Stalin - the Five-year Plans

Stalin realised that if Russia was to become a key player in the global market, the country needed to industrialise rapidly and increase production. To do this, Stalin introduced the Five-year Plans.


Stalin's chief aim was to expand industrial production. For this, he developed three Five-year Plans between 1928 and 1938. Gosplan, the state planning agency, drew up targets for production for each factory. The first two plans concentrated on improving heavy industry - coal, oil, steel and electricity.

Some keen young Communists, called Pioneers, went into barren areas and set up new towns and industries from nothing. There were champion workers called Stakhanovites, named after a coal miner who broke the record for the amount of coal dug up in a single shift. Education schemes were introduced to train skilled, literate workers.

The Soviet Union also gave opportunities to women - crèches were set up so they could also work. Women became doctors and scientists, as well as canal diggers and steel workers.

At the same time, many of the workers were slave workers and kulaks [Kulaks: Wealthy Russian farming peasants, who strongly opposed collectivisation - Stalin killed many. ] from the gulag [Gulag: Russian labour-prison camps. ]. Strikers were shot, and wreckers (slow workers) could be executed or imprisoned. Thousands died from accidents, starvation or cold. Housing and wages were terrible, and no consumer goods were produced for people.

But the improvements in production between 1928 and 1937 were phenomenal:

  • Coal - from 36 million tonnes to 130 million tonnes
  • Iron - from 3 million tonnes to 15 million tonnes
  • Oil - from 2 million tonnes to 29 million tonnes
  • Electricity - from 5,000 million to 36,000 million kilowatts

Key achievements

Other key achievements you need to know of are:

  • Turkestan-Siberian Railroad
  • The Dneiper Dam
  • The Belomor Canal

Revision tip and answer preparation

Revision tip

To help you remember the key facts and issues, draw two spidergrams - one to show the successes of the Five-year Plans, the other to show the failures.

Answer preparation

As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:

  1. How industry changed under Stalin.
  2. Why Stalin introduced the Five-Year Plans.
  3. How successful Stalin's economic changes were.
  4. How the role of women changed under Stalin.

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