The First Five Year Plan, 1928-1932

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Harry Byers and students in front of a tractorThe first five year plan was created in order to initiate rapid and large-scale industrialization across the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Having begun on October 1st, 1928, the plan was already in its second year when Harry Byers first set foot in the Soviet Union. In order to become an industrial powerhouse, modern machinery was adopted across the country to maximize production efficiency and output. Many qualified and experienced tractor instructors like Harry were hired to teach Soviets the operation of large machinery. In the photo above, Harry can be seen posing with colleagues or students in front of a tractor in the USSR.

To ensure that the nation's food supply could support a newly emerging population of workers, collectivization was introduced across the country. Under this scheme, privately-owned farms were often forcibly consolidated by the government into collective, state-owned farms. In its protest, many farm owners—known as kulaks—destroyed their fields and slaughtered millions of livestock, leading to the first instances of food shortage.

In the initial months of Harry's arrival, he observes:

Harry's diary entry

every time we go out, the poor Beggers [i.e. Beggars] are after Some money. have no Bread, rounding up the dogs for Soap.- Friends cat gone. Back again.- and clipped fur from Back of Cat.

— March 19, 1930

Alongside collectivization, quotas were also set for agricultural production. However, the quotas put in place were so high that virtually all output would be surrendered to the government.

Harry's diary entry

any one who has a cow. must give up 1/2 Milk to [Gorapive?], [get?] no money [it?] gets hard. or he looses cow. Must deliver milk.

— June 13, 1931

This ironically led to extreme food shortages in agricultural regions, as farmers could neither feed nor support themselves with what was left. Output only continued to decline as more and more farmers were killed or jailed for being unable to meet quotas, accelerating the rate in which famine spread across the country.

By the September of his first year in the USSR, Harry writes:

Harry's diary entry

People are killing their children. because they have nothing, for them to eat. and no clothes.

— September 1, 1930

Grozny main office lit up in celebrationAlthough the Byers were only in the Soviet Union during the beginnings of the famine, millions would ultimately perish from starvation. Through the first five-year plan however, the Soviet Union did achieve its goal of rapid industrialization. The photograph on the left was taken by Harry sometime in Grozny, 1931. On its back, it is inscribed: "Grozneft main office lit up celebrating completion of Grozneft 5 year plan in 2 ½ years".

Yet, the people around Harry do not seem to have benefited from the plan's completion. In entries from the same year, people are still desperate for food, and go to great lengths to obtain some form of feed.

Harry's diary entry

a load of bread and Kerosene was stuck on the road, That nite [i.e., night] a band of people raided the joint. one man got killed 2 others were shot in the legs.

— March 28, 1931

Harry's diary entry

train Killed Horse + spread him all over. People came. with Knives from Village.

— June 3, 1931

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