Recent Trends in Soviet Agriculture

Published date01 June 1954
Date01 June 1954
Subject MatterArticles
University of Nebraska
University of Washington
regime in Russia confronts one of its most difficult
internal problems on the farm. Able foreign observers agree that
Soviet agriculture is one of the weakest links in the economy and in
the system of political control. The history of Soviet agriculture is a series
of advances, followed by retreats when the regime met resistance which
it could not crush without endangering the entire system., Postwar develop,
ments affecting established relations in collectivized agriculture provide
additional evidence of the continuing nature of the problem and afford
some insight into the thinking of the Soviet policy makers.
In order to fully understand the recent trends of agrarian policy it is
necessary to know that nothing in the tortuous history of Soviet agriculture
suggests a satisfactory or even adequate solution to the difficulties that
have confronted the regime ever since the revolution of 1917. Mass col-
lectivization did not become an accomplished fact until the early 1930’s.
Prior to that time, various forms of collective farming had been tried,
and a start made with huge state-owned farms. Although title to land
was taken over early by the state, little effort was made, except for the brief
period of the civil war and &dquo;war communism&dquo; (1918,21), to deny the
peasant the right to farm the land on an individual basis and to enjoy
the fruits of his labor. Under Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921,
28), state controls and restrictions were relaxed, forcible requisitioning
was abandoned, individual farming --a- with the accompanying rise of the
kulaks -
was tolerated, and free trade in agricultural produce was per-
mitted. The incongruity of this situation is an avowedly socialistic society
was obvious; moreover, it became increasingly evident that the state
planning organs could not deal adequately with millions of individual
peasant households. For these and other reasons, a sharp break with NEP
practice became a logical necessity. A forewarning of the inevitable shift
in policy is found in Stalin’s speech to the Central Committee of the
Communist party in 1928, on the eve of the first Five Year Plan. Stalin
We must not for too long a period of time base the Soviet power and the socialist
structure on two different foundations, on the foundation of the largest and most
unified socialist industry and on the foundation of the most divided and backward small
peasant farming. It is necessary gradually, but systematically and stubbornly, to remake
agriculture on a new technical basis, on the basis of big production, pulling it up to the
socialist industry.2
On the history of Soviet agriculture see: Naum Jasny, The Socialized Agriculture of the USSR
(Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1949); Leonard E. Hubbard, Economics of
Soviet Agriculture (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1939).
Quoted in W. H. Chamberlin, The Soviet Planned Economic Order (Boston: World Peace Founda-
tion, 1931), p. 105.

The subsequent &dquo;socialist offensive&dquo; against &dquo;capitalist elements&dquo; in
the Russian villages was designed to remove the dangers of a restoration of
capitalism inherent in the continued existence of individual farming enter-
prises and to introduce socialist economic relationships in agriculture; it
was carried out with every means of coercion and persuasion available
to party and state. The consequent drastic reorganization of the agrarian
structure gave to Soviet agriculture its present familiar outlines, in which
three types of farm units dominate: the collective farm (kolkhoz), the
state farm (sovkhoz), and the machine and tractor station (MTS). The
MTS is not a primary producing unit but is the agency by which the state
supplies the collective farms with the machinery and technical services
necessary for large-scale modern farming. The MTS has a virtual monopoly
of farm machinery and skilled operators available for rent to the collective
farms; in the process the MTS has become the principal link between the
collective farms and the central governing apparatus, as well as an
important agency of supervision and control. State farms, unlike the
kolkhozi, are strictly state enterprises, closely resembling an industrial
enterprise in organization and management and operating with hired labor.
Originally, the Soviet regime had looked to the sovkhozi as embodying the
true form of socialized agriculture. In practice, however, state farms failed
to live up to expectations and were supplanted as the predominant farming
unit by the kolkhozi. State farms remain as demonstration and experi-
mental units and constitute an interesting experiment in the application
of mechanized methods of modern agriculture to large stretches of
In their discussions of the agrarian problem the Soviet leaders are
primarily concerned with the kolkhozi, which dominate the farm picture
by the number of peasants involved, acres under cultivation, and actual
production. Unlike the state farms, the collective farms are nominally co,
operative in character: each collective farmer (kolkhozniki) contributes
his holding upon entering the kolkhozi and shares in the returns after all
other obligations have been met. According to the Model Charter of
1935, which is still the basic law governing the organization and manage-
ment of the kolkhozi, the kolkhoz is described as a voluntary association of
peasants who, &dquo;by means of the common possession of the means of
production and the mutual organization of their labor,&dquo; aim &dquo;to create a
collective or socialized economic unit to complete the extermination of the
3 For additional information on the MTS and state farm see: Harry Schwartz, Russia’s Soviet Economy
(New York: Prentice-Hail, 1950), pp. 281-89; Lazar Volin, "Machine Tractor Stations in the Soviet
Union," Foreign Agriculture, XII (April, 1948), 80-86; Wolf Ladejinsky, "Soviet State Farms,"
Political Science Quarterly, LIII (March and June, 1938), 60-82, 207-32; Lazar Volin, A Survey of
Soviet Russian Agriculture (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Monograph No. 5, August,
1951), chap. iii.

kulaks and all exploiters and enemies of the workers, to banish poverty and
ignorance and dissolve the remnants of small individual undertakings....&dquo; 4
The farm land is legally owned by the state but is held &dquo;in perpetuity&dquo;
by the kolkhoz; other means of production (livestock, farm implements and
the like) and the farm’s yield are owned by the collective farm group and
not by the state. Moreover, the peasant families continue to live in villages
as they did prior to collectivization, are permitted private possession of their
homes and household goods, and are allotted some livestock and a private
garden plot. A certain amount of free trading is permitted in the so-called
kolkho~ markets, where the farmer sells not only the produce from his
own household plot but also his share in the collective farm yield. Under
the present system of agriculture, therefore, production has been col-
lectivized except for that portion which comes from the personal farming
performed by the peasant on his private plot. Consumption has remained
a matter for each individual household, as it was during the precollective
The most glaring fact about the present agrarian structure is that
the kolkhoz...

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