The Five Year Plans and Economic Distress...

In 1928, the New Economic Policy implemented by Lenin in 1921 was overturned and a five year plan implemented. This plan called for the collectivization of agriculture and the creation of heavy industry (Cole, 677). Show trials were held from 1928 until 1930 during which engineers and technicians were accused of trying to wreck the economy. This went along with Stalin’s anti-intellectual stance. Certainly these ‘smart’ engineers were trying to sabotage the Soviet economy. The kulaks, wealthy private farmers, which resisted collectivization, were also punished by Stalin and were depicted in propaganda as being greedy and against the Soviet state. Their homes were burnt and their livestock taken or slain. Many of these kulaks left their farms and migrated to the cities to find work. This first five year plan caused things to get worse for Russian workers. Wages dropped 49% from 1928 to 1933, housing space was lost, and workers lost the right to free medicine. Famines in 1932 and 1933 made things for the peasants even worse and more propaganda was fueled out (Davies, 25).

Below are a few posters encouraging productivity.



This poster reads, "Work happily, and the crop will be good. Spring, summer, fall, winter" and depicts this woman that we assume to be hardworking is happy in her work and reaping great success. Implicit in this poster is the idea that Stalin brought this change about.



This poster reads, "Come, comrades, to join us in the collective farm." Implicit in this poster is again that Stalin and communism has brought this change. This couple looks happy in their work, leading those who view the poster to think that a collective farm will bring more joy than working in their own farm.

The propaganda centered on the second five year plans (1933) depicted the common man as an everyday hero for his dedication to the nation. One such example is the story of Alexis Stakhanov, a coal miner that produced fourteen times his quota in one shift (Cole 679). The second five year plan was focused on increasing wages and production of goods, and socialist realism was introduced to the Russian people. Soviet Realism was the influencing of the Russian people to work harder for the benefit of the state. Not only was the intent of soviet realism to inspire the Russian people, but to also show the world that the Soviet Union was moving upward and onward. The roots of this movement were found in authors like Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekov. This movement restricted artists, musicians, and writers to the themes of class struggle, peace, and Soviet achievement (Cole, 712). The second five year plan, however, did little to help the workers. Stalin cut out the ration system, which hurt large families. Newspaper advertising and propaganda increasingly frustrated the workers and the poor who could not afford the goods being advertised. This propaganda often had the reverse effect on people, who instead of thinking of how good things were now, were reflecting on the good life they had under Trotsky. The economy was beginning to falter and state propaganda was to change again (Davies, 31). By 1934, the peace, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist themes were replaced by rearmament themes, mirroring those of the League of Nations who sensed a threat in Adolf Hitler.

This image of achievement and happiness is seen in a poem by Vasily Lebedev-Kemach, penned in 1936 entitled “Life is Getting Better.”

Beautiful as Birds all in a row
Songs fly above the Soviet Land
The happy refrain of the cities and fields
“Life’s getting better and happier too!”

The country is growing and singing as one,
It forges everyone’s joy with its songs.
Look at the sun – the sun’s brighter too!
“Life’s getting better and happier too!”

There’s room everywhere for our minds and our hands,
Wherever you go you’ll find you have friends
Old age feels warmer and youth braver still
“Life’s getting better and happier too!”

Know, Voroshilov, we’re all standing guard-
We wont give the enemy even a yard.
There is a saying for folks old and young,
“Life’s getting better and happier too!”

Let’s get the whole gigantic country
Shout to Stalin, “Thank you, our man!
Live long, prosper, never fall ill!”
“Life’s getting better and happier too!” (Von Geldem, 1995)


Life did not get better for the peasants, rather, it got worse. By 1936, the Soviet economy was obviously faltering. Shoe prices increased, loan rates were lowered, and in the winter of 1936 a famine caused workers to flock to the cities. In 1938, a third five year plan was instituted, its goals being for investment into the defense industry at the expense of consumer goods. Stalin and the propagandists were losing leverage with the people and dissenting media began to appear during this period. Many were wholly dissatisfied and demanded glasnost. Queues were established and workers waited for products. Shops were closed, and unofficial rationing was set up. In December of 1938, labor books were introduced to keep track of a worker’s hours. Without a labor book, one could not be employed, and this book was kept with the employer so the worker could not see what was being written. These books instituted even more terror into employees, for now their every move was documented, including absences and tardiness. The workers felt these books were a slap in the face as they were working their hardest for the motherland and still being punished. The books also prevented workers from changing jobs, which caused them to lose hope at securing a better life for themselves. The books overall were not very effective as workers still skipped from factory to factory (Davies, 42). Education also changed during this time period as in October 1940 expensive annual tuition fees were introduced, barring blue collar workers from granting an education. This is particularly saddening considering one of the first aims of the Bolshevik party was to introduce literacy to the impoverished class. This further emphasized the social strata present in Soviet Russia. One student remarked woefully on this, “I worked at a factory for five years. Now I’ll have to leave my studies at the institute. Who will study? Only the highest strata, while for the lowest strata, the laboring people, the doors will be closed (Davies, 72).”

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