The First Five Year Plan, Collectivization, and the Kazakh Famine

The First Five Year Plan lasted from 1928-1932.  Generally speaking, it was the goal of Joseph Stalin to transform the USSR from a predominately agrarian society, into an industrialized one.  One of the key pillars of this first plan involved a process called collectivization.

During this period of collectivization, a great deal of anti-religious sentiment developed.  Many churches were decommissioned and destroyed at this time.  Above is an image of the famous Christ the Savior Cathedral being demolished in Moscow.

The process of collectivization began in 1927.  Stalin hoped to reverse the New Economic Policy (NEP) which had been establish in 1921.  The NEP involved the implementation of a series of capitalist programs to get the country back on its feet after the Russian Revolution.  To its critics, the NEP was a retreat from the communist ideal.  Stalin was determined to rid the country of the capitalist tendencies that had arisen.  The main goal of collectivization was to transform the Soviet Union’s countryside from what had been predominately individual farms, into collective farms.  This process often times involved moving mass numbers of people to new locations.  This process commonly involved the use of force.

Stalin also had an immense hatred for a group of successful capitalist farmers called Kulaks.  This hatred can be seen in the removal of  Kulaks in the propaganda poster above.

As a result of this systematic upheaval, many people in the Soviet Union experienced famine and starvation.  Despite the immense struggle to collectivize, and the many deaths that resulted, it would eventually prove to be a key element in the Soviet victory in the Second World War.

One place within the Soviet Union that experienced some of the most profound repercussions of collectivization, was Kazakhstan.  It is estimated that at least 1.5 million Kazakhs died of famine; predominately brought on by collectivization.  This particular Soviet Republic was devastated so badly primarily due to the forced settlement and collectivization of the Kazakh pastoral nomads.  These people had been nomadic for millennia and were suddenly forced to begin farming.  Tragically, with this forced adaptation of unfamiliar means of survival, famine became widespread, and many people began to die of starvation.

Kazakhs fleeing the famine of the early 1930s

Above is a picture of people in Kazakhstan attempting to migrate from a famine-stricken area.

Overall, the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was an incredibly difficult time for the Soviet Union.  Many know the story of the famines in the Ukraine, however, the mass starvation that occurred in Kazakhstan has been understudied.  Going forward, it is incredibly important to know the history and struggles of all people within the incredibly diverse Soviet Union, not just the European portions which frequently receive much of the attention from historians.

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9 thoughts on “The First Five Year Plan, Collectivization, and the Kazakh Famine

  1. Hi Mark! You highlight a really important topic in Soviet history in this post, and you’re right that the impact of collectivization and famine in Kazakhstan has not been given much attention. You’ve found some really great (i.e. sad and harrowing) images that drive home just how dire a time this was. Great job!

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    1. Thanks! I really like the images as well. Although if they were colorized, I think they would be even more striking. On the topic of collectivization, I couldn’t imagine having to change my entire way of life in such a short amount of time.

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  2. What Emma said! I’m glad the traumas of collectivization in Kazakhstan resonated with you, and that image of the people walking away from famine is so haunting.
    Do think about (and do your research on) the work you want your images to do: The destruction of the Orthodox Cathedral may not relate directly to the assault on traditional ways of life and religious observance in Kazakhstan. and that poster (which is very cool and invites detailed analysis) is in Uzbek, I think.
    Thanks for reminding us of the vastness of collectivization, which is hard to wrap one’s mind around.

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    1. Thanks! I think that nomads and the ethnic/linguistic diversity of Central Asia are fascinating, so I wanted to learn more about the people of that region during this period.

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  3. Mark, I find your post really interesting as I learned about collectivization in my World War II class last semester, and how devastating it was to millions of people. However, we did not go into specifics and I am glad to read your post about Kazakhstan, and how they were originally nomadic and were forced to settle in a specific geographic location. Lastly, I like your ending point in which you pointed out that all history and people should receive attention, rather than European portions.

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    1. Thanks! I think that Central Asia is understudied in general. Especially during the Soviet period. Today Central Asia encompasses nearly 70 million people, and as it continues to grow and develop, I think that more historians will begin to study the region in further depth.

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  4. Hi Mark. I really enjoyed this post you did and its scope of collectivization in Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan also had very significant forced collectivization, but with turning the nomadic Turkmen people into cotton farmers. This was because of the USSR to try to out compete the USA and British India in the textile industry. The history of the steppe peoples are really under reported compared to the European viewpoint.

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  5. Hello Mark! Really interesting and well written post! I think it’s crazy how farming essentially created a famine for the Kazakh people. You’d think after years and years of history, people would realize forced assimilation typically never works out. I’m glad you chose to bring this topic to the light it deserves, because as you said it is understudied.

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  6. Hey Mark! I think one of the most tragic things that occurred was the rapid collectivization, and especially in kazakhstan that we went over for class. A shame that Stalin chose to ignore people’s warnings not to collectivize some of these places, and especially at a rate that bukharin warned against even though he also advocated for socialism in one country.

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