Stalin: The Five-Year Plans and the Purges Economic Planning



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Stalin: The Five-Year Plans and the Purges
Economic Planning
Hardly had the party expelled Trotsky when it appropriated certain fragments of his pro-gram. In 1928 it launched the First Five-Year Plan, aimed at rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. “Planning,” or the central planning of a century’s whole economic life by government officials, was to become the distinctive feature of Soviet economies and the one that was to have the greatest influence in the rest of the world.
In retrospect, it seems strange that the Communists waited ten years before adopting a plan. The truth seems to be that the Bolsheviks had only confused ideas of what to do after the seizure of power. Marxism for the most part gave only general hints. Marxism was primarily an analysis of existing or bourgeois society. It was also a theory of class war. But to portray any details of a future society, or specify what should be done after the class war had been won by the proletariat, was according to Marx and Engels sheer utopian fantasy. The bourgeoisie, to be sure would be destroyed; there would be “social ownership of the means of production,” and no “exploitation of man by man”; everyone would work, and there would be neither leisure class nor unemployment. This was not much to go on in the operation of a modern industrial system.
One great constructive idea had been mapped out, most clearly by Engels. Within each private enterprise, Engels had observed, harmony and order reigned; it was only between private enterprises that capitalism was chaotic. In the individual factory, he noted, the various departments did not compete with each other; the shipping department did not purchase from the production department at prices fluctuating according to daily changes in supply and demand; the output of all departments was planned and coordinated by management. In a larger way, the great capitalist mergers and trusts, controlling many factories, prevented blind competition between them, assigned specific quotas to each, anticipated, coordinates, and stabilized the work of each plant and each person by an overall policy. With the growth of large corporate enterprise, observed Engels, the area of economic life under free competition was constantly reduced was constantly, and the area bought under rational planning was constantly enlarged. Te obvious next step, ac-cording to Engels and other socialista, was to treat all the economic life of a country as a single factory with many departments, or a single enormous monopoly with many members, under one unified, vigorous, and far-seeing management.
During the First World War the governments of belligerent countries had in fact adopted such centralized controls. They had done so not because they were socialistic, but because in time of war people were willing to give up their usual liberties and willing to do as they were told by the government, and because all else was subordinated to a single overwhelming and undisputed social purpose—victory. The “planned society” therefore made its first actual (though incomplete) appearance in the First World War. It was partly from socialists doctrine as exemplified by Engels, partly from experience of the war, and in even larger measure from the irresistible pressure to meet the continued chronic problems of the country by raising its productive level Stalin and the party in Russia gradually developed the idea of a plan. The war experience was especially valu-able for the lessons it gave on technical questions of economic planning, such as what kind of bureaus to set up, what king of forecasts to make, and what kind of statistics to collect.
In the U.S.S.R. it was decided to plan for five years into the future, beginning with 1928. The aim of the plan was to strengthen and enrich the country, make it militarily and in-dustrially self-sufficient, lay the groundwork for a true workers’ society, and overcome the Russian reputation for backwardness. As Stalin said in a speech in 1929: “We are becoming a country of metal, a country of automobiles, a country of tractors. And when we have put the U.S.S.R. in a motor car and the muzhik in a tractor…we shall see which countries may then be ‘classified’ as backward and which as advanced.”
The First Five-Year Plan was declared fulfillment in 1932, and a second Five-Year Plan was launched, lasting until 1937. The Third, inaugurated in 1938, was interrupted by the war with Germany in 1941. New plans were introduced after 1945.
