Industry and the 5-Year Plans  



Stalin modernised industry by means of the 5-Year Plans.   He achieved fantastic successes, but at the most appalling human cost, and while industrial output soared, the production of consumer goods remained static..



The Five Year Plans

New Russia's Primer - Soviet children's book: wonderful!

Reed Brett on the Five Year Plans

Photos of Magnitogorsk


  The Five-Year Plans


There were two Five Year Plans – 1928–33 and 1932–1937.  This webpage deals with the reasons for the Five-Year Plans and how they were achieved, and also with how successful they were.



1.   Many regions of the USSR were backward.   Stalin said that to be backward was to be defeated and enslaved.   ‘But if you are powerful, people must beware of you’

2.   Stalin believed (with Lenin) that the USSR should ‘overtake and outstrip the capitalist countries’.   He believed in ‘Socialism in one country’ – the USSR would become strong enough to survive, then would take over the rest of the world.

3.   He believed Germany would invade. In 1931, he prophesied: ‘We make good the difference in 10 years or they crush us’.

4.   The 5-year plans were very useful propaganda – for Communism and for Stalin.




Production levels rose dramatically (see Successes)


How achieved

1.   Plans were drawn up by GOSPLAN (the state planning organisation)

2.   Targets were set for every industry, each region, each mine and factory, each foreman and even every worker.

3.   Foreign experts & engineers were called in

4.   Workers were bombarded with propaganda, posters, slogans and radio broadcasts.

5.   Workers were fined if they did not meet their targets.

6.   Alexei Stakhanov (who cut an amazing 102 tons of coal in one shift) was held up as an example. Good workers could become ‘Stakhanovites' and win a medal.

7.   (After the First 5-year plan revealed a shortage of workers) women were attracted by new crèches and day-care centres so that mothers could work.

8.   For big engineering projects such as dams or canals, slave labour (such as political opponents, kulaks or Jews) was used.

9.   There was a concentration on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods or good housing.

10.  Stalin attacked the Muslim faith because he thought it was holding back industrialisation.   

Source A

A propaganda poster of 1934.   It is titled: 'Peasants can live like a Human Being'.  

Study the poster - can you see how it is promising people the following:

•   enough to eat,

•   adequate clothing,

•   the latest consumer goods,

•   electricity,

•   education,

•   happiness.


Source B




Electricity ('000 million kw)




Coal (million tons)




Oil (million tons)




Steel (million tons)




(from official government figures.   Note that historians have found that Stalin's statisticians overstated the increases by about a third - they dared not do anything else!   It was the official line that Stalin had achieved a remarkable improvement, and a statistician who found otherwise would have been sent to Siberia.)



but the human suffering was terrible (see Failures):


Successes ...

1. The USSR was turned into a modern state (which was able to resist Hitler's invasion).  


2. There was genuine Communist enthusiasm among the young ‘Pioneers’.    


3. There were huge achievements in the following areas:

  • new cities

  • dams/ hydroelectric power

  • transport & communications

  • the Moscow Underground

  • farm machinery

  • electricity

  • coal

  • steel

  • fertilizers

  • plastic

  • no unemployment

  • doctors & medicine

  • education.  


… and Failures/ criticisms

1. Poorly organised – inefficiency, duplication of effort and waste.


2. Appalling human cost:

  • discipline (sacked if late)

  • secret police

  • slave labour

  • labour camps (for those who made mistakes)

  • accidents and deaths (100,000 workers died building the Belomor Canal)

  • few consumer goods

  • poor housing

  • wages FELL

  • no human rights


3. Some historians claim the tsars had done the ‘spadework’, setting up the basis for industrialisation, and that Stalin’s effort had very little effect on a process that would have happened anyway.