Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
In the transition to the world of communism, Stalin initiated several policies in an attempt to bring the Soviet Union to the forefront of the world stage. This involved increasing the productivity of the nation’s industrial products and a better standard of living for those that called the Soviet Union their home. Part of Stalin’s plan was to pull the entire agriculture of the nation into a policy of collectivism. It was a political move to expand power and create more control over the people of the Soviet Union.
In 1927, Stalin laid out his First Five-Year Plan which included the collectivization of Soviet agriculture in an effort to quickly move the nation forward. The idea was to remove the agriculture from “predominantly individual farms into a system of large state collective farms.” By doing so, Stalin and other leaders felt that productivity would increase in all areas of Soviet life. What the leaders did not realize was the amount of unknown they faced. No one had attempted such large scale socialist changes in history. The original plan “called for a strictly limited collectivization, set at 14 percent.”
The purpose was not only to improve productivity but also to gain the necessary control of agriculture production which would give the nation the power to create enough food to feed the labor force needed to create the massive increase in industrialization. This would also open the doors to control the peasants in general and create a large political party base to ensure control. It was a political move designed to grow power and to keep control of the masses.
The policy of collectivism was not overwhelming welcomed by the peasants who found themselves no longer in charge of their own individual land. They were now working again for the state as they had before the fall of the tsar. Their feelings were evident in how they responded to the party officials who were sent to the peasants to explain to them the benefits of collectivism of the land and agriculture. “Skepticism and mockery” were standard reactions which earned many peasants the label of ‘kulaks’.
Kulaks became the enemy of the state. These typically were the peasants who had the most to lose. They possessed the largest tracts of land and fought the hardest against collectivization of Soviet agriculture. It is estimated that close to five million peasants, kulaks, were forced from their homes and never seen by their friends or families again. Any kulaks who refused to participate in the collectivism “were subjected to confiscation and either local resettlement, deportation, incarceration in labor camps and in case of the most dangerous ‘elements,’ execution.”
In an effort to entice peasants to join the collectivism policy, the state dangled the carrot of mechanized equipment. No longer would the peasants have to use a plow pulled by farm animals. Tractors and other equipment would be made available to them. Though communist propaganda portrayed peasants eagerly signing up to obtain such agricultural jewels, the truth was there was more resistance to the collectivism than there was acceptance.
Peasants fought back in a variety of ways. They were not adverse to “wanton slaughter of livestock, women’s riots,… theft and destruction of collective farm property, and… an intentionally slow pace in carrying out directives of the kolkhoz administration.” All these actions prevented the ability to meet quotas and, therefore, cause problems with the feeding of the nation. This affected the entire Soviet Union. As many as five million people died due to the shortages of foods in the early 1930s with a large portion of those shortages being attributed to the kulak sabotaging.
According to some statistics, collectivism might have actually worked in increasing the production of Soviet agriculture as “the average increase in the cereal crop area was 16 percent, although some productive regions increased by 20 to 25 percent.” These figures seem to show how much more efficient collectivism was and how it worked to increase productivity, but this can be very misleading. These statistics are based on the amount of agricultural products the state was able to appropriate from the peasants. Before collectivization of agriculture, the individual kulak farms were very productive but the produce was used either for individual consumption or for sale on the market. The amount taken by the state was small and hard to get. Through collectivism, the state had control which led to numbers showing how much these new policies were producing foods and other products. In a sense, they were doing better for the amount given to the state and not necessarily what was actually produced by the land.
While the statistics were looking good in support of collectivism, the reality was a life much harsher in collective agriculture settings that it was on individual farms. Quotas were set at double from what was expected from individual farms. The demand from the state in various forms of agriculture ‘tax’ left very little food for the members of the collective farms. This led to hunger problems and support of arguments that “collectivization was primarily designed by the Soviet authorities as a means for the efficient expropriation of agricultural products from the peasants.” Disaster struck in various sectors of the agriculture life of the Soviet Union. After the initiation of the first five-year plan, “the number of cattle fell by 44 percent,…pigs by 55 percent, and …sheep and goats by as much as 65 percent.” Numbers might have looked good from the State’s point of view, but overall the Soviet agriculture was severely damaged through the policy of collectivism. Gradually, the government began to see the truth and reduced the quotas hoping that would solve many of the problems that were found on the collective farms. This would not solve all problems and would not prevent the government from presenting numbers showing complete success in the collectivism of agriculture.
Stalin wanted to eliminate the kulaks entirely and absorb them into the collective movement in an attempt to take possession of their products and have control over the ‘market’ of all agricultural products. Even after Stalin’s death, collectivism was continued and promoted as a solution to the problems of feeding the growing nation. Those that fought the policy were removed as obstacles, and the nation was given the impression that collectivism was a complete success. What was kept secret was how disastrous this policy was proving and what the true intentions were behind the move. Control and propaganda drove the policy of collectivism of Soviet agriculture.
“Collectivization and Industrialization.” Library of Congress. Accessed March 16, 2012. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/coll.html.
Dronin, Nikolai M. and Edward G. Bellinger. Climate Dependence and Food Problems in Russia, 1900-1990: The Interaction of Climate and Agricultural Policy and Their Effect on Food Problems. Herndon, VA: Central European University Press, 2005.
Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia, New York: Oxford, 2011.
Siegelbaum, Lewis.“1929: Collectivization – Liquidation of the Kulaks as a Class.” Soviet History. Accessed March 16, 2012. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject &SubjectID=1929collectivization&Year=1929.