The First Five-Year Plan (like its successors) listed the economic goals to be achieved. It was administered by an agency called the Gosplan. Within the frame of general policy set by the party, the Gosplan determined how much of the national effort should go into the formation of capital, and how much into producing articles for daily consumption, what wages all classes of workers should receive and at what prices all goods should be exchanged. At the bottom level, in the individual factory, the local management drew up it’s “requirements” or estimates of what it would need in raw material, machinery, trained workers, plant facilities, and fuel, if it was to deliver the planned quantity of its product at a stated date. These estimates were passed up the planning ladder (or, thousands of such estimates up thousands of ladders) until they reached the Gosplan, which, balancing them against each other and against other needs as seen at the top, determining how much steel, coal, etc., should be produced, and in what qualities and grades; how many workers should be trained in technical schools and in what particular skills, how machines should be manufactured and how many spare parts; how many new freight cars should be constructed and which lines of railway track needed repair; and how, where when, and to whom the steel, coal, technicians, machines, and rolling stock should be made available. The plan, in short, undertook to control, by conscious management, the flow of resources and man-power which under free capitalism was regulated by shifts in demand and supply, through changes in prices, wage levels, profits, interest rates, or rent.
The system was exceedingly intricate. It was not easy to have the right number of ball bearings, for example, arrive at the right place at the right time, in exact correspondence

to the amounts of other materials or to the number of workers waiting to use them. Sometimes there was overproduction, sometimes underproduction. The plan was often amended as it was applied in action. Countless reports, checkups, and exchanges of information were necessary. A huge class of white-collar office workers came into exis-tence to handle the paperwork. The plan achieved some of its goals, exceeded a few, and failed in some.


The primary objective of the First Five-Year Plan was to build up the heavy industry, or capital wealth, of the U.S.S.R. The aim was to industrialize without the use of foreign loans. Russia in 1928 was still chiefly an agricultural country. The world offered hardly any case of a country shifting from agriculture to industry without borrowing capital from abroad. Great Britain, the original home of the Industrial Revolution, was the best example, although even there, in the eighteenth century, a great deal of capital invested in England was owned by the Dutch. An agricultural country could industrialize from its own resources only by drawing upon agriculture itself. An agricultural revolution had been prerequisite to an industrial revolution in England. By enclosure of land, the squeezing out of small independent farmers, and the introduction of scientific cultivation, under the auspices of a growing class of wealthy landowners. England had both increased its pro-duction of food and released many of the rural population to find employment in industry. The First Five-Year Plan called for a similar agricultural revolution in Russia, without ben-efit to landlords and under the auspices of the state.
The Collectivization of Agriculture
The plan, an originally conceived, called for the collectivization of only one-fifth of the farm population, but it was suddenly revised in the winter of 1929 to include the immediate

Collectivization of the greater part of the peasantry. The plan set up collective farms, averaging a few thousand acres apiece, which were considered to be the property not of the state but of the peasants collectively who resided on them. Individual peasants were to pool their privately owned fields and livestock in these collectives. Those peasants who possessed fields or stock in considerable amount, the prosperous peasants or kulaks, resisted surrendering them to the new collectives. The kulaks were therefore liquidated as a class. Zealous detachments of Communists from the cities often used more violence than the plan envisaged; poor peasants turned upon rich ones; hundreds of thousands of kulaks and their families were killed and many more transported to labor camps in remote parts of the Soviet Union. The trend that had gone on since Stolypin and indeed since the Emancipation, building up a class of property-owning, labor-hiring, and “bourgeois” peasants, was now abruptly reversed. Politically, the obstinate obstruction of individual-istic farmers was removed, and the peasantry was converted into a class more nearly resem-bling the proletariat of Marxian doctrine, a class of people who as individuals owned no capital and employed no labor, and so were better able to feel the advantage of a proletarian state. The year 1929, not 1917, was the great revolutionary year of most people in Russia.


Collectivization was accomplished at the cost of village class war in which the most capable farmers perished, and the cost also of a wholesale destruction of livestock. The big farmers slaughtered their horses, cattle, pigs, and poultry rather than give them up. Even middling and small farmers did the same, caring nothing about animals that were no longer their own, or naïvely expecting that under collectivism the state would soon furnish a new supply. The ruinous loss of animals was the worst unforeseen calamity of the First Five-Year Plan. Agricultural disorder, together with two summers of bad weather, was followed in 1932by temporary but deadly famine in southeast Russia that took the lives of an estimated 2 million to 3 million persons; the government meanwhile refused to cut back on export quotas because they were needed to pay for industrial imports under the Five-Year Plan. Agriculture remained the weakest sector of the Soviet economy.
