Collectivisation- Building a Socialist Utopia in the Countryside!

What economic problems were created by the NEP in the late 1920s?

Why did Stalin launch collectivisation?

How far did collectivisation change over time?

How far did collectivisation meet its aims?


What was collectivisation and why was it done?

Collectivisation was the process by which Russia agriculture was reformed. Traditionally, peasants worked small farms with limited technology. Stalin's vision was to merge all the small farms into larger collective ones which would pool labour and resources. This would enable them to operate more effeciently; state provided tractors and fertiliers would modernise production and make operations more efficient. 

Collectivisation was the Communists' long-term plan for agriculture. However, by 1929, few could have predicted how swiftly this system would be introduced.

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Why Collectivise?: Economic Factors

1926 saw a record grain harvest for the USSR but it was followed by 3 very poor harvests. The decrease in production made the prices rise and consequently that standards of living also decreased. It also affected the Soviet government as since 1921 it had been selling surplus abroad for a profit in order to provide resources for industrialisation. Thus, if there were no surplusses there would be no money to build Russia's industry.

This meant that Collectivisation  held many economic benefits:

  • Large farms would increase efficiency.
  • Collectivisation could be accompanied by mechanisation
  • Greater efficiency would mean fewer people would need to work the land and thus could be transfered into industry.
  • Collectivisation promised a significant increase in production which would allow the government to sell more overseas, providing more resources for industrialisation and a higher standard of living fo workers.
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Why Collectivise?: Ideological Factors

In many ways, Communism had done little to change Russian agriculture as the peasants were still using traditional farming techniques. Equally, many peasants remained conventional, their lack of revolutionary spirit was evident in the way they farmed: they produced grain for themselves rather than the good of the community. This led the Communists to believe that Collectivisation  was nessesary to get the peasants to embrace socialism.

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Why Collectivisatise?: Political Factors

Stalin's desire to initiate Collectivisation was also motivated by his struggle against Bukharin and the Right as the radical nature of Collectivisation appealled to the Party's Left. It was far more appealling than the Right's idea of importing grain as these imports would mean reducing the pace of industrialisation.

Stalin's lack of understanding about agriculture also led to the decision to Collectivise as, despite being a peasant, he knew little about it. He visited farming land only once in his adult life and this visit showed how naive he was about agriculture. Stalin believed that Russia's agriculture could be transformed by an act of will and strong leadership. He asserted that peasants who refused to cooperate with his agricultural policy were enemies of the people who would be treated with no mercy.

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Why Collectivise?: The Grain Procurement Crisis

The crisis illustrates the political, ideological and economic factors of Collectivisation  and acted as a catalyst which ended the NEP and ushered in a new era of Collectivisation.

Under the NEP, the government brought grain from the peasants on the free market. Poor harvests from 1927 onwards forced the price of grain up. Equally, rich peasants, Kulaks, started to withhold grain from the government in order to push the price up further. Stalin called this the Kulak Grain Strike and used it as an excuse to resume a policy of grain requisitioning. The Strike demonstrated that the peasants could effectively slow down the process of Collectivisation  and showed that peasant ideology was essentially Capitalist, and thus was in conflict with the government.

Stalin used the crisis as evidence of the NEP's failure and in doing so, undermined Bukharin on the Right of the Party

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The Course of Collectivisation: Emergency Measures

The Soviet government moved towards mass collectivisation in a series of stages which often involved introducing a radical policy, reversing it and re-adopting it when Stalin was in a more secure position.

Stalin's response to the Grain Procurement Crisis was to increase the power of the government over the economy. In the winter of 1928-29, he reintroduced rationing in the cities as a response to the lack of bread and sugar and at the end of 1929, grain requisitioning was resumed. Under Article 107, grain hoarding was punished and poorer peasants who informed on their neighbours who were hoarding grain were rewarded by being given land which had belonged to the Kulaks. 

These policies created mass resentment amongst the peasants and Bukharin persuaded the Party to abandon the policy, but as Stalin's power grew the policy was restarted. Meat requisitioning was also imposed in 1929 and they revised Article 61 which now stated that Kulaks could be sentenced to 2 years in labour camps for failing to follow state instructions.

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The Course of Collectivisation: The Liquidation

Mass Collectivisation began in 1929 with Stalin's instruction to liquidise the Kulaks as a class, which was significant for 2 reasons:

  • 'Dekulakisation' marked the end of Capitalism and independent farming in the countryside.
  • It vastly increased the speed of Collectivisation.

Initially, it had been proposed that only 30% of farms would be Collectivised by 1934 but the call to liquidate the Kulaks entailed immediate Collectivisation  of all farms in Russia.

Stalin appealled to poorer peasants to lead the way, the new collective farms would control all local land and resources would be pooled. This meant that poorer peasants would have access to the Kulaks' resources and share in a much greater harvest.

However, the poorer peasants were a minority of Russia's farmers and for the majority, collectvisation meant a loss of independence and significant financial loss. A majority of peasants rebelled, choosing to destroy grain and livestock rather than surrender it to the collective farms. 18 million horses and 100 million sheep and goats were destroyed between 1929 and 1933. Kulaks also destroyed what machinary they had, rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the Communists. 

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The Course of Collectivisation: 25000ers

Immediatly prior to that start of enforced Collectivisation, Stalin introduced a new policy, local Communists were unhappy with Collectivisation  and therefore unwilling to implament it. In order to get around this, Stalin sent 25000 'socially conscious' industrial workers into the countryside. Over 27000 volunteered, hoping to revolutionise the countryside and play their part in building socialism in Russia. Following a 2 week course, the 27000 volunteers were supposed to offer technical help to the peasants and instruct them in how to use more complex machinary.

