Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin’s policies aimed at improving the economy of Russia were very different, and whilst Stalin may have used his support of previous policies such as those of Vladimir Lenin as a means to gain followers to bring him to power, he very quickly changed policies once he was in power. Lenin was less radical, at least after his experiences during the Civil War of 1918 – 1921, and favoured the people. Stalin’s policies were aimed chiefly towards economic growth, no matter the cost to the Russian people.
The November Revolution of 1917 was followed by a three year Civil War, which seems to have worked as an education for Lenin. During the Civil War, the Reds controlled much of the heartland of Russia, including the key industrial areas, which enjoyed the best communication routes. The Whites were confined to the much more rural lands of Russia, with little or no means of speedy travel. However, these were also the agricultural lands of Russia. Whilst Lenin controlled the industrial areas, the agricultural lands available to him were more limited, making food supplies short. It is probably because of this that the Reds enforced War Communism during the Civil War. This was an extreme version of Communism, as the government took over all of the factories and took all of the grain they needed from the peasant farmers to supply their armies fighting against the Whites. To ensure that enough grain was available, the Reds stopped the peasants from selling any of their grain for profit, which had been common practice since the land reforms passed following the 1905 Revolution. The Communists used soldiers to enforce War Communism, who seized as much grain as they liked from the peasants. This threatened the peasants with starvation, and returned them to the poverty they had suffered under the Tsars.
In the factories, conditions were made just as tough, as the government said what had to be made, and at what price. Everyone was made to work, including men aged between sixteen to sixty and women, as only workers were allowed ration cards to obtain food. Also, any strikes or hoarding of food was made illegal, with the secret police, the cheka, enforcing these rules, leading to rule by intimidation.
The immediate result of these tough measures actually reduced production, particularly of grain, as the peasants grew less grain in an attempt to stop the government from seizing what they grew. As a result, the Communist’s pressure tactics caused a shortfall of food and a famine in 1921 which killed up to seven million people.
Lenin seems to have learnt from his mistakes however, as with victory in the Civil War, he reformed the Communist’s economic policies, beginning in the same year as the famine; 1921. These reforms, known as the New Economic Policy, were only going to be temporary, as they introduced elements of capitalism back into Russia, but Lenin knew that the country needed to be rebuilt.
The New Economic Policy put the ownership of some small factories back into the hands of private owners, whilst the farmers were again allowed to sell their grain on the open market, giving them the necessary incentive to grow as much as they could in order to increase production. The main industries such as coal and iron works were still controlled by the government, but experts in each of the respective industries were brought in to run the factories.
Whilst the New Economic Policy was unpopular with the left-wing Communists who were more inclined towards the policies of War Communism, these policies were successful as the economy grew at a steady rate. Another side effect of these capitalist policies was that those of a more business minded persuasion became rich. Amongst the peasantry, these wealthier people were called kulaks, and bought up more land with their profits to make further profit from the greater yields of grain which they could produce as a result. Those who grew rich from businesses were called nepmen.
It is not surprising therefore, that when Stalin came to control the Soviet Union, something which he achieved through trickery and manipulation of opinion, he targeted these capitalist styled farmers and business men in an attempt to gain support for his policies. Whilst Stalin had portrayed himself as a devout follower of Lenin to gain power, he swiftly put an end to the New Economic Policy when he became the Soviet Premier in 1928.
Stalin saw that Russia was far behind the rest of Europe in terms of industrial development. He wanted to change this as rapidly as possible, and to achieve this, he felt that he needed to remove the power from the peasant farmers, whom he believed were withholding their produce in order to set a monopoly upon food prices. In order for industrialisation to go ahead, he wanted to reform agriculture so that far more food was produced, and to do this he put the control of agriculture back in the hands of the government. The government would now dictate how farming was carried out, increasing the yield of food with more efficient methods, which would also serve to release millions of farmers to go and work in the factories, thus enabling a growth in industry.
To increase agricultural produce, Stalin created collectivisation. This meant that the peasants would no longer farm their own lands, but instead they had to work together on huge plots, using modern machinery like tractors, which were provided by the government. In this way, all resources were thrown at farming large areas to produce food which was collected by the government, rather than the farmers growing their own food and selling any surplus which they had left over from their individual plots. Collectivisation enabled the government to dictate what would be grown, and to set the prices of the produce. Whilst the farmers were still given small plots of land to grow their own food, they were now given a share of the overall crop profits and weren’t allowed to sell their own crops at the prices they set. This put an end to the capitalist kulaks, who, if they resisted these new policies, were rounded up by the secret police and moved to poorer lands, or sent to labour camps in Siberia.
To increase industry, Stalin set targets from the largest organisations, down to the individual worker, setting each factory targets for production, which were in turn passed onto each shift of workers and each individual worker, so that everyone contributed to achieving the targets set for each factory. There were also larger schemes, called Five Year Plans, which from 1928 onwards set long term targets for all industries, and developing the country’s transport infrastructure. Stalin set three of these Five Year Plans, with the last beginning in 1938. As war looked imminent when this plan began, the production of armaments was set as the target.
Stalin’s policies, although very harsh and enforced through terror, drove the Soviet Union to become a huge industrial power. Anyone not committed to the plans was marked out and either arrested and sent to labour camps, or in the case of Stalin’s political rivals, whom he blamed for interfering with the Five Year Plans as an excuse to remove his political opponents, many were executed. As such, the industrial growth of the Soviet Union leading up to World War II was spurred on by fear rather than a sense of loyalty to the government amongst the Russian people, but Stalin certainly turned the country into an industrial power.
The cost of industrialisation fell upon the people. The conditions in which the workers were forced to labour were dangerous, with scant concern for the safety of the workers. As such, as well as the many millions of protesters sent to labour camps or executed, many thousands more died or were maimed in industrial accidents. This problem was particularly prominent due to the lack of training given to the workers. The workers also lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and struggled to find the basic items like shoes or clothes. Stalin was so obsessed with increasing industry that little effort was expended on producing ordinary consumer items.
So Stalin’s policies, whilst in stark contrast to Lenin’s, also produced impressive results in a very short time. He was certainly successful in what he set out to do with regards to industry. And whilst the conditions were appalling, and the country was led with an iron grip, the system did at least insure that there was no unemployment, and education and health care were free.
Stalin’s plans to increase agricultural production, on the other hand, failed. Stalin took control of farming, which was what he wanted, but production dropped considerably following the first Five Year Plan which ended in 1933. Once again, due to government interference, the peasant farmers and the poor paid the price as some five million people died in the resultant famine.