Economic and Political Consequences of the Attempted Socialization of Agriculture in the Soviet Union (page 4)

by Erwin Marquit
(Nature, Society, and Thought, All rights reserved.)

Why is grain being produced by 100,000 highly mechanized family farms in Minnesota, rather than by corporate farms? The primary reason for this is that despite the mechanization, grain farming requires dawn-to-dusk labor that can be organized more cost effectively by putting the family that is culturally and historically attached to the land to work than by a rural proletariat hired for wage labor on land in which they have no material interest.

While collective labor is a necessary precondition for the development of a truly socialist consciousness, it did not follow that collectivization of agriculture was the best path to increase grain production.

The decision of the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU to accelerate the process of collectivization was based on other factors than ensuring an increase in grain production. One factor, of course, was the anticipated ideological impact of developing a socialist consciousness among the peasants. The second, and no doubt more important factor, was that it would facilitate making grain available for purchase by eliminating the hoarding of grain by individual peasants for later sale at higher prices and make it more difficult to deceive tax collectors on the size of the harvest.

A Fifteenth Party Congress resolution also gave the following directive:

To develop further the offensive against the kulaks and to adopt a number of new measures which would restrict the development of capitalism in the countryside and guide peasant farming towards Socialism. (History of the CPSU 1939, 189)

The collectivization was to proceed voluntarily by the peasants. The peasants were to be offered inducements of loans and promises of machinery and other aid for joining the collectives. It was not to be an excuse for reverting to the forcible requisitioning of grain that had been advocated by the Left Opposition. Vyacheslav Molotov, the closest person to Stalin on the Politiburo, “declared that those who proposed a ‘forced loan’ from the peasantry were enemies of the alliance between the workers and peasants; they were proposing the ‘destruction of the Soviet Union.’ At that point Stalin called out “Correct!” (Medvedev 1989, 218). Referring to the resolution on restricting the kulaks, Stalin cautioned:

Those comrades arc wrong who think that we can and should do away with the kulaks by administrative fiat, by the GPU: write the decree, seal it, period. That’s an easy method, but it won’t work. The kulak must be taken by economic measures, in accordance with Soviet legality. And Soviet legality is not an empty phrase. Of course, this does not rule out the application of some administrative measures against the kulaks. But administrative measures must not replace economic ones. (quoted in Medvedev 1989, 217)

The proposal by another Stalin supporter, Anastas Mikoyan, for increasing grain procurement was to correct the imbalance between prices for manufactured goods and those for agricultural products and deliver large supplies of low-priced manufactured goods to villages even if it produced temporary shortages in the cities. Mikoyan’s proposals were incorporated into the resolutions (218).

Extermination of the Old Bolsheviks

But flushed with the victory of having defeated the challenge to his leadership from the Left Opposition, Stalin immediately reversed course.

Stalin made a sudden sharp turn “to the left” in agricultural policy. He began to put into effect the forced requisition of grain that the entire party had just rejected as “adventurist.” In late December, Stalin sent out instructions for the application of extraordinary measures against the kulaks. . . . Then on January 6, 1928, Stalin issued a new directive, extremely harsh in tone and content, which ended with threats against local party leaders if they failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough in grain procurements in the shortest possible time. There followed a wave of confiscations and violence toward wealthy peasants throughout the entire country. (218)

According to Molotov’s recollections, the extraordinary measures were not directed just against the kulaks.

On January 1, 1928, I had to go to Melitopol on the grain procurement drive. In the Ukraine. To extort grain. . . .
   From everyone who had grain. Industrial workers and the army were in a desperate situation. Grain was all in private hands, and the task was to seize it from them. Each farmstead clung to its stock of grain. . . .
   . . . We took away the grain. We paid them in cash, but of course at miserably low prices. They gained nothing. I told them that for the present the peasants had to give us grain on loan. Industry had to be restored and the army maintained.
   . . . I applied the utmost pressure to extort the grain. All kinds of rather harsh methods of persuasion had to be applied. . . . Soon I returned to Moscow. Stalin met with the most experienced grain collectors. I reported on how I used pressure tactics and other ruses. . . .
   . . . He said then, “I will cover you with kisses in gratitude for your action down there!” I committed these words to memory . . . for your action.” He wanted that experience, and soon afterward set off for Siberia. . . .
After that we went out seeking grain every year. Stalin no longer made the trips. But we went out for grain five years in a row. We pumped out the grain. (Chuev 1993, 241–42)

