasants, known as the kulaks, who had the most to lose due to their ownership of larger farms, multiple horses, and several cows. As expected, the kulaks openly resisted sharing their resources and outputs, resulting in a harsh and violent struggle during the implementation of collectivisation, where Soviet propaganda aimed to suppress them.
Stalin was determined to liquidate the Kulaks. This involved arresting them in large numbers and sending them to labor camps. Some were also deported to remote regions like Siberia, while others were forced to settle on poor-quality land, depending on the perceived level of threat they posed. The bitterness caused by collectivization reached its peak when starving peasants helplessly watched Communist officials export their hard-earned produce abroad. Despite the government’s claim that the majority of peasants had willingly handed over their land for collectivization by February 1930, the problem of grain shortage remained unsolved. As a result, cities faced famine as food production drastically declined, with grain production dropping from 83.
The population of Ukraine and Kazakhstan saw a significant increase from 5 million in 1930 to 69.6 million in 1932. Unfortunately, this population growth led to a devastating famine that caused numerous deaths in the agriculturally rich regions of Russia. The economy was greatly affected by this tragic event. In 1933, Malcom Muggeridge, a British journalist stationed in the USSR during the famine, conducted an interview with an elderly man who described the dire conditions in the countryside by stating, “We have nothing, absolutely nothing.”
“After anxiously checking for communist soldiers spying on him, it is evident that the peasants despised Stalin and his communist officials, as well as their Five Year Plans. It is not surprising that the Germans were warmly received for driving out the Communists when they invaded in 1941. Overall, I believe that Stalin’s Five Year Plans had pros and cons, although its drawbacks significantly diminished its advantages.”
The USSR experienced both positive and negative effects of removing the “backward” label. On one hand, it excelled in heavy machinery and modern chemical industries. However, food production declined, leading to a famine caused by peasant resistance to the new method of collectivization. Despite building large industries for producing agricultural machinery, the Soviet people living in the countryside suffered the most, as they had to sacrifice their grain produce to feed the industrial city workers. Unfortunately, this famine still harmed the Russian economy.
Before the famine, city workers faced hardships but were still better off compared to their counterparts in capitalist countries like America, Europe, Asia, and the Far East. These countries experienced a significant monetary crash, resulting in widespread unemployment throughout the 1930s. Unlike American workers who had to queue for charity food handouts and live in shanty towns made of rubbish as unemployment reached 15 million in 1933, the city workers didn’t have to endure such conditions.
In all likelihood, implementing a comprehensive and ambitious industrialization plan was likely the best solution for addressing Russia’s issues. Due to the fact that the Russian economy did not improve sufficiently under the NEP, leader Stalin abolished this pro-capitalism organization. Instead, he introduced the pro-communism Five Year Plans, which aimed to transform the state from a underdeveloped and backward one to an industrialized and modern one.
By setting ambitious production targets for each industry in Russia, Stalin planned to fully capitalize on Russia’s abundant manufacturing resources to rapidly industrialize the country and protect it from future challenges. In his 1931 speech, he expressed his fear of a foreign invasion, citing Russia’s military, industrial, and agricultural backwardness as contributing factors to the nation’s vulnerability. However, during the initial implementation of the Five Year Plans in 1929, some members of the Russian public criticized the rapid pace of industrialization. Despite this criticism, Stalin defended his actions by emphasizing that Russia was significantly behind capitalist and advanced Western countries by fifty to a hundred years and needed to catch up within ten years to avoid being crushed by them.
This is why the Five Year Plans were the ideal policy to boost the country’s economy. The main rationale behind this decision was the prevalence of laid-back, untrained, and uneducated workers living in a country that had regressed by a century. To combat this lackadaisical attitude, strict factory discipline and higher production targets were implemented to increase output and subsequently generate more revenue. This additional income was then utilized to enhance the education and communication systems, as well as bolster the industrial sector to manufacture advanced weaponry for Russia’s defense against foreign threats. As a result, by the conclusion of the second Five Year Plans in 1937, Russia emerged as a formidable and contemporary nation that rivaled the industrial might of Western counterparts.
The combination of newfound confidence and strength enabled her to no longer fear an invasion by Germany. This display of power allowed her to not only withstand Germany but also ultimately defeat them when Hitler attempted to invade Russia in 1941. This further demonstrates Stalin’s successful modernization of Russia. From a positive perspective, it can be argued that the long-term advantages of the Five Year Plans outweighed the short-term sacrifices. Although there was strict factory discipline, including consequences for lateness or absence, as well as hazardous working conditions and cramped housing for peasants who migrated to cities for employment.
However, it is important to remember the amazing advantages of the scheme. The expansion of heavy and light industries resulted in a doubling of output. Additionally, new chemical and machine tool industries were established, and mineral extraction excelled to remarkable levels. All of these factors contributed to the funds that were raised. These funds were then used to improve the communication and transport system. New roads, canals, and railways were constructed. Russia’s newfound competitive spirit also benefited the educational system and medical care. Schooling became free and mandatory, thanks to Stalin’s significant investment in training programs at universities and workplaces.
Furthermore, each Russian region saw the construction of modern hospitals and it was estimated that Russia had a higher ratio of doctors per capita compared to Britain. Additionally, unemployment was eliminated as there were sufficient job opportunities for people to support themselves financially. Alternatively, one may argue that the short-term sacrifices made by the Soviet people did not yield the desired results. This is evident in the fact that despite peasants in rural areas starving and sacrificing their grain to feed workers in industrial cities, it failed to prevent a famine that devastated the Russian economy and resulted in millions of deaths in Ukraine and Kazakhstan – two of Russia’s major industrial regions.
The collectivisation process promised increased grain production and profits, which would be shared equally to prevent starvation. However, the peasants were forced to grow crops like flax for industry instead of feeding themselves, leading to starvation and rebellion. Stalin refused to tolerate any delays and ordered police raids on their farms, deepening the bitterness of starving peasants who witnessed their produce being exported abroad.
The rich Kulaks, who were the biggest rebels, were either sent to labour camps or deported to remote regions or forced onto poor-yield land, depending on the level of danger they posed. This is why it is challenging to fully justify the human costs of the Five Year Projects. The terrible industrial conditions resulted in thousands of deaths and accidents. The Belomor Canal alone claimed the lives of 100,000 people. Additionally, the peasants in the countryside suffered from starvation, as mentioned previously. It is interesting to note that Stalin sought personal elevation through the Five Year Plans. He desired to earn recognition from the Russian public and Communism supporters worldwide in order to increase his power.
This is the reason why it should be viewed as a motivating aspect rather than an incidental consequence.