he start of the 20th century was an uncertain time for the Russian Empire. Under the rule of an inexperienced Tsar forced into power due to his father’s health, it proved that experience is dearly needed to manage such a large empire. This was seen as Nicholas’ lack of experience led to him making many mistakes during his rule, angering not only his royalty but also his subjects. Due to his actions in the Great War, the resentment felt towards him would grow to a boiling point resulting in him being forced to abdicate in favour of a provisional government.
This new government proved to be unstable as only a few months after the abdication a coup d’etat was led by the Bolshevik forces spearheaded by Vladimir Lenin with the goal of taking power. The Communists would succeed in the upcoming civil war with many casualties but by the end of it would have control of the remnants of the old Russian Empire.
The period following the Communist takeover would see massive transformations in many parts of society, but for now, I would like to focus on how quickly Russia would industrialize after the takeover, most importantly after the takeover of Stalin as the head of government.
Before the Great War, the Russian Empire was a mostly agrarian country. The industrialization through the Industrial Revolution felt by the west was yet to reach the mostly isolated empire. Ideas didn’t spread as quickly at the time; combined with the relative hatred of the west from the previous Tsar, the father of Nicholas II, Alexander III it resulted in a nation greatly underprepared for the kind of conflict we would see in the upcoming years, especially in terms of industry.
Industry is key to any large nation’s success; due to the relative negligence of this Russia didn’t fare well in the later stages of World War One when equipment started to run out. At a point near the end of the war, commanders would send in two soldiers to share a gun; once one died, the other could pick up the gun and move forward. Because of this, not only did the empire lack the capability to introduce new modern equipment, but it was also running out of its aging equipment faster than they could produce it.
Once the Bolsheviks took power, they realised the focus of industry in a world powers arsenal through their experience of World War One. By putting all the heavy industry into the control of the state throughout Lenin’s New Economic Plan Year (End of Civil war — Start of 5 Year Plan), they would start a program of rapid industrialization, taken further when Stalin implemented his uber-industrialization 5 Year Plans.
Stalin’s 5 Year Plans would take Russia from a slowly industrializing great power to an industrial behemoth that by the start of World War Two would outproduce Germany in most heavy industries including coal, steel, and pig iron. At the start of these 5 Year Plans Stalin would state:
“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.”
This assessment comes quite close to the aforementioned statement that the Industrial Revolution did not reach the borders of Russia yet.
Through the sole focus on Heavy Industry, Stalin would do in 20 years what other countries did in 200. Admittedly with a very large impact on the population under the Soviet regime. Consumer industries were non-existent and even food at points became a large problem for some, especially in the Second 5-Year Plan where bad harvests and poor management led to the Holodomor famine in Ukraine which resulted in an estimated 5 million deaths. Terror was also another heavy tool used by Stalin’s regime to ensure that his targets were met. Imprisonment in his famous Gulags or just straight-up execution was used as a great incentive to make many of the unwilling spectators of the Soviet experiment join in.
Overall a drastic change can be seen between pre-Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Due to very harsh policies and the use of terror, Russia was able to catch up and even surpass its neighbors, earning its spot as a world power just in time for World War Two. Even so, we must contextualise this with the actions of the Soviet government, more specifically Stalin’s, to achieve such goals.
Because of this such rapid progress became unethical and therefore unacceptable to be used on a worldwide scale as many revolutionaries had hoped which led to many nations poised to try the communist experiment turning away due to the resentment created by the downsides of the ideology which would ultimately lead to the demise of the Communists.