The Guardian • Issue #2022

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic: socialist construction 1921-1941

Kharkiv University first class of graduates, Medical Department. Photo: courtesy of the Kharkiv National University History Museum. UNDP Ukraine – (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This is part two of a series on the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was a founding republic of the Soviet Union (founded in 1922). This material is an edited translation from the entry in the third edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. It is hoped that comrades find this useful for understanding the history of the Ukraine during its socialist period.


Although significant socialist transformations had taken place by the end of the Civil War in 1921 – nationalisations, land reform, village committees – the Ukraine faced enormous difficulties. The gross output of heavy industry in the Ukraine in 1921 was only twelve per cent of the level of 1913, and the transport system had been destroyed. The number of livestock and acreage under cultivation had decreased: the gross grain harvest in 1920 was 38.5 per cent below the level of 1913. Dozens of anti-Soviet nationalist gangs, supported by imperialist states, still roamed in the Ukraine.

Through a number of congresses, plans for economic reconstruction were approved: the 8th All-Russian Congress of Soviets (December 1920); the 5th All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets (1921); and the 10th Congress of the RCP on the transition to the New Economic Policy. By 1925, the 9th Congress of the Communist Party of the Ukraine observed that the national economy had been restored. Heavy industry produced eighty-five per cent of the output of the 1913 level, and the grain harvest was ninety-one per cent of the 1913 level. The socialist way of life had also significantly strengthened in all branches of industry.

The workers of the Ukraine were among the initiators of the unification of the Soviet republics into a single state. The 7th All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets (1922) called for the creation of a single Soviet Union state. At the 1st All-Union Congress of Soviets (December 1922), the delegation of the Ukraine participated in the approval of the Treaty and Declaration on the Formation of the USSR, which the Ukrainian SSR joined as an equal union republic.


During the period of socialist industrialisation, socialist competition emerged in the Ukraine as well. By the end of 1929 there were about 250,000 “shock workers” – teams sent to industrial bottlenecks and difficult points that worked at “Bolshevik tempo.” From 1926 to 1929, 408 industrial enterprises were built and 421 were reconstructed. During the years of the First Five-Year Plan (1929-1932), the gross output of large-scale industry in the Ukraine increased by 230 per cent, machine-building by almost 500 per cent, chemical production more than 400 per cent. 386 new factories and plants, as well as 30 large mines were put into operation. The Kharkiv Tractor Plant was built, among others, and the Dneproges (a hydro-electric power station on the Dnieper River) was constructed, which generated more electricity than all of the power plants in Russia in 1913 combined. Industrialisation was carried out with the help of the entire USSR. For example, the largest industries in the Ukraine relied on machines and equipment from factories in Moscow, Leningrad, and the Urals.


On the eve of the mass collective farm movement, there were about 5.2 million peasant farms in the USSR. The economic structure was as follows: over 30 per cent were poor, 65 per cent were middle peasants, 4.5 per cent were big peasants, or kulaks (the distinction originally comes from Engels). The kulaks had at their disposal over twenty per cent of peasant acreage, sixteen per cent of working livestock and fourteen per cent of productive livestock, and produced almost twenty-five per cent of marketable bread. Thus, even in the old-style village where land was held in common, the kulaks had become exploiters.

From the end of 1929, a massive collective farm movement began in the Ukraine. By October of 1929, only 10.4 per cent of peasant farms had been collectivised. At the end of 1932, collective farms united almost seventy per cent of peasant farms and eighty per cent of sown areas.

The rapid process of collectivisation entailed significant social disruption. Fierce resistance came from the kulaks, who disrupted grain procurement, damaged cars, set fire to collective farm property, and so on. Between late 1929 and the middle of 1930, the kulaks committed 1,800 terrorist acts against Soviet and Party workers, as well as advanced peasants. By relying on the strength of the Soviet state, as well as the work of the “twenty-five thousanders” (volunteers from the cities who assisted with collectivisation), the resistance of the class enemy was overcome and the peasantry embarked on the path of collective farm development.