By introducing thousand-acre units in place of very small ones, collectivization made it possible to apply capital to the soil. Formerly the average peasant had been far too poor to buy a tractor and his fields too tiny and dispersed for him to use one, so that only a few rare kulaks had employed any machinery. In the course of the First Five-Year Plan hundreds of Machine Tractor Stations were organized throughout the country. Each, in its region, maintained a force of tractors, harvesters, combines, expert agronomists, etc., which were dispatched from one collective farm to another by local arrangement. The application of capital increased the output per peasant. It was also much easier admini-strativly for higher authorities to get control over the agricultural surplus (products not consumed by the village itself) from a single collective farm than from numerous small and unorganized peasants. Each collective was assigned a quota on which it contracted in advance to make delivery. Members of the collective could sell in a free market any products they raised beyond this quota; but meanwhile the government knew the quantity of agricultural produce it could count on, either to feed the cities and other regions that did not produce their own food, or for export in the world market to pay for imports of machinery from the West. By 1939 all but a negligible fraction of the peasantry were collectivized. Although collectivization failed to increase agricultural output, it accom-plished the goal of insuring state control over agricultural production. Simultaneously, it made possible the success of industrialization by augmenting the supply of industrial workers. Since the villages needed less labor, 20 million people moved from country to city between the years 1926 and 1939 and were available for jobs in the new industries.
It was the peasants who bore the burden of collectivization. Not only had they been subjected to violence and expropriation, but the new collectives threw the peasant back into something like the mir, condemning him to the rounds of communal living, robbing him of the chance to make any decisions of his own. By obliging peasants to make “deliveries” below market prices, it even revived some features of the type of serfdom and forced labor that had prevailed a century before over most of eastern Europe. On the other hand, although the collectives varied widely in their degree of prosperity, it is probable that by 1939 a great many of the rural people were better housed and better fed than they had been before the Revolution. Kulaks who might have remembered better conditions had not survived.
The Growth of Industry
While the agricultural base was being revolutionized, industrialization went rapidly for-ward. At first there was considerable dependence on the capitalist countries. Engineers and other technicians from western Europe and the United States took service in the Sovit Union. Much machinery was at first imported. But the world-wide depression that set in about 1931, brining a catastrophic fall in agricultural prices, meant that foreign-made machines became more costly in terms of the cereals that were the chief Soviet export. The international situation also deteriorated. Both Japan and Germany in the 1930s showed an increasing hostility to the U.S.S.R. From the beginning the Five-Year plans had as one of their objectives the industrial and military self-sufficiency of the country. The Second Five-Year Plan, launched in 1933, though is some ways less ambitious than the first, showed an even greater determination to cut down imports and achieve national self-sufficiency, especially in the heavy industry that was basic to war production.
No ten years inn the history of any Western country ever showed such a rate of industrial growth as the decade of the first two plans in the Soviet Union. In Great Britain Indus-trialization had been gradual; in Germany and the United States it had been more rapid and in each country there had been decades in which output of coal and iron doubled; but in the U.S.S.R., from 1928 to 1938, Production of iron and steel expanded four times and that of coal three and a half times. In 1938 the U.S.S.R. was the world’s largest producer of farm tractors and railway locomotives. Four-fifths of all its industrial output came from plants built in the preceding ten years. Two plants alone, at the new cities of Magnitogorsk in the Urals and Stalinsk 1,000 miles farther east, produced as much iron and steel as the whole Russian empire in 1914. In 1939 the U.S.S.R. was surpassed in gross industrial output only by the United States and Germany.
