Stalin’s 5 Year Plan for Economic Mass Murder | BETWEEN 2 WARS I 1932 Part 1 of 4

So what do you do when you’ve ostensibly
created the dictatorship of the proletariat, but you hardly have any proletarians? You
build factories, lots of them, because where there are factories there are workers. But
if most of the peasants become workers, who will provide the workers with bread? And now
that we’ve abolished commerce, what will the workers do with their wages? These are
some of the questions facing Stalin in 1932 as his first five year plan for state controlled
industrialization goes into its chaotic last year Welcome to Between-2-Wars a chronological
summary of the interwar years, covering all facets of life, the uncertainty, hedonism,
and euphoria, and ultimately humanity’s descent into the darkness of the Second World
War. I’m Indy Neidell. As the twenties progress, the USSR comes under
increasing pressure from within to evolve. The country faces constant food shortages,
despite that the former lands of the Russian Tsar are mainly agricultural. Industry is
underdeveloped and infrastructure is far behind the western world. Stalin and the rest of
the soviet Central Committee also perceive themselves to be under imminent threat from
both within and abroad, so they want more military power. During the years of the civil war and the
ensuing wars, this had been solved with what became known as “War Communism”. Pretty
much a euphemism for systematic plunder and robbery through war-spoils, expropriation,
and forced requisitioning of agricultural produce. Coupled with the abolition of free
commerce and trade, by 1921 this is having disastrous effects on the economy, with widespread
starvation and unemployment crippling Bolshevik Russia and its dominions. Vladimir Lenin, then leader of the Soviet
sees no other way out than to implement his New Economic Policy, the NEP. It’s an attempt
to solve the immediate economic problems by reintroducing elements of free market economics,
such as profit-seeking and private trade. Yet several features, including banking and
large industries, remain under state control. It solves the immediate pains somewhat, most
significantly it leads to less starvation, but doesn’t create much progress, especially
not in manufacturing and infrastructure. See, the central problem for what has now
become the USSR is that going back to the old ways won’t solve that it’s in large
parts still stuck in a pre-industrialized economic structure, which is perhaps paradoxical
for a country that has now gone through a revolution meant to liberate the industrial
working class masses. In reality, this means that it is everything but well suited for
Karl Marx predicted worker’s revolution that he foresaw in the industrialized countries
of western Europe, not the agrarian East. Marx posited that the establishment of socialism
would come organically as a result of a majority working class in an industrialized society
creating social change from the grass roots. It’s the belief that once freed of its shackles,
and once class has been abolished by revolution, the proletariat will magically rule itself
in a blissful dictatorship of the proletariat. But in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, if you
feel that this Marxist vision is even possible and a must, such industrialization will have
to be carried out to create this working class, and until then the application of state power
will need to be top-down. Obviously, it’s quite a bit more complicated that that, but
vastly simplified: although the Bolsheviks claim a revolution in the name of the proletariat
and the peasants, their relationship to the peasant class is at best ambivalent, and at
times downright murderous, as we shall see here and in a later episode. Anyway, when Lenin dies in 1924, the other
Communist leaders spend a few years infighting about who is going to be the new boss, instead
of addressing this elephant in the room. It is mainly Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky who
vie for power. To make a long story short; in 1928 Stalin emerges victorious as he expels
Trotsky from the party and forces him into exile. Stalin now feels an urgent need to take the
Russian dominated Soviet Union forward at any price. He feels that the USSR is under imminent threat
of either falling apart, or being dissembled from external forces, or as he will ask rhetorically
in 1931, “Do you want our socialist fatherland to be beaten and to lose its independence?
If you do not want this, you must put an end to its backwardness in the shortest possible
time.” With fresh memories of the First World War,
the Russian Civil War, the attempts at independence of the former western lands of the Russian
Empire that resulted in millions of deaths, military needs are seen as fundamental. Beginning
in 1926, the Soviet government undergoes a war scare that intensifies in 1927. While
an imminent threat does not necessarily exist, the fear is not baseless. Just in January
1927, senior figures such as the Editor-in-Chief of Pravda Nikolai Bukharin, Chairman of the
Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union Alexei Rykov, and People’s Commissar
for Defense of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov all warn of the imminence of war. In the East they fear that Japan or even the
US might renew activities on the Russian Western Pacific Rim that ended after the Civil War.
They worry that Great Britain, who had also been involved in the civil war, might encourage
encroachment eastward by Poland. This worry is made particularly strong by Poland’s
policy of ‘Prometheanism’, a program by Józef Piłsudski, who is now dictator of
Poland, to weaken the Soviet Union by supporting nationalist and separatist movements. To counter this they need more arms, but they
can no longer rely on ‘War Communism’. There simply isn’t enough left to plunder.
And despite a secret military exchange between the Red Army and the German Reichswehr starting
already in 1921, they have few international allies that will support them. They can and
do purchase arms from abroad, but lack the cash or credit worthiness needed to do so
at scale, not to mention that it makes them dependent on foreign relations. Faced with all these urgencies Stalin, with
his deep-seated hatred of capitalism sees only one way out – a strict military style
plan for rapid state-controlled industrialization. And rapid is an understatement, in the same
speech as earlier in 1931 he says, “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 go under.”
So, as much as ten times faster than the west developed. His instrument for that will be
his Five Year Plans, with goals set not on realism and opportunity, but ideology and
necessity. Rather than permitting the market to determine cost, production, and consumption,
the Five Year Plan is dictated by the government. Quotas are established for various products
with the goal of increasing production significantly. All while the Soviet economy has barely recovered
to its 1914 levels by 1928. It will be a brutal plan built knowingly on the suffering, starvation,
and death of millions of Soviet citizens. In fact, the targets are more than ambitious,
they are simply unrealistic. The most dramatic effect on the people will come out of how
they plan to feed the masses executing their plan. We will cover that in a separate episode
in detail, but for now it’s enough to say that the agrarian part of the plan has two
parts; forced collectivization of all farms, and ‘the liquidation of the kulaks as a
class,’ with the latter turning into downright mass murder. It is, in short, a catastrophic
failure. Between 1928 and 1933, agricultural output diminishes by 18.5% with livestock
products falling by a stunning 56%. Not only does this create food shortages,
