By the year 1928 Josep Stalin was firmly in the saddle in the Sovietized Russia. The dictator was determined to add Russia to the list of world powers – the USA, Great Britain, her dominions and colonies, and France. Germany was still staggering from the cost of the Great War. Japan was rising fast. Stalin knew that massive industrialization was essential. There was also the threat of an attack from any or all of the great powers, as they all feared the largest country in the world, especially under a cruel and despotic dictatorship that had materialized during and after a genuine attempt by agricultural workers and the armed forces to better their lot across the board by revolution. But how was Stalin to do it?
The first ‘Five year Plan’ was from 1928 to 1932; there were to be two more, but the first was the most important, laying the foundations for future growth, and placing emphasis on heavy industry: iron and steel had to be provided for the essential machine tools, vast hydro-electrical schemes and above all, armaments, because the man from Georgia knew that sooner or later there would be another, even more destructive war. Stalin lived very well indeed, as did his co-religionaries, but the ordinary Russian people were far worse off than they had been during centuries of the Tsars, when they were actual, not virtual slaves. Education, housing, consumer goods and the pharmaceutical industry were relegated to an inferior importance. Textile production actually declined during the first 5-year Plan. Most of the new heavy industry was to be found in the far east of the country, where there was enormous mineral deposits; there was also the fact that the area was too far away for land-based attacks by any great power. Indeed, the position of these vital areas saved the Union from Hitler’s assaults on Russia in 1941.
The Plans were a success; 1928 – 1932, 1933 – 37 and 1938 – 42 during the opening of World War II. Russia’s output in steel and coal more than tripled between 1928 and 1941. Annual growth rate during this period was 10% – a truly remarkable performance, but at what a cost! The labour needed a massive increase in the workforce, and this was achieved by an utterly ruthless use of the power of the state in the provision of work-slaves. Private agriculture could not provide the essential cash for huge investment, so Stalin decided that ‘collectivization’ was necessary. This squeezed the peasants until the pips squeaked, and what wages there were for the workers in this ‘Workers’ Paradise’ were very low. The three plans were thus financed by a sickening drop in living standards which were already depressed. This was unheard of in peacetime, more usually occurring in wartime. Between 1928 and 1940 the industrial workforce trebled and was maintained under severe discipline. You were an ‘unpatriotic absentee’ if you arrived twenty minutes late for work, and liable for dispatch to the internment camps, known as ‘correctional centres’.
Private enterprise was of course eliminated, and ‘central planning agencies’ were set up across the country. Such draconian methods were bound to be successful, because fear of death or imprisonment (which usually meant the same thing) made the normally idle, hard-drinking Russian peasant into a comparatively efficient ‘working unit’. Russia did indeed become ‘one of the great industrial nations’, while at the same time Stalin enormously increased the armed forces. It is not too much to state that without these Five Year Plans Russia would not have been able to withstand Nazi Germany’s attack from 1941 onwards. European intellectuals thought the Plans splendid, but not being Russian serfs, they did not wish to know how Stalin had achieved what he wished.