Five Cheers for Five Year Plans?

When collectivization started, it opened a new chapter in Soviet economics, while closing another.  With the ending of the NEP that attempted to use the private sector to bring Russia away from its perceived ‘backwardness’, the Five Year Plans were implemented to achieve the same goal.  However, as Lewin in On Soviet Industrialization describes, it was at great cost.

Lewin begins by establishing that he declares the NEP to be too weak and did not encompass enough of the economy to be successful.  He states that the “NEP showed signs of not coping”, which could eventually lead to an economic crisis (273).  Unfortately, as Lewin continues, it is clear that the Five Year Plans were not better, possibly even worse.  Beginning with the first plan that ended a year early which plunged the entire economy into chaos, it was unclear what the future of the system was going to be.  Since there was no incentive for workers to be productive, unlike in the NEP, the end of quarters always became mad dashes for quotas and manipulation of books became rampant.  Lewin attributes this to the command system, where there were simply too many superiors making too many demands causing resources to be stretched too thin or not to be created at all.    Lewin concludes that this ruined “initiative from below” (283), with too many bureaucratic layers and leaders with self-interests.

The Five Year Plans quickly enveloped the entire economic system, where so many citizens had to sacrifice so little.  This is an economic system that should not be celebrated.

3 thoughts on “Five Cheers for Five Year Plans?

  1. This analysis seems pretty spot on at analyzing the Lewin reading. Another important aspect–and possibly the most compelling– of the article is the mention of the economic system becoming so completely politicized that it ceased to function. Rather than propel the Soviet Union forward, Lewin seems to make the argument that the Five Year Plans pushed the USSR further backwards. The plans became a nightmare, stalling the industrialization process and exposing wide gaps in the Soviet Union’s skilled labor workforce.

  2. I would argue that many citizens actually had to sacrifice quite a lot for the self interest of the administration. Young graduates as well as peasants and eventually exiled Kulaks were forcibly mobilized to places like Magnitostroi, leaving behind all they had only to hope for a highly industrialized city. This was absolutely not what they were given. The entire labor force of Russia was categorized into Rabsila, which became an inexhaustible source for workers that was also cheap. Living conditions inside the impromptu industrial centers were atrocious, as Lewin states in his article.(282) The labor force that was being called up to rise up as the proletariat and stand together, was being torn down by the unrealistic demands of Soviet leadership.

  3. This blog post is a perfect explanation of why the Soviet Union failed, and some of the many faults that it included. This article is very well written, good job.

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