World History 2 200 - 12.2.2 The First Five-Year Plan

Stalin’s domestic agenda was codified in the form of Five-Year Plans outlining economic achievements the Soviet Union was to have made by each plan’s conclusion. The timeline was ambitious, if not impossible. Yet officials tried to achieve the goals; they risked losing their jobs or even their lives for not meeting production quotas.

The first Five-Year Plan was designed to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union. Stalin abandoned his earlier support of slow growth in light of the need to produce more farm equipment for the peasants and the desire to undercut those who had been advocating for more industrialization. Cities devoted to specific industries were developed and funded. Iron and steel production was to be raised dramatically under the plan, and new electrical power stations were to be built. Many of these goals were achieved, and overall industrial capacity increased by approximately 50 percent.

Stalin’s intention to exert state control over all aspects of life in the Soviet Union foundered when it came to agriculture. The collectivization of agriculture consisted of the shift from individual farms to large state-run farms, and when Communist Party officials moved to quickly meet production quotas that were increased after the first Five-Year Plan was implemented, they did so with little regard for the realities of agricultural production. The peasants heavily resisted the intrusion of government officials into their workdays. As the plan began to be implemented, they even resorted to violent means. The revolution had promised them better lives, but these would not be possible under the terms of the plan.

Across the country’s agricultural communities were a number of peasants labeled kulaks by the government. Kulaks had prospered under the more liberal policies of the NEP. In the early 1920s, Soviet policy had specifically defined a kulak as someone who hired seasonal farm laborers for an individual farm of twenty-five to forty acres. Very few farmers fell into this category, but they became scapegoats for Stalin. He blamed them for the difficulties in implementing collectivization and cast them as enemies of the state, which made them subject to arrest and even execution. Even their family members were prevented from holding certain jobs or pursuing university educations.

In Their Own Words

Collectivization in the Soviet Union

The following resolution was adopted during a Soviet Politburo meeting and details plans for punishing villages and kulaks who opposed collectivization. Many places opposed this policy and were seen as disloyal by government officials. As you read, note what government officials would be looking for and what types of punishments they planned to mete out.

In view of the shameful collapse of grain collection in the more remote regions of Ukraine, the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee call upon the oblast executive committees and the oblast [party] committees as well as the raion executive committees and the raion [party] committees: to break up the sabotage of grain collection, which has been organized by kulak and counterrevolutionary elements; to liquidate the resistance of some of the rural communists, who in fact have become the leaders of the sabotage; to eliminate the passivity and complacency toward the saboteurs, incompatible with being a party member; and to ensure, with maximum speed, full and absolute compliance with the plan for grain collection.

The Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee resolve:

To place the following villages on the black list for overt disruption of the grain collection plan and for malicious sabotage, organized by kulak and counterrevolutionary elements: . . .

The following measures should be undertaken with respect to these villages:

Immediate cessation of delivery of goods, complete suspension of cooperative and state trade in the villages, and removal of all available goods from cooperative and state stores.

Full prohibition of collective farm trade for both collective farms and collective farmers, and for private farmers.

Cessation of any sort of credit and demand for early repayment of credit and other financial obligations.

Investigation and purge of all sorts of foreign and hostile elements from cooperative and state institutions, to be carried out by organs of the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate.

Investigation and purge of collective farms in these villages, with removal of counterrevolutionary elements and organizers of grain collection disruption.

The Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee call upon all collective and private farmers who are honest and dedicated to Soviet rule to organize all their efforts for a merciless struggle against kulaks and their accomplices in order to: defeat in their villages the kulak sabotage of grain collection; fulfill honestly and conscientiously their grain collection obligations to the Soviet authorities; and strengthen collective farms.

—Addendum to the minutes of Politburo [meeting] No. 93, December 6, 1932

  • What are the kulaks accused of?
  • What punishment is being assessed on them?

Stalin speeded the drive to collectivization, and local officials did what they could to comply with the new targets for grain collection. By 1939, more than 90 percent of the peasants had been forced to live and work on collective farms. If they resisted, they could be arrested, and many were sent to labor camps in Siberia. While some poor peasants complied with collectivization because they had little of their own property to lose, middle-class peasants continued to oppose it, even killing their livestock rather than turning flocks over to the Soviet government. More than half the nation’s livestock was lost under collectivization in the 1930s, and the numbers did not recover until the 1950s. In some areas, spring planting did not occur due to the upheaval.

The failures of collectivization spelled deaths for millions in the Soviet Union. Approximately two million died resisting or in prison, and between five and ten million additional lives were lost in a famine caused by the chaos of the process, the peasants’ choice to slaughter their livestock, and government policies that took food from the peasants. The grain-producing region of Ukraine was hit especially hard; government decisions there caused mass starvation. Some officials actually went into homes and took whatever food they could find. Approximately 3.9 million Ukrainians are estimated to have died in the famine they called the Holodomor (“death by famine” in Ukrainian).

The problems surrounding collectivization also led many within the Communist Party to question the wisdom of Stalin’s decisions. In 1934, the assassination of Sergei Kirov, a high-ranking Soviet politician, led to an investigation that uncovered what Stalin believed was a plot to kill him. Kirov’s death, together with the unrest caused by collectivization, the anti-Soviet rhetoric of Germany’s Nazi Party (which had taken control of Germany in 1933), and his knowledge that many Soviet politicians did not share his vision of the USSR’s future, fed Stalin’s growing feelings of paranoia. His belief that he was surrounded by enemies led to a reign of terror in which the Soviet secret police arrested millions of Soviet citizens on suspicion of disloyalty. Many were sent to prison camps in Siberia where they perished as a result of starvation and overwork. Some were executed immediately following brief trials. Some did not even receive trials. Among those imprisoned or killed were kulaks, former tsarist officials, intellectuals, Russian Orthodox priests, ethnic minorities, workers (labeled “saboteurs”) in factories where accidents had occurred under the frantic pace of the Five-Year Plan, Red Army officers, government officials, prominent Soviet politicians, and supporters of Lenin from the earliest days of the Bolshevik Revolution. Historians disagree about how many Soviets died as a result of the political purges of the 1930s, but one million is a likely figure.

Link to Learning

Check out this repository of Soviet posters from the 1920s and 1930s.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax