“Swell the Harvest” and the First Five Year Plan

When Joseph Stalin consolidated his power in the new Soviet government, he was faced with the monumental challenge of transforming his country into an advanced and industrialized world power. To complete this mission, he initiated the First Five Year Plan, which was completed between 1928 and 1932. The goals of this plan were to develop iron and steel works to increase the production of those resources 200%. Stalin also wanted to increase the use of electricity and expand coal production. The reasoning behind this plan, according to Stalin, was that Russia had too long been defeated and abused for being technologically backwards and was currently at the mercy of any western European country who would be able to conquer Russia due to its backwardness. Completed in 4 years, the First Five Year Plan was a failure in many regards and many goals were not met. Even worse, the forced collectivization of agriculture resulted in a famine in the Ukraine that caused the deaths of millions of people.

first five year plan

This forced collectivization of agriculture was one of the main reasons for the First Five Year Plan. Stalin wanted to industrialize the agricultural industry and incorporate machinery and technology into the farms. This was met with hostile resistance, however, by the Kulaks (rich peasants) who were prosperous due to the old ways of farming. Stalin was met with so much resistance by these Kulaks that he likened this struggle to the struggle against Nazi Germany 10 years later. Although he was fighting a war to collectivize the farming industry, Stalin spread propaganda across the country of the benefits of state run farms. This propaganda can be seen in the song Swell the Harvest, which was a folk song that gained population among the Russians sent out to collect grain from farmers. The song points to the benefits of collectivization such as how “ain’t it mighty nifty how that newfangled machine sorts the grain so swiftly” (von Geldern & Stites 142). It also points out how much more effective farming is through machinery, rather than human labor by stating that these machines “ain’t nothing like you are, it’ll dance a pretty dance, each seed drops out where it should, not a single one askance” (von Geldern & Stites 142). Swell the Harvest represents the era of the First Five Year plan through its praise of technology and its promotion for increased farming machinery and decreased human labor. It also promoted the willingness of the peasants to collectivize their farms and hid the actual terror that Stalin was using to make this happen.


Sources Used



Geldern, James. Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. 142. Print.


One thought on ““Swell the Harvest” and the First Five Year Plan

  1. I really appreciate the way you mine the song (Swell the Harvest) for insight as to the broader context of collectivization. You can also see this in terms of “new content into old forms” — chastushki (meaning “sing often”) had become common urban ditties in the late Imperial period. Re-purposing a popular form in support of revolution in the countryside was pretty smart.


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