Cooperation of Peasant Farms

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cooperation of Peasant Farms


the process of drawing small, isolated peasant farms into various forms of cooperatives. In the capitalist countries it began in the late 18th century and the early 19th with the emergence and development of various forms of agricultural cooperation. Under contemporary conditions, the process is continuing in the developed capitalist countries and in the developing countries, which are the most important constituents of the cooperative movement.

In the period of transition from capitalism to socialism the cooperation of peasant farms is one of the forms taken by the socialist transformation of agriculture, which is employed in a planned manner by the dictatorship of the proletariat for the reorganization of small, individual peasant farms into large, collective socialist farms—production cooperatives. In socialist countries, where small, splintered peasant farms were the foundation of production, the transition to large-scale, socialized agriculture could not be made by the methods of forcible expropriation that had been applied to the property of big landowners and capitalists in industry and other branches of the economy. The only way that corresponded to the condition of agricultural production and the interests of the toiling peasants was to involve the peasants in socialist construction through cooperation —the simplest and for them the most comprehensible form of collective management.

In the USSR the cooperation of peasant farms in production was preceded by the development of various forms of cooperation in circulation (marketing, purchasing, credit, and consumption). These cooperatives facilitated the emergence first, of the most elementary types of cooperative production associations and later, of mass production cooperatives—the artels (kol-khozes). In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the organization of artels gave way to the total collectivization of agriculture.

In other countries of the world socialist system, the process of organizing agricultural production cooperatives had a number of distinctive features. V. I. Lenin’s cooperative plan, which was further developed in the documents and practical activity of the Communist and workers’ parties of the socialist countries, provided the theoretical foundation for the cooperation of peasant farms. Among the prerequisites for putting into practice the basic principles of Lenin’s cooperative plan in foreign socialist countries were the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialization of the basic means of production, and the implementation of agrarian reforms resulting in the abolition of large-scale landowning. It was also necessary to nationalize the land either completely (as in the Mongolian People’s Republic) or partially, to transfer it to the peasants and their associations for their use or as property, to implement socialist industrialization, and to carry out a cultural revolution.

The implementation of the cooperation of peasant farms in the socialist countries was based on cementing the alliance of the working class and the peasantry and ensuring the leading role in it to the working class. Putting cooperation into practice entailed the complex social, economic, and cultural transformation of the individual peasant farm and of the entire organization and way of life and psychology of the small property owner.

With the establishment of the people’s power and the implementation of agrarian reforms in the foreign socialist countries, the cooperative movement began to develop rapidly, above all, in marketing, purchasing, and credit. Where the cooperative system had already developed considerably under the bourgeois system (in Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, for example), it was reorganized, democratized, and better unified. All circulation cooperatives were consolidated into a single system. Developing under the direction of the state, cooperation became the fundamental economic link between the city and countryside during this period, and it helped to force capitalist profiteering elements out of trade.

In circulation and services, peasant cooperatives handled credit operations, became involved in procuring agricultural products and delivering industrial goods, including the means of production, to the countryside, and organized livestock farms, dairies, creameries, bakeries, and other types of plants and stores. They also influenced production on individual farms by supplying the peasants with labor implements and mineral fertilizers, as well as through their role in commodity circulation and in providing production maintenance services. The activity of these cooperatives stimulated the consolidation of the peasants’ efforts through the formation of machine associations and branch production cooperatives (in dairying, vegetable-growing, and cultivation of industrial crops). Even during the first years of the people’s power an overwhelming proportion of the individual peasant farms in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia were engaged in the simplest forms of cooperation. However, the cooperation of peasant farms in production and in providing services did not bring about a fundamental change in the social structure of the countryside. Only the unification of the peasants into production cooperatives—a process that acts as part of the program of socialist construction in the countryside —changes the essence and character of the social system. Thus, with the victory of the socialist revolution in the foreign socialist countries, the goal of the cooperation of peasant farms in production emerged as the basic element in the socialist transformation of the countryside.

