To all Communist Party members industrialization was seen as a necessary development in order to ensure the survival of the revolution. It was believed that socialism, and with it the Communist Party, would not survive in a non-industrial society. It was therefore essential to undertake a programme of industrial development. Industrialization would create many more members of the proletariat, the backbone of the revolution. The Five Year Plan, with its large scale nationalization and state control would get rid of the detested Nepmen, those private business owners and traders who survived under the NEP. As people who made a profit from their trade, the Nepmen were seen as capitalists, class enemies who presented a reminder of the old world and its values. These capitalist elements concerned with selfish gains needed to be wiped out and the Five Year Plan would achieve this.
How were the Five Year Plans organised?
The Five Year Plans were represented as battles in a war to build socialism against capitalist enemies. Workers were urged on to achieve ever greater tasks by propaganda of every kind, posters, factory meetings, radio broadcasts, theatre groups etc,
The propaganda seems to have been at least partly effective. Volunteers flocked to travel to some of the most inhospitable regions of the USSR to help to build an urban Communist society. Not to be forgotten also was the extra help of volunteers from the capitalist West.
- FORCED LABOUR
Since there was little more money available to buy construction equipment abroad, much of the work had to be done by hand. This demanded millions of hands to work often in extreme conditions. Volunteers alone would not fill the need: forced labour was the answer and it was very cheap and easily replaced. The millions of transported kulaks provided a great part of this forced labour, but it also comprised other ‘enemies of the State’, such as members of various religious groups and former members of the bourgeoisie. These forced workers were found all over the new industrial regions and along the great transport projects, such as the Belomor Canal. Deaths seem to have been a commonplace.
- SOCIALIST COMPETITION
In Capitalist countries the pursuit of profit was what motivated managers and workers to work harder and produce more. The USSR was not supposed to believe in this. Instead ‘socialist competition’ was introduced- a kind of race between factories, mines etc. to produce the most possible. Regular meetings were held to urge workers on to equal the achievements of a similar factory down the road. Whether it was successful as a method is difficult to judge.
- STAKHANOVITES AND SHOCK WORKERS
During the First Five Year Plan targets were not only being set for factories and construction teams, but also for individual workers. In one Moscow factory there were over half a million norms set for different taks! Wages were decided by a workers success or failure to reach these norms. During a single nightshift in August 1935 Alexei Stakhanov cut 102 tons from a coal seam in the Dunbass region. This remarkable achievement was 14 times the quota or norm set for a shift! In a few months Stakhanov was a household name in the USSR; thousands tried to emulate him in ever sector of the economy.
This was no doubt encouraged by the party, but within a year almost one-quarter of industrial workers were classed as Stakhanovites, with as many others graded as shock workers, a slightly lower but honoured category. The planners were then able to increase industrial norms between 10 and 15 per cent in 1936. The rapid spread of Stakhanovism does suggest to some historians a freat level of commitment to the government’s vision of the future. More cynical observers argue that workers simply wanted the benefits the status brought.
Managers and technicians were made personally responsible for their work. Failure to meet targets could be serious. The period of the Plans was punctuated by a series of industrial trials in which managerial and technical staff were accused of sabotage. Since they had often held senior positions before the Revolution or had parents from a bourgeois background, they were easy targets.
FIRST FIVE YEAR PLAN:
Features of the First Five Year Plan:
The First Five Year Plan (1928-1932) demanded that industries such as Coal, Oil, Iron, Steel and Electricity start this controlled level of growth and modernization. This plan proved very successful, with many of the high targets being achieved. Workers were rewarded for their efforts with cash awards, raises in wages and better housing. The economy experienced a sudden upturn, as the initial portion of Stalin’s plans became realities. Not since before World War I had the Soviet Union experienced such prosperity, employment and growth.