Medvedev writes that the extraordinary measures adopted immediately after the Fifteenth Party Congress led to a significant increase in grain procurements, but only briefly. In the spring of 1928, the sale of grain to the state dropped sharply. He cites Stalin’s explanation:

If we were able to collect almost 300 million poods of grain from January to March, it was because we were dealing with the peasants’ reserves that had been saved for bargaining. From April to May we could not collect even 100 million poods because we had to touch the peasants’ insurance reserves, in conditions when the outlook for the harvest was still unclear. Well, the grain still had to be collected. So we fell once again into extraordinary measures, administrative willfulness, the violation of revolutionary legality, going around to farms, making illegal searches, and so on, which have caused the political situation in the country to deteriorate. (218–19)

In the spring and summer of 1928, new directives went out to back off from the “extraordinary measures”; grain prices were raised 15 to 20 percent and more manufactured goods were made available for purchase by the peasants. These new measures proved to be too late since less grain had been sown, and many kulaks liquidated their holdings by selling off their means of production. Middle peasants, fearful of being labeled as kulaks, were hesitant to increase their production. Grain procurement in the fall of 1928 again fell short and the extraordinary measures were again repeated (220), which is why Molotov and other Party leaders had to go again on their grain “extorting” missions. In 1929, despite a good harvest, rationing of grain in the cities was introduced.

To deal with this continuing debacle of his agricultural policies, Stalin once again reversed his agricultural strategy. Quotas were established region by region to drive the peasants into the collective farms despite the fact that the original Five-Year Plan, which officially went into effect in 1929, envisaged that 17.5 percent of the total sowing area would become part of the socialized sector by 1934 (Kim et al, 1982, 261). By 1931, in the principal grain growing districts, “80 per cent of the peasant farms had already amalgamated to form collective farms”; 200,000 collective and 4,000 state farms “cultivated two-thirds of the total crop area of the country” (History of the CPSU 1939, 315). By the end of 1934, collective farms “had embraced about three-quarters of all peasant households in the Soviet Union and about 90 percent of the total crop area” (318).

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Notes

1. The draft of the first edition of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, in most respects a Marxist-Leninist critique of the Stalin period by Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, then a member of the CPSU, began circulating informally in the USSR in 1964. After Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as leader of the CPSU in 1964, criticism of Stalin was limited to the phrase cult of the individual; no details about the terror of the 1930s were permitted, nor criticism of forced collectivization other than what had been allowed in Stalin’s time. Stalin was, in effect, rehabilitated. Soviet publications such as History of the USSR, written in 1974, again justified the excesses—for example, the 1928 Shakhty frame-up trials in the course of which confessions were beaten out of members of fictitious organizations of wreckers and saboteurs “in the service of Russian and foreign capitalists and foreign intelligence;” Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky were again referred to as leaders of the Right Opposition, who “expressed the interests of the kulaks and other well-off elements in the villages that were opposed to the socialist reconstruction of agriculture” (Kim et al. 1982, 252, 259). Medvedev was expelled from the CPSU in 1969 after his book was published in the West. His Party membership was restored in 1988.

2. The Impossible Fact

Palmstroem, old, an aimless rover,
walking in the wrong direction
at a busy intersection
is run over.

“How,” he says, his life restoring
and with pluck his death ignoring,
“can an accident like this
ever happen? What’s amiss?"

"Did the state administration
fail in motor transportation?
Did police ignore the need
for reducing driving speed?"

"Isn’t there a prohibition,
barring motorized transmission
of the living to the dead?
Was the driver right who sped . . . ?”

Tightly swathed in dampened tissues
he explores the legal issues,
and it soon is clear as air:
Cars were not permitted there!

And he comes to the conclusion:
His mishap was an illusion,
for, he reasons pointedly,
that which must not, cannot be.

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