The plans called for a marked development of industry east of the Urals, and so brought a modernization of life for the first time to inner Asia, in a way comparable only to the movement of machine industry into the once primitive Great Lakes region of the Amer-ican Middle West, Pittsburgs, Clevelands, and Detroits rose in the old Turkestan and Siberia. Copper mines were opened in the Urals and around lake Balkhash, lead mines in the Far East and in the Altai Mountains. New grain-producing regions were developed in Siberia and in the Kazakh S.S.R., whence grain was shipped westward to Russia proper, or southward to the Uzbek S.S.R., which was devoted mainly to cotton. Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, formally a remote town of bazaars and caravans, grew to be a city of over half a million, a center of cotton culture, copper mining, and electrical industries, con-nected with the north by the newly built Turksib Railway. The Kuznetsk basin, 2,000 miles inland from every ocean, was found to possess coal deposits of high grade. Kuznetsk coal and iron ores of the Urals became complementary, tough separated by a thousand miles, somewhat like Pennsylvania coal and Minnesota iron in the United States. The opening of all these new areas, requiring the movement of food to Uzbekistan in exchange for cotton, or of Ural iron to the new Kuznetsk cities, demanded a revolution in transportation. The railroads in 1938 carried five times as much freight as in 1913.
These astounding developments were enough to change the relative economic strength of the world’s peoples with respect to one another. It was significant that inner Asia was for the first time turning industrial. It was significant too, that although the U.S.S.R. had less foreign trade than had the Russian empire, it had more trade than the old Russia with its Asian neighbors, with which it formed new and close connections. The Russia that went to war with Germany in 1941 proved to be a different antagonist from the Russia of 1914. Industrialization in the Urals and in Asia enabled the U.S.S.R. (with a good deal of Allied assistance) to survive the German occupation and destruction of the older industrial areas in the Don valley. The new “socialist fatherhead” proved able to absorb the shock and strike back. A great deal of the increased industrial output had gone to equip and modernize the Red Army.
At the same time, the degree of industrialization of the U.S.S.R. should not be exagger-ated. It was phenomenal because it started from so little. Qualitatively, by Western criteria, standard of production were low. Many of the hastily constructed, new plants were plants were shoddy and suffered from rapid depreciation. In efficiency, as shown by out put per worker employed, the U.S.S.R. continued to lag behind the West. In intensity of modernization, as shown by output of certain items in proportion to the whole population, in 1937, the U.S.S.R. produced less coal, electricity, cottons, woolens, leather shoes, or soap than did the United States, Britain, France, or even Japan, and less iron and steel than any of them except Japan. Production of paper is revealing because paper is used in so man “civilized” activities—in books, newspapers, magazines, schools, correspondence, placards, maps, pictures, charts, business and government records, and household articles and amenities. Where the United States about 1937 produced 103 pounds of paper per person, Germany and Great Britain each 92, France 51, and Japan 17, the U.S.S.R. produced only 11.
Social Costs and Social Effects of the Plans
Industrialization in Russia, as formally in other countries, was put through at great sacri-fice on the part of the people. It was not merely that kulaks lost their lives, or that others, whose numbers have never been known, were found to be enemies of the system and sent off to correctional labor camps. All were required to accept a program of austerity and self-denial, going without the better food, housing, and other consumers’ goods that might have been produced, in order that the capital wealth and heavy industry of the country might be built up. As much as a third of the national income was reinvested in industry every year—twice as much as in the England of 1914, though, probably not more than in the England of 1840. The plan required hard work and low wages. People looked to the future, to the time when, the basic industries having been built, better hous-ing, better food, better clothing, and more leisure would follow. Morale was sustained by propaganda. One of the chief functions of party members was to explain why sacrifices were necessary. In the late 1930s life began to ease; food rationing was abolished in 1935, and a few more products of light industry, such as dishes and fountain pens, began to appear in Soviet retail stores. Living standards were at least up to those of 1927 with prospects brighter for raising them. But the need for war preparations, as the world again approached chaos, again drove back the vision of the Promised Land.
