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Stalin’s economic policies consisted mainly of two factors, Collectivisation and the Five Year Plans. Stalin’s economic policies were definitely a success to some extent, especially when referring to the increase in production and number of workers that were free to move to industry due to collectivisation. These were two of Stalin’s main aims, therefore economically and politically his policies were highly successful. However when judging the extent of this success we must consider the huge social suffering that was caused due to these polices, as in my opinion these disastrous failures outweigh the contrasting success’s.
One of Stalin’s aims was to achieve rapid industrialisation in the Soviet Union, in order to protect it from the threat of war. Stalin said that ‘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.’ This shows that he believed the need to industrialise quickly was just as important as the need to industrialise.
To achieve this Stalin set up ambitious targets known as the Five Year Plans (FYP) to encourage his workers to accomplish rapid industrialisation.
Stalin’s aims for the FYP’s were partially achieved. Especially during the first FYP emphasis was placed on the heavy industry for example, coal, iron, steel and electricity. In most areas Stalin set the target to double production. In December 1932 it was announced that the first FYP had been so successful that it was to finish a year early, although when looking at the figures many of the targets had not been reached, all raw material production had hugely increased.
In addition to the funding it received, increased production in heavy industry was achieved by improving efficiency in existing factories, as well as developing new industrial plants.
Stalin used the impressive statistics of increased production in heavy industry as evidence of his wise leadership and the triumph of socialism in Russia. Nonetheless, behind soviet propaganda lay a chaotic economy in which the struggle to meet targets created enormous inefficiencies and low labour productivity. Although it cannot be denied that production had greatly increased by the end of the first FYP, many of the official targets were never met. Party officials who did not meet their production targets were demoted, sacked or in some case executed as enemies of the state. This fear forced some officials to lie about the amount of raw materials produced, making it appear that targets had been met, when in reality many factories were lagging behind.
Also because the targets only referred to the amount of product created and not the quality large proportion of materials produced were of such a poor quality that they were effectively useless. Improving living standards was never an objective of the plan, so to some extent the decline of living standards cannot be judged a failure but it does indicate that the plan was poorly formulated, and Stalin was willing to sacrifice the social aspects of his country to improve the economic. During the first FYP record production was accompanied by a decline of living standards and further restrictions in personal freedom.
The targets for the second FYP were more realistic than the First, and its achievements were more modest. The government announced again that the targets had been met a year early and in fact been overfilled by 3%, the output of steel for example trebled, largely due to production from the new plants such as Magnitogorsk. One of the aims of the second FYP was to improve transport which was a success as the first lines of the Moscow metro were built in 1935. Additionally, the Moscow-Volga Canal was completed between 1932 and 1937. The canal allowed the transportation of large quantities of material throughout Western Russia. In early 1934 bread rationing was ended which was soon followed by the end of rationing other commodities such as meat and butter. The wages of industrial workers also increased and there was a small improvement in living standards.
However along with all of these successes came many new chronic failures. There was a huge lack of coordination between the different branches of industry. For example in order to meet their targets, factory managers would hoard resources that were in short supply which simply meant larger scarcity of these products to others. Also, when the factories had been built and loaded with new machinery to increase efficiency, no one thought about the need for spare parts to fix this machinery when it was broken, without the appropriate parts, machinery remained idle and unproductive. Thirdly due to the threat or exile or execution everyone was too frightened to report faults or problems with the FYP’s so they could not be improved.
Consequently, the practice of lying about figures that emerged under the First FYP continued into the second. Finally, the mid-1930’s saw the emergence of a new and sometimes shocking social inequalities. This became very clear in the Stakhanovite movement, where the most efficient workers would be rewarded with luxury flats and copious amounts of food, whereas the other workers were living in their own squalor. As well as the over-achieving workers, party officials were also living the high life. 55,000 senior Communists were entitled to better food, better clothes and better accommodation to the average citizen. This was a mass divide that should not exist in any society, let alone a Socialist one.
The Third FYP ended brusquely after three and a half years because of Russia’s entry to the Second World War. Largely, the Third FYP used the methods developed in the First FYP in war production, in an attempt to prepare Russia for war with Germany. However while the total number of war products increased significantly there were still many on-going problems with production methods and the quality of products produced. The Third FYP saw the increase of a new style of workers discipline which was now being used to ensure war production continued to rocket. This discipline was enforced by Stalin’s purges, which resulted in the removal or execution of many experienced industrial managers, leading to the chaos of the party that had characterised the First FYP.
