When Stalin came to power conditions in Russia were very bad, both financially and generally. After 4 years of war, and 3 years of the civil war, the Russian people were on the verge of starvation, with many of their homes destroyed after the fighting. By 1921 the Kronstacht sailors began to revolt, wanting freedom and prosperity. Lenin had introduced the New Economic Policy to try and prevent any further revolts. This allowed economic freedom to some Russian people, and gave peasants the chance to become a lot more prosperous.
However, only food production had increased, and industry had only risen a minor amount due to the products given to the Russian army during the war. So the Russian people were well off as far as food went, but industry was still undeveloped, because the workers were unmotivated to produce large amounts. So before Stalin came to power, the Russian people were starving, and those providing the food were getting little pay, due to the availability of food there was after NEP was introduced. In 1928, Russia was two million tonnes short of the grain it needed to feed its workers, so Russian towns were in a state of famine.
Stalin was aware of this lack of production in industry and knew he had to have as many workers working in industry as possible. Many farmers were only producing the minimum requirement, so that their food prices would not decrease. Thus, in 1929, Stalin introduced a policy of Collectivisation. The aim of collectivisation was to have more control over the peasants so that it would be more efficient and thus the surplus workers could work in the industry. The concept was that farmers would unite their farms together to create larger ones, called Kolkhozes.
The government would run them and their aim was to produce a fixed amount of food for the government, any that was surplus was theirs to be shared. This allowed many peasants to leave their farms and start work in factories in the towns, which was what Stalin intended. Ninety percent of produce made by each collective was sold straight to the state at a fixed price. In return the state made farming equipment freely available. For the peasants their main source of income had become their share in the Collective profits. Each member by default was given a house, livestock, tools and a garden in which to grow their own vegetables.
This at least meant there was more certainty for the Russian peasants and they no longer had to worry about food or housing as long as they worked well. Collectivisation was met with mixed views from different divisions of the Russian society. It was generally supported by the very poor peasants who realistically had little to lose. Young peasants gave in to the propaganda enforced on many people, and saw it as a good opportunity. However, many Kulaks were in opposition to this scheme, as they had been very prosperous under NEP.
But now they had to sacrifice their profit and land, and now found themselves in the same situation as many poorer peasants. The kulaks began to rebel against collectivisation and within a short time, collectivisation became a grim and bitter struggle. They refused to hand over their land and produce, so requisition parties came and took the food required by the government, often leaving peasants to starve. Ten million kulaks were arrested and sent by the thousand to labour camps, forced onto poor-quality land, killed or deported. In retaliation, many kulaks burnt their crops and slaughtered their animals rather than handing it over.
In terms of production, collectivisation was a disaster, and up until 1932, it had drastically decreased in most areas, including grain, sheep/goats, cattle and pigs. Famine broke in many areas of Russia in 1932-33, and it took years to fully recover from the drop in food production. There were some benefits from collectivisation. The 40% of the population, who were poor peasants, became marginally better off. Life on the farms was greatly improved. Some even had schools and hospitals, tractors were made available to hire, and some peasants were even given small private plots of land.
For Stalin, this was a success, as there were now more workers in industry. The peasants who moved to the towns were subject to the ambitious “Five-Year Plans” of Stalin. Stalin needed to increase industrial produce, so that Russia would be able to defend against the German army. He described it industrially growing 100 years in only 10 years. The first Five-Year Plan, started in 1928, concentrated on vital heavy industry – coal, iron, oil electricity. Although actual production figures were lower than the targets, remarkable growth in output was achieved.
Stalin’s plan had dramatically increased production in the USSR and established a foundation base for the future plans. The workers were given propaganda and incentives, such as medals, to encourage them to work harder. However, they were working under the threat of execution, as were their managers. Due to the ambitious ideas of Stalin, many worked to produce a certain quantity, and not quality. People were putting more work in to making capital goods, like coal and steel, which meant very small amounts of consumer goods were produced. The Second Five-Year Plan (1933-1937) built on the achievements of the first.
