Stalin's economic policies

The most important reason for Stalin coming to power was Propaganda, although Purges, secret police, and Stalin's economic policies are all very different and important reasons, why Stalin was able to hold onto power in the Soviet Union, but I do not feel that they are all equally important.

The Purges

The struggle for power after Lenin's death demonstrated that the leaders of the communist party disagreed strongly with each other on many different issues which they were faced with. At the end of the 1920's, Stalin had got rid of Trotsky and a number of his over rivals. There was still a lot of concern that Stalin's enemies would try to overthrow him. This was particularly obvious and worrying to Stalin during the terrible violence that accompanied the collectivisation and industrialisation campaigns of the early 1930's. Since the communist party had come to power, they had periodically 'Purged' its membership. This meant that they got rid of those who were suspected of being disloyal to their party. Stalin began to plan a purge of the top levels of the party to deal with his rivals once and for all, to result in him being unable to be overthrown.

By 1934 Stalin thought that his opponents were planning to replace him with Kirov, who was the leader of the Leningrad section of the party. He secretly ordered Yagoda, who was head of the 'Secret police', to have Kirov murdered. When Kirov had been murdered, Stalin used it as an excuse to turn on his enemies like Zinoviev, Kamenev. They were accused of being involved in the murder and were arrested, put on trial and in January 1935 sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence.

Stalin didn't feel as though they had been punished enough. Towards the end of 1935 Stalin accused Zinoviev and Kamenev along with Trotsky, of being spies for foreign countries. In 1936 the 'Secret Police' provided evidence that their Supporters had been in contact with Trotsky, as he was in exile at the time, they were all put on public trial on charges of terrorism. Despite being promised their lives if they confessed to the terrorism, when they did so, they were shot dead. This trial, in august 1936 was the start of the 'Great Terror'. For two years the people of the Soviet Union were inflicted to a campaign of state terror in which the secret police hunted Stalin's enemies, nobody was safe from the secret police.

Secret Police

Stalin used Yezhov's NKVD to crush any potential opposition. They arrested and shot hundreds of thousands of people. In the official Soviet records it is said that nearly 700,000 people were executed during the 'Great Terror' of 1937-1938, with Stalin taking a personal role in many of these murders. The Secret police prepared lists of victims for Stalin to authorise. He approved nearly 400 of these lists, containing around 40,000 names.

By 1938 the terror was starting to have a severe effects on the economy. The sheer numbers of managers, officials, supervisors, foremen, officers, scientists and engineers who had vanished meant that many organisations were close to collapse from this. With this Stalin decided to end the Great Terror. Towards the end Stalin first turned against the NKVD. Many of its senior officers were shot and Yezhov was replaced by another of Stalin's cronies, Beria. At a party meeting the following year, Stalin personally denounced Yezhov. He was arrested and finally shot in 1940.

In 1940 Stalin's agents finally caught up with Trotsky, whom they had been hunting for years. In exile in Mexico, Trotsky was murdered with an ice pick by a Secret Police member. The death of Stalin's greatest enemy marked the true end of the great terror. Every one of Stalin's rivals was now dead.


In the Soviet Union under Stalin, people were unable to think for themselves. They were told what to think by the state and the government. Education served the purpose of the communist party. Pupils were taught in communist version of history and even communist theories about science. Propaganda influenced almost every aspect of life. The mass media were all controlled by the state and could only produce approved material. The states messages were everywhere, at work, at school, and posters in the streets. Even artists were brought under state control. They were only allowed to produce work that reflected the glorious achievements of communism.

The Cult Of Personality

The most important propaganda message of all was that Stalin was the greatest genius of his time. The soviet people were taught to believe that Stalin was all powerful and all knowing. They came to look upon him as a god. This image was in photographs and in painting or on statues and writers, competed to produce the most glowing tribute to his achievements. In a set of eight records made of one of this speeches, the last record consisted solely of applause.

The flood of pro-Stalin propaganda , never balanced by a single word of crisicism, created a kind of hero worship known as the cult of personality.

Economic Policies

Stalin was determined to modernise the Soviet Union. He worried that if the country did not build up its economic strength then sooner or later the capitalist powers would invade and destroy the achievements of communism. He believed the 'New Economic Policies' was working too slowly it would take decades to transform the Soviet Union into a modern economy. Stalin felt that something much quicker was needed.

Starting in 1928 he forced profound changes on agriculture and industry. Collectivisation was introduced in agriculture. The state took over agricultural production, forcing peasants to work together on huge collective farms. This change was fiercely resisted by the peasants, who wanted to farm their own land. It took much violence to force collectivisation through, and agriculture was left permanently weakened.

Industry was modernised through a series of 'Five Year Plans'. The state set targets and priorities for industry and with massive investment and super human efforts from the Soviet Union's workers, within a decade the Soviet Union had become a major industrial power.

Five Year Plan


In 1927 Stalin's advisers told him that with the modernization of farming the Soviet Union would require an extra 250,000 tractors. As well as tractors there was also a need to develop the oil fields to provide the necessary petrol to drive the machines. Power stations also had to be built to supply the farms with electricity.

Since the October Revolution industrial progress had been slow. It was not until 1927 that production had reached the levels achieved before the start of the First World War. Stalin decided that he would use his control over the country to increase production.

The first Five Year Plan introduced in 1928, concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. Joseph Stalin set the workers high targets. He demanded a 1115 increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west.

Every factory had large display boards erected that showed the output of workers. Those that failed to reach the required targets were publicity criticized and humiliated. Some workers could not cope with this pressure and absenteeism increased. This led to even more repressive measures being introduced. Records were kept of workers' lateness, absenteeism and bad workmanship. If the worker's record was poor, he was accused of trying to sabotage the Five Year Plan and if found guilty could be shot or sent to work as forced labour on the Baltic Sea Canal or the Siberian Railway.

With the introduction of the Five Year Plan, Stalin argued that it was necessary to pay higher wages to certain workers in order to encourage increased output. His left-wing opponents claimed that this inequality was a betrayal of socialism and would create a new class system in the Soviet Union. Stalin had his way and during the 1930s, the gap between the wages of the labourers and the skilled workers increased.

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