Major developments in agriculture

There were two major stages in the development of Soviet agriculture in the 1930s: a very short stage during which the NEP was demolished; and a longer stage which saw the accelerated construction of the Soviet system of collectivized agriculture. During two years, 1928 and 1929, the use of coercion by the state replaced the market mechanism of the NEP. The "emergency measures" of the state grain procurement plan at the beginning of 1928 became a permanent feature of the new system. From the beginning of 1930, the forcible collectivization of agriculture strengthened state control over agricultural output.

The "emergency measures" for grain collection were first put in place by the Soviet authorities in 1927-1928 in the face of the failure of the state procurement campaign. The grain procurement crisis of the winter of 1927-1928 was not the result of kulak sabotage or a desire on the part of the peasants to combat Soviet power: the peasants simply found the grain price too low and expected it to be raised. In the winter of 1928 the official price of wheat was 1.2 rubles per pud (16.5 kg) and the price of rye 0.7 rubles per pud, while the market price of wheat reached 2.2 rubles and that of rye 1 ruble (Belerovich and Danilov, 2000b: 657). The KGB materials confirm that peasants waited for higher prices for their grain in the winter of 1928 before selling. They said that if the authorities raised the price of wheat by 1.4 rubles and that of rye by 1 ruble, they would sell their grain surplus to the state (ibid.: 711).

Instead, a political campaign against "speculators" began in the USSR in the February of 1928. A criminal law was adopted to force peasants to sell their grain reserves to the state and to take their grain to market. The law stated that a peasant who kept back a large portion of grain or other agricultural produce "in order to produce a price increase on the market" was to be sentenced to prison for one year and his property confiscated. The problem was that any peasant could become a victim of this law if he kept any grain reserve at all. The campaign of 1928 was accompanied by numerous cases of the expropriation of the peasants' grain reserves. It produced some results in the following months as peasants were afraid to keep any reserves (ibid.: 689). However, the methods employed could not fail to remind the peasants of War Communism, and as one party activist wrote in a private letter, this similarity was kept quiet by the party (ibid.: 840). Meanwhile, Stalin described the emergency measures as "absolutely exceptional" (Conquest, 2002).

One of the results of this campaign was the reduction in the sown area in the spring of 1928. Prosperous peasants reduced their sowing area and stopped renting any land from poor peasants, which had previously been common practice (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000b: 732). The grain shortage started to return in urban areas in the late autumn of 1928 but in November Stalin denounced the idea that the "extraordinary measures" should be a permanent policy. The winter of 1929, in fact, found the grain problem still unsolved. Bread rationing had been introduced in the towns, and in the autumn of 1929 meat rationing followed. Some experts argue that food rationing was caused rather by the destruction of the market mechanism than by a grain shortage in the country. Indeed, some Soviet scholars argue that this centralized rationing was caused less by procurement difficulties than as a result of the theoretical aim of having non-commodity, non-market exchange (Conquest,

Table 5.1. Grain production and collection (Western low estimates) from 1927-1940 (million tons)

Year

Grain production, million tons

Grain collection, million tons

Remainder of harvest, million tons

Share of grain delivery from grain production, %

1927/28

62.05

11.05

51

17.8

1928/29

62.79

10.79

52

17.2

1929/30

62.08

16.08

46

25.9

1930/31

64.14

22.14

42

34.5

1931/32

55.84

22.84

33

40.9

1932/33

55.78

18.78

37 or less

33.7

1933/34

65.29

23.29

42

35.7

1934/35

68.25

26.25

42

38.5

1935/36

75.39

28.39

47

37.6

1936/37

(55.6)

(27.6)

(28)

49.6

1937/38

96.94

31.94

65

32.9

1938/39

74.09

29.09

45

39.3

1939/40

72.71

30.71

42

42.2

Source: Wheatcroft and Davies, (1994a).

Source: Wheatcroft and Davies, (1994a).

