5 Year Plans

Amelia Harmon, Emily Higgins, Ann Weatherly and Montana Burman

Why did Stalin make the Great Turn?

Why did Stalin want to industrialize the USSR so quickly?

  • To increase military strength
    • To fight a modern war, a country had to have a well-developed industrial base to manufacture the huge quantities of weapons and munitions required.
  • To achieve self-sufficiency
    • Stalin wanted the USSR to be less dependent on the West.
  • To increase grain supplies
    • Stalin wanted to end the dependence of the economy on a backward agricultural system which was at the mercy of the peasantry.
  • To move towards a socialist society
    • According to Marxist theoreticians, socialism could only be created in highly industrialized states where the overwhelming majority of the population were workers.
  • To establish his credentials
    • Stalin needed to prove himself as successor and equal of Lenin.
  • To improve standards of living
    • Stalin wanted to catch up with the West, both militarily and in terms of the standard of living that people enjoyed.

The NEP had run out of 'push' by the end of the 1920s

  • A quick review of the NEP: It abolished grain requisitioning, reopened small-scale businesses, removed the ban on private trade, and allowed state control of heavy industry.
  • By 1926, the excess capacity in industry had been used up, meaning that all factories, machinery and equipment that had existed pre-1914 had been put back into use as far as this was possible.
  • A massive injection of capital was now needed to move the industrial process forward
  • The NEP and the Peasants
    • Grain supply had increased enormously and the fear of famine had receded during the implementation of the NEP but peasants were not producing the quantities of grain the government needed for industrialization.
    • Grain was not reaching the market because:
      • Agriculture was still backward
      • The land had been shared and divided after the revolution which led to smaller holdings, and so people ate most of what they produced
      • Relationship between the government and the peasants deteriorated towards the end of the 1920s
    • Government tries a new tactic to encourage peasants to put more grain on the market:
      • It stopped collecting taxes from the peasants in the form of grain and made them pay a money tax.
      • At the same time, the government clamped down on private traders who were paying peasants two times what the state was paying for grains.
        • So, peasants had to sell at lower prices to the state and had to sell more than before to pay their taxes
    • This tactic worked at first, but peasants got wise. They didn't need surplus money because there was little to buy, as prices had drastically increased, so they withheld their grain waiting for higher prices.
    • Stalin sent out officials, backed by the police, to seize grain.
      • He got grain but the relationship between the peasants and the government was breaking down and there was substantial resistance to Stalin's actions.
      • Despite resistance in the party to Stalin's methods, he used them again the following year after the poor harvest in 1928 forced bread rationing.
  • The NEP and urban workers
    • Though workers had an 8 hour working day and other social benefits, wages had only just passed their pre-war level by 1928.
    • Thousands of workers did not have jobs at all, and high unemployment persisted throughout the NEP.
      • Women were hit particularly hard by the NEP as many had been forced out of their jobs when the Red Army was demobilized or been forced to move from skilled to unskilled work.
    • Housing was still a major problem and most workers lived in overcrowded, poor-quality houses and flats.
    • There was also a mounting crime problem in the cities, because jobless youths dealing with the turmoil of war formed gangs.

The Great Turn

  • At the Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927, the announcement of the first Five-Year Plan marked the end of the NEP.
    • The plan demanded more rapid industrialization, setting high targets for industry to achieve.
    • In agriculture, the plan called for collectivization.
  • The NEP had provided 'breathing space' while industry and agriculture recovered from the dismal depths of War Communism, but was not developing an industrial, urban, proletarian, socialist society.
    • From the Bolsheviks' point of view, it was creating the wrong type of society (it encouraged private markets, private enterprise, etc).
  • The majority of party members had accepted the constraints of the NEP but had never liked it, so they warmly welcomed Stalin's 'let turn' in his policies for the modernization of industrialization of the USSR.
    • The Five-Year Plans represented a significant step towards achieving the goals of the revolution.
  • The fear of invasion encouraged the party to support more rapid industrialization.
    • By 1927, relations with France and Poland had deteriorated, Britain had broken off diplomatic relations and there were suspicions about Japanese intentions.
  • The change from the NEP to Five-Year Plans is called the Great Turn because it marks a major shift in the direction o the Soviet economy towards central planning, or a 'command economy.'
  • However, the land was to be socialized through collectivization; no longer would it be owned by individual peasants.
  • Industrialization would lead to the growth of the proletariat, along with new cities and new wealth.
  • Lenin had also featured planning by the center in his economic plans when he had assumed direct control of industry after 1917 and had kept control of the 'commanding heights' of industry (large-scale industries, banking, etc.) under the NEP.
    • But it was the way in which Stalin carried out his policies that was new. He took planning to an unimaginable level.
  • Policies of the Great Turn wrought great changes in the Communist Party and the relationship between the party and the people.
    • Some historians maintain that this was the point the Soviet Union 'went wrong' - that it now followed a path that led to totalitarianism, tyranny and inhumanity.

- Emily Higgins (all above)

How were the 5 year plans organized?