To satisfy the state's need for increased food supplies, the First Five-Year Plan called for the organization of the peasantry into collective units that the authorities could easily control. This collectivization program entailed compounding the peasants' lands and animals into collective farms and state farms and restricting the peasants' movements from these farms, thus in effect reintroducing a kind of serfdom into the countryside. Although the program was designed to affect all peasants, Stalin in particular sought to liquidate the wealthiest peasants, the kulaks. Generally speaking, the kulaks were only marginally better off than other peasants, but the party claimed that the kulaks ensnared the rest of the peasantry in capitalistic relationships. Yet collectivization met widespread resistance not only from kulaks but from poorer peasants as well, and a desperate struggle of the peasantry against the authorities ensued. Peasants slaughtered their cows and pigs rather than turn them over to the collective farms, with the result that livestock resources remained below the 1929 level for years afterward. The state in turn forcibly collectivized reluctant peasants and deported kulaks and active rebels to Siberia. Within the collective farms, the authorities in many instances exacted such high levels of procurements that starvation was widespread. In some places, famine was allowed to run its course; millions of peasants in the Ukrainian Republic starved to death when the state deliberately withheld food shipments.
Achievements of the First Five Year Plan
The first Five Year Plan focused on the major industries and although most targets were not met, the achievements were still staggering. The USSR increased production and created a foundation on which to build the next Five-Year Plans. The USSR was rich in natural resources, but many of them were in remote places such as Siberia. So, whole cities were built from nothing and workers taken out to the new industrial centres. Foreign observers marveled as huge new still mills appeared at Magnitogorsk in the Urals and Sverdlovsk in central Siberia. New dams and hydroelectric power fed industry’s energy requirements. Russian ‘experts’ flooded into the Muslim republics of central Asia such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, creating industry from scratch in previously undeveloped areas.
At the outset of the first Five Year Plan fantastic targets for increased production were set by the Gosplan for each industry: in coal over 100 per cent, in iron 200 per cent, in electricity 400 per cent. When the first few years appeared to be going well the party adopted even higher ‘optimal’ targets in 1929. When this seemed to be working, even these ‘impossible’ figures were raised.
Second Five Year Plan
The Second Five-Year Plan (1933-37) continued the primary emphasis on heavy industry. By 1932 Stalin realized that both the economy and society were seriously overstrained. Although industry failed to meet its production targets and agriculture actually lost ground in comparison with 1928 yields, Stalin declared that the First Five-Year Plan had successfully met its goals in four years. He then proceeded to set more realistic goals. Under the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-37), the state devoted attention to consumer goods, and the factories built during the first plan helped increase industrial output in general. By the late 1930s, however, collectivized farms were performing somewhat better. In 1935 a new law permitted individual peasants to have private plots, the produce of which they could sell on the open market. According to official statistics, during the Second Five-Year Plan gross agricultural production increased by just under 54 percent. In contrast, gross industrial production more than doubled.
Because of the success of the first plan, the government went ahead with the Second Five Year Plan in 1932, although the official start-date for the plan was 1933. The Second Five-Year Plan gave heavy industry top priority, although communications, especially railways, became important to link cities and industrial centers. New industries, such as chemicals and metallurgy, grew enormously. It also brought a spectacular rise in steel production, more than 17 million tonnes, placing the Soviet Union not far behind Germany as one of the major steel-producing countries of the world. As was the case with the other five-year plans, the second was not uniformly successful, failing to reach the recommended production levels in such crucial areas as coal and oil.
The Third Plan, 1938–1942
The Third Five-Year Plan ran for only 3 years, up to 1941, when Russia entered the Second World War. As war approached, more resources were put into developing armaments, tanks and weapons.
The first two years of the Third Five-Year Plan proved to be even more of a disappointment in terms of proclaimed production goals. Even so, the value of these goals and of the coordination of an entire economy's development of central planning has been undeniable. For the 12% to 13% rate of annual industrial growth attained in the Soviet Union during the 1930s has few parallels in the economic history of other countries. Since Russia's economy had always lagged behind the rest of Europe, these increases appeared all the more dramatic. Additionally, this high rate of growth was continued after World War II, as much devastation needed to be repaired, and continued into the early fifties, after which it had gradually declined
Though most of the targets set in the Five Year Plans were never fully achieved, the total output of the USSR did increase significantly. By 1940 the USSR would be the second largest Industrial power in the world at the expense of millions of people who died from starvation diseases or abuse in prison and forced labor camps. The economy flourished in the early years of the plans but in the end, the people came to detest the plans and a painful and costly period in their country’s history.