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`The Five Year Plans 1928-1941 were an economic and political success but an utter
disaster for Soviet society.'
In 1928, Stalin announced his plans for rapid industrialisation of the USSR. In Russia this was called the
`Great Turn' as it completely changed the agricultural and industrial landscape. Historians have
referred to this period as `The Third Revolution,' but whilst this is slightly hyperbolic, the
transformation that the underdeveloped economy experienced under the Five Year Plans is huge.
Russia's `backwardness' as Stalin called it was a major concern of his, writing in Pravda that `We must
make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it or we shall be crushed.' It is clear from this that
Stalin feared invasion from capitalist countries, enhanced by the fact that Russia was not in the
League of Nations. The success of the Five Year Plans is debateable, but is it possible that the Soviet
government actually crushed its own people in the implementation of its policies?
Historians are largely in agreement that the Five Year Plans achieved some remarkable
successes. For example, by 1935, Soviet Production was three times what it had been before 1913.
From 1928 up to the same year, industrial production doubled. The Five Year Plans were able to work
due to the capital raised from collectivisation with the hope that industry would then be the driving
force of the economy; this is true as in 1932, industry overtook agriculture in terms of economic
value. In other European countries, manufacturing development was insignificant compared to the
USSR. `The armaments industry was the most outstanding success of the pre-war Soviet economy.'
These are great successes if Stalin did fear invasion, so the movement towards autarky in electricity
production, through the construction of landmark projects such as the Dnieprostroi Dam, which
increased electricity production five-fold, were of equal importance.
Industry expanded in terms of area; previously isolated sections of Russia were converted into
manufacturing giants, most notably the steel-city of Magnitogorsk. The benefit of moving industry to
the East is that it would be safer should Russia be invaded.
The failure of the Five Year Plans lies in how industry was overcome with `target mania.' In
the First Five Year Plan, strategists chose to pursue the `optimum' version of the Plan, which to many
people seemed hopelessly unachievable- `Needless to say the new targets were far beyond
practical possibility. The rush, strain, shortages, pressures became intolerable, and caused great
disorganisation.' The Plan was also flawed in terms of finer detail- only broad directives were
handed out to officials and managers and as a result poor quality goods were produced. There were
stories of lorry tyres lasting only a week. In an attempt to guarantee the fulfilment of targets,
managers would become involved in bribery to secure the necessary materials. Bottlenecks
appeared in the Soviet economy, which caused considerable suffering to consumer goods. Overall
efficiency decreased during the first Plan due to underproduction, but also overproduction.
Historians studying the period question the accuracy of Soviet statistics, arguing that they were
falsified to make it appear that government targets had been met.
The Five Year Plans also carried political successes. Over 99% of industry was controlled by
the State. Through this the government claimed that socialism had been achieved as the State was
protecting the masses from exploitation by profit-seeking capitalists. The Party was able to remove
class enemies or `bourgeois specialists' as Stalin called them. Much like the `liquidation of the kulaks'
Stalin accused managers of trying to sabotage the socialist model. Hundreds of officials were
removed from the GOSPLAN and VSNKh. The origin of the Great Purges which came in the 1930s can
be traced back to the First Five Year Plan and Stalin's desire to remove bureaucrats who `masks his
R.Davies- The Economic Transformation of the Societ Union
A.Nove- An Economic History of the USSR
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Party member.' Trade unions had little influence as they were controlled
by the Party and would not organise strike action. The Stakhanovite movement maintained worker
morale at a time when the novelty of the new system would have worn off. Finally, the emergence
and prominence of the Komsomol (Party Youth Movement) under the Five Year Plans meant that the
State had a supply of enthusiastic workers (often used as Shock Brigades) and a group of future