Socialism, as realized in the plans, did away with some of the evils of unrestrained free enterprise. There was no unemployment. There was no cycle of boom and depression. There was no misuse of women and children as in the early days of industrialism in the West. There was no absolute want of pauperization, except for political undesirables and except for temporary conditions of famine. There was a minimum below which no one was supposed to fall. On the other hand, there was no economic equality. Marxism, indeed, had never seen complete equality of income as a principal objective. While there was no handful of very rich people, as in the West (where income of the rich came from property), the differences of income were nevertheless very great. High government officials, managers, engineers, and favored intellectuals received the highest rewards. People with large incomes, by buying government bonds or accumulating personal possessions, could build up little fortunes for themselves and their children. They could not, however, under socialism, own any industrial capital.
Competition persisted. In 1935 a miner named Stakhanov greatly increased his daily in coal by devising improvements in his methods of work. He also greatly increased his wages, since Soviet workers were paid at piece rates. His example proved contagious, workers all over the country began to break records of all kinds. The government publicized their achievements, called them Stakhanovites and “labor heroes,” and pronounced the movement to be “a new higher stage of socialist competition.” In labor circles in the United States such straining to increase output would be called a speed-up, and piecework wages had long been anathema to the organized labor of all countries. Nor was management free from competitive pressure. A factory manager who failed to show the net income (or “profit”) upon which the plan counted, or who failed to meet his quota of out put, might lose not only his job but his social status but his life. Poor man-agement was often construed as sabotage. Poor use of the men and resources allocated to a factory was considered a betrayal of Soviet workers and a waste of the property of the nation. The press, not otherwise free, not otherwise freely determined whole industries or individual executives for failures to meet the plan.
Foreign observers often found the distinctive feature of the new system to lie in this kind of competition or emulation, or in a feeling that everybody was busily toiling and strug-gling to create a socialist fatherland. Workers, it seemed, had a real belief that the new industrial wonders were their own. People rejoiced at every new advance as a personal triumph. It became a national pastime to watch the mounting statistics, the fulfilling of quotas or hitting “targets.” Newspaper readers read no comic strips; they read eagerly about the latest doings (or misdoings) on the economic front. Never had there been such unalloyed delight in material and mechanical progress, not even in America in the Gilded Age. No class difference was felt between labor and management. There was apparently little envy, since differences of income, being socialistic, were regarded as necessary and fair. In creating this solidarity, so far as it existed, the U.S.S.R. offered one of its most serious challenges to the private enterprise and private capitalism of the West.
How real this feeling was, how much of it was spontaneous, and how much was inculcated by a watchful and dictatorial government, are questions on which there has been much dif-ference of opinion. There is no doubt that solidarity was purchased at the price of totalitar-ianism. The government supervised everything. There was no room for skepticism, eccen-tricity of thought, or any basic criticism that weakened the will to achieve. As in tsarist times, no one could leave the country without permission, which was given far more rarely than before 1914. There was only one party. There were no free labor unions, no free press, no freedom of association, and at best only an irritable tolerance fro religion. Art, literature, and even science became vehicles of political pro[agenda. Dialectical material-ism was the official philosophy. Conformity was the ideal, and the very passion for solid-arity made for fear and suspicion of all who might go astray. As for the number of people sacrificed to the Juggernaut—liquidated bourgeois, liquidated kulaks, purged party members, disaffected persons sentenced to long terms in labor camps—a precise figure is difficult to arrive at, but it certainly reached many millions over the years.
The Purge Trials of the 1930s
In 1936 socialism was judged to have proved so successful that a new constitution for the U.S.S.R. was proclaimed. It enumerated, as right of Soviet citizens, not merely the usual civil liberties of Western Democracy but the rights to steady employment, rest, leisure, economic security, and a comfortable old age. All forms of racism were condemned. It reorganized the soviet republics and granted equal and direct universal suffrage, as ex-plained previously. The new constitution n of 1936 was favorably commented upon in the West, where it was hoped that the Russian Revolution, like former revolutions, had at last turned into more peaceable and quiet channels. It was nonetheless apparent that the Communist party remained the sole governing group in the country, that Stalin was tightening his dictatorship, and that the party was racked by internal troubles.
