Jospeh Stalin

General Background Information on Stalin:

Stalin was popular with Communists because of his poor background (his father was a shoemaker) and he didn’t use many long words or fine phrases like the well-bred intellectuals did. He was a man of the people: “Rough and ready”. He became a respected member of the Bolsheviks, a political communist party in Russia.

Socialism in One Country:

The Bolsheviks had begun to feel the effects of the Civil War and began to realize how much needed to be

done for the country. Within the Bolsheviks, Stalin was rival to Trotsky, who had the idea to have a World Revolution. Trotsky’s idea of the “World Revolution” was that the Russians would cause communist revolutions in advanced industrialized countries such as Britain or Germany so that they would become allies with Russia and help their industry develop and grow. The idea was not popular among the Bolsheviks because of the hardship and trouble it would add to the already-struggling country, and it was a bleak and demoralizing plan. Stalin became allies with Kamenev and Zinoniev in 1924, as they were all against Trotsky’s idea.

In retaliation to Trotsky’s idea, Stalin suggested the idea of “Socialism as one country”. He proposed that Russia should focus on building its own socialist system within the country and that it should have nothing to do with the rest of Europe. Although this strayed slightly from their communist ideals, to the Bolsheviks, this idea was patriotic, appealing, and provided hope for the future.

Stalin Accumulating Power:

Many, especially Trotsky and Stalin’s allies, underestimated Stalin, which was to his advantage. He was a master schemer and tactician, although he was at first dismissed as a “mediocrity” by Trotsky and a “grey blur” by another contemporary. In 1926 Stalin was voted into the Central Committee and therefore he no longer needed the support of Kamenev and Zinoniev. In 1926 he became allies with Bukharin and sided against Kamenev and Zinoniev and by the end of the year the two were dismissed from the Central Committee. In 1927 Trotsky was forced out of the country in exile, never to return again (in 1940 one of Stalin’s agents killed Trotsky with an ice-pick in Mexico). That dealt with, Stalin turned on Bukharin who was later expelled from the Central Committee in 1929. Stalin, now in full power, continued on to deal with Russia’s problems with the same ruthlessness as he had dealt with his opponents.

Stalin’s Five Year Plans: Industry & Agriculture:

In 1931 Stalin made a speech regarding his feeling towards Russian industry. “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it or we shall be crushed.” His goal was to modernize the industry and agriculture of Russia very quickly. Peasants must be taken off their small, individual plots and brought together to form huge collective farms. Stalin recognized that the key to industrial power was heavy industry: coal, iron, steel and oil.

The Five Year Plans began in 1928 when Stalin set a ridiculously high target for all of the heavy industries and expected them to exceed the target and be done before the deadline, or else face harsh penalties. Stalin ordered hundreds of new mines, oil wells and factories to be created. A huge dam was built to generate hydroelectric power in Dnieper. Entirely new industrial cities were created in remote regions because of the new production of goods in that area.
Workers were put under extremely competitive terms. They were introduced to capitalist-like styles of incentive such as piecework, under which workers were paid based on how much they produced. This was a less ideal version of "commission" that we have today. Those who produced an extremely high output received a medal as a prize. If a worker didn’t show up for work they would be forced to spend a term in an even worse labour camp for punishment. Workers were forced to live hundreds of miles away from their homes in cold and awful conditions. Each person carried a work record book, similar to today’s resume, in order to apply for a job. Iftheir record book wasn’t good, they got no job, which resulted in starvation or a life of crime to prevent starvation.

The First Five Year Plan: (1928-1932)
Coal Miner
Coal Miner

The first Five Year Plan’s goal was to triple all heavy industry production levels including steel, iron, oil and coal. The authorities claimed that they met the goal a year in advance to keep the plan as popular as possible, but in reality only the oil industry tripled its production levels. The Plans were generally a great success, because although coal and pig iron didn’t meet expectations, they still doubled in productions, and steel productions rose from 4 million tons to 5.9 million tons. The USSR now had greater productions of steel and iron than Britain and they were just 20% below Germany’s output as well.
The first Five Year Plan also dealt with agriculture. At the time (1928) there were around 25 million peasant smallholdings. These were farmers, called kulaks, who owned their own farmland and hired peasants who did not own their own land to help work on the crops. There were roughly 100 million peasants in Russia who were not kulaks.
The Five Year Plan for agriculture was to conjoin all of the farmland in Russia and all of the farmers together to farm the land. It would take away ownership from the kulaks and prevent them from making a profit as well as combine farms for better harvests. The small ownerships were not producing harvests efficiently, and with large fields, they could use tractors, fertilizers and other mass-producing technology. The kulaks were very upset by the idea of handing over their land, sheep, cattle and barns to the government. The kulaks resisted so fervently, in fact, that some preferred to burn their crops and buildings and slaughter their animals than hand them over. Many kulaks refused to hand over the land and livestock, and were forced to remote, barren areas where they would be held in prison, where roughly 5 million kulaks eventually died. About another 5 million died in the horrific famine from 1932 to 1933, partly because of all the destruction they did to their own resources. Despite all this, the Plan continued and by 1932 ¾ of all the farms in Russia had been collectivized. Before 1930 there were less than 25,000 tractors and 1000 combine-harvesters throughout Russia, which was not satisfactory. The grain harvest of 1931 was a disappointing 69.5 million tons.

