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This week in history: The USSR's first Five-Year Plan

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 5:49 p.m. MDT

Robert Conquest writes in his book, “Stalin: Breaker of Nations,” “One of the 'gigantic' projects of the Five-Year Plan was the Baltic-White Sea Canal. Started in 1930, it was built entirely...with slave labor. The workforce at its largest seems to have been about 300,000, mostly 'kulaks' (better-off peasants and therefore class enemies)...who hacked it out of the earth and rock under appalling conditions — deaths are reckoned at about 200,000.”

In order to pay for the massive industrialization project, the Soviet Union was forced to sell the only commodity it could produce in mass quantities — agricultural products. The horrifying level of government grain requisitions from the countryside ensured millions of peasants, mostly Ukrainians, starved to death in an entirely avoidable man-made famine.

Despite the plan's successes, the results were not enough for Stalin. Though the plan was intended as a one-time scheme to industrialize the nation, a second Five-Year Plan went into effect in 1933. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it was working on its 13th Five-Year Plan.

Snyder writes of Stalin's responsibility for the human catastrophe: “He had transformed the market into the plan, farmers into slaves, and the wastes of Siberia and Kazakhstan into a chain of concentration camps. His policies had killed tens of thousands by execution, hundreds of thousands by exhaustion, and put millions at risk of starvation.”

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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