Stalin's First FiveYear Plan

by Nick Lee
by Erin Hubbard


Stalin's First Five-Year Plan:
Sowing the Seeds of Hardship"

by Nick Lee,  April 2000


When Lenin's reign over the Soviet Empire ended in 1924, the future course of Communist policies and the dominance of their ideology on an international level were cast into doubt.  This insecurity in the Soviet system was even further exacerbated by the rocky period of transition and the shaky events surrounding the succession of power.  However, when the dust settled and Josef Stalin emerged as the new leader of the Soviets, the course of Communist economic policies was clear and lofty were its goals. In the ensuing years, the effects of these policies would have a profound impact not only upon the Russian peoples, but the Soviet Republics as well.  Kazakhstan was no exception.     

In 1928, the Communist Party approved the first of Stalin's proposed Five-Year Plans. The two major policies stipulated in his First Five-Year Plans were extremely demanding and in the long run proved to be unattainable.  Firstly, he called for the collectivization of all farmlands, thus transferring the control of all private farming into the hands of the Soviet leadership.  Secondly, Stalin called for the beginnings of major industrial development, especially in the areas of heavy industry.  He further emphasized his call for massive industrialization when he spoke to his industrial managers in 1932, "We are 100 years behind the advanced countries.  We must make good this lag in ten years.  Either we do it, or they crush us!"  

In both of these efforts to attain parity with the "advanced countries" Stalin placed the logistical control in these two programs in the hands of the Soviet economic planning committee.  GOSPLAN's primary function was to set the annual quotas for the upcoming harvests and the production goals for the various industries.  These figures were then reported to Stalin who would in turn propose new policies and goals for the new year     

As time drew on in Stalin's First Five-Year Plan, it was becoming increasingly apparent to all the parties involved that major changes would have to be made in order to attain the lofty goals set by Stalin.  It was these major changes which would result in adverse effects upon the current nation of Kazakhstan.  In 1929, Stalin launched his campaign to "liquidate the kulaks as a class".   Also known as "dekulakization", this process entailed the forcible removal of private landowners and their families in order to achieve the full publicizing of all arable lands.  Such actions on behalf of the Soviets predictably led to much resistance and chaos amidst the Russian countryside.  Russian researcher Maureen Thorson recounts the facts and figures of the time period during dekulakization:

"In 1930-1931, over 600,000 families were collectivized.  A number of families-around 225,000-also abandoned their land, seeking a refuge in the cities.  The repression of peasantry continued on a grand scale-as of 30 January 1930, 280,000 people had been arrested.  Of those, 19,000 were shot."   This widespread terror in the Russian hinterlands lead to large-scale immigration into the surrounding Russian republics.  Kazakhstan not only bore the brunt of the eventual failure of collectization, but it was also a major recipient of these Russian immigrants.

Mikhail Alexandrov writes, "The collectivization of the early 1930s and subsequent famine led to a significant fall in Kazakh numbers due to deaths and migration out of the USSR.  In combination with the inflow of new migrants this created a situation in which the Slavic and Kazakh populations were virtually equal in numbers, and the general trend was now working against the Kazakhs." These two effects of collectivization's failure augmented each other and left Kazakhstan with a national dilemma, the relegation of the native population to a minority status.  This continued to be an issue for Kazakhstan well after the fall of the Soviet Empire.  It was not until 1989 that the Kazakhs regained majority status in their own nation.    

Stalin's second major goal in his "revolution from above"  brought about effects that were not immediately viewed as detrimental to the Kazakh people, in fact they were rather beneficial.  While the extent of the success or failure of Stalin's industrialization goals will never be known, due to falsification of numbers in order to avoid the steep punishments of not meeting the established quotas, there was definitely tangible success.

