Stalin's Five Year Plans: Collectivization & Industrialization

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  • 0:05 Background to the…
  • 1:02 The First Five-Year Plan
  • 3:13 Later Five-Year Plans
  • 3:55 Stakhanovites and Wreckers
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Michelle Penn

Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.

Expert Contributor
Paul Byrd

Paul has a Masters Degree in History from Iowa State University, a Masters in Political Science, and has taught at the college level for ten years.

In this lesson we will learn about Stalin's Five-Year Plans, which were meant to transform the Soviet Union into an industrialized nation. We will learn some of their successes, and the large human cost of the plans.

Background to the Five-Year Plans

Imagine you manage a factory in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Your factory has doubled its output over the last few years, an amazing feat. You expect to be praised for your leadership but instead are arrested for not doing more to help the Soviet economy, condemned, and sent a labor camp where you die very young. Such situations were not unheard of under Stalin's Five-Year Plans.

Before the Five-Year Plans, the Soviet Union had been using what was called the New Economic Policy (NEP). NEP allowed for a mixed economy with elements of both socialism and capitalism. NEP was intended to help the Soviet economy recover from its civil wars and allow for a gradual transition to socialism. Some Bolsheviks saw NEP as a step back from communism and wanted a more rapid transition to communism. There was also a grain shortage from 1927 to 1928 that caused many people to oppose NEP.

The First Five-Year Plan

Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, decided to abandon NEP and industrialize the Soviet Union. Gosplan, the state planning committee, created the Five-Year Plans, outlining goals for the Soviet economy to meet, beginning in 1928.

The main feature of the first Five-Year Plan called for the rapid industrialization of the Soviet economy. The Soviet Union's economy was primarily based on agriculture. An industrialized economy is one that is primarily based in manufacturing. Industrialization had two big appeals for the Soviets:

  1. An industrialized economy would better be able to win a war with another country
  2. According to the Marxist theory that the Soviet Union ascribed to, communism developed in industrialized, rather than agricultural economies.

Along with plans for industrialization, the First Five-Year Plan also called for the collectivization of agriculture. Collectivization meant that land would no longer belong to individual peasants, but to the state. Peasants either joined a collective farm, a large farm made up of their own former land and their neighbors, or a state farm. Collectivization can be thought of as an attempt to industrialize agriculture.

Many peasants resisted attempts to collectivize. They liked working their own land and didn't want to lose it. Many decided to slaughter their own farm animals instead of giving them up to the collective. The Holodomor, a term for the mass man-made famine in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, is thought to have been an attempt by the government to punish Ukrainian peasants for resisting collectivization.

The Gulag was the Soviet system of prison labor camps. During the First Five-Year Plan, the Gulag was officially established and grew significantly. Many peasants who resisted the collectivization of agriculture were sent to the Gulag, and others were simply executed.

The First Five-Year Plan was declared a success by Stalin in 1932, about 10 months earlier than planned, having exceeded the production goals for heavy industry. In spite of these declarations of success, the plan failed to meet all the quotas and had an enormous human toll.

Later Five-Year Plans

The Soviet Union would continue to have five-year plans, many like the first one, lasting less than five years, and one lasting seven years. The Third Five-Year Plan was interrupted during World War II. The period between 1941 and 1945, when the Soviet Union was at war, was the only time after 1929 that the Soviet Union was not guided by a Five-Year Plan. Instead of meeting industrial quotas during the war, the focus was on doing whatever was necessary to win the war.

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Research Prompt for Stalin's Five-Year Plans

Stalin's Targets during Collectivization and the Five-Year Plans:

Collectivization and industrialization were closely linked in Stalin's Five-Year Plans, as each represented a radical alteration of the status quo. The former changed the rural countryside, and the latter changed urban centers. However, to make collectivization and industrialization a reality, Joseph Stalin began scapegoating those he deemed to be wreckers of the Soviet Union. In doing so, Stalin attempted to dehumanize and devalue groups he viewed as undesirable because they were a threat to himself and his vision of a new Soviet Union. The three prominent groups he labeled wreckers and targeted most heavily were the NEPmen, Kulaks, and foreign technical experts.

Please describe each of the preceding three categories, detailing who and what made up each category. Please define each category's role in society and its contributions to the Soviet Union during the New Economic Policy and prior to Joseph Stalin's decision to target and remove it. Explain why Stalin believed it was necessary to remove each group from the Soviet Union to fulfill his view of the new Soviet Union under his series of Five-Year Plans. Finally, as these groups of people were targeted, removed, sent to gulags, or executed, detail who took their place and fulfilled their roles during Stalin's Revolution.

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