Collectivization of Agriculture in the USSR

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Collectivization of Agriculture in the USSR


the transformation of small individual peasant farms into large commonly owned socialist farms through the formation of cooperatives.

In the period of transition from capitalism to socialism the socialist transformation of agriculture—that is, the establishment of socialist production relations in the countryside—is a very important link in the socialist reconstruction of the economy. It presupposes the creation of large-scale state enterprises, on the one hand, and the gradual amalgamation of individual peasant farms into collective farms. State agricultural enterprises (sovkhozes), most of which grew out of large estates that had been nationalized, were established on state-owned lands. The major producers of agricultural products, the sovkhozes also helped the peasant farmers to assimilate the latest agronomic techniques, provided them with seed and with breeding stock, and rented technical equipment to them. For the peasantry the sovkhozes were convincing examples of the advantages of socialist organization in production. However, during the transitional period these farms accounted for a relatively small share of the overall agricultural output, and millions of tiny peasant farms prevailed in agriculture.

Inasmuch as small-scale commodity production could serve as the foundation for the reappearance and flourishing of the bourgeoisie, its existence posed the constant threat of the restoration of capitalism. It was impossible for any great length of time to base the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist construction on such disparate foundations as socialist industry and individual peasant farming. Only large-scale commonly owned agricultural production organized on socialist principles could serve as a reliable support for the proletarian dictatorship.

There was a deep contradiction between socialist industry, which was developing according to the laws of extended reproduction, and the predominantly small-scale commodity agriculture, which did not always achieve even simple reproduction. Based primarily on small-scale private ownership and manually operated equipment, agriculture lagged behind industry and was less and less capable of meeting the growing needs of the urban population for food products or the needs of industry for agricultural raw materials. Only by replacing small-scale commodity peasant agriculture with large-scale mechanized production, which would be capable of marketing large quantities of products, could the backwardness of agriculture be overcome and its output raised to the level required by the country.

The transition to large-scale production in agriculture answered the fundamental interests of the peasants, for it provided a chance to solve the problem of raising their standard of living. Although the socialist state had provided assistance to the rural poor and to the middle peasants (seredniaks), the applicability of machinery and the latest scientific advances to very small farms could only be extremely limited. Labor is not expended productively on the smallest farms, and the peasant is very much at the mercy of the elements. Only the transition to large-scale socialist production could secure a systematic improvement in the material and cultural conditions of life for the toiling farmers, eliminate rural overpopulation, and lighten the burden of agricultural labor.

The question of how to carry out the śocialist transformation of agriculture was raised and resolved in principle by the founders of scientific communism. Lenin worked out a concrete plan for the socialist reorganization of rural life and for involving the peasantry in building socialism through cooperatives, from the most primitive to the highest forms (production cooperatives). The nationalization of the land and its transformation into the property of all the people were the most important preconditions for setting the peasantry on the road to socialism.

Immediately after the victory of the October Socialist Revolution, the Communist Party and the Soviet government began to implement a policy aimed at the gradual socialist transformation of the countryside and the creation of large-scale agriculture. In the decree On the Socialization of the Land (January 1918) the All-Russian Central Executive Committee set the task of developing collective farms, which were to be guaranteed certain advantages over small individual farms. Between late 1917 and early 1919 the first collective farms were established in the countryside—in particular, the agricultural communes, the associations for the joint cultivation of the land (TOZ), and the agricultural artels. Lenin and the Communist Party studied the experience of socialist construction in the countryside very attentively. The decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee On Socialist Land Management and Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming (Feburary 1919) outlined the tasks of collective farms and contained specific instructions on such fundamental questions as their operation, the organization of their management, their relations with government bodies, and the use of their goods.

The party program adopted at the Eighth Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik) in 1919 stated that Soviet power, having completely abolished private ownership of the land, would introduce a series of measures to organize large-scale socialist farming.

As a result of the consistent implementation of Lenin’s cooperative plan and of the government’s substantial organizational and financial aid, the condition of the toiling farmers noticeably improved during the period of national economic recovery. In the countryside the proportion of middle peasants increased considerably. Before the revolution 65 percent of all peasant households were poor, whereas by 1928–29 the proportion of poor peasants had dropped to 35 percent, middle-peasant households had risen from 20 percent to 60 percent, and the proportion of kulaks had fallen from 15 to 5 percent. However, the kulak households owned a substantial proportion (15–20 percent) of the means of production, including approximately one-third of the agricultural machinery.

