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Soviet Union


Stalin's Legacy

In the 1980s, the basic structure and operation of Soviet agriculture retained many of the features of the system that became entrenched during Stalin's regime. Under Stalin agriculture was socialized, and a massive bureaucracy was created to administer policy. This bureaucracy was highly resistant to subsequent reform efforts.

Stalin's campaign of forced collectivization, begun in the autumn of 1929, confiscated the land, machinery, livestock, and grain stores of the peasantry. By 1937 approximately 99 percent of the countryside had been collectivized. Precise figures are lacking, but probably 1 million kulak (see Glossary) households with nearly 5 million members were deported and were never heard from again. About 7 million starved to death as the government confiscated grain stores. In defiance, peasants slaughtered their livestock rather than surrender it to the collectives. As a result, within five years the number of horses, cattle, and hogs in the country was halved, and the number of sheep and goats was reduced by two-thirds.

Aside from the immediate devastation wrought by forced collectivization, the experience left an enduring legacy of mutual distrust and hostility between the rural population and the Soviet authorities. The bureaucracy that evolved to administer agriculture was motivated more by political than by economic considerations. Its objectives were to industrialize agriculture, create a rural proletariat, and destroy peasant resistance to communist rule. Once entrenched, the bureaucracy relished its power, dictating policy from the top down with little regard for the opinions of individual farmers and even farm managers, who better understood local conditions. Such policies resulted in abysmally low labor productivity and massive waste of resources. This situation persisted into the 1980s, when the Soviet farmer was on average about one-tenth as productive as his American counterpart.

During Stalin's regime, virtually all farmland was assigned to the two basic agricultural production entities that still predominated in the 1980s--state farms and collective farms. The state farm (sovetskoe khoziaistvo--sovkhoz) 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, with a work force receiving wages and social benefits comparable to those enjoyed by industrial workers. By contrast, the collective farm (kollektivnoe khoziaistvo--kolkhoz) was a self-financed producer cooperative, which farmed land granted to it rent free by the state and which paid its members according to their contribution of work. Although in theory the kolkhoz was self-directed, electing its own managing committee and chairman, in reality it remained under the firm control of state planning and procurement agencies. Chairmen who did not meet ideological purity requirements were removed. Sovkhozy operated much like any other production enterprise (see Glossary) in the Soviet command economy, with production targets and operating budgets determined by distant planning organs. The entire output of sovskhozy was delivered to state procurement agencies. Kolkhozy also received procurement quotas, but they were free to sell excess production in collective farm markets, where prices were determined by supply and demand. Because kolkhozy were self-financed, they received somewhat higher prices for their products. Nevertheless, the income of the kolkhoz resident was usually lower than that of the sovkhoz resident. In general, labor productivity on the sovkhoz was higher, probably because of its access to better machinery, chemicals, and seed and because it could specialize in the crops best suited to its region. The kolkhoz was constrained to produce a variety of crops and livestock, which decreased efficiency.

Several watershed decisions by Stalin's successors reduced the differences between the two types of farms. Among these decisions were the 1958 elimination of state-operated machine tractor stations, which had given the party leverage over the kolkhoz by controlling its access to heavy farm machinery; the establishment in 1965 of a minimum wage, pension, and other benefits for kolkhoz workers; and the 1967 decision to make the sovkhoz a self-financed entity, which in theory the kolkhoz had been from the start. Not only was there a trend toward convergence of the features of the two types of farms, but there was also a pattern of official conversion of smaller, less solvent kolkhozy to sovkhozy. As a result, in 1973 the total sown area of sovkhozy surpassed that of kolkhozy for the first time. The total number of kolkhozy decreased from 235,500 in 1940 to 26,300 in 1986. But after the March 1989 Agricultural Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), it appeared likely that the proliferation of sovkhozy would cease. Even one of the most conservative Politburo members, Egor K. Ligachev, who was named chairman of the party's Agrarian Policy Commission in September 1988, recommended gradually converting sovkhozy into cooperatives and leasing collectives.

A third production entity that survived from Stalin's era was the private plot, known in Soviet jargon as the "personal auxiliary holding." These plots were ideologically unpalatable to the bureaucrats, but they were tolerated as a means for farmers to produce their own food and supplement their incomes. The plots were small (roughly half a hectare) and were assigned one to a household. Peasants were allowed to consume whatever was grown on the plot and sell any surplus--either at the collective farm markets or to state or cooperative marketing agencies. The contribution of private plots to the nation's food supply far exceeded their size. With only 3 percent of total sown area in the 1980s, they produced over a quarter of gross agricultural output, including about 30 percent of meat and milk, 66 percent of potatoes, and 40 percent of fruits, vegetables, and eggs.

Data as of May 1989

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