In 1927 Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity. Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was not until 1927 that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War. Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to increase production.
According to James William Crowl, the author of Angels in Stalin's Paradise (1982), there were political reasons for the introduction of the Five Year Plan: "Stalin With the defeat of Trotsky and the Left Wing in 1927, Stalin apparently began to look for a way to outmaneuver the final power bloc in the Party: the Right Wing led by Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky. It was not by accident that the economy provided him with the issues he needed to destroy his erstwhile allies. Midway through 1927 the Politburo had initiated an ambitious economic program that included a number of expansive construction projects such as the Turkish-Siberia railroad and the Dnieper dam. Such an undertaking involved a risk since it was to be underwritten largely by the sale of grain, and the grain collection program had become increasingly unreliable during the mid-1920's."
The first Five Year Plan introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Joseph Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 110% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.
Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.
With the introduction of the Five Year Plan, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.
Ella Winter visited the Soviet Union in 1931. While there she wrote to her husband, Lincoln Steffens: "In the midst of the new and visionary I found an inefficiency that could drive one to desperation. I suppose it's because they've had to be so hurriedly trained and have no experience, and centuries of apathy to overcome, and perhaps just because they can get jobs whether they're good or not. But it takes days to get anything done. They never make an appointment, they tell you to come and then they'll arrange when you must must telephone again to ask for an appointment. Lifts are always out of order; a current anecdote has a 'lift factory' entirely devoted to manufacture of the notices LIFT OUT OF ORDER".
Some people complained that the Soviet Union was being industrialized too fast. Isaac Deutscher quoted Joseph Stalin as saying: "No comrades... the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities. To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten.... The history of old Russia... was that she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol Khans, she was beaten by Turkish Beys, she was beaten by Swedish feudal lords, she was beaten by Polish-Lithuanian Pans, she was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists, she was beaten by Japanese barons, she was beaten by all - for her backwardness... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. we must make good this lag in years. Either we do it or they crush us."
In 1932 Walter Duranty won the Pultzer Prize for his reporting of the Five Year Plan. In his acceptance speech he argued: "I went to the Baltic states viciously anti-Bolshevik. From the French standpoint the Bolsheviks had betrayed the allies to Germany, repudiated the debts, nationalized women and were enemies of the human race. I discovered that the Bolsheviks were sincere enthusiasts, trying to regenerate a people that had been shockingly misgoverned, and I decided to try to give them their fair break. I still believe they are doing the best for the Russian masses and I believe in Bolshevism - for Russia - but more and more I am convinced it is unsuitable for the United States and Western Europe. It won't spread westward unless a new war wrecks the established system."
Some people argued that Duranty had been involved in a cover-up concerning the impact of the economic changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union. An official at the British Embassy reported on the 21st June 1932: "A record of over-staffing, overplanning and complete incompetence at the centre; of human misery, starvation, death and disease among the peasantry... the only creatures who have any life at all in the districts visited are boars, pigs and other swine. Men, women, and children, horses and other workers are left to die in order that the Five Year Plan shall at least succeed on paper."
© John Simkin, May 2013