In reality, they were used to enforce dekulakisation as they were expected to find secret stores of grain and confiscate this, round up Kulaks and organise their excile as well as forcing the remaining peasants into collective farms. 

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The Course of Collectivisation: Dizzy with Success

The first wave of forced Collectivisation resulted in untold human suffering, the majority of Kulaks and their families were either shot or herded into cattle trucks and exiled to SIberia. Those who survived the journey were imprisoned in forced labour camps run by the NKVD where tens of thousands died of disease and hunger. Publically, Stalin was unmoved by the fate of his victims and announced 'Mosoc does not believe in tears'.

In addition to the human cost of Collectivisation, the process caused chaos in the agricultural economy. Resistence to the forced Collectivisation had resulted in the wholesale slaughter of livestock, destruction of tractors and even burning of crops. The process of Collectivisation created a surge in hostility towards the government. Although, Stalin disregarded the human suffering caused by Collectivisation, economic and political reality forced him to call a halt to the process in March 1930.

In 'Dizzy with Success', an article published in Pravda, Stalin defended his policy but claimed that some local officials had been 'overenthusiastic' whilst implamenting Collectivisation. He also argued that the target for Collectivisation had been met and thus the programme would be suspended. Stalin never admitted that Collectivisation caused problems but the article was a tacit admission that many within the Party believed the carnage had gone too far.

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The Course of Collectivisation: Famine

The pause in Collectivisation was short-lived, pressure to Collectivise all farms soon resumed in 1931, and this resulted in the worst famine since records began. Significantly, this was the result of government policy as they had issued hugely unrealistic targets to Russian farmers. Stalin announced that the failure to meet these targets was considered sabotage and would be punished severly. When farmers did fail to meet these targets all grain was confiscated and peasants caught hiding even one or two ears of corn were shot.

Stalin was uncompromising, for example, he set up checkpoint to stop food from entering the Ukraine when they failed to meet their targets. International offers of aid were rejected as Stalin claimed there was no famine in Socialist Russia. The consequences were appaling, people were forced to take desperate measures to survive and estimates suggest that 10 million died of famine in the period.

Much of the grain taken from the peasants was taken to the cities or exported in order to provide resources for industrialisation. However, the economic policy was such a failure that grain sat rotting inbarns whilst peasants in villages starved.

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The Consequences of Collectivisation: Rural Areas

Collectivisation was Stalin's method of bringing socialism and economic effeciency to the country, in this respect it obviously failed. It was linked to industrialisation and there was some success here. The policy did strengthen Stalin's position and thus was a political triumph.

Collectivisation had a devestating effect on the peasants, nearly 10 million people were exciled as part of dekulakisation. Many were exciled to Siberia but those who remained on the Collectivised farms endured enormous hardship. They were forced to meet unrealisatic targets and paid little for the crops they did produce. Most farms were barely able to cover their production costs and thus Collectivisation create anger and resentment towards the government. There was little incentive for hard work as the peasants didn't own the land they workerd and recieved little reward. As a result, labour productivity in rural areas declined.

Collectivisation failed to raise agriculture procution and the peasants who were exciled were often the hardest working and most enterprising. Therefore, without their talents and energy, production fell. The harvest of 1933 was 9 million tonnes less than that of 1926, livestock numbers also fell dramtically.

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The Consequences of Collectivisation: Machinary

Collectivisation was accompanied by mechanisation but in the early phase it was ineffective. In 1930, the Central Committee approved plans for Machine Tractor Stations (MTSs). But the implamentation of MTSs did occur until early 1931 because of bad planning. Additionally, in order to extract more grain from the peasants, the government kept the price of tractors high which meant few farms could afford them. By the end of 1932, the were 2500 MTSs across Russia but half the farms were left out of the network and the extra tractors did not make up for the loss of horses Russia. Consequently, the MTSs were unable to make significant improvements in the productivity levels.

In one sense, however, the policy was an overwhelming success. In 1930, around 25% of peasant households were Collectivised. By 1941, all the farms across Russia were Collective bu the cost of this achievement was astronomical.

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The Consequences of Collectivisation: Industry

One of the goals of Collectivisation was to provide more grain for export in order to generate the funds to industrialise. Although the amount of grain produced fell from 1926 onwards, the amount of grain procured and exported by the state increased. In 1928, the state procured 11 million tonnes of grain. This rose over the subsequent years as did grain exports.

Even though there was no famine in the cities, the standard of living fell sharply during Collectivisation. The value of wages fell by half and the amount of meat consumed fell by 2/3s.

Collectivisation failed to deliver the greater unity between workers and peasants. The government officially blamed 'Kulak spirit' for poor harvests and propaganda fed the suspisions of the urban workers that the peasants were refusing to play their part in building Socialism

Stalin's agricultural policy did play a part in increasing urbanisation as by 1928 only 18% of Soviet citizens were working class but this figure rose to 50% in 1939 as more peasants moved from the country to escape Collectivisation and as mechanisation grew. This also created problems as living conditions were affected and the government was reluctant to invest in housing in urban areas.

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The Consequences of Collectivisation: Politics

The famine in the Collectived countryside and the poverty in the cities led to a feeling of crisis in the top levels of the Party but rather than leading to criticism of Stalin and his policy, instead it united the Party behind their new leader.

Party leaders were loyal to the new policy and blamed the Kulaks and peasants saboteurs for the problems that Russia was experiencing. Communists on the Left of the Party also viewed Stalin's hard line against the peasants as a return to the heroic traditional of the Civil War.

Therefore, Stalin emerged from the mayhem of Collectivisation stronger than ever before.

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