By 1932, the complete collectivisation of agriculture was completed. In the countryside, as in the city, the socialist mode of production had become dominant. The share of industrial production in the total gross output of the national economy amounted to 72.4 per cent. The Ukraine had become an industrialised and collectivised republic.

Economic Powerhouse

During this disruptive and transformative period, the Ukraine became an economic powerhouse. Through the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-1936), the socialist sector completely dominated the economy of the Ukraine as well as the whole country (by 1936, the socialist sector comprised 99.8 per cent of industrial output and 97.7 per cent of agricultural output).

The gross output of the machine-building industry of the Ukraine increased by almost 300 per cent, the smelting of cast iron increased by 117 per cent, and steel by 165 per cent. Thirty five blast furnaces and open-hearth furnaces had been put into operation, and the metallurgical plants Azovstal and Zaporizhstal, as well as the Novokramatorsky Machine-building Plant, had been built.

The welfare of workers had risen. The wages of workers and employees in 1933-36 increased by 2oo per cent, and the income of collective farmers by 180 per cent. In the years of the Second Five-Year Plan, “socialist competition” rose to a new level. Most of the “Stakhanovites” came from the Ukraine. Named after the Donetsk miner A. G. Stakhanov, “Stakhanovism” designated workers who developed new techniques to improve productivity and over-fulfil plans. Stakhanov was a coal miner, but there also many women, whose lives has been empowered through labour. The names of Gnatenko, Demchenko, and Koshevaya became famous in sugar beet production. The tractor driver, P N Angelina, became famous for her innovative methods to achieve high labour productivity.

Universal literacy was achieved in the Ukraine. In 1937, more than 5 million children were enrolled in secondary schools, and there were over 100,000 students in universities. Cadres of a new Ukrainian Soviet intelligentsia developed. The Ukraine became a centre for science, literature, and art.


The profound changes that took place in the economy, class structure, and society were legislated in the new Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR, which was adopted by the Extraordinary 14th Congress of Soviets of the Ukrainian SSR in 1937. The new constitution stated that socialism had been basically constructed, as in the whole of the USSR. As a socialist republic, the Ukrainian SSR had been established.

By 1940, gross industrial output exceeded the level of 1913 by 730 per cent, heavy industry by more than 1000 per cent, coal by 370 per cent, ferrous metallurgy by 520 per cent; electricity production had increased by a massive 2300 per cent. The Ukraine became the main coal and metallurgical base of the USSR. In 1940, it produced 64.7 per cent of the total iron smelting in the USSR, 48.8 per cent of steel, 67.6 per cent of iron ore production, 50.5 per cent of coal, 74.5 per cent of coke. The share of the Ukraine in the grain harvest of the USSR was twenty-five per cent, sugar beet seventy-three per cent, and corn fifty per cent. By 1940, there were 28,637 collective farms and 929 state farms. The number of workers in all enterprises increased by 300 per cent.

Industrialisation had renewed old cities and led to the emergence of new ones, such as Gorlovka, Konstantinovka, Makeyevka, Manganese, Kramatorsk, Donetsk, and so on. The quality of life in cities improved significantly. Further, the appearance of the Ukrainian village was changing, with schools, clubs, and libraries appearing everywhere. The way of life, customs, and psychology of the peasantry had been transformed. They were no longer peasants, but collective farm workers.

At the same time, in Western Ukraine there was a stark contrast. Under the domination of Polish, Czech, and Romanian states, productive forces were hindered, and they became backward producers of raw materials and agrarian products. Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with the Polish authorities, who created a number of their own organisations, in particular the fascist Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).

Editor’s note: By 1941, the Ukrainian SSR, especially in its eastern parts (the Donbass) had become an economic powerhouse. This was a major reason why Hitler launched the largest army in European history – a coalition from many countries in Europe, both officially and as “volunteers” from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and many more – to invade the Soviet Union. Hitler wanted control of the Ukraine, and especially the Donbass with its agriculture, raw materials, and industrial base.
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