In organizing the first production cooperatives the peasants made use of their experience and of the traditions of joint farming in purchasing, marketing, credit, consumers’, and even the simplest forms of production cooperatives. (In the European socialist countries there had been various forms of associations for the joint cultivation of the land and joint use of machines before the socialist revolution, and in Asian countries, peasant mutual aid groups already existed before the revolution.) These cooperatives played a vital role in preparing the way for the mass organizing of peasant production cooperatives.

In all the foreign socialist countries (with the exception of the Mongolian People’s Republic), most of the peasants were small landowners at the time when the peasant farms were organized into production cooperatives. For this reason, the land was considered part of the fee contributed by each member, and for a considerable time the income from the cooperatives was distributed among the members according to the quantity and quality of the land they had contributed, as well as in terms of the quantity and quality of their labor. The mass organization of peasant farms into cooperatives took place when the Standard Model Regulations of Cooperatives had been adopted. They imparted an organized character to the socialization of the land, the implements of labor, and the productive livestock. In addition, they established the size of the plots of land by the farm-houses.

Of great importance for the success of the cooperation of peasant farms in the socialist countries were changes in the international situation due to the formation of the world socialist system, as well as the opportunity to take advantage of the experience and aid of the USSR in establishing the material-technical and organizational prerequisites for the socialist transformation of agriculture. The new historical conditions made it possible for the socialist countries to use different methods than had been used in the USSR to solve the problem of eliminating the kulaks as a class. Only the most active opponents of the people’s power and of the cooperative system were subjected to expropriation. With certain restrictions, the overwhelming majority of the kulaks had the opportunity to join the cooperatives. (Those who joined a cooperative had to pay higher fees than other members and could not hold positions of leadership for a number of years.)

In the socialist reconstruction of the countryside in the foreign socialist countries the Communist and workers’ parties played the leading role, and the state provided comprehensive assistance. The governments of these countries adopted special resolutions on issues connected with the cooperation of peasant farms, including Bulgaria’s law on labor cooperative farms (1945), Czechoslovakia’s law on unified agricultural cooperatives (1949), Rumania’s decree on the organization of collective farms (1949), and Hungary’s resolution granting legal independence to production cooperatives (1950). Newly formed cooperatives enjoyed financial privileges and advantages. In all these countries state and cooperative machine and tractor stations were organized to provide technical services to the cooperatives.

In the foreign socialist countries the cooperation of peasant farms took diverse forms, whose correlation and order of emergence differed from country to country. As the socialist reconstruction of the countryside and the strengthening of the socialized economy progressed, less perfect forms of production cooperatives were transformed into more complex forms. (For example, mutual aid brigades and the simplest associations of peasants for the cultivation of individual crops or the collective use of state machines became associations for the joint cultivation of the land.) With the completion of the organization of peasant farms into cooperatives, a uniform type of production cooperative was established in Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, and the Mongolian People’s Republic. There are various forms of production cooperatives in Hungary and the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The differentiation of the organizational forms of cooperatives made it easier for them to attract various strata of the peasantry. In a number of cases (for example, in Rumania and the GDR in 1957 and in Hungary in 1959), the mass enlistment of the peasants in cooperatives was related to measures aimed at strengthening cooperatives that featured a lesser degree of socialization, because they were more acceptable and comprehensible to the middle peasantry. It was necessary in certain countries to turn away from efforts to establish higher forms of cooperatives and toward the creation of preliminary forms of collective production management (agricultural circles in Poland after 1956) or of purchasing and marketing cooperatives (Yugoslavia’s law on the reorganization of cooperatives, 1953).

In a number of countries the underestimation of the initial forms of production cooperation, the failure to take adequate account of local characteristics, the forcing of the pace of organization into production cooperatives, and the violation of the voluntary principle complicated the process of organizing cooperative peasant farms.

The organization of production cooperatives of peasant farms was basically completed in 1957 in Bulgaria, where the pace of organizing cooperation was accelerated by favorable objective and subjective conditions, including the absence of landlords and the age-old traditions of the cooperative movement in the countryside. The process was completed in Hungary in 1961, in Rumania in 1962, in the GDR in 1966, and in the Korean Democratic People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of China in 1957. In the Mongolian People’s Republic the organization of agricultural production cooperatives was completed in 1959. (A distinctive feature of the process in this country was that it was carried out on the basis of simple cooperatives and was initiated prior to the establishment of industry.)

