Major developments in agriculture

One notable feature of this period was the continual and severe reduction in crop area. During the five years from 1917 to 1922, crop areas fell by 32 percent (more than 12 million hectares) in European Russia alone. In the most productive regions the decline reached 30 to 40 percent, but in several other regions the reduction was as much as 50 to 60 percent (Table 4.1.). The area sown was a major factor in the level of agricultural production. The decline in crop area resulted in the collapse of agricultural production in the country. There was also a decline in average yield in the country, which was a knock-on effect of the economic and social crisis, although a major part of the losses in potential grain production could be attributed to the decrease in the sown area.

Various factors were responsible for this unprecedented decline in area during the post-war period. A decline can be observed even before 1917. In 1914, the crop area reached its highest point since the beginning of the century. The area under cereal cultivation increased by 1.3

Table 4.1. Changes in cereal crop area from 1920 to 1924, as a percentage of the crop area in 1916

Regions

1920

1921

1922

1923

1924

European Russia

84

78

68

77

84

North

61

81

84

89

99

Northwest

62

70

78

90

94

Central

94

106

119

104

112

Black Earth

80

74

80

89

90

Volga-Vyatka

73

66

49

80

84

Middle and Low Volga

82

69

52

67

69

Urals

80

65

40

55

87

Southeast

61

57

42

62

64

Source: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; Sbornik statisticheskix sve-denii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924.

Source: Statisticheskii ezhegodnik: 1918-1920, 1921; Sbornik statisticheskix sve-denii po Souzy SSR: 1918-1923, 1924.

percent between 1913 and 1914. The first stage in crop area decline was associated with the mass forced mobilization of Russian peasants into the army. The mobilization started in the autumn of 1914, taking the peasants away when they were sowing their winter crops. The impact of the resulting labor shortage manifested itself in the following year, 1915. According to most sources, the crop area in Russia decreased by between 7 and 9 percent between 1914 and 1916 (Oganovsky, 1927). This decline was more serious in the southern and southeastern regions of European Russia, as these regions traditionally hired large numbers of peasants from the overpopulated central regions of the country. Before the war about 1.5 million people arrived there to look for seasonal work.

The Central and Northwestern regions of the non-productive zone also faced labor shortages because many employable peasants moved to the two chief Russian cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow. They were looking for jobs at military enterprises that would give them the legal right to avoid mobilization. It is well known that at that time the urban population increased sharply in Russia. Because of this migration the crop area decreased by 11 percent. Before the war, the regions had imported large amounts of bread and at that time dependence on bread imports had increased. With the decline in grain production in the productive regions of the European part of the country, Siberia started to play the role of supplier of grain to the center. Siberia and Central Asia were the only regions where a growth in crop area (of over 7 percent) was observed.

Another key factor in crop area decline was that the world grain market became inaccessible to Russian peasants. Before the war Russian peasants needed only to transport their grain to a nearby railway station, where special trade offices were situated for the purchase and transportation of the grain abroad. With the start of the war, the borders were closed to such trade. This factor affected almost all of the productive regions of the south of the country. In these regions the average decline in crop area reached as much as 17 to 18 percent between 1914 and 1916. In the three years of the war, all the improvements achieved in grain production in these regions during the previous decade were wiped out (Oganovsky, 1927).

The reduction of crop area in Russia was accelerated as a result of the socialist revolution of 1917. The gross grain production for that year reached only 80 percent of the 1916 figure. The redistribution of arable land among poor peasants in the course of the so-called agrarian revolution of 1918 failed to solve the problem of rural overpopulation and the resulting land shortage. Moreover, the agrarian revolution involved the restoration of the commune and the associated archaic commune farming methods (Conquest, 2002).

The domestic agricultural market of the country collapsed. Trade exchange between city and village vanished. Between 1917 and 1921, the urban population of Russia fell by one-third as former peasants returned to their villages. Industry was destroyed. The production of food, clothes, and shoes fell 7.5-fold. The production of agricultural machines fell 31-fold, and production of mineral fertilizers stopped completely. Thus the city had nothing to give to the villages, and the villages stopped supplying the cities with agricultural products.

In the first post-revolutionary winter of 1918, when food shortages in the cities became acute, the new revolutionary authority introduced a policy of "war communism". The core of this policy was the compulsory acquisition of grain and other foodstuffs from the peasants by the state and its agencies, using armed force where necessary. This practice lasted from 1918 to 1921 and resulted in the devastation of millions of peasant farms.

Under these economic and political constraints Russian farms were inevitably transformed from productive to subsistence farming. It was very easy for the peasants to cut themselves off from the market. By planting just enough for their own families they could be assured of an adequate food supply and could make their own clothes. They could manage without almost anything else except salt (Goldman, 1968). Such processes resulted in a decrease in sown area. Before the war and the revolution, peasant farms were able to take 26 percent of their production to external markets (Popov, 1925). This meant that before the war a large proportion of the crop area under cereal production was allocated for the domestic and external market. As a result of the break in trade links between urban and rural Russia, cereal crop areas dropped by 20 percent (or 25 percent according to official estimates) (Oganovsky, 1927). This process covered all regions, especially those of the Northwest, Central Black Earth, and Southeast (Middle Volga) regions. In Siberia, the crop area remained unchanged during the revolution but, as a reaction to the policy of expropriation, the peasants reduced the crop area (by 17 percent) to a size sufficient to provide for their own food consumption only. According to Gatrell (1994) the result of these changes was that in the time of "war communism" the pre-revolution-ary distinction between the consumption zone and production regions ceased to have any meaning.

Table 4.2. shows the significant reduction in areas growing valuable market crops. At the same time, crops not produced for the market, such as millet, buckwheat, and maize, increased in area by 18 percent. The marketable part of agricultural production was cut four-fold according to some estimations (Oganovsky, 1927).

The third stage in the reduction of crop areas was caused by a large-scale drought that affected most of the productive regions of European Russia in 1921. The crop area in the Volga basin fell by 15 to 17 percent, reaching its lowest in Bashkir region where it decreased by 21 percent (Table 4.1.). The resulting mass famine then caused a drop in the crop area farmed and affected millions of peasants. There was not enough seed grain to sow even the reduced crop area. In 1921-1922, the productive regions of European Russia lost more than 5 million hectares, or about 25 percent, of their crop area.

As for the non-productive regions, a food shortage in the cities due to the lack of grain imported from the south forced millions of Russians to move back to rural areas, and in 1921 the crop area in these regions started to increase. By 1922 it had grown considerably by 2 million hectares (Table 4.1.).

All in all, the country lost about 40 million hectares of its total crop area between 1917 and 1922. Total agricultural production decreased from 10.5 billion rubles in 1913 to between 5 and 6 billion rubles

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