The Second Five Year Plan: (1933-1937)

The second Five Year Plan was from 1933 to 1937. Like the first Five Year Plan, it focused on heavy industry and targets of double or triple the 1933 output levels and was quite successful.
From the mid 1930s onwards, the life of the average worker was slowly improving. Workers had pension and sickness benefits that the new constitution of 1936 guaranteed. Free medical care became more available and effective, as there were more doctors per 1000 people than any other major Western country. Improvements for industry workers continued to rise, although their work environments were still tough. In 1924 illiteracy was 50% and in 1939 it was 19%, which was a vast improvement. An American who visited Russia wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works”.
Unfortunately the improvements that the industrial workers were beginning to feel did not benefit any of the peasants in the countryside. They found life to be much tougher and often shorter.
In the agricultural aspects of the Plan, things seemed to be going well. Over 90% of Russia’s farms had been collectivized by 1937. However, due to the kulaks’ mass murdering of crops and cattle, it wasn’t until 1953 that the amounts of crops and livestock rose to the 1928 standard. By 1933, there was an incredible advance in machinery for farming. Throughout Russia there were now 200,000 tractors and 25,000 harvesters. The grain harvest saw a vast improvement since 1931, and in 1937 it reached 97 million tons. The Five Year Plans for industry were a great success, unlike the collectivism plan, despite its key role in modernizing Soviet agriculture.
Eventually, the government allowed 10% of the kolkohoz land to be divided into small farms for the peasants, which they received instead of wages. The other 90% of the kolkohoz land was sold at a fixed price to the state. On the kolkohoz land, peasants were allowed to have a few farm animals and where allowed to sell their produce privately at the local farmers markets for a profit. Due to these concessions, the number of livestock increased gradually.
The success of this Five Year Plan stopped food rationing that had been occurring countrywide. The USSR had now become a major world economic power, much to the delight of Stalin.

The Third Five Year Plan: (1938-1941)

The third Plan began with a focus on light industry to raise the standard of living by producing consumer goods. Meanwhile, Stalin was convinced that Russia was going to be invaded by a capitalist nation from the West (Britain, Germany, or U.S.A., etc.) to destroy Communism when World War Two began. The plans for consumer goods were abandoned, when the threat of war felt impending and the production focus switched to armaments. Russia considered transportation of troops to be key, so all of Russia’s transportation systems were checked to be working and efficient. Some of Russia’s railways were lengthened. Army equipment was produced at an increased output. The new plan was for the USSR to be able to hold their ground during the Nazi invasion and then have the provisions to be self-sufficient post-war. Quotas for production crept up which caused purges and disillusionment with the government.

Stalin’s style of Five Year Plans continued in Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The collectivization of agriculture was thought to be essential for the development of the socialist state, economies of scale and mechanization would lead to increased yields that could feed the cities and release large numbers of workers for labor in industrial plants. Agriculture came second to industry and was viewed as a support for industrial activity. Farm workers living standards were considerably lower than their industrial colleagues so many ended up fleeing to the cities where they looked for industrial employment.
German Farmer
German Farmer
There were 2 types of farms devised during collectivist period: state and collective farm.
- State: like an agricultural farm operated by peasant labor, individuals who worked for wage. Tax was paid to the state, overhead was covered by earnings, any surplus was divided on the basis of the amount of labor provided by each worker.
- Collective: rewarded labor for its input, allowed workers to maintain small private plot (0.25- 0.5 hectares) plus a limited amount of livestock.
The class struggle that Lenin had tried to sponsor in villages in 1918, would now be forced on them. A Kulak is a wealthy land owning peasant that owns property valued at the equivalent of at least $800 and who has hired labor for 50 days out of the year. Kulaks would be destroyed and the poor peasants, greatly benefited. Kulaks were deemed unfit for collective farms because their independence was unlikely to contribute to socialist production. Since they couldn’t farm any more they were forced to leave the Ukraine and go to Siberia or central Asia, Roughly 5 million kulaks “disappeared”, many starved to death while others were sent to work on industrial projects or deported to labor camps in Siberia. This repression served as an example to peasants that collectivization was not to be tolerated. Between 1929 and 1933 peasant resistance to collectivization took form of a wholesale slaughter of livestock. Roughly 50% of all horses, cattle, sheep, goats and hogs were destroyed instead of being delivered to state. Droughts from 1931-1932 inflicted agriculture problems; famine swept through Ukraine and millions of people died. Still, the government wouldn’t let collectivization go despite all the problems it had caused. By the 3rd five year plan 25 individual farms had been collectivized. There was plenty of food, more than there had been in a long time, but peasants still had a hard time meeting production quotas. The social consequences were: 24 million people left the country side and increased urban population only counted for half of them.