At the same time, there were major successes in developing consumer and agricultural cooperatives, which grew into a mighty organism which, together with the state trading agencies, played a decisive role in the exchange of goods between town and countryside. In 1929 the agricultural cooperatives had 13 million members—more than 55 percent of the poor peasant and middle peasant households. Approximately 14 million shareholders belonged to the consumer cooperatives. The agricultural cooperatives played a very important role in the procurement of farm products (both crops and livestock). In 1929 they supplied about 36 percent of the grain that was marketed, 60 percent of the flax fiber, all of the marketed cotton, sugar beets, and tobacco, 65 percent of the animal fats, and 50 percent of the eggs. Peasants were drawn into collective forms of agriculture by many means, including the widespread practice of contracting for agricultural products, under which the Soviet government gave support to the poor peasant and middle peasant households and cooperatives. Under the contracts the farms received seed, monetary advances, the guarantee that the state would market their produce, and a supply of needed manufactured goods. In 1929 approximately 8 million peasant households were involved in the contract system, as compared to 2 million in 1927. A cultural revolution was an important precondition for the collectivization of agriculture.

However, at the beginning of the first five-year plan in 1928, small individual peasant households continued to prevail in agriculture, with as many as 25 million households. (See Table 1.) Manual labor prevailed in farm production. In 1928, 74.4 percent of the summer grain crop was sown by hand, 44.4 percent of the grain crop was reaped or mowed by sickle or scythe, and 40.7 percent of the grain was threshed by flails or other manual methods. The backwardness of agriculture slowed down the country’s rate of industralization. The building of socialism demanded that agriculture be put on the path of large-scale socialist mechanized production, in order to increase the productivity of labor and the marketable surplus, eliminate the breeding ground for capitalist elements, and put an end to kulak exploitation.

Table 1. Number of agricultural enterprises and farms before mass collectivization
 Percentage of all cultivated areaAverage cultivated area per farm (ha)
Individual . . . . . . . . 97.34.5
Kolkhoz . . . . . . . . 1.242.0
Sovkhoz . . . . . . . . 1.5800.0

The decisions of the Fifteenth Congress of the ACP (Bolshevik) in 1927, which set the country on a course toward the collectivization of agriculture, were historically important. On the basis of them a number of measures were implemented in 1928 to strengthen state aid to kolkhozes (for example, credit, provision of machinery and tools, and tax exemptions) and to develop a broad campaign to propagandize the ideas of collectivization.

Collectivization was a new and very complex task. It was necessary to overcome the age-old force of habit among small proprietors, to change their psychology, and to convince them of the advantages of collective labor. The entire party and Soviet government concentrated its attention on collectivization. Party, soviet, and cooperative organizations became the first-hand organizers of kolkhozes. By the summer of 1928 the number of kolkhozes had risen to 33,300, and by the summer of 1929, to 57,000. (In 1927 there were 14,800 kolkhozes.) The central figure in the kolkhoz movement of 1928–29 was the poor peasant, whose economic situation improved considerably with the formation of cooperatives. A variety of types of kolkhozes continued to exist in this period, including the TOZ, which was the most widespread form (60.2 percent of all kolkhozes). In the TOZ a considerable portion of the means of production continued to be privately owned.

The stage of total collectivization, which was characterized by the mass influx of peasants into the kolkhozes, was reached by the end of 1929.

In its resolution On the Results and Further Tasks of Kolkhoz Building (November 1929) the Plenum of the ACP(B) noted that the USSR had entered the phase of the advanced socialist transformation of the countryside and of the creation of large-scale socialist agriculture and that the growth of the kolkhoz movement had made total collectivization the task of certain regions. In the leading grain-producing regions the rural poor and the middle peasants began to join the kolkhozes on a mass scale. However, the development of the kolkhoz movement revealed a number of difficulties: the low technical level of the foundation for the kolkhozes, the low productivity of labor, insufficient organizational know-how, the serious shortage of trained cadres, and an almost total absence of the necessary experts. The Plenum stipulated basic measures designed to provide increased support to the socialist reorganization of agriculture, strengthen its material and technical base, and improve the training of cadres. Twenty-five thousand advanced workers were sent from the cities on permanent assignment to kolkhoz work (the Twenty-five Thousanders). Factory collectives sponsored particular kolkhozes.

