Harvest of Despair



Five-year plans were the model of economic development and investment adopted by the Soviet government. Economic output, growth and investment were planned out for increments of five years.

With Stalin’s ascendancy to power, the program of “socialism in one country” was adopted and the New Economic Policy was abandoned in favor of a planned, centrally controlled economy. The first five-year plan was adopted on 1 October 1928 and declared completed in four and a quarter years – on 31 December 1932. This five-year plan saw investment in industry on an unprecedented scale – mainly in the capital goods industries. The second five-year plan (1933-37) saw the consolidation and broadening of this program. The USSR, it was argued, had to catch up to the developed economies of North America and Western Europe or risk being destroyed by capitalist countries.

The achievements in industry of the USSR in this time were immense – industrial production in 1928-37 increased by 12-18 percent a year, mass unemployment was eliminated and illiterate or poorly-qualified peasants were trained in industrial skills. The first two five-year plans also saw the production on a mass scale of military materiel, which later assisted the USSR in defending itself against the German invasion.

However, the costs of the first two five-year plans were incalculable. In order to pay for the technology needed for rapid industrialization and to invest massively in the development of industry, the USSR exported its most important commodity – grain. The first five-year plan saw the introduction of the forced collectivization of agriculture. Thereafter, peasants would be wage-laborers on state land. Between seven and ten million people starved to death in Ukraine in 1932-3 as grain was being expropriated to pay for industrialization.

The achievements of Soviet industry in the 1930s were remarkable. However, the price for this development was paid for with the blood of millions of Soviet citizens – the 1932-3 Famine ravaged Ukraine, millions of citizens toiled at forced labor in abominable conditions in the Gulag, and millions of others were repressed for resisting the new social order being created through terror.