Node Your Homework, Part Deux: My History paper on Stalin's Five-year Plan

Five Years that Shook the World:

Stalin's Five-year Plan

Joseph Stalin said that "there are no fortresses that the Bolsheviks cannot storm" (Moynahan 126), and it fell to him to apply this force to his own country. The notion of removing the peasants from farms they had lived on for their whole lives and bringing them under the authority of state-owned collectives, known as "collectivization," had been considered but not fully implemented under V.I. Lenin. Beginning in August of 1928, however, Stalin began to implement his Five-Year Plan, through which he hoped both to collectivize the Russian countryside and to bring Russian industry up to Western standards. This plan, ambitious as it was, had to work in the face of, and eventually fail at the hands of, the corruption within the Communist Party, the workers and peasants' mistrust, and the inefficiency of the government. Though the Five-Year Plan was an inspired attempt to realize visions of Socialist greatness and a modern and efficient Russia, Communist corruption, peasant suspicions and governmental incompetence proved its ultimate downfall.

Stalin's economic plans from 1928 to 1933 were unprecedented in scope and ambition. He realized that "we [Russia] are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this leeway in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us" (Channon 108), and so moved ahead with the Five-Year Plan (a name subsequently given to similar policies), which comprised two distinct proposals: that Russian industry be pulled up by the bootstraps to the level of western Europe, and that the peasantry be brought under the control of state-owned collective farms, or kolkhozy. Stalin's plans for Russia's industrial advances were ambitious almost to the point of fantasy: he wanted an increase of total industrial output by 250%, heavy industry by 330%. He wanted, as well, to increase coal production by two, pig iron production by three, and electric energy output by four (Dziewanowski 192). Stalin also sought to establish new industrial centers in the Urals, Kuzbass, and the Volga, areas previously established as either farmland or forfeit. In contrast to these industrial goals, collectivization projections were initially modest: Stalin sought to collectivize only 25% of peasants, though he mandated that food production be increased by 150%. As foreshadowed by Russian historian M. K. Dziewanowski, "How this paradox was to be resolved was a mystery."

As the implementation of the Five-Year Plan began, a large amount of the Russian government's effort went towards neutralizing the threat, real or perceived, of rich land-owning peasants, or kulaks. At the Plan's inception, the term meant "those who had more land and more horses and hired labor to help them cultivate their crops" (Dziewanowski 193), but that definition grew to include anyone who opposed collectivization. Russian historian Peter Kenez describes three degrees of kulaks: those that were "especially dangerous," 5 million of whom were sent to Siberia; those seen as political threats, who were forcibly evicted and had their property confiscated; and the less dangerous ones, who could remain where they were, but whose personal belongings were appropriated by the state (87). Stalin's proposed "liquidation of the kulaks as a class" (Kenez 86), at first intended to distribute the wealth of the richer peasants to state-owned enterprises, soon turned into a witch-hunt bent on crushing those who opposed the Party; eventually, so much as "complaining if there was a power outage, or if a train was late" would be reported to the secret police (Moynahan 127).

Now that the Five-year Plan was under way, the corruption of the Communist Party began eating away at its gilded edges. The Party established "special boards" to keep track of "socially dangerous" people, such as Christians, who had no interest in "the Plan's earthly prosperity" (Sorlin 140); such persons were persecuted and exiled until 1930, when Christians were taken off the list, although priests "suspected of having dealings with kulaks or of engaging in some business activity" were sent to prison (Ibid.). Also, Party members would use the system and each other to avoid work (Appendix A): a Communist would get elected as leader of a kolkhoz, and then appoint other Party members to high-ranking (and requiring minimal work) positions. The desire of the Party to elevate Russia's economic status also took its toll on the peasantry: rather than feed what grain that remained during the famine to the starving peasants, the state chose to sell it for export. In doing this, the government was punitively as well as economically motivated, says M.K. Dziewanowski: "The decision... was to punish the widespread resistance to the Kremlin's decrees rather than to diminish the amount of hard currency that the food export generated" (194). As a result of such policy, "some 10,000,000 peasants may have perished" in the greater famines, especially in the Ukraine (Hingley).