  • The state decided what was produced, where it was produced and when it was produced.
  • The key feature of the plans was the setting of production and output targets which industrial enterprises had to achieve.
  • 4 main industrial sections between 1930 and 1934:
    • Heavy industry, light industry, timber, and food.
  • Based on a top-down method of management.
  • Gosplan (the State Planning Commission):
    • Originally set up in 1921 as a forecasting agency.
    • Given the job of working out figures - the inputs each industry would need and the output each had to produce - to meet overall targets for the plan.
  • Senior party officials appointed and dismissed planners and senior managers, often for political rather than economic reasons.
  • Lion's share of investment went into:
    • Coal, iron, steel, and other heavy industry.
    • These would provide the power, capital equipment and machine tools that could be used to manufacture other products.
  • Soviet citizen's asked to sacrifice their standard of living for longer-term objectives for two reasons
  • It seemed to the Stalinists that Western industrial revolutions had been underpinned by the initial development in coal, iron and steel.
  • They were driven by the need to develop industries that could protect the USSR in an attack from West.
  • 3 important features:
  • The plans were always declared complete a year ahead of time.
  • Huge new industrial center were constructed virtually from nothing.
  • Spectacular projects were conceived to demonstrate the might of the new Soviet industrial machine.
  • A large number of companies sent specialists, engineers, and skilled workers to help to erect new factories or exploit new resources.
  • Henry Ford helped the Russians to develop a car industry.
  • The Great Depression made American capitalism appear weak, while the apparent success of the 5 year plans offered hope to the working people.

What did the 5 year plans achieve?

  • First 5 year plan: Oct. 1928 - Dec. 1932
    • Emphasis on heavy industry (coal, iron, steel, electricity, cement, metals, timber).
    • In reality, many targets were not met.
    • The Great Depression had driven down the price of grain and raw materials so the USSR could not earn enough from exports to pay for all the needed machinery.
  • Second 5 year plan: Jan. 1933 - Dec. 1937
  • Heavy industries still featured strongly, but new industries opened up and there was greater emphasis on communications, especially railways to link cities and industrial centers.
  • 1st 5 year plan was too extreme, but this one was much more realistic.
  • Food rationing ended and families had more disposable money.
  • Third 5 year plan: Jan. 1938 - June 1941
  • Ran for only 3.5 years because of the USSR's entry into WWII. Heavy industry emphasized due to need of armaments.
  • Difficulties at the beginning of 1938 due to harsh winter and diversion of military materials.
  • Gosplan was thrown into chaos when the purges created shortages of qualified personnel.
  • There was competition between Gosplan and Vesenkha (the Supreme Economic Council), who were bidding each other up with higher targets for 5 year plans.
  • "Bourgeois specialist":
  • Old, pre-1917 managers, engineers, and technical staff who had survived the NEP because of their skills and abilities.
  • Identified as saboteurs causing hold-ups, breakdowns, and general problems.
  • They were slowly uncovered and imprisoned.

How did workers fare under the plans?

  • Workers believed they were better off and generally liked the plans.
    • They were prepared to make sacrifices to build a new world which would probably bring real benefits only for their children.
  • Women dominated some professions, particularly medicine and school teaching.
  • The less well educated, especially tough ex-peasant women, became laborers and factory workers.
  • Paid less and given less opportunities as men, but happy nevertheless that they were able to work.

-Amelia (above)

Quicksand society

  • During the first 5 4 year plan the majority of the new workers were peasants that had been forced off the land collectivization. These people wandered looking for work and lodgings, if they could find a better job then they would move on to another job.
  • Skilled workers competed for higher wages or other perks. These workers moved easily between jobs.
  • People did not stay with the same job for a long time.
  • A skilled worker shortage was also one of the biggest problems employers faced. In 1951 it was estimated that less than 7% of the workforce were skilled.

How did the party respond to its labour problems?

  • wage differentials and incentives, piece work, training, tough measures, forced labour, propaganda and encouragement.
  • wage differentials and incentives rewarded people who stayed put in thier jobs (wanted to avoid quicksand society)
  • tough measures dealt with absentees; the measures included dismissal, eviction from factory owned home, or loss of various benefits. Causing damage or leaving a job without permission would equal prison.
  • forced labor was the solution to labor shortages
  • the huge campaign for propaganda was to help raise productivity of workers.

The Stakhanov Record

  • Alexi Stakhanov after 5 hours of uninterrupted work he had cut 102 tons of coal( which was twice the normal amount).
  • 2 hours after Stakhanov finished Petrov assembled a party commitee at which he was acclaimed for his world record for productivity; he also recieved a bonus of 200 roubles, had his name prominently displayed on the mine's honor board.
  • due to Stakhanov competitions were set up for miners to emulate his achievenments.
  • the stakhanovite movement was seen as a way of compelling management to adopt new production methods and increase rates of production.
  • when Stakhanovism started, workers resented the increased norms and there were increased tension between managers and workers.


  • had to fufill thier targets and would do anything including bribery and corruption, to do it.
  • could only fulfill target if workers co-operated.
  • managers pessures were targets, increased labor norms, books must balnace, and wage incentives
  • managers economic pressures were labor shortage, shortgae of vital raw materials, competition from military spending, fall in foreign trade

Living Standards

  • throughout the thirties Central Planning system never managed to improve the standard of living
  • workers lived in barracks in awful conditions
  • overcrowding was very intense in sub standard accomodation as building materials were diverted to factory building
  • there was a profound lack of consumer goods and food was rationed
  • difficult to generalize for all sections of society and some workers certainly became better off during this period

How Succesful were the 5 year plans for industry?

  • all comemtators agree that there was subsantial growth in heavy industry during this period, impressive achievements were made and the Soviet Union was transformed on the industrial front.
  • the command economy had major weakness like unrealistic targets, use of bribery, corruption and crooked deals to achieve targets, major shortages, and products of dubious quality
  • at best the economy was ill-organized and badly co-ordinated, at worst it was chaotic
  • there were imbalances in the economy with heavy industry taking proroity over chemicals and transport and consumer goods being nehlected throughout.
  • the russian people still spent an enormous amount of thier time queing and went short of essential commodities.
  • the plans were trying to do the impossible in conditions of appaling backwardness
  • resources were directed towards areas of key proroity and in a rough and crude way progress was made
  • some historians have concluded the type of command economy that emerged with clearly set priorities seemed reasonably well suited to the circumstances of the USSR in the 1930s.

Ann Weatherly (above)

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