“Stalin’s Five Year Plans were a great success 1928-1941.” Do you agree? Explain you answer.
As a result of industrialisation being introduced, Russia’s industry was successfully modernised which allowed the industrial production to impressively increase and in some cases the targets set by the state were surpassed. However the production figures calculated by the state were not always accurate and were exaggerated as the state wanted to project an image of the success of industrialisation. Furthermore, looking at the different projects completed under industrialisation such as Magnitogorsk were genuinely impressive, on the other hand, the human cost and punishments that the workers had to face were terrible.
Compared to other great powers such as the USA, Germany and Britain the USSR was still a backward nation and desperately required modernisation which would the USSR to become a self-sufficient nation and less reliant on foreign capitalist powers; in order to achieve, Stalin introduced the Five Year Plans. The First Five Year Plan (1928- 1932) mainly focused on heavy industry such as coal, oil iron steel and electricity which laid the foundations for the future growth. The Dnieper Dam and Magnitogorsk are one of the remarkable achievements of the First Five Year Plan. The Second Five Year Plan (1933-1937) still prioritised heavy industry but it also concentrated on building communications especially railways, which became important to link cities and industrial centres. A major achievement was the Moscow Underground. The Second Plan also focused on chemicals, and lead, tin and zinc. The Third Five Year Plan (1938-1941) was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, and was mainly focused around rearmament and weapon production to help with the war against Germany. The plans were carried out by the GOSPLAN (state planning agency). They set production targets for each industry, manager and worker in each factory that had to be reached. This target setting was fundamental for long term success which the Five Year Plans were working towards. The targets helped the workers to stay aware of what is expected from them. In order to achieve the targets, the workers were offered incentives which inspired them to work harder. Workers who exceeded their targets were entitled to better housing, free holidays and cash prizes. The speed at which the industries were modernised was remarkable. It can be said that there were significant achievements made under the Five Year Plans.
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Under the Five Year Plans, many remarkable achievements were accomplished in the USSR. The production of coal and iron was doubled and the electricity production trebled. In addition to these increases in outputs of different industries, 1000 new industrial plants were built and 100 new towns were built, some from scratch; a great example of this is Magnitogorsk. Furthermore, hydroelectric schemes were introduced and one showpiece in the hydroelectric industry was the Dnieper Dam. Along with industrial achievements, communication links were established under the Five Year Plan. Railway links between cities and industrial centres was established and the Moscow Underground was a major achievement. As a result of these great accomplishments under the Five Year Plans allowed the USSR to become the world’s largest industrial produce. In addition to these spectacular achievements, unemployment was non-existent. Education in the USSR became free and compulsory for all. Even though the targets set by the state were incredibly high, many were surpassed and those who achieved their targets were awarded with higher wages and bonuses. Regardless of the success of industrialisation, we must also consider the terrible punishments that the workers had to face.
Despite the impressive achievements made there were many problems with industrialisation. The image that was being shown to the public by the state was false while the reality was different. The targets that were set by the state were incredibly high and were not always achieved. In order to portray the success of industrialisation, the production figures were exaggerated. Not only the production figures were overstated but also the propaganda surrounding Stakhanov is another example of the state’s exaggeration of achievements to encourage people to work harder. In reality, he was helped by two other helpers in the coal mine. In addition to the inflation of the production figures, we must also consider the human cost that had to be paid for the remarkable achievements to be accomplished. In order to produce the perfect image in which the industry of the USSR was benefitting from the Five Year Plans, the state needed a group on which they could blame the inefficiency on; and that group was the workers. Some of the products produced were unusable as they had to be turned out so quickly and the machines were unwittingly wrecked by unskilled workers, many of whom were ex-peasants who had been released due to collectivisation and only had been exposed to primitive levels of technology. These mistakes could not be admitted as they would make it seem that the system was at fault, so as a result a new group called the saboteurs was founded to be used as scapegoats. As early as 1928, when the coal mines in the Donbass region fell behind target, 55 engineers were accused of sabotage which led to the famous Shakhty trial. The fear and hysteria created by the trials and accusation had an important impact. The production figures were inflated so that the industry would not e accused of failing to fulfil the targets. In addition to being used as scapegoats, the discipline among the workers was strict and punishments were harsh. Lateness and absence was not tolerated and could be punished by fines, loss of ration cards or by sacking which resulted in loss of the house. By 1940, it was a crime and a prison sentence was given for a second offence. To escape hard work and discipline, some workers tried to move to other jobs but the secret police introduced internal passports which prevented free movement of workers inside the USSR. In addition to the severe punishments, the working and sanitary conditions were poor. Due to the workforce consisting of untrained workers, there were often accidents which led to deaths. Regardless of the hard work they did, the wages that the workers received were low. It was not only the workers who were badly affected by industrialisation but also the Muslims. Their religion Islam was seen as holding back industrialisation and was therefore repressed. Muslims leaders were imprisoned or deported and mosques were closed down. Along with the repression of Islam, Christian worship was made difficult as Christian Orthodox churches were shut down and used for other purposes such as grain storage.
On balance, it can be said that to some extent the Five Year Plans were a great achievement. Under the Five Year Plans, the industrial production in different industries was doubled and hydroelectric power was introduced in the USSR. There was hardly unemployment and the education became free. However, the punishments that the workers had to face were terrible. Lateness was not tolerated and harshly punished. Along with the worker, worship was made hard for Orthodox Christians and the religion Islam was repressed as it was seen as holding back industrialisation. And the production figures were not always accurate as they were manipulated by the state to project an image of success.