The Soviet government under the leadership of Stalin, who by 1928 had assumed almost dictatorial power, decided to build a powerful industry in a few years at the expense of the Soviet people. The NEP policy was curtailed as it was unable to solve this problem. All factories and plants were proclaimed the “people’s property” and came under state control. A strictly centralized planned economy was introduced. The workers were exploited harshly. They had to work long hours (with one day-off on Sundays) and got very low wages. The labor discipline was very strict. If a worker was late for work three times he could be accused of sabotage (‘вредительство’) and sent to the Gulag (forced labor camps system). Many workers lived in barracks. Food and goods were rationed (distributed through card system). Besides, millions of convicts in the Gulag worked for free.
Various propagandistic techniques were used to arouse enthusiasm among the workers. One of the most famous innovations was the so-called ‘socialist competition.’ Brigades of workers, factories, cities, and even republics competed with each other. Outstanding workers were honored as “heroes of socialist labor” and highly praised in newspapers. Many workers believed that sufferings were necessary and temporary. Stalin set the tone in his famous 1931 speech: “We are behind the leading countries by 50-100 years. We must make up this time in ten years”. Stalin also warned: “If in ten years we do not cover the distance we will be crushed.”
There was also another thing that stimulated people to work enthusiastically. The noble aim of building the “best society in the world” united many people and gave meaning to their lives. Despite severe hardships many people really believed they were happy (mostly because of an enormous impact of propaganda) and helped each other in work. Collectives at factories and plants were like families for many workers. Stalin was interested in the formation of collectivistic mentality among Soviet people because individualistic mentality (typical of western democracies) was not good for his totalitarian regime. People with collectivistic mentality are easier to be manipulated because they believe that the government must rule and give orders and instructions.
The achievements of industrialization were great. Eastern Ukraine was turned onto a huge construction place. Hundreds of huge plants and factories emerged within several years. The most impressive among them were such giants as the Kharkiv tractor-building plant, the Kryvyj-Rih metallurgical plant (Криворіжсталь), the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station or Дніпрогес (which was the largest in Europe and became a symbol of industrialization), and others. In a decade the USSR became the world’s second largest industrial power. Ukraine became one of Europe’s most advanced industrial countries.
Industrialization had serious setbacks, however. Though the quantity of the output was impressive, its quality was low. Moreover, heavy industry was developed at the expense of light industry. Thus, the common people could not find many kinds of necessary goods in shops. Their food was rationed. The standard of living of the ordinary people was extremely low. In contrast, the living standard of high-ranking party officials was high. They lived in large apartments, received high salaries, and bought goods and food in special shops. They also often had household servants. In fact they formed a special privileged class called the apparatchiks or nomenclatura.
Europe and especially the USA profited greatly from Soviet industrialization. In 1931, for example, the USSR purchased 30 percent of the world export of machinery and equipment for plants and factories; in 1932 – almost 50 percent. Some historians blame the West that its greed for money helped raise the “communist monster.” Thanks to industrialization the USSR turned from a country that imports machinery into a country that produces machinery. In the 1930s the Soviet Union became one of a few countries capable of producing any kind of industrial goods.
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