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Joseph Stalin

By Stephanie L. McKinney, PhD, Contributing Writer

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Stalin's Five Year Plans
A picture of Joseph Stalin.

Soviet Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. (circa 1935)

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Stalin's willingness to use brutality to achieve political aims was well established by the time he took power; nevertheless, the Soviet Union (as it was known after 1922) was unprepared for the extreme violence and oppression that Stalin unleashed in 1928. This was the first year of Stalin's Five Year Plan, a radical attempt to bring the Soviet Union into the industrial age.

Stalin's Five Year Plans Caused Famines

In the name of Communism, Stalin seized assets, including farms and factories, and reorganized the economy. However, these efforts often led to less efficient production, ensuring that mass starvation swept the countryside.

To mask the disastrous results of the plan, Stalin maintained export levels, shipping food out of the country even as rural residents died by the hundreds of thousands. Any protest of his policies resulted in immediate death or relocation to a gulag (a prison camp in the remote regions of the nation).

The Disastrous Effects Kept Secret

The first Five Year Plan (1928-1932) was declared completed a year early and the second Five Year Plan (1933-1937) was launched with equally disastrous results. A third Five Year began in 1938, but was interrupted by World War II in 1941.

While all of these plans were unmitigated disasters, Stalin’s policy forbidding any negative publicity led the full consequences of these upheavals to remain hidden for decades. To many who were not directly impacted, the Five Year Plans appeared to exemplify Stalin's proactive leadership.

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