2002). As it was, the amount of grain collected in 1928-1929 was even lower than in the previous year (Table 5.1.).

The new grain procurement campaign of 1929-1930 started in August when 100,000 urban party members were sent into the countryside "to help the grain collection". In autumn, the repressive element of the grain procurement campaign emerged on a large scale. The main target was to prevent peasants from selling bread on the free market. Before September, the total number of "peasant speculators" (who were still waiting for prices to rise) arrested by the KGB reached 3,000. By late October this number had reached 18,000. A KGB report stated that repression was limited to that category of peasants identified as "speculators" and did not affect the majority of the rural population (Berelovich and Danilov, 2000b: 975). The KGB reported to the Soviet authorities that in some places the free market was "completely demoralized". The action did bring some results. For example, a KGB report from Bashkiria (the Urals) found a link between the arrest of 76 peasant "speculators" and a 147.6 percent increase in the amount of grain procured there (ibid.: 975). Indeed, the result of the campaign was a radical increase in the grain collected by about 6 million tons (Table 5.1.).

The critical year 1930 started with the launch of two of Stalin's major political programs—"dekulakization" and the "mass collectivization" of Soviet agriculture. A resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party concerning the "liquidation of kulaks as a social class" was adopted at the end of January 1930. The predicted outcome of this resolution indicates the "approximate" number of kulaks in the various regions earmarked for deportation or arrest. Those arrested were to be kept in concentration camps, while others were to be resettled in the northern regions and Siberia. In the Low Volga the number of deported kulaks amounted to between 8,000 and 10,000, while the number of arrested peasants was between 3,000 and 4,000. In the Ukraine the respective figures were between 30,000 and 35,000 and 15,000; in Northern Caucasus 20,000 and 6,000 to 8,000; and in the Central Black Earth region between 10,000 and 15,000 and between 3,000 and 5,000 (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2000: 124). Deportation was ordered to be conducted in as short a period as possible during February and March. This seems to have been fulfilled almost completely. By December 1930, the number of peasant families deported from the Low Volga region reached 8,200, from the Ukraine 31,600, from the Northern Caucasus 23,000, and from the Central Black Earth region 8,300 (ibid.: 755). The problem was that nobody knew what degree of peasant prosperity should be used to categorize a kulak.

For the first time, at the end of 1927, the Soviet authorities announced a plan for the mass collectivization of the Russian peasants. The first experiment for the total collectivization of some regions of the USSR began in 1929. In early 1930, the collectivization campaign accelerated. By the end of February 1930, about 73.6 percent of peasant land had been collectivized in the Central Black Earth region. This figure is remarkable because five months earlier, in October 1929, the proportion of land collectivized there reached only 7.7 percent (ibid.: 225). The real rate of collectivization was much higher than originally planned. By 1 December 1930, some 49.3 percent of peasant farms in the major productive regions—the North Caucasus, and the Low and Middle Volga— were reported to have been united into kolkhozes (Vilensky, 1980). In the summer of 1931, more than 60 percent of peasants worked in the new kolkhozes. In August 1931, the Soviet authorities issued a special resolution announcing the successful completion of collectivization.

Table 5.2. Changes in crop areas in the Russian Federation (millions of hectares) and economic regions in 1928 and 1934 (thousands of hectares)

Region Total crop area Cereal crop area Forage crop area

1928 1934 1928 1934 1928 1934

Table 5.2. Changes in crop areas in the Russian Federation (millions of hectares) and economic regions in 1928 and 1934 (thousands of hectares)

European

48.1

57.4

46.4

53.8

1.7

3.6

Russia

North

981.3

1,033

926.8

946.8

54.5

86.2

Northwest

1,410

1,656.3

1,129.7

1,388.7

280.4

267.6

Central

3,780

4,816.5

3,204

3,839.5

576.1

977

Volga-Vyatka

5,012

5,695

4,871

5,325

140.9

370

Central Black

8,048.2

8,614.7

7,754.4

8,008.5

293.8

606.2

Earth

Middle Volga

6,667.4

8,734.5

6,626.3

8,305

41.1

429.5

Urals

4,949.7

6,106.7

4,852.7

5,928

97

178.7

Bashkiria

2,472.7

3,135.8

2,443.9

3,060

28.8

75.8

North

Caucasus

7,346.3

9,379.4

7,328.5

8,949.4

117.8

430

West Siberia

7,247.3

8,323.2

7,240.4

8,095

66.9

228.2

Source: Selskoe khozyastvo SSSR: 1935, 1936.

Source: Selskoe khozyastvo SSSR: 1935, 1936.

This period of collectivization was accompanied by a considerable growth in the crop area of the country (Table 5.2.). The average increase in the cereal crop area was 16 percent, although some productive regions increased by 20 to 25 percent. Most regions came to have a larger crop area than they had had in 1916.

It is widely accepted in historical works that the main reason for the forcible collectivization was associated with the new mainstream Soviet policy to accelerate industrialization. Agriculture was to be the main source of labor and capital for industry, and collectivization was the crucial (and brutal) mechanism by which this was achieved. Soviet agriculture played a major role in supporting the process, as the exporting of grain was the most important source of the hard currency needed to purchase modern equipment for the new industrial giants.

There was another reason for collectivization. The Soviet authorities talked about an increase in the marketability of agriculture as more and more peasant families were involved in collectivization, although there was no evidence that a kolkhoz worked more efficiently than an individual farm. In reality, this thesis reflected the fact that the Soviet authorities found it much easier to expropriate any surplus grain from collectivized peasants. According to Conquest, "collectivization did not solve the peasant's problems, even apart from his loss of land. The collective farms were essentially a chosen mechanism for extracting grain and other products" (Conquest, 2002: 183). In the first year of collectivization the 1928 grain collection was doubled (Table 5.1.).

The reality of the situation was that collectivized peasants were in a worse situation than individual peasants. In 1930, the People's Commissariat for Trade used a norm for an individual peasant's grain delivery of 19 percent of his total grain production, 32 percent for kolkhozes, and 59.6 percent for sovkhozes (ibid.: 619). According to other documents, collective farmers in the Ukraine had to deliver twice as much as non-collectivized peasants, at 3 and 1.5 centners per hectare respectively (ibid.: 614). Besides the grain deliveries to the state, kolkhozes had to pay about 20 percent of the grain harvest to the Machine-Tractor Station (MTS)1 for the use of machinery; they had to repay seed and other loans to the state; form seed reserves of 10 to 15 percent of the annual seed requirements; and establish forage funds in correspondence with the annual requirements of the collectivized livestock. Only then could the farm make any distributions to its members. Unsurprisingly, food problems were more acute among kolkhozniks than among individual peasants.

This paradox (since one might expect that collective farmers would have received some advantage for political collaboration with the Communist authorities) supports the idea that collectivization was primarily designed by the Soviet authorities as a means for the efficient expropriation of agricultural products from the peasants. In the 1920s, the authorities had had to deploy large militarized brigades to collect the food taxes from peasants. Introducing the system of collectivized farms allowed the expropriation to be achieved more cheaply.

The state grain provision plan for a region was determined according to the proportion of collectivized peasants in that region. In general, the higher the percentage of peasants involved in kolkhozes, the higher the plan target for grain provision in that region. It is for this reason that the Soviet authorities first targeted grain-producing regions for the introduction of collectivization. In 1930, the proportion of collectivized peasant farms in non-productive regions (for example Moskovskaya and Leningradskaya oblasts) remained the lowest in the country (Table 5.3.).