In countries such as the Polish People’s Republic agricultural production cooperatives do not yet play a vital role. However, purchasing-and-marketing and processing cooperatives, which belong to the largest cooperative association in the country (the Union for Peasant Mutual Aid; 4.5 million members in 1970), as well as savings (3.3 million members in 1970), dairy, orchard, and other cooperatives have become more widespread in the Polish countryside. A sizable part of the fixed mechanization assets (in 1970, more than 40 percent of the country’s tractors) is the collective property of the agricultural circles. They are a distinctive form that maintains individual farming but provides for collective peasant management in the acquisition and use of equipment, the application of up-to-date agrotechnical knowledge, and the execution of reclamation and other projects. Agricultural production cooperatives are not highly developed in Yugoslavia, where, however, purchasing-and-marketing cooperatives play a considerable role, organizing the comprehensive provision of services to individual peasant farms.

After the completion of the organization of peasant farms into cooperatives, the cooperative agricultural sector in the socialist countries was faced with new tasks that were related, above all, to the need to raise the level of socialization of production. In many countries, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia, cooperatives were strengthened according to their production profile and local conditions. The determination of the optimal size for agricultural cooperatives promoted the concentration and specialization of production and helped improve the efficiency with which fixed assets and labor resources were used.

The establishment of the cooperative system in the foreign socialist countries as a result of the cooperation of peasant farms led, gradually, to the overcoming of the tradition of private landed property and to the conversion of the land into public property. The concrete forms taken by this process, its duration, and its pace are related to the distinctive characteristics of each country, the specific features of agrarian relations, and the psychology of the peasantry. In Rumania the land handed over to the peasants in cooperatives was declared cooperative property, as was reflected in the Constitution of 1965. Land organized cooperatively in Bulgaria under the Constitution of 1971 was declared cooperative property. In 1967 cooperatives in Hungary began redeeming the land they worked from its owners (particularly, from individuals who had lost their connection with the cooperative and from members of the cooperatives who voluntarily consented to this procedure). The land redeemed became the property of the cooperative. The unification of landed property into cooperatives also occurred in other socialist countries.

In the years since the completion of the organization of peasant farms into cooperatives, agriculture has grown considerably in the foreign socialist countries, the cooperative system has become stronger, the income of the peasantry organized into cooperatives has risen, and the working and living conditions of the peasantry have been fundamentally altered. The social differentiation of the peasantry came to an end. The use of technical equipment in agriculture has considerably eased the labor conditions of the peasants, raised labor productivity, and given rise to new trades and changes in the skilled group of rural working people. Almost all types of social insurance, including free medical service, have been extended to the peasantry, and pensions have been introduced for the peasant members of cooperatives. Supplementary social measures for human needs are implemented through cooperative funds. (Old-age and invalid pensions have been increased, kindergartens and day nurseries are maintained and public services have been established in the villages.) To a considerable extent, rural housing has been renovated, and electricity and radio and television are becoming an integral part of rural life.

The victory of the cooperative system in the countryside in the socialist countries has ensured the undivided dominion of socialist production relations throughout the national economy, substantial improvement in the well-being of the peasant masses, and a rise in their general level of culture. The cooperative system creates the most favorable conditions for the fulfillment of the historic goal of overcoming the social and economic differences between the city and the countryside and between industrial and agricultural labor.


Sotsialisticheskie preobrazovaniia v sel’skom khoziaistve evropeiskikh stran narodnoi demokratii. Moscow, 1963.
Pobeda leninskogo kooperativnogoplana vstranakh sotsializma. Moscow, 1963.
Starodubrovskaia, V. N. Kooperativnaia sobstvennost’ v sel’skom khoziaistve sotsialisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1970.
Stanis, V. F. Sotsialisticheskie preobrazovaniia sel’skogo khoziaistva. [Theory and practice.] Moscow, 1971.


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