Russia Table of Contents
Under Stalin the government socialized agriculture and created a massive bureaucracy to administer policy. Stalin's campaign of forced collectivization, which began in 1929, confiscated the land, machinery, livestock, and grain stores of the peasantry. By 1937 the government had organized approximately 99 percent of the Soviet countryside into state-run collective farms. Under this grossly inefficient system, agricultural yields declined rather than increased. The situation persisted into the 1980s, when Soviet farmers averaged about 10 percent of the output of their counterparts in the United States.
During Stalin's regime, the government assigned virtually all farmland to one of two basic agricultural production organizations--state farms and collective farms. The state farm was conceived in 1918 as the ideal model for socialist agriculture. It was to be a large, modern enterprise directed and financed by the government. The work force of the state farm received wages and social benefits comparable to those enjoyed by industrial workers. By contrast, the collective farm was a self-financed producer cooperative that farmed parcels of land that the state granted to it rent-free and that paid its members according to their contribution of work.
In their early stages, the two types of organization also functioned differently in the distribution of agricultural goods. State farms delivered their entire output to state procurement agencies in response to state production quotas. Collective farms also received quotas, but they were free to sell excess output in collective-farm markets where prices were determined by supply and demand. The distinction between the two types of farms gradually narrowed, and the government converted many collective farms to state farms, where the state had more control.
Private plots also played a role in the Soviet agricultural system. The government allotted small plots to individual farming households to produce food for their own use and for sale as an income supplement. Throughout the Soviet period, the productivity rates of private plots far exceeded their size. With only 3 percent of total sown area in the 1980s, they produced over a quarter of agricultural output.
A number of factors made the Soviet collectivized system inefficient throughout its history. Because farmers were paid the same wages regardless of productivity, there was no incentive to work harder and more efficiently. Administrators who were unaware of the needs and capabilities of the individual farms decided input allocation and output levels, and the high degree of subsidization eliminated incentives to adopt more efficient production methods.
The Gorbachev agricultural reform program aimed to improve production incentives. Gorbachev sought to increase agricultural labor productivity by forming contract brigades consisting of ten to thirty farmworkers who managed a piece of land leased from a state or collective farm. The brigades were responsible for the yield of the land, which in turn determined their remuneration. After 1987 the government legalized family contract brigades and long-term leasing of land, removing the restrictions on the size of private agricultural plots and cutting into the state's holdings of arable land.
Although Gorbachev's reforms increased output in the agricultural sector in 1986, they failed to address fundamental problems of the system, such as the government's continued control over the prices of agricultural commodities, the distribution of agricultural inputs, and production and investment decisions. In the contract brigade system, farmers still had no real vested interest in the farms on which they worked, and production suffered accordingly. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union went from being self-sufficient in food production to becoming a net food importer.
Data as of July 1996