To what extent did Stalin transform the ussr, economically & socially, between 1927 & 1939?



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Mark Hayden

To what extent did Stalin transform the USSR, economically & socially, between 1927 & 1939?”
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Between 1927 and 1939 Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known as Stalin or ‘Man of Steel’, transformed the USSR from a backward agricultural state into a modern industrial power, having ascended to leader of the Communist Party, the Bolsheviks, following the death of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, Lenin, in January 1924. Economically, his implementation of the Five-Year Plans, from 1928-32, 1933-37 and 1938-41, the latter interrupted by the German invasion, turned the USSR into a ‘command economy’, aided by state propaganda, which aided in creating Stalin’s ‘Cult of Personality’, and slave labour from the Gulags.Stalin also changed the social fabric of the USSR, through the Purges, the NKVD secret police and the Show Trials, where he eliminated his main political oponnents, such as Lev Kamenev and Victor Zinoviev, as well as NKVD chief Beryia and several members of STAVKA, the Red Army high command, such as Chief of Staff and Civil War hero,Marshal Tukachevsky.
P.1: In 1928, Stalin began his first Five-Year Plan, which placed heavy emphasis on industry such as coal and iron. The aims of this Plan were unrealistic, but the goal was to transform the USSR, economically and industrially, into a complete socialist state, centrally-planned by Gosplan, the main planning authority. This Plan also introduced the policy of ‘collectivisation’ in agriculture. This meant state control over the farms, especially over those controlled by wealthy peasants, called Kulaks. The second Five-Year Plan in 1933 concentrated on the same aims as the first, while the third five year plan concentrated on defence spending, armament and industrialisation, effectively militirising the economy. These plans were successful overall, as it helped to cement Stalin’s control over the state and the Communist Party. It also led to huge numbers of industrial successes, such as the vast ironworks build in Magnitogorsk and the hydro-electric plant built on the River Dnieper.
P.2: These aims were accomplished through the wide use of propaganda and state terror. The state media, controlled by the Party, glorified Stalin and his policies, creating a ‘cult of personality’, giving Stalin a God-like persona who could do no wrong. Several towns, such as Stalingrad, were renamed after him, and he was given the title of ‘Vozhd’or leader. The successes of the Five-Year Plans were overexaggerated, through the use of ‘state heroes’, like Alexei Stakhanov,and by rewarding those who exceeded their work qouta.Following the murder of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, the NKVD secret police, under orders from Stalin, unleashed the Purges or the ‘Great Terror’. This targeted anyone Stalin believed was a threat to his power. Among the numerous crimes committed during this period was the state famine in Ukraine, killing millions and wiping out the Kulaks.The Purges also targeted many of the ‘Old Bolsheviks’ in the Communist Party, thereby removing most of Stalin’s political opponents. Several million people who were arrested were sent to prison camps, called Gulags, who were then used as slave labour in Stalin’s industrial projects.
P.3: The Purges were marked by three grandiose trials of former Communist Party members. Stalin’s aim in organising the trails was to establish complete domination over the Communist Party and to eliminate any potential threats. The first Show Trial, the Trial of the Sixteen, was held in the October Hall in the House of Unions in Moscow on August 19th 1936. Most of the spectators were plain clothed NKVD, foreign journalists and diplomats. The sixteen defendents, including Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev, were tried as members of the United Trotskyite-Zinovievite Centre, accused of murdering Kirov and attempting to murder Stalin. They were tried by the prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky, and, having been interrograted, were convicted of treason and shot. Soviet newspapers applauded the executions, while there was a mixed reaction among Western spectators.
P.4: The second Show Trial, the Trial of the Seventeen, was held in January 1937 and tried the members of the Parallel Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Centre. All the defendents were shot, except for Karl Radek, who was imprisoned but died soon after. The third Show Trial, the Trial of the Twenty-One, was staged in March 1938, and was know officially as the Case of the Anti- Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites. These men included Nicholas Bukharin, who was expelled from the Communist Party in 1929 for opposing Stalin, and Genrikh Yagoda, former chief of the NKVD. These men were accused of treason and espionage, and included the ex- Commissar of Agriculture and the head of the collectives, the state farms, who were scapegoats for the failure of collectivisation. In between these two trials, Stalin also initiated a purge of the Red Army, arresting several senior officers, including Civil War hero Marshal Tukhachevsky, the Chief of the General Staff, STAVKA. This served to remove the threat of a military uprising against Stalin, and made the Red Army and the NKVD pro-Stalinist organisations.
In conclusion, we see that Stalin did indeed transform the Soviet Union, both economically and socially, between 1927 and 1939. However, it did come at a huge human cost. It left him in complete control of the Communist Party and created an atmosphere of terror and mutual suspicion throughout the USSR. As an added effect, the purge of the Red Army’s officer corp left it severally weakened during the German invasion of 1941. However, the new industrial projects, most notably the munitions factories in the Ural Mountains which had been built during the Five-Year Plans, ensured the Soviet Union’s recovery and eventual victory.

Very good essay. Points for added inclusion:




  1. When making the case for a ‘transformation from an agricultural country to an industrial power’, you MUST use statistical information to provide evidence for this claim. Percentage increase in ironworks and coal production between 1927 & 1932 for example.




  1. When examining Stalin’s control of the Communist Party, at least one primary source quotation would be very helpful. This can be taken from official Stalinist Propaganda and/ or historian’s opinion.




  1. Conclusion should include a wider perspective on Stalin’s leadership of the USSR. For example; what kind of country, economically & socially, did Stalin inherit in 1927 and how different was it, economically & socially, when he died in 1953? This is always an important issue to address when dealing with a key personality’s leadership, effect and influence on any given country.


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