The USSR was 50 – 100 years behind the west. They had to catch up within 10 years or go down. It needed to compete with the USA by reorganizing and modernizing. This was done by introducing the Five Year Plans in 1928. The first five year plan concentrated on the heavy industries such as coal, iron, oil and steel. Stalin ordered these to double in five years. The second Five Year Plan began in 1933 and focused on consumer goods, but by 1934 the emphasis had changed to military expenditure.
A third Five Year Plan was begun in 1938, but was cut short by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Collectivisation was part of the first Five Year Plan and was an attempt to move peasants to large collective farms so machinery and skilled labour could be used more effectively, ad so no individuals gained profit. Sovkhozy was a state farm where all produce went to the state, and workers were paid a fixed amount whether they worked or not. Kolkhozy was a collective farm where workers had to produce a fixed amount and sell it to the state.
If they produced nothing more than what they sold, they starved. Stalin’s industrial policies were very successful in some ways. The Five Year Plans increased production by 400%. From the 1928 – 1940, coal production increased from 35 million tonnes (mt) to 164. 6 mt, steel production increased from 4 mt to 18. 4 mt and iron production increased from 3. 2 mt to 14. 8 mt. Some of the targets were achieved due the Shock Brigades: volunteers being sent to inspire and inform the workers in the factories, and keen energetic activists from Komosol: the youth wing of the Communist Party.
The coal industry boomed due to Alexei Stakhanovite: a role model who dug 103 tonnes of coal in one shift. This achievement inspired workers and Stakhanovism emerged. The construction of the Dnieper Dam and the Moscow metro undeniably reflected the successes of industry, and the USSR was now beginning to compete with Western world. In 1928 the Soviet Union held 5% of the shares of industrial output, the USA 44% and Great Britain10%; by 1938 the Soviet Union held 19%, overtaking Great Britain at 9% and below the USA at 28%. On the other hand, the cost of the Five Year Plans was immense.
As the targets set by Gosplan, in Moscow were unrealistic, the emphasis on quality was shifted to quantity for fear of failure, working conditions were appalling, and discipline was harshly enforced. The only incentive to keep working was fear. Many, if not all skilled engineers and workmen were arrested and taken to prison camps or killed on charges of sabotage to stop them using their personal skills for personal profit. This caused problems for factories: uneducated, unskilled labourers did not know how to work machines, and they broke down.
Huge projects such as building the new industrial cities such as Magnitogorsk, forced many men to work in freezing conditions, and die in freezing conditions if they did not work hard enough or if they could not cope. It is estimated that 50 000 000 people died as a result of harsh working conditions. Did collectivisation work? Its aim was to transform 25 million farms into under 250 000 farms. By 1932, 62% of farms where collectivised and by 1940, 400 000 collective farms had been set up.
The extension of state control over the peasants was huge; it gave Stalin a chance to enforce regulations. By 1939, wheat production was up by one third and by 1963 it had increase to over 100 million tonnes. Peasants worked harder on private plots of land then State-owned land. This is shown by the statistics that state that in 1937 52% of the Soviet Union’s vegetables were produced on private land and 71% of milk and meat. Collectivisation also benefited village communities as housing and education improved the number of doctors increased and therefore medical treatment improved.
Farm workers were rewarded with medals for good work and were given a larger salary. Some social security benefits were even provided. Stalin’s methods of wiping out the Kulaks (tight fisted peasants who profited from the NEP) caused food shortages. They owed him no allegiance and were beyond his control and so Stalin felt there had to be a period of de-kulakisation. After the first tactic of persuasion and propaganda failed, the seizure of land was through force by the secret police. Anyone opposing the change was shot on the spot.
Rather than hand over their livestock and farms to the State, the Kulaks reaction was to kill all their livestock and burn their harvests and farms. The immediate impact on livestock numbers was huge: from 1928 to 1933 the numbers of cattle dropped from 70. 5 million to 38. 4 million, the numbers of pigs dropped from 26 million to 12. 1 million and the numbers of sheep dropped from 146. 7 million to 50. 2 million. 14 million cows and one third of the USSR’s pigs were dead. This kick started the worst famine in the history of the Soviet Union.
Five million people died in the Ukraine alone, one quarter of the population of Kazakhstan was wiped out and overall 20 million people died from famine. Within a few years nearly 20 million people had been transported to forced labour camps of prisons and many of them died there of hunger, exhaustion or disease. As the more realistic targets of the Five Year Plans reveal, Stalin’s government was capable of learning from its difficulties and errors and revising is aims. Therefore, though the areas of faults were momentous, the overall achievement of Stalin’s revolution was incredible.
I agree that that industrialisation, although it had its major flaws, was more successful than the modernisation of agriculture as fewer deaths were caused, and less destruction was left in its wake. Collectivisation on the other hand was the cause of famine, murder and the disruption of farmers’ lives. The statistics of the 1930s do not give us an accurate view of the so called revolution, but from what information is available, Stalin succeeded in many ways. But how can any such achievement be a success with so many innocent lives lost?