To what extent were Stalin’s five-year plans an economic success/improved the Russian economy?
When in power, Stalin realized that if Russia was to become a key player in the global market, the country needed to industrialize rapidly and increase production. To do this, Stalin introduced the Five-year Plans. Stalin’s ultimate aim was to expand industrial production. For this, he developed three Five-year Plans between 1928 and 1938. In terms of meeting these aims economically speaking; the plan was broadly a success. Production of raw materials increased with coal and iron outputs doubling and defense armaments growing rapidly as resources were diverted to them. The five-year plans transformed the out-datedness of the country, creating a massive urban working class and trebling electricity production. As well as improving the economy and achieving military strength this expansion gave Russia enough strength to resist and eventually beat the powerful Nazis in 1941. In addition, the plan’s strengthened the economy, as there was 14% annual growth. USSR’s economic standing in relation to other countries improved.
However elements of the plans were less successful for the economy. As the plan itself basically consisted as a series of high production targets, Stalin expected them to be met. In reality, there was little coordination between industries meaning targets were not reached and fake production figures were delivered instead. Due to the strict expectation to meet said targets, producers focused on quantity rather than quality resulting in a large amount of wasted produce that were not manufactured correctly in a bid to save time and make as much as possible.
Not only did the plans improve the economy, to an extent they improved Stalin’s political status. The direct action he took enforcing the plans cemented his political leadership in the country and no longer allowed him to be seen as Lenin’s pupil. Furthermore, the five-year plans were the most successful economic system Russia had ever had, outdoing previous policies including the NEP and Tsarism. The success of the plan was also evidence that Stalin’s political philosophy of communism was working giving him an ideological upper hand considering the time at which the plans were in full practice, major capitalist countries were suffering from a depression.
Despite this, the social problems brought about by the plans lost Stalin a lot of support from both Russian people and the party. Whilst there is evidence of some social benefits of the plan such as the fact it brought the country together due to the large work force and encouraged genuine communist enthusiasm and patriotism amongst the young ‘pioneers’, the systems resulted in an appalling human cost. Improving living standards was never an objective of the five-year plan. Workers were sustained by rations, which provided a significantly poor diet, contributing to the catastrophic famine, which left 10,000,000 dead. Working conditions also deteriorated under the five-year plans, workers were allowed to work in unsafe conditions because their managers were more concerned about meeting government production targets. Additionally, Labour disciple was harsh. Lateness was criminalized, strikes were outlawed and workers who broke machinery were accused of being capitalist saboteurs and exiled to forced labor camps. Not only this, but industrial workers often referred to as ‘white coal workers’ had no rights and Sunday became another working day for them.
To conclude the plans were a success to some extent. They modernized and industrialized Russia, and significantly increased production of machinery, steel, coal and electricity, among other things. However, the working conditions were very harsh, as were punishments for not meeting production targets. This led to poor quality of life for the workers so whilst Russia’s economy may have grown as a result, the Russian population itself was significantly weakened.