Collectivisation

The ascendency of Joseph Stalin to the premiership of the Soviet Union heralded an era of huge change for the USSR and its people, with one of the most significant changes occurring in agriculture through the process of collectivisation. But what was this policy, and how did it affect the citizens of the Soviet Union?

Collectivisation Collectivisation

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    Collectivisation: Meaning

    Farming in Soviet Union was seen as inefficient, unfair (exploitation of farm workers by landowners), and out of state control. Soviet Union leaders had seen collectivisation as a solution to all of these problems.

    Collectivisation is a process in which individual ownership of land and other means of production is abolished and replaced by collective ownership and control, typically by the state or a cooperative.

    The main reasons behind collectivisation were:

    • modernization and increasing productivity to support industrialization;

    • redistibution of wealth by taking land from landowners and giving it to the collective;

    • increasing state control over agricultural production.

    Collectivisation was implemented mostly in socialist or communist countries like China, Cuba, or Vietnam

    Collectivisation in Russia

    In the Soviet Union, collectivisation was the process of turning individual farms, controlled by one person, to collective farms, owned by the state on which numerous different people worked. The change to collective farming was brought on by Stalin's new economic policy, the First Five-Year Plan, and would continue to be a staple aspect of these plans for decades to come.

    When the State Planning Committee was setting up the First Five-Year Plan under the orders of Stalin, collectivisation was seen as the best way to increase the USSR's output of grain. While the focus of the First Five-Year Plan was industrialisation, grain and food production still needed to rise to keep up with the demand of a bigger workforce and an expanding army. Equally, Stalin wanted to reduce the power of the Kulaks, a class of peasant farmers who had grown fairly wealthy from running their individual farms.

    Industrialisation

    Development of industry on a wide scale. The transformation from an agricultural to an industrial society.

    The Kulaks

    Farm owners who owned their own land and accumulated a level of wealth in a capitalist manner proved a direct threat to Stalin's socialism.

    Collectivisation of Agriculture in USSR

    Here is how collectivisation of agriculture was supposed to be carried out in the USSR:

    • Small independent farms were destroyed, and the peasants who worked on them were sent to the larger collective farms, called kolkhozy.

    • The state supplied these new farms with modern farming machinery like tractors to make grain production more efficient.

    • Peasants not only worked on these farms, but they also lived there as well, with their families - they were essentially farming communes.

    Collectivisation Kolkhoz StudySmarterFig. 1 - An old kolkhoz

    However, the process was far from simple. Unsurprisingly, the Kulaks did not want to leave their farms which had been so profitable for them. When collectivisation became forced, rather than just encouraged, in 1931, the Kulaks responded by burning their crops, killing their livestock, and destroying their machinery so that the state could not use it. This left the new farms at quite a disadvantage, as the idea had been to use the already existing machinery and animals to kickstart the collective farms.

    Effects of Collectivisation

    The process of collectivisation had a drastic effect on the lives of millions in the USSR, yet its impact on the agricultural sector of the Soviet economy was less than what Stalin had intended.

    Food Output

    Under collectivisation, the output of grain did rise; however, the statistics produced by the USSR are to be taken with a hefty grain of salt. Stalin was hardly above inflating the figures for grain output to make the USSR look better, and it was in his best interest to do so.

    Since the 1930s, the figures produced by the Soviet Union have been re-examined and adjusted to try and reflect the actual output, but it is still uncertain. We are left with the figures given by the USSR in the 1930s and the estimates of the actual output made by the West. The table below shows the difference between the two sets of statistics for grain output.

    YearSoviet Estimate (millions of tonnes)Western (US) Estimate (millions of tonnes)Difference
    192971.762- 9.2
    193083.565- 8.5
    193169.556- 13.5
    193269.856- 13.8
    193389.865- 24.8
    193489.468- 21.4

    While the patterns for both sets of statistics are broadly the same, the differences in output estimates suggest that collectivisation was not providing the agricultural transformation that the USSR needed and that Stalin wanted. Obviously, there were extenuating circumstances in some of these years: the revolt of the Kulaks during the initial stages of collectivisation hindered progress, as did the drought in 1931. However, the USSR generally failed to meet the ambitious targets set under Stalin's Five-Year Plans, with the initial goals almost always having to be cut down for a number of reasons.

    Collectivisation Joseph Stalin StudySmarterFig. 2 - Soviet leader during collectivisation, Joseph Stalin

    There were also issues with livestock - the number of livestock on the kolkhozy dropped with the introduction of collectivisation due to the revolt of the Kulaks as well as the drought and famine between 1931-34. It wasn't until 1935 that livestock numbers began to rise back up to their 1929 levels. During its initial years, collectivisation was causing more problems than it was solving.

    Collectivisation: Famine

    From 1931 to 1934, the Soviet Union experienced one of the worst famines in its history, with around 5-8 million people dying from starvation.

    Requisition

    Requisition of grain meant that peasants had to hand over their stocks of grain to the state so there were reserves for the urbanites, politicians and the army.

