|Soviet Economic Growth Under Stalin
Since the late 1920's Soviet economic planners almost
obsessively concentrated on the development of heavy industry.
They did this for the sake of developing more heavy
industry--especially the expansion of steel production.
Under the First Five-Year Plan Soviet steel production (5.9
million tons) fell far short of the prescribed target of 10
million tons: but large-scale industrial production more than
doubled, new blast furnaces were constructed and old ones
modernized, and the foundations were laid for a Ural iron and
steel center at Magnitogorsk and a western-Siberian one in the
Kuznetsk basin (Kuzbas).
The Second Five-Year Plan brought a spectacular rise in steel
production more than 17 million tons, placing the Soviet Union
not far behind Germany as one of the major steel-producing
countries of the world. As was the case with the other five-year
plans, the second was not uniformly successful, failing to reach
the recommended production levels in such crucial areas as coal,
oil, and cement production.
The first two years of the Third Five-Year Plan proved to be
even more of a disappointment in terms of proclaimed production
goals. Even so, the value of these goals and of the coordination
of an entire economy's development of central planning has been
undeniable. For the 12% to 13% rate of annual industrial growth
attained in the Soviet Union during the 1930's has few parallels
in the economic history of other countries. What is more, this
high rate of growth was resumed after World War II and continued
into the early fifties, after which it has gradually declined.
The collectivization of agriculture seems to have been a
necessary prerequisite for the launching of the First Five-Year
Plan. In 1928 80% of approximately 150 million Soviet citizens
were engaged in agriculture. By the late twenties the peasant
population, which was broken up into 25 million families, had
greatly improved its relative position in Soviet society as a
result of the Revolution and NEP. Peasants were no longer forced
to surrender a large part of their surplus income to the state,
as they had been during tsarist times, in order to finance the
government's industrialization program; and they lived better
and consumed a greater part of their own agricultural production
than ever before.
In 1928 the peasants demonstrated their ability to organize
effective resistance when the Soviet state tried to collect
grain forcibly and at prices unfavorable to the peasants.
Collectivization was calculated to eliminate effective peasant
opposition to the policies of the Soviet state by reducing the
number of separate units in the agricultural population from 25
million independent families to several hundred thousand
Although state control over these collective farms was by no
means complete, it was effective enough to assure the delivery
to the state of compulsory quotas of agricultural products and
to oblige the peasants to accept the discriminatory taxation and
the low prices for agricultural products Soviet leaders
considered necessary in order to finance rapid
industrialization. Furthermore, after 1928, the lowering of the
peasants' standard of living and the tightening of political
control over the peasant community produced conditions that made
life in the country less attractive than before and, therefore,
helped to increase the rate of migration into towns.
Between 1929 and 1935, 16.6 million former peasants left the
countryside and moved to urban centers, where they became part
of the expanding labor force of Soviet industry. This was, of
course, a highly desirable development from the point of view of
the Communist elite which ruled in the name of the
"dictatorship of the proletariat."
In the thirties collectivization proceeded rapidly but in the
face of bitter and costly peasant resistance. By Jan. 1930, 21%
of peasant households had been collectivized, a percentage that
dramatically rose to 58% in March as a result of the intensified
application of force and coercion by overzealous local party
officials during the late winter of that same year.
Stalin temporarily called a halt to forcible collectivization
with his famous ''Dizziness with Success'' article of March 2,
1930, but massive peasant abandonment of collectivization during
the ensuing months led to renewed administrative pressure and
violence against ''kulaks,'' the term then indiscriminately used
to label all peasants who opposed collectivization.
In mid-1931 53% of the peasants once again lived on collective
farms. After this the same combination of persuasion and
coercion that had been applied earlier steadily raised the
percentage of peasants on collective farms until it reached 94%
in 1938. In many cases military units were called on to subdue
unruly peasants, and decrees for the protection of socialist
property sanctioned the shooting of thousands of peasants for
stealing such trifles from kolkhozes as rope or sheaves of straw
or for the ''hoarding of small coin.'' Hundreds of thousands of
other peasant households were deported to Siberia or other
remote areas of the Soviet Union.
When the peasants retaliated by destroying crops and killing
their animals, the Soviet state confiscated foodstuffs the
peasants needed to feed themselves. A particularly serious
crisis developed in the Ukraine and northern Caucasus during the
famine winter of 1932-1933, when apparently millions of peasants
starved to death. The exact human toll resulting from
collectivization is not known, but estimates run as high as 5 to
10 million. A recent study by Robert Conquest suggests the real
figure is closer to 20 million.