How effective were the Five Year Plans in creating a successful economy in the USSR up to 1941?

The Five Year Plans had both positive and negative impacts on the economy of the USSR upto 1941. The contributions to a successful economy were:

  • The production of iron and steel had overtaken that of Britain by 1940. The economy was also close to the German economy.
  • A large number of factories were built in the safer parts of the country to save them from invasion. As a result of this, all the factories began to flourish. These include iron and steel works at Magnitogorsk, tractor works at Kharkov and Gorki, hydro electric dam at Dnepropetrovsk and oil refineries in the Caucasus.
  • The building of these new industries contributed significantly in winning the war against German invasion of 22nd June 1941.
  • The industries could be developed depending completely on the internal finances. There was no involvement of foreign investment. The main sources of finance were grain exports and amount received on charging peasants heavily for using government equipment.
  • A lot of emphasis was put on education in colleges, universities and in factories in order to develop new skills and techniques. The old capitalist techniques of piecework and pay differentials were used to increase production. This led to increase in efficiency of production.

But there were also some drawbacks of these Five Year Plans which resulted in their failure. These were:

  • In reality none of the Five Year Plans were able to completely reach the target. The Third Plan that was for the years 1938-42 failed to take shape due to the outbreak of the Second World War and USSR’s involvement in it.
  • The methods adopted to discipline factory workers in order to increase output were ruthless. They were forcefully sent to labour camps when they could not meet the targets. Their living conditions were so poor and primitive that many described this situation to be a declaration of war on peasants and workers by the state.
  • Although production increased, the products were often of poor quality. The pressure to increase production led the workers to speed up their resulting in poor workmanship and a huge compromise on quality.

Thus, while for some, this period was considered to be an era of genuine enthusiasm and prodigious achievements in production, yet the others looked down upon the regime as being ruthless and inconsiderate. This regime was heavily criticized by the future leaders like Khrushchev.


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