Czechoslovakia Table of Contents
Rural society in the 1980s was a combination of cooperatives (approximately 73 percent of the agricultural labor force), state farms (18 percent), and private farms (9 percent). This represented a dramatic change from the First Republic with its politically active middle-sized farmers, small landholders, and differentiated labor force. Collectivized agriculture has not lacked occupational specialists, but there is no doubt that the socialist regime has streamlined rural society. Differences have persisted, but a dramatic leveling has taken place. Workers on state farms were salaried. Cooperative members' earnings reflected their cooperatives' production, and they supplemented these with sales from small family garden plots. Private farmers, a declining portion of the agricultural population, augmented their limited agricultural earnings with off-farm employment. The dichotomy between relatively prosperous Bohemia and Moravia and less-developed Slovakia has added to the complexity of contemporary rural society.
Collectivization began in 1949 with the Unified Agricultural Cooperatives Act. The KSC pushed collectivization efforts early in the 1950s and again later in the decade. Large landholders unwilling to join cooperatives and unwise enough to demur were condemned as "kulaks" and evicted without compensation. Subsequent criticism was muted. By 1960, when collectivization was essentially complete, 90 percent of all agricultural land was in the state sector--a proportion that slowly increased to 95 percent in 1985. During the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, the number of cooperatives declined. Land was not returned to private cultivation, but rather the cooperative enterprises themselves were consolidated.
Farmers suffered through the 1950s: compulsory collectivization took their property, and the 1953 currency reform eradicated their savings. By the early 1960s, farm laborers worked longer than their nonagricultural counterparts and earned an average of 15 percent less. Not surprisingly, those who had other alternatives took them. Young men found work in the expanding industrial sector; women and the elderly remained. The proportion of the agricultural labor force over 60 years of age rose from 14 percent in 1955 to 20 percent in 1969 and then fell to 11 percent in 1983. By 1960 women accounted for nearly 60 percent of agricultural labor; that figure declined to 42 percent in 1983, many women having found work in industry or the service sector.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, agricultural earnings rose rapidly. Since the mid-1970s, the incomes of cooperative farm members and industrial workers have been comparable. So dramatic was the improvement that in a 1968 poll more than two-thirds of cooperative farm members preferred collectivized agricultural production to private farming. Their consensus was that cooperative farming reduced not only the work burden but also the risks that small to medium-sized landholders faced. Farmers' grievances during the reform era focused on the injustices suffered during collectivization. They wanted those who had been victimized during the 1950s to be rehabilitated and compensated.
The disparity between urban and rural living conditions narrowed in the 1970s. Government planners focused on improving rural day-care facilities; bringing cooperative and state-farm pensions to parity with those of other workers; and increasing the medical, educational, and shopping facilities available to rural dwellers. There was significant construction and renovation of rural housing. The number of new housing units available to cooperative members rose dramatically in the 1960s and then leveled off, although the number fluctuated from year to year. The general improvement in the amenities did not benefit agricultural workers alone; in the early 1970s, over 40 percent of all industrial workers lived in the countryside (see Urbanization and Migration , this ch.).
One result of increased incomes and improved rural living conditions was a rise in the educational level of the agricultural labor force. The percentage of cooperative members with a secondary-school education increased eleven fold from 1960 to the end of 1978, and that of members with a university degree increased thirteen fold.
Data as of August 1987
Czechoslovakia Table of Contents