Between 1928 and 1941, Russia was transformed from a rural society to a highly industrialised one. Stalin’s objective had been to turn Russia into a world power, which he has succeeded in and many argue that without the FYP’s Russia would have been defeated by Germany. However it cannot be forgotten that along with industrialisation had come famine and social disaster. While large amounts of raw materials were produced, and industry grew at an exceptional rate, the Russian economy as a whole remained hopelessly inefficient.
The second of Stalin’s economic policy was Collectivisation. Collectivisation was the Communists; long-term aim for agriculture. Traditionally Russian peasants had worked individually on small farms with very little technology. Stalin hoped to re-invent the way Russians farmed by joining together many small farms and producing one large farm with less workers and more machinery. This was to free up workers for industry and make farming on the whole, more efficient.
On paper Collectivisation seemed like a good idea for a communist society as it would abolish the class system and the capitalist’s methods of farming, in theory it would mean that everyone would be equal and working towards the good of the country, instead of farming to create food and profit for themselves, nevertheless in practice it was very different. In 1927 Collectivisation was introduced as a voluntary scheme, however at the beginning of 1929 it became clear the Russian peasants were not about to give up their freedom and individualism that easily, and so Stalin re-introduced Collectivisation as mandatory. There was huge resistance from peasants; they reacted to the seizure of their grain by burning their houses and slaughtering their livestock. The majority of the peasant population were not willing to cooperate with these new extreme policies.
Kulaks in particular did not like the new policy of Collectivisation. Stalin responded to this with an instruction to ‘liquidate the kulaks as a class’. Which vastly increased the speed of Collectivisation, Stalin had proposed that by the end of 1934 30% of Russia’s farms would be collectivised, whereas ‘dekulakisation’ entailed immediate collectivisation of all farming in Russia. Stalin’s idea was to have the poorest peasants to lead the way, this was due to the idea that they could join with other farms and share the Kulaks equipment and much greater harvest. However these poor peasants were a minority and the only ones who could see a benefit from Collectivising. To the rest of Russia Collectivisation meant loss of independence as well as financial loss. Therefore most of the peasants rebelled. Stalin simply fought this rebelling with more force.
Collectivisation was Stalin’s method of bringing socialism and economic efficiency to the countryside. In those terms it failed. It was also linked to industrialisation and in this sense there was some success. Although the policy created economic chaos, famine and massive open hostility to the government, it did strengthen Stalin’s position and in this way it was a political triumph.
Economically Stalin’s goals were partially achieved as he did create more free peasants to begin working in industry. By the end of Collectivisation there was 66% of Russian farms collectivised, which could also be seen as a failure as the aim was for all of them to be collectivised. One of the aims was also to provide more grain for export in order to generate funds to begin industrialising. Although the amount of grain produced did fall and never returned to post-war levels, the amount seized and procured did create a surplus for exporting. In 1928 the state procured 11 million tonnes of grain, and this rose to 16 million tonnes in 1929. Along with these economic successes came the economic failures, as grain production had fallen hugely and the peasant’s rebellion meant most of it was burnt and many livestock was slaughtered. The peasants were also working for low wages and had poor living conditions.
Politically, the chaos created by collectivisation in some way had managed to unite the party and made them feel stronger than before. Stalin had also emerged as a powerful leader and his capability was no longer doubted. Also the population was urbanised which was one of the main aims of collectivisation. However the famine and poverty in the countryside had created a feeling of crisis among many of the communist party.
Although there were many successes of collectivisation, and it had created a fund to begin industrialisation and made Stalin appear as a strong and powerful leader, it had had a devastating effect on Russia’s peasantry. 10,000,000 people had been exiled as part of the dekulakisation drive. In 1929 150,00 Kulak families were sent to Siberia, this figure then rose again to 285,000 in 1931.
The peasants who now worked on the new collectivised farms endured humungous hardship. They were constantly set unrealistic targets and paid low wages for the mass of crops that were produced. Most farms were barely able to cover their production costs and instead of filling them with communist spirit and preparing them for industrialisation, it created anger and vast resentment towards the new leader. Grain requisitioning caused 7 million peasants to die of famine, and along with many farms being collectivised came mass unemployment.
In conclusion, Stalin’s economic policies were a personal and a propaganda success, whereas in reality they had had detrimental effects on the Russian population. Many of Stalin’s aims were met and to him that was all that mattered. He refused to acknowledge the mass suffering that his new economic policies had created.
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