The Soviet Economy 1928-1933 a summary

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The Soviet Economy 1928-1933

A Summary: -

  • By 1928 the regime had almost formulated its plans for rapid industrialisation after years of party debate about the relationship between agriculture and industry and the best way forward.

  • The First Five-Year Plan lasted from October 1928 – December 1932. It had massive targets which were mostly arbitrary and did not take into account changing circumstances. Stalin ran the economy as though he was at war. Targets were planned and approached like major offensives, shock brigades were utilised and workers and peasants struggled and fought throughout this period.

  • The aims of the Plan were to modernise and industrialise the Soviet economy, to increase the Soviet Union’s military strength and to place her in a place of contention with the major Western Powers. It is clear that the methods of nations such Germany and the US were used within Soviet economic policy.

  • Industrialisation and collectivisation were linked, since it was impossible to carry out a major industrial programme without tackling the issues of food supply and releasing more labour for industry also.

  • The key factors in industrialisation were central planning, target-setting, prioritisation, and a massive emphasis on heavy industry

  • The Five-Year Plan did produce notable achievements. There was a significant increase in the key areas such as coal, steel and electrical power. New industrial towns were created and great projects undertaken (e.g.) developing transport. There was a corresponding increase in the urban population and workforce. It can also be argued that the mobilisation of huge numbers of people, voluntary or under compulsion, was an achievement in itself.

  • However, the Five-Year Plan also had shortcomings and failings. Some targets were not met. Consumer goods were neglected and industrial advances were offset by agricultural collapse. The cost in human terms of dislocation, shortages, compulsion, discipline and so on were enormous. Living standards probably fell in terms of diet, housing and overall consumption.

  • Statistical information on the achievements of the Five-Year Plan is not conclusive and is often unreliable. Soviet and Western estimates on the annual growth experienced by the Soviet Union differ and propaganda from both Western and Soviet sources has tended to overrate the Soviet economy. The degree of success experienced also depends on the point of comparison chosen and different economists have chosen to examine different years or stages in the Plan.

  • Collectivisation was even more controversial than industrialisation. There was the treatment of the kulaks, the widespread resistance to the process of collectivisation, the fall in agricultural output, and the personal dislocation. The entire process was difficult to justify on human or economic grounds.

  • However, the Government did succeed in feeding its new industrial workforce and establishing greater control over the countryside.

  • Ultimately, the economy was in many ways transformed. The USSR did become an industrial power, increased its world ranking, laid the foundations for future industrial development and arguably these developments made possible its success in the Second World War.

The Soviet Economy 1928-1933: Paper 2 Questions
“In these four years Soviet industry was fundamentally transformed”
“Extravagant claims of overfulfilment in sector after sector hid the realities of chaos and confusion … in 1932-33 the entire experiment seemed on the verge of collapse”.
Which of these two statements offers the more accurate analysis of the impact of the First Five-Year Plan on industry in the Soviet Union?
Target Objective: An analysis of the extent to which the USSR succeeded in fulfilling the objectives of the First Five-Year Plan and industrialising the Soviet Union.
Examiner’s Comments: There should be some discussion of the objectives of the Plan in order to comment on its success. Material on agriculture, and specifically Collectivisation, will only be credited if it is linked to the planning and process of industrialisation. Any answer which is essentially descriptive of the process of industrialisation, without an assessment of the results which gain no more than 11 marks. Similarly any answer which fails to discuss both statements will gain no more than 11 marks. However, it is not necessary to discuss them both to the same extent. Credit will be given to candidates who successfully argue that the two statements are necessarily incompatible and it is impossible to answer the question in wholly positive or negative terms.
* * * * *


“A triumph of planning and human achievement”

“Impossible to justify on economic or human grounds”
Explain which of these statements offers the more accurate interpretation of the changes in the Soviet economy between 1928 and 1933
Target Objective: An analysis of the First Five-Year Plan and Collectivisation and in particular their effects on the Soviet economy and society. Were economic and social changes a great achievement or not?
Examiner’s Comments: There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer and it is possible for candidates to come down firmly on one side or the other or argue that the two are not mutually contradictory. It is not necessary to give equal consideration to industry and agriculture, but answers that focus solely on one aspect can not be awarded more than 14 marks. Candidates who simply describe the changes which analysing them in terms of the quotations can not go beyond 11 marks.


“The aim of the First Five Year Plan was nothing less than the fundamental transformation of industry in the Soviet Union”. In the light of this statement, assess the impact of the First Five-Year Plan on industry in the Soviet Union.

Target Objective: An analysis of the impact of the first Five-Year Plan in industry.
Examiner’s Comments: It is acceptable to tackle the question from a purely ‘economic’ standpoint but candidate should be given credit for considering the effects on the lives of workers. However, material on collectivisation will not be credited. Candidates are not expected to know beyond 1933, but if candidates do so by considering the longer-term targets of the plans they should again be credited. A good answer will consider the aims of the Five-Year Plan and assess its impact in relation to those. It might also consider the impact of industrialisation on different groups. It might consider issues such as whether improvements in quality were less important than improvements in quantity, or whether the degree of disruption brought about by the Plan was necessary or justified.

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