Table 5.3. The scale of collectivization, grain production, and grain deliveries in regions of the USSR in 1930

Regions

Collectivization, Grain production, Grain deliveries, Share of grain

Table 5.3. The scale of collectivization, grain production, and grain deliveries in regions of the USSR in 1930

Regions

Collectivization, Grain production, Grain deliveries, Share of grain

% of peasant

thousands

thousands

delivered to

farms in region

of tons

of tons

state, %

North Caucasus

60

6,698.40

3,140.00

46.90

Ukraine

38

22,725.80

8,026

35.30

Low Volga

34

3,941

1,733

44

Middle Volga

30.30

4,287.50

1,863.50

43.50

Urals

25.30

4,715.70

1,326.30

28

Bashkiria

19.70

2,343.20

573.40

25

Siberia

19.30

7,120.30

2,050.40

29

Central Black Earth

15

7,372.90

1,970.70

26.7

Tatarstan

12.10

1,548.00

250.90

16.20

Moscow oblast

7.00

3,103.90

482.90

16

Leningradskaya

6

1,100

98.4

8.9

Source: Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2000.

According to the Soviet authorities, the marketability of grain production at the beginning of the 1930s was higher than even in the prewar period when the grain market was being intensively developed. The average share of the grain delivery in the country had rocketed from 15 percent in late 1928 to more than 34 percent in 1930 (Table 5.1.). According to the Soviet authorities, in 1930 the "marketability" of the grain production in the Northern Caucasus was as high as 46.9 percent, in the Middle Volga region 43.5 percent, and in the Low Volga 43.9 percent (Table 5.3.). It is evident that these figures have no relation to the actual efficiency of Soviet farming at that time.

There was no definite method for calculating the "marketability" of grain production. There were occasional attempts to propose certain norms for the calculation of surplus grain. For example, it was proposed that a region should deliver 2.5 centners of grain per hectare. It is most likely that the plan for the grain delivery was determined according to the grain demand of the state in a given year. For example, the plan for state grain provision for 1934 was compiled in February 1934. It contained the plan target for each province (Viola, Danilov, and Manning, 2002: 66). It is also likely that the plan for the grain delivery of a region was determined simply using a maximum possible production estimate for that region.

The construction of the collectivized farming system seemed to provide the Soviet authorities with the possibility of planning and controlling all agricultural development parameters. The first five-year plan, adopted in 1928 (officially started in October) for the period from 1928 to 1933, contained definite planning figures for agricultural production, and all these figures were linked with other planning parameters for the development of the Soviet economy and industry (Yutkropht, 2001). The five-year plan was in any case not really a "plan" at all. It rather resembled "a body of figures which were constantly being scaled upward, and this was its sole function" (Conquest, 2002: 99).

The first five-year plan proposed an ambitious target for the grain production sector. It envisaged an increase in grain production of 36 to 45 percent over the five years from 73.1 million tons in 1928 to 105.8 million tons in 1932. This plan was completely unrealistic, not only because the target figure was too high but also because it used an exaggerated estimate for the grain production of the base year, 1928.

Here we touch on the most important question in our review of this period. From the mid-1920s, the Soviet authorities stopped publishing any harvest figures based on field data and issued only estimates calculated with the help of coefficients related to field data on both sown area and yields. Although these official statistics were later (in the 1960s) revised by Soviet statisticians, Western experts proposed their own, more radical, revision of the official data (Table 5.4.). The Soviet revision concerned only data published after 1933, when a new method for estimating the grain crop using the "biological yield" was introduced in the Soviet Union. Western experts have many reasons to believe that the data from 1928 to 1933 were exaggerated. For example, for 1928 the Western estimate is for only 63 million tons of grain to be harvested rather than the 73.1 million tons mentioned in Soviet statistical reports. The importance of such differences is obvious. An unrealistically high harvest estimate gave the Soviet authorities a base for establishing an unrealistically high plan for grain procurement, which would leave the peasants starving.

The first year (1929) of the five-year period yielded only 71.7 million tons according to official estimates and 62 million tons according to Western estimates, in both cases less than in the previous year. The next year, 1930, was characterized by more favorable weather conditions. The target adopted was very high for 1930, the plan being to raise grain production to 88.9 million tons. Soviet figures for grain production were

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