The party emphatically condemned the position of the leaders of the right-wing deviation, N. I. Bukharin, A. I. Rykov, and M. P. Tomskii, who advocated slowing the rate of industrialization, opposed the accelerated formation of kolkhozes, and called for an end to extraordinary measures to combat the kulaks.

It was vitally important that the kolkhoz movement in the USSR find an organizational form in which the interests of socialized agriculture and those of the individual peasants would coincide. The practical experience of socialist construction in the USSR had brought the agricultural artel to the fore as the main form of kolkhoz. In the artel, land, labor, and all the basic means of production were socialized, but kolkhoz members retained as personal property their homes, small tools, some productive livestock (a maximum number was established in the Regulations for Agricultural Artels), and a small plot of land adjacent to their homes for personal use.

In a decision of 1930, On the Pace of Collectivization and State Measures to Assist the Development of Kolkhozes, the Central Committee of the ACP(B) oriented local party organizations and Soviet agencies toward the substantial completion of collectivization by the end of the five-year plan in 1932. The pace of collectivization outlined in the decision took into account the diversity of conditons in different regions of the country and the extent to which the peasants were prepared to enter the kolkhozes. It was noted that collectivization in such major grain-growing areas as the lower and middle Volga regions and the Northern Caucasus could be basically completed by autumn 1930 or spring 1931. The decision emphasized the need to combat all attempts to delay the development of the kolkhoz movement on the grounds of shortages of tractors and complex machines. At the same time, the Central Committee warned party organizations against any “decreeing” of the kolkhoz movement from above.

In the winter of 1929–30 in the race to achieve rapid rates of collectivization, violations of the principle of voluntary entry into the kolkhoz were committed. Often, communes were established instead of artels. In some cases, middle peasants were subjected to dekulakization. Excesses and distortions provoked dissatisfaction among the peasantry, who began to slaughter cattle on a massive scale. The hastily formed kolkhozes had no stability and quickly fell apart.

The Communist Party and Soviet government took decisive steps to correct the situation in the countryside. In the second half of February 1930 the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued instructions that undue haste in carrying out collectivization was impermissible, that dekulakization must be stopped where total collectivization had not yet begun, and that special consideration must be given to local conditions in the national republics. On Mar. 14, 1930, the Central Committee of the ACP(B) adopted a resolution, On the Struggle Against Distortions of the Party Line in the Kolkhoz Movement, which had an enormous influence on the development of collectivization. In August 1930 the kolkhozes included 21.4 percent of peasant households. State aid to the kolkhozes was increased. By the end of 1930, the kolkhozes surpassed the individually owned farms in area cultivated and in yield and were able to provide their members with more grain and other products than the individual farmers had. This helped to change the attitude of the mass of the peasants toward the kolkhoz.

In Soviet history 1930 has gone down as the year when socialism unfurled an offensive on all fronts. The essence of the offensive in agriculture was the formation of production cooperatives among the peasantry and the liquidation, on that basis, of the last exploiting class, the kulaks. Total collectivization and the development of the sovkhozes created the necessary material base for replacing the agricultural products provided by kulak households with the products of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes, making the liquidation of the kulaks as a class economically possible. Total collectivization was accompanied by a bitter class struggle in the countryside. The kulaks actively resisted the formation of kolkhozes, terrorized and even killed activists in the kolkhoz movement, ruined equipment, slaughtered livestock, and burned down buildings. In the course of collectivization the kulaks were expropriated.

The Sixteenth Congress of the ACP(B), which was held in 1930, evaluated the results of the first stage of total collectivization and made plans for the next stage. The resolutions of the congress declared that the basic conditions for the further development of collectivization were broad organizational, material, and financial aid to the kolkhozes, the organization of the MTS (machine and tractor station) system, the training of kolkhoz cadres, the strengthening of the kolkhozes, and increased production by them.