even starvation, it has serious knock on effects. For instance; the sudden drop in cattle, which
were needed for draft power to plow the fields, results in a rise of the number of tractors
needed. Instead of adjusting the plan, they simply raise the quota of new tractors. Decline
in food production leads to the implementation of rationing in peacetime, decreasing productivity
of the hungering workers. When they can’t fulfill the quotas, they’re just moved to
the next deadline. Other materials, such as various metals, have to be imported. To finance
that, they export food products like grain that are already not sufficient to feed the
population. Even for an isolated economy like the USSR, starting in October 1929 the global
depression further exacerbates import and export goals, but the plan still doesn’t
change. As Stalin tightens his dictatorial grip, and
his goals are not met, he uses radicalization to try to force to goals through. More cautious engineers are denounced as undermining
the Soviet Union’s advancement and labelled bourgeois saboteurs. The plan become more
and more divorced from the reality on the ground. And yet, in 1931, Stalin confidently
claims “There are no fortresses Bolsheviks cannot capture!” Economic planners with
more limited visions are marginalized while ideologues are promoted in their place in
an increasingly out of control system. But, as the economic historian Eugène Zaleski
notes, the goals may have been largely immaterial. “Stalin was a man of action, and industrialization
meant for him the intensified construction of factories, the development of new branches
of industry and new regions, the improvement of labor skills, and the reduction of economic
dependence on the outside world. His vision of industrial development was of a vast program
of large works, but works carried out under the impetus of a drive imbued with ideological
fanaticism. Under these conditions, what would it matter whether these immense works were
completed in three, four, or ten years?” But the optimism that took hold of the planners
had some justification. Following the end of the Russian Civil War, the Soviet economy,
and the industrial sector in particular, saw a high growth rate. Experience in the First
World War also contributed to the belief that resources were underutilized. For example,
the Russian Empire had greater economic output in 1916 than in 1913 despite the effects of
the war, including territorial losses. And as mentioned earlier, the ongoing war scare
helped produce an existential fear in which rapid industrialization was less of a choice
but more of an urgent and unavoidable necessity. And, believe it or not- in terms of industrial
output, although it doesn’t meet Stalin’s insane goals, it is undoubtedly effective.
Industrial output skyrockets, taking the Soviet Union from being the fifth nation in absolute
terms of industrial capacity in 1928 to being the second by 1932, trailing only the United
States. Not only that, many of the goals are achieved ahead of time. With the statistics
on the first two years in hand, Stalin proclaims that the plan could be achieved in four years,
partially due to what he calls “the enthusiasm of the workers”. This is embodied in posters
that read “2+2=5”. And it isn’t a transformation that just
focuses on putting out product. Prior to the Five Year Plan, the Soviet Union lacks even
the basic industries, which are needed for industrial development in the first place.
So they depend on tools and machinery from abroad, or as the Soviet foreign trade theoretician
D. D. Mishustin will note in 1938, the country’s development depended on “capitalist technology”
and that “equipment of the very latest design and construction” was required “in order
to free the country from the need of importing this machinery and equipment once the goal
had been reached.” But now in 1932, the Soviets are still in
desperate need of western machinery so that they continue exporting their badly needed
goods, such as grain while the population starves. And it isn’t just food that is scarce, living
standards overall suffer considerably. While urban housing increases by 12%, it doesn’t
keep up with massive urban population growth. And this is a slap in the face of the workers,
who now go into newly built modern factories only to return home to pre-war era housing
units without any kind of sanitation. Health care can’t keep up with urbanization and
so on. But even if all that is solved, it’s not enough to just keep people alive to keep
them productive. They Bolsheviks now have to train largely
uneducated peasants into skilled machine operators. It turns out to be a massive challenge, but
they do manage to increase the skilled workforce to some degree with systematic training and
new incentive structures. Skilled workers are given better housing and higher food rations.
In October 1931, their wages increase on average by 30%. For some in the coal and metal industries,
wages even increase by 100%. But what good are wage increases if one can’t
spend money? Prior to the first Five Year Plan, mass consumer goods were largely absent
in the Soviet Union. The population instead relied on handcrafted products. But the kurstany
(‘handicraft workers’) are essentially wiped out as a category in 1928 with the forceful
elimination of private industry. In 1931/32 when it becomes clear that paying people when
there is nothing to buy doesn’t make much sense, the kurstany are permitted to resume
their old trade. In parallel, state owned and run stores open that provide the slowly
increasing output of consumer goods, and the scarce food products. In the countryside food is not only scarce,
but hardly available at all, especially between summer 1932 and spring 1933. You see, by then
to feed the growing proletariat, the Bolsheviks are simply going into the countryside and
taking the already meager food away from the peasants, even literally stealing it off their
kitchen tables. In this year 1932 into mid 1933 farmers and their families will die in
droves especially in Ukraine, they will starve to the point that many of them will simply
drop dead as they walk. Men, women, children, families, whole villages will succumb to what
can only be described as a genocide by hunger. All in all, at least 4.5 million people, perhaps
many more will pay with their lives for Stalin’s progress program. They die for a program of industrialization
that will play an essential role in events causing even more deaths of Soviet citizens
in only eight years. But it will also have another essential effect
on WW2, in fact a decisive role. The Kremlin’s effort at spreading out industry throughout
the country, not just in the western and European portion of the country, results in massive
industrialization past the Ural Mountains and in Central Asia. Great sprawling factories
in the heartland of Russia where an invading army will have great difficulty to reach them.
Factories that might now be producing tractors, but can easily be transformed into making
guns, ammunitions, planes, and tanks. Overall, it’s a transformation on a scale that is
hardly imaginable. One day it will amaze Hitler who, in the only surviving recording of a
private conversation by the Führer, will express his utter shock to Finnish Field Marshal
Mannerheim that in a single Soviet tank factory there are sixty thousand workers… and that
is only one factory. Across the Soviet Union there will be millions and millions of workers
producing an endless output of the tools of death with tools carved from the dead. To understand how Stalin came into power in
the first place, you can view our Between Two Wars episode about that by clicking right
here. Our patron of the week is Nicholas Arblaster. Thanks to Nicholas and the TimeGhost Army,
we can make more videos just like this. Remember to subscribe and click the bell! See you next

