Collectivization under Stalin

The Communist Party needed capital to finance its plans to industrialize the Soviet Union.Many Bolsheviks favored paying for the new factories and mines by forcibly taking agricultural products from the peasants. After much debate within the party, the method chosen to finance industrial growth was Stalin's policy of all-out socialization of agriculture. An institutional “revolution from above” was initiated in the winter of 1929. The Stalin model required all farmers to become members of a state farm (government-operated specialty farm) or a collective farm (a farmer-operated, cooperative general farm). An official state policy allowed the taking of all land and other possessions belonging to the kulaks (prosperous private farmers). Many kulaks were deported.

In March 1929, 8 percent of rural households were collectivized. In January 1930, the figure was 21 percent. By March 1930, 58 percent had been collectivized. Force was widely used. Administrative decrees and tax discrimination against individual peasants resulted in an almost complete elimination of private farming. As a direct result of forced collectivization, a severe famine took place in 1933–1934, during which at least 9 million people died.

To make sure urban industrial workers had food and to assure state control of a stable food source, state farms were created on expropriated landed estates. Giant “grain factories,” “meat factories,” and “technical crop factories” were created. The state took absolute control of a sizable portion of the nation's agricultural output and marketing. These massive farm “factories” were to be completely mechanized and would serve as model farms. They employed paid rural workers (who held jobs similar to those in factories). The performance of these farm factories was highly unsatisfactory, however. Failing to serve the needs of the state, many state farms were converted into collective farms in the mid-1930s. They played a minor role in Soviet agriculture until the mid-1950s. By the late 1950s, a system of socialized agriculture evolved into the forms that existed within the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991. All farmland previously owned by peasants was cultivated in common, except for small private household plots of less than one acre (0.4 hectares) each. In 1956, these privately held plots accounted for less than 4 percent of the farmland within the Soviet Union. However, they produced 67 percent of the potato output, 55 percent of the milk, 57 percent of the meat, and 87 percent of the eggs. In most areas of the country, the only income earned by farm households from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s came from the sale of products from their private plots. Each farmer quickly learned to do only a minimum of the required, uncompensated work on a collective farm. Farmers concentrated most of their energies on very intensively cultivating their private plots, on which they also raised animals.

During World War II, Germans occupied most of the richest farmland in the Soviet Union. Farms were destroyed and fields were ruined.Agricultural output in 1945 was only 61 percent of the 1940 level.

Stalin strengthened the law of economic discrimination against rural dwellers. His actions led to the “Great Ukrainian Famine” of 1946–1947. This politically induced famine killed nearly 2 million Soviets.

Agricultural policies after World War II strengthened the government's control. Income was transferred from the rural to the urban sector. In 1952, agricultural production was only 0.7 percent above the 1940 level. During the same period, industrial production doubled. Barriers that limited productivity developed at all levels of the Soviet agricultural system. Nine million rural dwellers migrated to cities between 1950 and 1954. The population influx increased the demand for food in urban areas, while it also reduced the rural labor force available to produce the needed food.