Mass industrialization

Soviet government began the nationalization of industry straight after the October revolution, 1917. In 1921, Gosplan (the sate planning commission) was established to draft and economics plan for the country. Gosplan structured the five year plans that began in 1928. Lenin’s new economic policy (NEP) had salvaged the economy; it seemed unable to promote the rapid industrialization that was essential to move the Soviet Union into the ranks of modern industrial nation. In 1926, the amount of people who were still unemployed in agriculture increased by 75%.
Tractor Factory
Tractor Factory

Some of the goals from the five year plan were total industrial output to be increased by 250%, heavy industrial production was to increase by 330%, pig iron by 300%, coal by 200%, electric power by 400%, and agricultural production by 150%. Stalin introduced a turnover tax to attain necessary capitol at a time when foreign loans were unavailable. The tax levied on wholesale price of goods and became a major source of state revenue and the result was that most other industrial nations the share of GNP going to private consumption was 80% and the Soviet Union had dropped to 52%. From 1928-1941, numerous large projects were created: Dnieper dam, Stalingrad tractor factory, Magnitogorsk steel plant in the Urals, Kuznets basin mines of Siberia, and the Baltic-white sea canal. Many projects depended on slave labor, and it was estimated that about 10 million political prisoners were held in concentration camps and were used in gold mining, forestry, coal mining, and the building of roads, canals, railways, and airport. About 10% of these prisoners died each year. This brutal program of industrialization ended in results never before experienced in industrial history. The USSR’s industrial output surpassed that of France, Japan and Italy in 12 years and could have been even with Great Britain. Although this was great, agriculture was still loaded with problems and the soviet state was less able to feed its people in the late 1930’s than in the First World War.

By 1937, awareness of the Nazi buildup of power in Germany demanded a redirection of recourses toward a massive rearmament program. Tractor factories began to produce tanks and air craft in greater numbers. The Soviet Union was actually weaker than the other super powers in the end of the 1930s because the quality of military goods that were being mass produced were not nearly as good.

Were Stalin’s ruthless methods for industrializing Russia worth the price?

Stalin’s Five Year Plans had an incredible result. They were extremely successful and Russia was able to not only get itself out of a rut, but to also become an industrial super power of the world.
Despite its success, The Five Year Plan was run by Stalin in an extremely ruthless way. Well over 10 million kulaks died alone, not to mention the countless other people who died of barren environments, starvation, exhausted labour, debt and other reasons. Also, in the process, thousands of crops and livestock were destroyed, causing a major setback.
Although the results of the strict Plans were devastating, Russia’s industry would not have become that strong that fast, and could have easily spiraled into debt and despair. It was imperative that the Five Year Plans were ruled with such a strong hand, because if there had been leniency, there would not have been any revolutionary substance to the plan. Therefore, Stalin’s ruthless methods for industrializing Russia were worth the price.

In your opinion, which aspect of rapidly growing Soviet industry benefited most/least during this period?

The aspect of the rapidly growing Soviet industry that benefited most during this period was the total industrial output, which was a goal of the Five Year Plans. Heavy industrial production was to increase by 330%, pig iron by 300%, coal by 200%, electric power by 400% and agriculture production by 150%. The aspect of the rapidly growing Soviet industry that benefited the least during this period was collectivization. Although it improved Soviet agriculture, it had its downfalls including kulak resistance which brought on a famine. Therefore the heavy industry was the most improved and successful, while collectivization was the least beneficial.


DeMarco, Neil. The World This Century: Working with Evidence. London, England: Collins Educational, 1987.

Mitchner, E. Alyn. Tuffs, R. Joanne. Global Forces: of the Twentieth Century. Toronto, Ontario: Nelson, Thomson Canada Limited, 2003.

Cambridge, Maureen. “Russian History: Reign of Stalin: Five Year Plans.” Chico Unified School District. 18 October 2010.

Unknown. “So”. Marxists Internet Archive. 19 October 2010.


Joseph Stalin:


Coal Miner: