GCSE History : Stalin's USSR

Economic Reforms and Industrialisation

Economic Reforms and Industrialisation

Economic growth in the 1920s

GCSE History Revision - NEP PosterIn some ways, NEP was a successful economic policy. It helped to stabilize the Soviet Union, and created economic growth. We have to keep in mind, however, that the economy had suffered terribly from World War One and the Civil War, and it took until 1928 for the Soviet Union’s economy to reach the size that Russia’s had been in 1914.

For a man like Stalin, this wasn’t enough. In his view, the Soviet Union lacked the industrial power that it needed for communism to prosper. And as we have seen, he also it was also politically advantageous for him to turn on NEP, as it allowed him to discredit the remaining rivals to him on the Right of the Party. He therefore embarked on a program of rapid industrialisation and economic reform.

Economic Reforms

Starting in 1928, Stalin brought in ambitious economic reforms, the goal of which was to turn the Soviet Union into a superpower. The reforms demanded enormous sacrifices from the population, and those who made a fuss about them were either arrested or, in the case of the countryside, made to starve to death.


Don’t assume that workers in towns had it easy just because peasants got it in the neck at this time. Stalin was equally crazy about increasing the Soviet Union’s industrial output. He basically wanted to fit over a century or so of industrial growth into the space of a couple of decades.

The Five Year Plans

Economic Reforms and IndustrialisationHe did this by setting production targets, known as Five Year Plans. The targets were incredibly ambitious. These targets would partly be reached by building thousands of new factories, mines, power plants and workshops. Women were also brought into the industrial workforce. But above all, Stalin demanded that everyone work hard. Very hard. Propaganda was used to tell workers that not working hard was the equivalent of trying to sabotage the communist revolution. Workers were encouraged to follow the example of Alexei Stakhanov, a man who allegedly could do the work of tens of men (it was all a lie, of course). People who quibbled about all this at work were denounced as ‘wreckers’ or ‘saboteurs’ and were rewarded with a trip to the gulag or a bullet to the head.

The plans caused massive increases in industrial production, such as an increase in coal output from 40 million tonnes in 1928 to 140 million in 1937, or a 400 per cent increase in iron production. But to achieve these, people had to work a lot harder than the ‘exploited’ workers of the capitalist world.