Stalin's domestic policies (1927 - 39)

This theme asks you to look at what kind of domestic programme was put into place by Stalin, and how his economic and social policies were created and implemented. An awareness of the results of these policies is also essential so you need to be aware of their relative successes and failures.

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • In what ways, and with what results, had Stalin developed the Soviet Union into a major industrial power by 1941? (Nov 2010)
  • Compare and contrast the domestic policies of Hitler and Stalin up to the outbreak of the Second World War. (Nov 2006)

Paper 2
  • To what extent were the social and economic policies of one of the following successful: Mao, Nasser, Stalin? (Specimen)
  • “The aims and policies of single-party state rulers rarely followed their declared ideology.” To what extent do you agree with this assertion? (May 2009, TZ1)
  • To what extent was the ruler of one single-party state successful in achieving his aims? (May 2008, TZ2)
  • Evaluate the successes and failures of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 2007, 2005)


Key dates:
  • 1929- kolkhozis (collective farms) were established.
  • 1929, First Five Year Plan put into action.
  • 1932, Second Five Year Plan.
  • 1932-34, Famine.
  • 1936, abortion made illegal.
  • 1937, Third Five Year Plan.
  • 1941, German invasion of Soviet Union.

What were Stalin's aims in his economic and social policies? (p. 110 - 113)

  • Increase military strength of the country to resist foreign intervention,especially due to the war scare in late 1920s and 30s.
  • Achieve self-sufficiency- watned to make USSR independent of western manufactured goods.
  • Increase grain supply- end dependence of the economy on a backward agriculture system. In the past this had created huge problems when there was bad harvest or peasants did not produce enough food.
  • Improve standards of living- catch up with the west in terms of standard of living people enjoyed, industrialization would create a wealthy society and communism should appeal to workers across the world.
  • Wanted to restore more conservative values of women and family.

  • Crush internal 'class enemies' of the kulaks. Brutal de-kulakisation to break the peasantry and bring the countryside (and thus grain supply) under Communist control.

What were Stalin's key policies to achieve these aims? Summarize with key details. What methods - i.e. how - did he carry out these policies? (pp. 109 -122)

  • The farms would be collectivized as peasants consisted of 80% of population. Stalin wanted land and food production under full control of the state.
  • In 1929, kolkhozi or collective farms were established to replace individual farms owned by the peasants.
  • Those who disagreed or refused to go along with the policy were branded "kulaks" and were severely punished.
  • Approximately 25mil small peasant farms were turned into 200,000 kolkhozi.
  • A small army called the "25,000ers" of party acitivists were sent to the countryside to encourage peasants to follow orders.
  • Grain requisitioning would be forced to get grain to the cities and to export surplus grain to finance purchase of machinery from abroad to support industrialization.


  • Stalin knew that only by taking full control of the resources and labour of the Soviet Union would industrialization be achieved; introduced a series of Five Year Plans to achieve a "revolution from above".
  • The First Five Year Plan (1929-32) called for a massive increase in industrial output and to create a proletariat by moving large numbers of peasants from the countryside to the cities.
  • Build iron and steel manufacturing plants, electric power stations, infrastructure including railways and to increase production of coal and iron.
  • The Second and Third Five Year Plans (1932-) shifted the production to heavy industrial goods as iron and steel plants were producing but the country needed trains, trucks and tractors.
  • Hitler was focusing on re-armament in Germany and many countries now opposed Communism and Soviet Union- Stalin wanted to make sure they had the resources to re-arm.
  • Industrialization would be achieved through labour discipline, slave labour and propaganda:
  • Labour discipline; Very harsh laws were introduced that punished workers who were late or absent and also made it a crime to break machinery, in some extreme cases these crimes were punished with execution. Managers were responsible for meeting targets and it they failed to do so they could be punished with death sentence.
  • Slave labour; during 1930s many gulags were built where kulaks and hundreds of thousands political prisoners were sent during the "purges".
  • Propaganda; Stalin's speeches about the successes of the Five Year Plans were printed in Pravda and with their own eyes, workers saw that the Soviet Union was industrializing and cathing up with the capitalist powers. However, did not know that the prison camps were overflowing with people!


The "Great Retreat"
  • Restore traditional values of women and the family after the opportunities granted to them after the revolution.
  • Abortion threatened to halt population growth and in 1936, abortion was made illegal and divorce discouraged.
  • Women rewarded with medals for giving birth to ten or more children.
  • Women also had to play a role in the expansion of the Russian economy; in the collective farms they were expected to work on fields and in factories (epecially during WW2) expected to do work of the men.
  • Women were trained as pilots during the war and unlike in the western countries, saw combat duties.


  • The Russian orthodox church had for centuries been a strong nationalistic force of Russian society.
  • During Lenin's reign it had been frowned upon to attend church and for Stalin, demonization of religion was important for collectivization as religious belief was still very significant for peasants.
  • Churches were destroyed, priests driven out along with the kulaks.


What were the key successes and failures of these policies? From whose perspective?

  • From peasants' perspective:
  • Historian Robert Conquest estimates that around 7 million lost their lives in the famine 1932-34 as a result of colelctivization and grain requisitioning.
  • Around 17 million peasants moved form the countryside in order to look for jobs.
  • Somewhere between 5-10 million kulaks were sent to labour camps.
  • This was a terrible policy for the Russian population!
  • From Stalin's perspective:
  • Collectivization was a failure in the sense that it led to the decline of both harvest and yield.
  • By 1934, 50% of all livestock had been sluaghtered by the peasants themselves as they rather slaughter than surrender it to the state.
  • However, it did allow Stalin to pursue class warefare and crush what he saw as internal enemies; kulaks.
  • Stalin finally secured the grain supply needed for industrialization and managed to export for finance.

Robert Conquest- if there was any bad harvest, it would be the countryside and not the city that would go hungry.


  • From worker's perspective: Focusing on heavy industry and arms meant that workers lacked basic consumer goods such as clothes and shoes- left the Soviet economy unbalanced.
  • The drive for rapid indust. led to awful social conditions for the workers- safety was neglected and low wages (falling by 50% in the 5 years after 1928) and tough discipline.
  • Workers did benefit from increase in education and training due to the need of a skilled workforce but this created a new industrial elite in Soviet with higher wages and extra benefit- directly contrasted Communist desire for equality!
  • From Stalin's perspective: 1928-41 there was a 400% increase in steel and 600% in coal.
  • Clearest proof of economic success- USSR's ability to defend herself against Nazi Germany in the brutal "total war" of 4 years.
  • Fulfillment of Stalin's main aim; transformation to modern industrial economy to withstand attacks from foreign invasion.

Most historians have generally agreed that industrialization achieved spectacular results even though unrealistic targets lead to bribery, corruption etc.
Alan Bullock- "none of Stalin's targets might have been achieved, but in every case output was raised".


  • Very little increase in birth rate.
  • There was a decline of divorces in Leningrad which shows some success.
  • However marriage also declined and divorce per marriage did not decline.
  • Evidence shows that even though abortion was outlawed, amount of illegal abortions increased drastically.


  • People instead formed "underground" churches and met secretly.
  • The official prohibition did not drive out religious belief but instead drove it underground.
  • During WW2, Stalin changed his approach to the church and used it to gather support frmo the people for the war effort which shows inconsistency of policy!


pp. 109 - 117.
pp. 109 - 117.