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Great Break (USSR)

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The Great Turn or Great Break (Russian: Великий перелом) was the radical change in the economic policy of the USSR from 1928 to 1929, primarily consisting of the process by which the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921 was abandoned in favor of the acceleration of collectivization and industrialization and also a cultural revolution. The term came from the title of Joseph Stalin's article "Year of the Great Turn" ("Год великого перелома: к XII годовщине Октября", literally: "Year of the Great Break: Toward the 12th Anniversary of October") published on November 7, 1929, the 12th anniversary of the October Revolution.[1] David R. Marples argues that the era of the Great Break lasted until 1934.[2]: 102 


Up to 1928, Stalin supported the New Economic Policy implemented by his predecessor Vladimir Lenin. The NEP had brought some market reforms to the Soviet economy, including allowing peasants to sell surplus grain on the domestic and international market.[3]: 174  However, in 1928 Stalin changed his position and opposed continuation of the NEP.[2]: 98  Part of the reason for his change was that the peasants in the years before 1928 started hoarding grain in response to low domestic and international prices for their produce.[4]: 25 

Stalin implemented agricultural collectivization, which would end private ownership of land. The state would take land from its previous owners and place it either under collective ownership of peasants (kolkhoz) or under state ownership (sovkhoz).[2]: 112  The idea behind collectivization was that large estates tend to yield more agricultural output. Also, owners of a large farm tended to be better able to afford machinery such as tractors and threshers than owners of small plots of land, and these technological implements would increase worker productivity, freeing up peasants to move to the cities and construction sites to aid the industrialization process.[4]: 24  Before collectivization, the owners of large farms tended to be wealthy peasants (kulaks) but the Bolsheviks regarded the kulaks as capitalist exploiters, and wished to redistribute the surplus land to the poorer peasants.[2]: 100  The only way to have large farms without kulak owners was to form collective farms.

The Soviet state needed increased agricultural output to feed the workers in the cities and construction sites.[2]: 101  The end of the NEP meant that peasants would no longer be able to sell grain to the state. Thus, the state would have to requisition surplus grain.[3]: 236 

Collectivization met with little success before 1934 in terms of agricultural output.[4]: 44  The Soviet state was slow to provide the necessary tractors and other machinery to the collective farms and this delay caused a reduction in agricultural output.[4]: 47  Kulaks also resisted the collectivization process by slaughtering their livestock and hiding harvested grain in protest, reducing output even more.[2]: 105  On top of these two conditions, the state was requisitioning more grain than the quantity produced.[4]: 47  These three factors coupled with a severe drought and a slow response from the soviet administration led to a famine in parts of the countryside in 1932–33 including Kazakhstan, Ukraine and southern Russia. The famine and drought were so severe in the region that it also affected other countries such as Romania.[5]: 626 [6] In Ukraine, at least four million peasants died.[2]: 107 


While collectivization did not meet with much success, industrialization during the Great Break did. Stalin announced his first Five-Year-Plan for industrialization in 1928. The goals of his plan were unrealistic – for example, he wished to increase worker productivity by 110 percent.[3]: 253  Yet even though the country was not able to meet these overambitious goals, it still did increase output to an impressive extent.[2]: 114 

Industrialization involved expanding the numbers of factories and construction projects such as dams, railways, and canals. Examples of well-publicized construction projects at the time are the completion in June 1930 of a huge tractor factory at Stalingrad and a hydroelectric power station on the Dnepr River. The Soviets also built a city based around metallurgical processing, called Magnitogorsk.[2]: 114 

The increased number of projects meant an increased demand for workers, and as a result the Soviet state did not experience any unemployment during the Great Break.[2]: 115 

Cultural Revolution[edit]

The third aspect of the Great Break was the Cultural Revolution, which touched Soviet social life in three main ways.

First, the Cultural Revolution created a need for scientists to demonstrate their support to the regime. During the NEP years, the Bolsheviks tolerated “bourgeois specialists” such as medical doctors and engineers, who tended to come from wealthier backgrounds from pre-revolutionary years, because they needed these specialists for their skilled labour.[7]: 156 [8]: 5–8  However, a new generation of Soviet children educated in Soviet ideology would soon be ready to replace the bourgeois specialists.[2]: 154  These technically educated students would later be called “Red specialists.” The regime saw these students as more loyal to Communism and as a result more desirable than the old bourgeois remnants. Because the state would no longer need to rely so heavily on the bourgeois specialists, after 1929, the regime increasingly demanded that scientists, engineers, and other specialists prove their loyalty to Bolshevik and Marxist ideology. If these specialists did not conform to the new demands for loyalty, they could be accused of counterrevolutionary wrecking and face arrest and exile, as with the engineers accused in the Shakhty Trial.[2]: 152 

The Cultural Revolution also affected religious life. The Soviet regime regarded religion as a form of “false consciousness” and wanted to reduce the masses' dependence on religion.[3]: 276  The Soviet regime transformed previously religious holidays such as Christmas into their own, Soviet-style holidays.[3]: 306 

Finally, the cultural revolution changed the educational system. The state needed more engineers, especially “Red” engineers to replace the bourgeois ones.[7]: 181  As a result, the Bolsheviks made higher education free – many members of the working class would not otherwise be able to afford such education. The educational institutions also admitted individuals who were not sufficiently prepared for higher education. Many had not finished their secondary education, either because they could not afford it or because they did not need one to get an unskilled job.[7]: 151  Furthermore, the institutions tried to train engineers in a shorter amount of time. These factors combined led to the training of more scientists and engineers, but of lower quality.[7]: 168 


  1. ^ Viola, Lynne (1996). Peasant rebels under Stalin : collectivization and the culture of peasant resistance. New York, New York. ISBN 978-0-19-535132-3. OCLC 1110702095.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Marples, David R. (2014), "The Period of Change: Collectivization, Industrialization, and the Great Purge, 1929-1940", Motherland, Routledge, pp. 98–127, doi:10.4324/9781315837437-4, ISBN 978-1-315-83743-7, retrieved 2021-03-25
  3. ^ a b c d e Suny, Ronald Grigor (2011). The Soviet experiment : Russia, the USSR, and the successor states (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 174, 236, 253, 276, 306. ISBN 978-0-19-534055-6. OCLC 423388554.
  4. ^ a b c d e Sanchez-Sibony, Oscar (2014). "Depression Stalinism: The Great Break Reconsidered". Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 15 (1): 23–49. doi:10.1353/kri.2014.0007. ISSN 1538-5000. S2CID 154477765.
  5. ^ Dohan, Michael R. (1976). "The Economic Origins of Soviet Autarky 1927/28-1934". Slavic Review. 35 (4): 603–635. doi:10.2307/2495654. ISSN 0037-6779. JSTOR 2495654.
  6. ^ Tottle, Douglas (1987), Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard, Progress Books, ISBN 9780919396517, retrieved 2022-06-09
  7. ^ a b c d Fitzpatrick, Sheila (1992). The Cultural Front. Cornell University Press. pp. 156, 181, 151, 168. doi:10.7591/9781501724084. ISBN 978-1-5017-2408-4.
  8. ^ Fitzpatrick, Sheila (1999). Everyday Stalinism. Oxford University Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 0-19-505001-0.