The joint Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the ACP(B), which was held in December 1930, resolved that the basic collectivization of agriculture (that is, the bringing of at least 80 percent of the peasantry into kolkhozes) would be completed in 1931 in the Northern Caucasus, the lower and middle Volga regions, and the steppe regions of the Ukrainian SSR. In the other grain-growing regions, the kolkhozes were to include 50 percent of the households, and in the consuming regions, 20–25 percent of the grain-growing households. In the cotton-growing and sugar-beet-growing regions and, on the average, in all branches of agriculture throughout the country, at least 50 percent of the peasant households were to be drawn into the kolkhozes.

By June 1931 there were 211,000 kolkhozes made up of 13 million peasant households (52.7 percent). The June 1931 Plenum of the Central Committee observed that “the kolkhoz peasant has already become the central figure in agriculture and the kolkhoz has become the main producer not only of grain but also of the most important agricultural raw materials”(KPSS ν rezoliutsiiakh, 8th ed., vol. 4, 1970, p. 526).

The successes in collectivization and in the organizational and economic consolidation of the first kolkhozes were achieved owing to the creation of a strong tractor and agricultural machinery industry in the USSR. Assembly-line production of wheeled tractors was organized in 1924 at the Krasnyi Putilovets Plant (now the Leningrad Kirov Plant). Other tractor plants were put into operation in Stalingrad in 1930, in Kharkov in 1931, and in Cheliabinsk in 1933. When collectivization was first undertaken, tractors for Soviet agriculture came primarily from abroad, but in 1932 the USSR stopped importing tractors. During the first five-year plan alone (1929–32), Soviet agriculture was equipped with 153,900 tractors, of which 94,300 were made in the USSR. At the same time, major agricultural machinery plants were established, such as the Rostsel’mash Plant in Rostov-on-Don, which began production in 1930, and the Kommunar Combine Plant in Zaporozh’e, which opened in 1931.The opening of these plants made it possible to reequip the kolkhozes and sovkhozes during collectivization. In 1932, 148,000 tractors (15-horsepower units) and 14,000 combine harvesters were being used in Soviet agriculture, and in 1940, 648,000 tractors and 182,000 combine harvesters.

In 1929 the government established the MTS system, which played an extremely important organizational role in the struggle for the socialist reorganization of rural life and in strengthening the alliance between the working class and the peasantry. For many years the MTS system served the production and technology needs of the kolkhozes and helped them to strengthen the socialized economy. Numerous cadres specializing in the mechanization of agriculture were trained in the MTS system. (See Table 2 on the course of collectivization in the USSR.)

Table 2. Collectivization of agriculture in the USSR
yearPercentage of households collectivized as of July 1
1918 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.1
1927 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.8
1928 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1.7
1929 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3.9
1930 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23.6
1931 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52.7
1932 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61.5
1937 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93.0
1940 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .96.9
1955 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99.6

“The introduction in the Soviet countryside of large-scale socialist farming meant a great revolution in economic relations, in the entire way of life of the peasantry. Collectivization forever delivered the countryside from kulak bondage, from class differentiation, ruin, and poverty. The real solution of the eternal peasant question was provided by Lenin’s cooperative plan” (Program of the CPSU, 1972, p. 14).

During collectivization the rational organizational forms of production, labor, accounting, and distribution were clarified. In evaluating the experience of the kolkhozes an important role was played by all-Union conferences on the organization of production and labor in the kolkhoz (1931–32), whose recommendations laid the basis for the resolutions of the Sixth Congress of Soviets of the USSR in March 1931. Also important were the decision on the organizational and economic consolidation of the kolkhozes, which was issued on Feb. 4, 1932, by the Central Committee of the ACP(B), and the First All-Union Congress of Kolkhoz Shock Workers in 1933. As a result, the basic principles and forms of kolkhoz organization and labor accounting were arrived at, including permanent work brigades and the piecework system, with labor costs and remuneration determined on the workday unit (trudoden ’ ).