Another crack in the Five-Year Plan's weakening façade was the peasantry's resistance to coöperate with a plan that robbed them of their land and placed them in disorganized collectives. The number of peasants in kolkhozy increased astronomically within a few months: from 7.4% of all peasants in collectives in September 1929, to 15% in December 1929, to 60% in January 1930. Despite these impressive statistics, the peasants were less than willing to contribute their livestock to the collective cause: by 1938, privately-owned farms accounted for 3% of the land, but held over half of all the cattle in Russia (Channon 108). There were three reasons that peasants would join the kolkhozy: the desire to belong to a community; fear of state-organized "shock brigades," who would "persuade" those who did not join voluntarily to do so; and the fear, either pre-existing or instilled by propaganda campaigns, of kulaks and other enemies of the Party (Sorlin 146). Although there was no organized peasant resistance against collectivization, peasants did engage in more subtle forms of sabotage, such as sabotaging farm equipment or killing their own livestock, lest these materials be contributed to the Party's cause (Dziewanowski 87). Such sabotage, real or imagined, was labelled "wrecking" by the Party (Moynahan 127), and was a serious infraction, no matter how insubstantial the crime. The third major shortcoming of the Five-year Plan was the government's inability to efficiently manage the resources at its disposal. Theoretically, trained agronomists from Moscow would evaluate each kolkhoz's environment, deciding which crops were most suitable for the land. However, the sheer impossibility of what J.P. Nettl calls "the wish dream of collectivization" (117) came to the fore once again, as there were only 20,000 such agronomists, who were expected to preside over 250,000 kolkhozy. This trained-labor shortage wreaked havoc on the collectives: soil could not be analyzed to optimize farm output, and the same seeds were distributed everywhere, no matter the climate or conditions (Sorlin 154). Furthermore, the acme of the command economy—total state control at the level of the farm-workers—forced the state to concern itself with all of the minutiae associated with the management of a farm, for which it had neither the training nor the time. In another complication, the instructions on which crops to plant and when to plant them that came from Moscow (theoretically) could be delayed, mangled, or outright lost, due to the difficulty of communications between the Kremlin and the countryside.

The utter failure of the Five-year Plan was a combined product of the corruption of the Communist Party, the distrust of the peasants and the incompetence of the Russian government. There were two other Five-Year Plans after the first one: the second went from 1933 to 1937, and was hindered from the outset by the famine of 1932-33; and the third, begun in 1939, was terminated prematurely by the German invasion of 1941 (Channon 109). However, the success of these plans in the agricultural arena was limited: by 1941, grain levels were still not as high as they had been in 1928 (Ibid.). The newly established and previously existing industrial centers were sometimes able to meet the overzealous quotas, but at the cost of quality of goods, and despite the government's propaganda campaigns publicizing "Stakhanovites," or highly productive workers, workers grew discouraged when faced with the impossible task set out for them, especially as the most skilled workers and engineers were conscripted to work for national defense (Channon 109). Russia was at last prepared to compete industrially with the United States, but at the cost of peasants' homes, their property, and their lives.

Appendix A

...A local Communist appeared [at the kolkhoz]; he had no job or any particular skill, but the one thing he was determined to avoid was factory work. By applying a certain amount of pressure and making some vague promises, he managed to get himself elected president of the kolkhoz. The local cell backed him all the way, and, once elected, he rewarded it by giving each Communist a salaried post: one became an "economist," another a storekeeper, another a "propagandist." Soon, all the militants were well placed and were living in idleness at the expense of the kolkhoz. The farmers were in no position to protest: any conscientious manager would have seen at a glance that they were spending half their time attending to their own work and feeding their pigs with kolkhoz grain... (Sorlin 154-5)

Works Cited

Channon, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Dziewanowski, M.K. A History of Soviet Russia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1985.

Hingley, Ronald F. "Stalin, Joseph." /bcom/eb/article/0/0,5716,114890+4+108469,00.html (17 Jan. 2001).

Kenez, Peter. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Moynahan, Brian. The Russian Century: A History of the Last 100 Years. New York: Random House, 1994.

Nettl, J.P. The Soviet Achievement. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967.

Sorlin, Pierre. The Soviet People and Their Society. New York: Fred A. Praeger, 1964.

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