It was natural that the complex and multifarious operations of the Five-Year plans should produce divergences of opinion among the men who carried them out. The party elders, however, were engaged not merely in discussions of policy but in the older game of the seizure of power. On the right, led by Bukharin, was a group that believed in more grad-ual methods of collectivizing the peasants. More important was the element described as leftist. Its mastermind and rallying point was the exiled Trotsky. Probably there was some kind of secret Trotskyist machine within the U.S.S.R. and within the party, even if there is no evidence for the charge that some Trotskyistss had intrigued with Germans and other foreigners to overthrow and replace Stalin. As early as 1933 the party under-went a drastic purge, in which a third of its members were expelled. Even faithful asso-ciates of Stalin were appalled at his growing ruthlessness. Serge Kirov, an old friend and revolutionary companion of Stalin since 1909, recently elected a key member of the party secretariat, showed signs of leading the disaffected; in 1934 he was assassinated in his office, very probably by a police agent of Stalin’s. Stalin used the assassination to strike out at his opponents, imagined or real, by a revival of terror, immediately executing over a hundred persons and launching the extraordinary “purges” of the 1930s.
A series of sensational trials took place. In 1936 sixteen Old Bolsheviks were brought to trial. Some, like Zinoviev and Kamenev, had been expelled form the party in 1927 for supporting Trotsky and subsequently, after the proper recantations, had been readmitted. Now they were charged with the murder of Kirov, with plotting the murder of Stalin, and with having organized, in 1932, under Trotsky’s inspiration, a secret group to disorganize and terrorize the Central Committee. To the amazement of the world, all the accused made full confession to the charges in open court. All blamed themselves as unworthy and erring reprobates. All were put to death. In 1937, after similar trials, seventeen other old Bol-sheviks met the same fate or received long prison sentences; and in 1938 Bukharin and the rightists, charged with wanting to restore bourgeois capitalism and conspiring with Trotsky to revolutionize the U.S.S.R. were executed. The same confessions and self-accusations followed in almost every case, with no other verifiable evidence adduced. How these confessions were obtained in open court, from men apparently in full possession of their faculties and bearing no sign of physical harm, long remained one of the great mysteries of modern statecraft. Later revelations of psychological torture and physical mistreatment that broke their will and destroyed their reasoning powers gave some insight into the tech-niques used. In addition to these public trials there were thousands of arrests, private inquisitions, and executions. In 1937, in a secret court-martial, Marshall Tukhachevski and seven other ranking generals were accused of Trotskyism and of conspiring with the Germans and Japanese and were shot. The purges not only included men who had held the highest ranks in the party, government, and military circles but reached down into the lesser echelons of all these groups as well. Before the purges were over late in 1938, an unknown number of persons, but probably in the millions, were either executed or sent off into prison labor camps. Years later the innocence was established of many of the victims of Stalin’s almost paranoid suspicion, and their reputations were posthumously restored.
By these famous “purge trials” Stalin’s dictatorship and party discipline were reinforced. It may be that a real danger of renewed revolution was averted. Had the tsarist govern-ment dealt as summarily with Bolsheviks as Bolsheviks dealt with one another there could have been no November Revolution. Above all, Stalin rid himself by the trials of all possible rivals for his own position. He disposed of the embarrassment of having men about him who could remember the old days, who could quote Lenin as a former friend, or belittle the reality of 1937 by recalling the dreams of 1917. After 1938 there were virtually no Old Bolsheviks left. The aging but still explosive professional professional revolutionaries were now dead. A younger group, products of the new order, successful men of affairs, practical, constructive, impatient of “agitators,” and acquiescing in Stalin’s dictatorship, were operating what was now an established system.


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