As early as January 1933 a joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the ACP(B) noted that problems of great importance in the country’s agriculture had been solved. For example, the kulaks had been liquidated, the roots of capitalism had been extirpated, thus ensuring the victory of socialism in the countryside, and the kolkhozes had become a solid support for socialist construction. Socialist enterprises (kolkhozes and sovkhozes) were producing the bulk of almost all types of agricultural produce, and in fact, the socialist system had become the only form of organization in Soviet agriculture. The Model Regulations for the Agricultural Artel adopted by the Second All-Union Congress of Kolkhoz Shock Workers in 1935 generalized and gave legal form to the new relations in the countryside, establishing the legal foundations for the kolkhoz sector of the economy and the main principles for the orgaization of production and public life in the kolkhozes. With the adoption of the new regulations by the kolkhozes (1935–36), the kolkhoz system became fully established. A new class—the kolkhoz peasantry—was formed, and gradually the new psychology of the peasant-worker of socialist society took shape. The socialist transformation of agriculture opened the way for increased agricultural output and for a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the peasantry.

The kolkhoz system that was created through the collectivization of agriculture made it possible to supply the army and the population with food and industry with raw materials without interruption during the Great Patriotic War (1941–45). Because of the kolkhoz system the damage done to agriculture during the war was quickly repaired, and the 1940 level of production was matched as early as 1949.

Between 1949 and 1950 a collectivization policy was implemented in the western parts of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Moldavia and in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had become part of the USSR before the war.

In the early 1950’s a great deal of work was done to strengthen the kolkhozes organizationally by combining them into larger units. As a result, the number of kolkhozes decreased, but their economic power increased. Thus, in 1950 there were 123,700 kolkhozes in the country; in 1953, 93,000; and in 1971, 32,800.

The kolkhozes and sovkhozes have demonstrated their viability through many years of experience and development. They have accumulated a great deal of experience in large-scale mechanized agricultural production. Contemporary kolkhozes are large-scale agricultural enterprises equipped with advanced technology and provided with skilled cadres. Guaranteed minimum payments for labor have been introduced in the kolkhozes, and a pension insurance system has been established for older, retired members. Intensive agricultural production, mechanization, electrification, and the use of chemicals have fundamentally changed the conditions of labor, so that they now approximate the conditions of labor in industry. In 1970 more than 2 million skilled machine operators and approximately 400,000 specialists with higher or secondary education were working on the kolkhozes.

The Third All-Union Congress of Kolkhoz Workers, which was held in 1969, discussed important problems related to the further development of the kolkhozes and to the acceleration of the increase in agricultural production. The congress adopted new Model Regulations for the Kolkhozes, which reflected the great social and economic changes that had taken place in the kolkhoz village since the Second Congress of Kolkhoz Shock Workers. The regulations marked a new stage in the development of the kolkhoz system and pointed the way toward developing kolkhoz democracy, improving the forms and methods of management in the socialized economy, making the kolkhozes more economical, and making better use of the land, the chief means of production in agriculture.

Collectivization in the USSR was the first socioeconomic effort in the world aimed at fundamentally changing the conditions of labor and existence and the entire way of life of many millions of peasants. From a political point of view the kolkhoz system strengthened the Soviet state and its main foundation— the alliance between the workers and peasants. From an economic point of view, it made it possible to develop agriculture on a modern industrial basis. From a social point of view, it freed the toiling peasantry from exploitation and poverty and made possible the establishment in the countryside of a new system of social relations, which will lead to the complete transcendence of class differences in Soviet society. Thus, the kolkhoz system contains vast potential for developing the productive forces of the countryside, transforming agricultural labor into a variety of industrial labor, and overcoming the essential distinctions between town and countryside. The collectivization of agriculture has created the necessary conditions for the transition from socialism to communism.

By putting into practice Lenin’s cooperative plan, the CPSU achieved a fundamental revolution in the age-old economic order, way of life, and consciousness of millions and millions of peasants. The victory of the kolkhoz system in the USSR has worldwide historical significance, for the experience of the socialist transformation of Soviet agriculture in the USSR has been creatively applied in the other socialist countries, as well as in developing countries following a noncapitalist path. The idea of establishing cooperatives has also become very attractive to the toiling peasants in capitalist countries, encouraging them to intensify the revolutionary struggle for emancipation from the yoke of the monopolies.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.