  1. Debating the concepts, definition and framework of Marxism, Communism and Socialism is something that historians don't seem to get enough of, much like applying these theories to historical and contemporary phenomena. The study of how these theories turned into ideology and what effect that had on nations, cultures, peoples and wars is a very interesting field of history, which can be debated to great lengths, which we ourselves also like to engage and participate in. However, we want to once again emphasise that we will only allow debate within the generally accepted rules of academic debate. Keep it civil, substantiated, name your sources whenever possible and stay away from pseudo-science and contemporary politics. We are fierce believers in the benefits of academic debate and don't want to resort to turning off the comments, as other channels might do when talking about subjects like the 5-year plan or the Holodomor.
    Cheers, Joram

    STAY CIVIL AND POLITE we will delete any comments with personal insults, or attacks.
    AVOID PARTISAN POLITICS AS FAR AS YOU CAN we reserve the right to cut off vitriolic debates.
    HATE SPEECH IN ANY DIRECTION will lead to a ban.
    RACISM, XENOPHOBIA, OR SLAMMING OF MINORITIES will lead to an immediate ban.

  2. Stalin in a nutshell
    U go to gulag
    Write many names on a death note
    Cause more deaths
    Send more to gulag
    Fire and kill some officers
    Fite a crazy moustache Austrians
    Send more to gulag
    Do KGB stuff

  3. But can you qualify as post-Lenin's USSR as a Dictatorship of the Proletariat? The Communist Party of the Soviet Union did not conducted the popular elections to elect members of the soviets and other common folk into the Congress as Lenin wanted, the workers were not the owners of the means of production, the Soviet state was. Private Property was not seized and given to the workers as managers, the state did seized private property but transformed into state property, and so on.

  4. Would the Soviet Union have been able to defeat the Germas without Stalin's brutal industrialisation measures,
    or did Stalin weaken the Soviet Union more with The Great Purge?

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