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Successes and Failures of Industrialisation

Modern History (Year 12) - Russia Transforms

Ben Whitten

Successes of Industrialisation

  • Increased production: The USSR emerged from the Five Year Plans as an industrial force to be reckoned with, only being second to the USA after WWII. This occurred due to the massive increase in production, particularly in heavy industry, iron, oil and electricity. The USSR also had an advantage in WWII thanks to the increase in transport and munitions.

  • Changing workforce: The introduction of the Five Year Plans also transformed the Soviet labour force by creating widespread opportunities for paid employment and introducing incentives for hard work and efficiency. Many peasants found work in factories and women were able to enter the workforce in a big way. But this was a bit of a double-edged sword. What the labour force had in size, they lacked in skill—most of them weren’t qualified for work in an industrial society.

  • Growth of industrial centres: The growth of factories led to rapid urbanisation. Well-established cities like Moscow and Leningrad flourished while new industrial centres seemed to spring up from thin air. The city of Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains near Kazakhstan is a good example. It became a steel-producing powerhouse and a symbol of the USSR’s industrial transformation.

  • Patriotism: Rapidfire industrialisation thrust the USSR into a completely new age, inspiring many young people who felt proud of their country and wanted to make their mark on Soviet history. Aided by extensive propaganda, Stalin painted himself as the architect of a glorious communist future. This image struck a chord with the people at the time because the USSR was industrialising while the West was suffering big time in the Great Depression.

Failures of Industrialisation

  • Harsh labour discipline: While the Five Year Plans increased the size of the labour force and made room for bonuses and rewards, they also saw the introduction of harsh labour discipline. Things like absenteeism became punishable by death and poor performance spelled the end of your career—and possibly your life! The OGPU took charge of labour discipline and showed no mercy. Internal passports and workbooks were introduced to control workers’ every move. Plus, the state relied more and more on forced labour camps, known as gulags.

  • Conditions in Gulags: Gulags were corrective work camps located in and around Siberia. Conditions in the camps were variable but it was obvious that they were horrendous. Prisoners were forced to work for up to 14 hours a day in sub-zero temperatures, usually completing hard labour with no other tools than their bare hands.

  • Falling living standards: Living conditions in the USSR also plummeted thanks to industrialisation. This was the result of the Five Year Plans focus being mainly on heavy industry, not consumer industries; This led to serious shortages of basic necessities. This was also the result of increased urbanisation, which led to severe overcrowding in urban centres and put a massive strain on resources like water, food, fuel and transport. Russian citizens were left with very little.

  • Consolidation of Stalin’s power: Industrialisation greatly increased the industrial power of the USSR, but it also boosted Stalin’s personal power. Between 1928 and 1941, Stalin cracked down hard on any and all opponents of his regime. This period became known as the Terror. Stalin placed heavy restrictions on civil and political freedoms, turning citizens of the USSR into subjects of a totalitarian regime.

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