Marcin Wiesyk writes, "Russian manufacturing boomed during the Great Depression.  From 1928 to 1937 Russian national income rose from 24.4 to 96.3 billion rubles, coal output increased from 35.4 to 128 million tons, steel production from 4 to 17.7 million tons, electricity output rose 700%..."   Kazakhstan saw this period of industrial boom as well, and perhaps more importantly they also received the human capital which was necessary to sustain this industrial development.  According to Gillette's study, Russia sent qualified industrial workers, engineers, technicians, plant managers, business executives, teachers and health care personnel into Kazakhstan in order to provide the necessary skills in order to carry on this industrialization.  

While this did prove to be extremely beneficial to the Kazakhs, in the long run this was more of a curse than a blessing.  After the fall of the Communist regime, Kazakhstan was left to find suitable workers for their industrial sector.  Because of the former Russian dominance in Kazakh industry, this sudden emigration of Russian workers created a human capital void which the Kazakhs were left to fill. This would do much to make the difficult task of reforming the post-Soviet Kazakh economy that much harder.       

Overall, Josef Stalin's economic policies set forth in his Five-Year Plans were met with hardship and failure for his people, the effects of which were felt by the nation of Kazakhstan for years far after his mandate of power ended.  The immigration into Kazakhstan caused by the failure of collectivization further widened the population gap between native Kazakh and alien Russians.  This fact resulted in great difficulty once the fall of Soviet Russia required the formation of a new Kazakh government.  In much the same way, industrialization in the Stalin era created effects which were felt far into the future.  By leaving the Kazakh industrial sector dependent on Russian expertise, the Soviets made the task of rebuilding a devastated economy all the more difficult, a task which continues to this day.  

While Stalin may not have considered these far reaching impacts of his idealistic economic policies, they have nonetheless shaped the development of the nation of Kazakhstan and have affected their citizens in a dramatic fashion.  History and the people of Kazakhstan will not soon forget the policies of Stalin nor will the consequences behind the failures of collectivization and massive industrialization quickly depart.

Works Cited

 Gillette, Philip S., "Ethnic Balance and Imbalance in Kazakhstan's Regions", Central Asia Monitor, No. 3, 1993.

Thorson, Maureen., "The 'Real Story' of Collectivization and Dekulakization", Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, 1997.

 Wiesyk, Marcin., "Joseph Stalin's Five Year Plan",, 1999.

 ______, "Collectivization and Industrialization",, 1993.


Stalin's Five-Year Plans

by Erin Hubbard, April 2001



From the very beginning, Stalin’s proposal of a Five-Year Plan for the Soviet Union economy was severely criticized. Although many warned that the plan was unrealistic, irrational, and even mathematically impossible, Stalin went ahead and began his first Five-Year plan in 1928. Although Stalin continually declared himself victorious, claiming that his Plan’s were achieved, the Soviet economy was bound to fail. Under the initial Five-Year Plans and Plans to come, there was far too much emphasis on heavy industry and the working population suffered the consequences. Perhaps if Stalin had put less stress on such extreme industrialization and paid more attention to the welfare of the citizens, it would have been better for not only the Soviet people, but also for the prolongation of the state.

When Stalin assumed power over the Soviet Union in 1928, he called for an immediate change of the economy. He put an end to the New Economic Policy, established by his predecessor Lenin, and ordered Gosplan, the Soviet planning committee, to create an overall plan for industrial development. Gosplan worked out two versions of a so-called Five-Year Plan plan: a basic, or initial version, and an optimum version. Both called for rapid industrialization, however the basic version gave more consideration to the current difficult economic situation, and had a 20% slower growth rate. Although it included goals far beyond what the Party had approved eight months ago, Stalin, desiring the quickest possible route to high industrialization, selected the optimum Five-Year Plan (Reiman, 1987).

The main objective of this extensive plan was for rapid industrialization, which was to be supported by a socialized agriculture. Stalin called for extreme capital investment, most of which was to go towards heavy industry. Furthermore, he insisted that the proportion of investment devoted to heavy industry increase each year. By the end of the five years, overall industrial production was to increase by 250% and heavy industry by 330%. High rates of growth were also set for transportation, energy, agriculture, raw materials, and fuel (Randall, 1965).

