Challenges to capitalism; Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Communist state

The impact of Lenin and Stalin’s policies on the rights of the Russian people

We have already examined Lenin's policies, lets briefly examine Stalins. The impact of the policies is examined in the table at the end.

Stalin: The First Five- Year Plans (1928-1933)

Stalin believed that a strong economy needed a strong country. He felt that industrialisation was the key to achieving this strength and was convinced that the peasant class needed to accept socialism. Stalin preferred the economic policies of War Communism. He felt Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP) had diluted socialism, but he was nervous about losing the support of the peasants who benefited from the NEP and wanted to unite them with the working class. The launch of the first Five-Year Plan and a collectivisation drive dramatically reversed the NEP model.

The Congress of the Communist Party accepted Stalin's national economic plan in 1927. The plan was to run from 1928 to 1933, and the objectives of this plan were:

  • The rapid industrialisation of Russia.

  • The introduction of socialised farming.

  • Elimination of private enterprise.

  • Development of education and transport.

A state planning commission, the Gosplan, was empowered to direct the economic activities of the country. The main aim of the Gosplan was to control the means of production and make recommendations to the government on issues regarding to the import and export of raw materials for manufacturing.

Industrialisation

Stalin's decision to begin a policy of rapid industrialisation flowed from his particular belief in socialism.  Stalin believed Russia had to be delivered from its backwardness and introduced to modern wonders of metal tractors and motorcars. The target of the first Five-Year Plan was to double production.

Propaganda was used to inspire workers and to stress the significance of working together for a better future. Emphasis was also placed on the development of heavy industries, steel and electrical plants. Transportation systems, scientists and engineering skills from the West were needed for Russia to reach the same level as other industrialised countries in Europe. Tools and machinery were desperately needed.

To pay for this help and equipment they needed ready money, as the capitalist countries were wary of granting credit to Communist Russia. Stalin believed that attention to education was necessary in order to have a skilled industrial labour force. Improvements in transport would help move raw materials, manufactured products and agricultural produce. In order to reach the required targets, new railway lines were built and the old ones upgraded.

Agricultural Reform

A new agricultural system was introduced, bringing together numerous small farms into collective and state agriculture. Peasant and wealthy farmers who refused to sell their extra products were heavily taxed. Wealthy farmers responded angrily by destroying their crops and killing their livestock. Stalin punished them by destroying their homes and deporting most of them to Siberia.

Mechanisation and scientific farming were introduced on a large scale. Profits were divided three ways among the state, workers and a reserve operation fund to support community services such as schools, recreation centres and hospitals. Agriculture began to prosper.

These reforms introduced socialised farming to the masses and were made possible by the expertise of the capitalists who owned large individual farms during the rule of the Tsar and Lenin. It was Stalin's aim to see all farms nationalised, with the state becoming the sole owner. This was one area where Stalin blamed Lenin for allowing capitalism to emerge on a large scale, as if it was not a communist state.

Elimination of private enterprise

Private traders and wealthy farmers were progressively taxed until they could no longer afford to run their businesses. In December 1932, the First Five-Year Plan was completed. Rapid industrialisation had been achieved, although the quality was poor compared to western countries. Many basic industries were established and new industries such as plastics and synthetic rubber also came into being. The foundations had been laid for the development of Russia as a major industrial and political world power.

Education and Transport

Thousands of new schools were built to provide basic education for all children and education was made compulsory. Adult literacy classes, which were also emphasised, reduced the rate of illiteracy rate from 50% in 1924 to 20% in 1939. Education was structured around mechanical and engineering lessons.

Stalin felt that proper education would lead to more innovative ideas and ways and means of industrialising Russia. To achieve that goal, the transport system needed improvements in order to import and export goods out of the country. New railway links were built, like the Turkestan-Siberian line, and old ones were upgraded.

The building of networks of hard-surface roads, and canal systems to link rivers for practical navigation became essential. The shortage of trains that were supposed to link various cities meant that some raw materials and food never reached their destinations in time. In order to avoid rotten food, efficient trains had to be built.

The Second and Third Five-Year Plan (1933-1938)

The Communist Party Congress formally passed the Second Five-Year Plan in January 1934. Importance was placed on the improvement of efficiency and techniques in industry. Light factories were built to provide more consumer goods in order to raise the standard of living of the Russian population.

Consumption increased dramatically, but growth and development of heavy industries remained the government's priority. The most important successes were achieved in the machine making industry. This tripled in size. The Third Five-Year Plan of 1939 to 1942 was interrupted by the Second World War, which broke out on the 1 September 1939.

Assessing the five-year plans

Russia's production of arms for the war against Germany was proof of Stalin's success in industrialising the country despite the huge human cost. It was through the Five-Year Plans that Russia emerged from World War II as one of the superpowers, along with the United States of America.

 WAR COMMUNISM NEP STALIN'S FIVE YEAR PLANS
Aims

- to increase government control of the economy

- to implement communistic goals

- to win the Civil War

-to feed the Red Army

- to introduce capitalist elements into the economy in the hope that communism would be maintained in the long term

- to modernise the USSR so that it would not be vulnerable to invasion from the West and would be the equal of Western countries

- to industrialise the USSR

- to improve agriculture

- to export crops in return for industrial machinery

Circumstances

- Communist victory being challenged by internal and foreign forces

- food shortages

- extreme hardship resulting from the Civil War

- economic problems resulting from war communism

- government realised that change was necessary to stay in power

- focus on building "Socialism in One Country"

- inequalities resulting from the NEP

- rest of the world coping with the effects of the Great Depression

- inefficient farming methods

Results

- production levels dropped

- food shortages and famine

- increasing opposition, even from communist supporters

- economy rescued as production levels increased

- inequalities emerged due to capitalist incentives: KULAKS and NEPMEN

- successfully developed into an industrialised nation in a short time

- improved literacy and basic needs levels

-forced labour used

- extremely harsh treatment

- resistance to collectivisation from KULAKS

Did it strenghthen Communism?

- Yes: it was the first time that the ideas were given practical implementation

- Yes: the communists were able to win the Civil War and preserve the communist state in the long term

- No: the results within the particular context were a disaster

- No: people resented heavy-handed government control

- Yes: there was not a total collapse and communist principles would be introduced later

- No: aspects of private enterprise were introduced and class divisions developed again

- Yes: it made the USSR into the strongest industrial state

- Yes: USSR became a Super Power after WWII

-Yes: communism was seen as a real alternative to capitalism

- No: Marx's theory that the state would wither away never happened

Last updated : 08-May-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 22-Mar-2011