The Five Year Plan

The Five Year Plan (1928-32) was a special type of 'revolution from above' - the accelerated transformation of the Soviet Union into a socialist industrial society by means of the state's coercive power to mobilize the masses for its goals.

The targets of the Plan were utopian. Originally the Plan had envisaged optimistic but not impossible rates of industrial growth. Bukharin and his allies on the Right of the Party had acted as a brake on Stalin's ambitions. But once Stalin had defeated them in 1929 the control figures were dramatically raised: investment was to triple; coal and steel production to double; and pig-iron to quadruple by 1932.

On 7 November 1929, the twelfth anniversary of the Revolution, Stalin wrote an article in Pravda, 'The Year of the Great Break', in which he heralded the Five Year Plan as the start of the last great revolutionary struggle against 'capitalist elements' in the USSR, leading to the foundation of a socialist industrial society not only able to defend itself against the capitalist states but eventually overtaking them.

Animated by the military rhetoric of the Civil War, where every order was couched in terms of fighting 'battles' and storming 'fronts', the fulfilment of the Plan entailed the sacrifice of individual interests to the state, a general decline in consumption, and the 'liquidation' of entire social classes in the 'class war' generated by the Stalinist regime to whip up mass support for its industrialization drive.

The Five Year Plan promised to deliver the socialist utopia. Soviet propaganda persuaded people that hard work and sacrifice today would be rewarded tomorrow, when everybody would enjoy the enjoy the fruits of their own labour in a Communist society. But when the Five Year Plan had been completed, and the utopia had not been reached, another Five Year Plan was introduced.

In this way the Soviet people were cajoled to go on working harder for the Communist utopia, which was always imminent but never came; the system was subjected to a permanent, unfinished revolution in which the state used all its forces to drive society. The Five Year Plan (of which there were twelve) became the basic model of Soviet development. It was Stalin's legacy.

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