    This famine was, in a large part, caused by the impact of the First-Year Plan and the collectivisation of agriculture - here is why:

    • The priority given to industrialisation meant that the agricultural workforce was shrinking at the exact time it needed to be expanding.

    • The resistance of the Kulaks to collectivisation resulted in the loss of lots of crops and livestock, slowing down agricultural production on the collective farms.

    • Collective, state-owned farms meant that there was practically no limit on how much grain the state could requisition from these farms. With the rapid expansion of an industrial workforce, construction and urban centres, the state gave priority for food to them, leaving very little left for the agricultural workforce.

    • The state also wanted to export as much grain as possible to finance industrial expansion.

    • Farmland was over-planted, the soil was not rejuvenated, and there was little food for livestock, all of which hindered agricultural progress - the leaders of the Soviet Union ignored these issues, meaning they only got worse over time.

    All of these factors contributed to a severe lack of food for those living in the agricultural regions of the USSR during the early 1930s.

    Holodomor

    Unfortunately, when investigating Stalin's response to the famine in the USSR, it is clear that the problems caused by collectivisation fit in nicely with Stalin's political plans. Ukraine suffered the worst of the famine, and the famine in Ukraine is known by the name Holodomor.

    Holodomor

    Derived from the Ukrainian for 'death by hunger', Holodomor refers to the mass extermination of the Ukrainian population by man-made famines, a direct result of Stalin's policies.

    Stalin's actions towards Ukraine in the early 1930s show at best, a clear lack of regard for the lives of the Ukrainian people, and at worst, an attempt at genocide via forced starvation. Stalin continued to forcefully requisition large amounts of grain from Ukraine, even as output fell significantly due to drought and famine - despite producing only 27% of the USSR's grain, Ukrainian crops made up 38% of all food requisitioning in 1931. Those who tried to hide away grain were severely punished, and brigades of soldiers routinely searched farms and houses to ensure nothing was being hidden.

    The situation in Ukraine deteriorated rapidly as Stalin methodically removed any and all potential sources of relief from the famine, even going so far as to implement passports so those living in the affected regions could not leave to find food elsewhere.

    Estimates of how many died in the Holodomor famine have varied over the years, with current estimates standing at around 3.9 million out of the 5-8 million total deaths in the USSR during the 1931-4 period of famine. While the label of genocide is still contested amongst historians (though recognised by Ukraine), it is clear that the effects of the policy of collectivisation contributed significantly to the famine in the USSR and were manipulated by Stalin in order to target Ukraine and its people.

    Collectivisation: Summary

    By 1936, with many casualties along the way, just over 90% of farmland in the Soviet Union fell to collectivization. With much of the country under socialist policies, Stalin turned inward in the late 1930s, seeking to purge any potential opposition within his party. World War II resulted in some reversal of collectivisation with German occupation but this was not long-lasting.

    Collectivisation Soviet stamp praising the Virgin Lands campaign 1962 StudySmarterFig. 3 - Soviet stamp praising the Virgin Lands campaign

    Stalin's less hardline successor, Nikita Khrushchev announced the Virgin Lands campaign in 1953 where unfarmed lands in Kazakhstan provided temporary respite to the food shortages.

    In the 60s and 70s, Brezhnev's failure to continue innovating and moving on from Stalinist policies led to severe food wastage and economic stagnation.

    Collectivisation - Key takeaways

    • Collectivisation was Stalin's main agricultural policy, introduced under the First-Five Year Plan and continuing to be a central policy until the end of Stalin's leadership in 1953.
    • Collectivisation involved the destruction of private farms and moving all workers into collective, state-owned farms in which machinery and livestock could be shared. It was hoped that this would make agricultural production more efficient.
    • However, there were several issues; the Kulaks resisted and hindered the development of the collective farms, and several agricultural issues were ignored by the Soviet leadership which resulted in the goals for agriculture always being cut down or not met.
    • The issues caused by Collectivisation resulted in a famine in the USSR from 1931-34 that killed around 5 million people. Stalin used the effects of Collectivisation to target Ukraine and its people, resulting in a severe loss of life and widespread starvation.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 - Old Kolkhoz (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:441_Ancien_kolkhoze_pr%C3%A8s_de_Djermouk.JPG) by Moreau.henri (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Moreau.henri) licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Collectivisation

    What is collectivisation?

    Collectivisation is the redistribution of privately owned farms to the state.

    Why did Stalin introduce collectivisation?

    Stalin introduced collectivisation to provide state control of agricultural output and stop the rise of wealthy kulaks.

    What is collectivization in Russia?

    In the Soviet Union, collectivisation refers to the period of land redistribution from private farmers to the state in the 1930s. 

    What is collectivisation of agriculture?

    The collectivisation of agriculture is the redistribution of agriculture to the state. This includes grain and livestock.

    Was collectivisation a success? 

    Collectivisation was a success for Stalin, in that it gave him control of the country's produce. However, it came at a huge human cost, notably during the famine in Ukraine known as Holodomor.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was Collectivisation implemented?

    Under what policy was Collectivisation implemented?

    The new collective farms were called ______.

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