Heavy industry remained the priority, but other areas were also developed. For example, transport and communications were also boosted, and new canals and railways – such as the spectacular Moscow underground railway -were built. The Third Five-Year Plan was begun in 1938, but was heavily disrupted by the Second World. After these plans were completed, the majority of Russians were better off, as they had clothes, food and the knowledge that they had protection against Hitler. By the late 1930s many Soviet workers had improved their life by acquire well-paid skilled jobs and earning bonuses for meeting targets.
Some aspects of the Russian lifestyle were flourishing; unemployment was extremely low and education became free and compulsory for all and Stalin invested heavily in training schemes in colleges and at work. These plans gave people the chance to live in a more modernised country, with improved technology in place. On the other hand, however, life under Stalin was extremely harsh. Ordinary soviet citizens found working in factories very tough. The discipline was of the harshest nature and the punishments severe.
For example, those who failed to attend work could be executed and lateness was punished by sacking which often also meant losing their house. The secret police introduced internal passports which prevented free movement of workers inside the USSR and there were no trade unions to help the workers. Managers and workers were sent to labour camps if they failed to meet the government’s targets. There were vast amounts of pressure placed on the individual worker who lived in fear of the regime. They lived and died in very appalling conditions and the working conditions in some places were atrocious.
For example, during the construction of the town of Magnitogorsk in Siberia, men froze, starved and suffered, but construction would continue with no regard for the individual. The most terrifying period of Stalin’s rule without doubt was the political mass homicide of his own people, known as the ‘Purges. ‘ The beginning came with the murder of Sergei Kirov, leader of the Leningrad Communist Party in 1934. Kirov had been considered by many as Stalin’s closest rival and despite Stalin carrying his coffin, historians strongly suspect that he arranged for Kirov’s murder.
Stalin used the murder of Kirov to justify the purging of his political opponents. Stalin grew more and more paranoid about opposition in Russia and soon set up organisation to seek out, and torture those who were suspected by others to be against him. Many were tormented into confessing crimes for which they were innocent of. There were even public trials of those considered to be against Stalin, like Zinoviev and Kamenev, who had been close friends of people against the Communist party. These “show trials” were held as a means of propaganda to show people what could happen if they were to conspire against Stalin.
Even those in the Red army were under threat after many were executed by Stalin’s command. So the Purges led to an increase in suspicion among everybody, which made things worse for the majority of Russians, allowed Stalin to be free of any possible opposition. There were many different groups affected by Stalin’s rule from 1928 to 1941. Members of the Communist party were in a very insecure position, because Stalin was most suspicious of those closest to him, which meant members were constantly under threat of death. They were probably, generally well off, because of the increase in consumer goods due to the Five year plans.
Peasants working in the towns and on the farms were better off, especially those poorer peasants who had nothing to lose, because they had a steady income. The women working in the towns were better off as far as their rights went, because they were given certain aspects of equality. Yet, women were encouraged to have many children, which would prevent them from working. In 1936 abortion was made illegal, so that some women would have to have a baby, even if it was not wanted. The majority of children will have probably thought they were better off, due to large amounts of propaganda and the re-writing of text books.
They, themselves, were not better off, as far as living conditions went, but they were encouraged to join youth Communist parties, like the Pioneers and the Komsomol, which may have improved their morale. Religious groups were under huge threat in 1941, as Stalin became very ruthless against Christians and Muslims in Russia. So those who were a different religion to Stalin were not better off in 1941, because in 1928, there was a partial freedom for people to chose which religion they were a part of. Stalin was also very harsh against those who were not Russian, even though he was Georgian.
So, people were generally not better off in terms of living conditions, except for those poor peasants, who may not have even had living conditions until Collectivisation had been introduced. Work conditions had improved and morale was very high in some people, with the knowledge that the Five-year plans had produced good weaponry to use against the German army. However, this industrialisation came at a huge price, and many were left in fear or the Purges, and of other people in their community trying to convict them of being against Stalin.
Many minority groups of nationalities and religions were worse off in 1941 than in 1928, due to the harsh view taken by Stalin. Many non-Russian traditions were discouraged along with the use of non-Russian languages. It seems that the only person who was completely better off in 1941 than in 1928, was Stalin himself. He had achieved all the goals he had wanted, like industrialisation and Collectivisation, and had complete rule over Russia due to the terror created by his secret police.