Because the Five-Year Plan contained such lofty goals, it is not surprising that many economists of both left and right were skeptical. Aleksey Rykov, chairman of People’s Commissars, warned Stalin that choosing the optimum plan was unwise and tried for a compromise. Rykov believed that certain favorable conditions had to be achieved first, before major industrialization could take place. He warned Stalin that great caution would be required during the first two or three years of the plan, and also urged him to consider the economy in the long-term. Stalin, however, completely rejecting the “moderate economic conception,” paid no attention to Rykov’s advice. Stalin was completely fixed on achieving the set goals outlined in the optimum plan (Reiman, p.104-105).

Russian mathematician and economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who had tried to apply his mathematical techniques to previous drafts of the First Five Year Plan, also advised Stalin that his Plan was unrealistic. Stalin, once again unwilling to change his plan, rejected Kondratiev’s services and advice, saying “mathematical economics was idealistic rather than Marxist.” Feeling offended and threatened by Kondratiev, Stalin discouraged the development of mathematical economics, and banned all mathematical and technical aids from being used in Soviet planning (Randall, p. 175).

Despite all criticism and suggestions, Stalin was stubborn and resisted to make changes. In 1928, he launched his first Five-Year Plan, before it was even complete. By the time all goals were fully determined, the Plan was almost through its first year, which gives some indication of the loose relation between the plan and reality. As each year went on, Stalin added more and more unrealistic goals.

By July, 1930, the Party shortened the Five-Year plan to four years, and by the end of 1932, the plan was proclaimed to be officially complete. However, “the fulfillment was more psychological, than statistical.” Although the Dnieprostroi Dam and other big projects had been successfully been completed, many of the other goals outlined in the plan had not been reached. Stalin could not even claim to have expanded heavy industry by 330%, nor could he claim that industry in general had expanded by 250%. Stalin compensated for any gaps between reality and the plan, saying “most mistakes were due to bungling and/or treason on the part of subordinates, not to defects of planning and were matters not for economists but for the police” (Randall, p. 174).

It must be noted that, although the objectives of the plan had not fully been reached, there was in fact tremendous growth in industry between 1928 and 1932. Stalin had truly made a big step in Soviet industrialization, however this growth was at the expense of the Soviet citizens who were overworked and starving.

It was especially bad for the peasants in the countryside who were experiencing Stalin’s version of collectivization of agriculture. Stalin believed religion to be a central obstacle to collectivization, and ordered the burning and destruction of thousands of churches, cemeteries, and religious symbols. Anyone who tried to prevent this was arrested or deported. Also, anyone who would not join the collectivization, namely the kulaks, was deported to remote areas. In 1930 alone, 115,000 kulaks were deported, and in 1931, 265,800 were deported. Certainly many died along the way. A much larger number of peasants died in the “artificially created” famine in the winter of 1932-1933. I say artificially created because it was actually collectivization itself, along with people’s unwillingness to collectivize and deportation, that led to food shortages (Medvedev, 1979).

Fifty years later it is clear that extreme industrialization was not the right choice for the USSR economy. It would have been wiser for the Soviet planning to concentrate more on agriculture (without collectivization) and consumer goods. Surely it is better for the success of a country to concentrate on the health of the workers and to concentrate on making the population happy. Stalin had put so much (too much) capital investment into heavy industry that other areas of the economy lacked attention, leading to the downfall of the USSR in 1990.


  • Gregory, P. & Stuart, R. Russian and Soviet Economic Performance and Structure (Boston: Addison Wesley, 2001), 69-71.

  • Medvedev, Roy. On Stalin and Stalinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 73-75.

  • Randall, Francis B. Stalin’s Russia: An Historical Reconsideration (New York: The Free Press, 1965), 173-178.

  • Reiman, Michal. The Birth of Stalinism (Indianapolis: Indian University Press, 1987), 102-106.





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