Agriculture proved to be the Aquillies Heel of not only the Soviet Union, but whre ever Communist regimes were established from incuding Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, and Cuba. The problem was two-fold. First, farmers pasiontely wanted to own their land and Marxist ideology turned private ownership into a crime. Second, Communist regimes wanted to control a country's society and private oeneship of a major economic society limited that control. The result was that Communist seizure of power and the resulting collectivization of agriculture resulted in declining agricultural productivity, reducing the ability to both export and to feed the domestic population. A Communist state had the power to seize the land a kill the peasantry that resisted. ut even the all-powerful Soviet police state was unable to change basic human nature. As a result, the Soviets proved uncapabe of coaxing the same bounty out of the land that the free peasantry had achieved. And no country was faced with this dilemma more than the first Communist state--the Soviet Union. Combined with the motivating incentive of privte ownerhip, Stalin as a matter of policy used the NKVD to actually murder or send the country's best farmers to the Gulag. Tsarist Russia before the Revolution was the bread basket of Europe. Grain exports were the primary export commodity of Tsarist Russia. With the Revolution, these exports declined and eventually ended. The Soviet Union as a result not longer had the export earnings, but had difficulty adeqquatly supplying the domestic market. And there were not only shortages, but actual famine. Famines wre not only the result of Soviet policy, but used to destroy those who resisted such as the Ukranin peasantry. Soviet agriculure never recovered from Stalin's collectivization program (1931-32). Not fully understood by the Rusian people is the millions of Soviet citizens saved by American food programs. An excetion here was the Ukranian Famine because Stalin suceeded in keeping conditions know to the outsid world. Ametican food aid saved millions of Soviet citizens after World War I through a massive relief effort (1919-23). America lso rovided massive food shipmens through Lend Lease during World War II (1941-45). America also provided needed food after the War through UNRRA (late-1940s). And in the later years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union with its failing collectivized af=griculure was forced to purchase grain from the United States (1970s). American food aid also aided Russia after the implosion of the Soviet Union (1990s)
Agriculture proved to be the Aquillies Heel of not only the Soviet Union, but whre ever Communist regimes were established from incuding Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, and Cuba. The problem was two-fold. First, farmers pasiontely wanted to own their land and Marxist ideology turned private ownership into a crime. Second, Communist regimes wanted to control a country's society and private oeneship of a major economic society limited that control. The result was that Communist seizure of power and the resulting collectivization of agriculture resulted in declining agricultural productivity, reducing the ability to both export and to feed the domestic population. A Communist state had the power to seize the land a kill the peasantry that resisted. ut even the all-powerful Soviet police state was unable to change basic human nature. As a result, the Soviets proved uncapabe of coaxing the same bounty out of the land that the free peasantry had achieved. And no country was faced with this dilemma more than the first Communist state--the Soviet Union.
Long before the United States existed, Russia was the European breadbaketm for centuries exporting grain to Western Europe. Tsarist Russia at the beginning of the 19th century was one of the major European powers. It was the Tsarist Army and Russian Winter that defeated Napoleon's Grand Armee (1812-13). Russia after the Napoleonic Wars did, however, not participate in the Industrial Revolution like Western Europe and thus the balance of power between Russia and Western Europe began to shift. This becamne apparent in the Crimean War (1854-56). The Russian economy unlike Western Europe continued to be almost feudal and largely agrarian. Not only was there only limited industrialization, but there had been little investment in agriculture. Agricultural techniques were medieval, some might even say pre-medieval. On some esrates and free holdings there were very few tools or other investment in other capital goods.Yields as a result were relatively yields, but the fertility of the black soil zone and the vast size of Russia produced very large grain harvests which were key to the Tsarist ecomomy. Large quantities of grain were exported to Western Europe. Much but not all of the land was owned by the aristocracy which was a major support of the Tsarist state. They were for the most case absentee landlords who had little interest in agricultural technology are improving the life of the serfs who worked them. It was largely unfashionable to invest funds in their holdings or take much interest in them beyomd the income which could be extracted. One author suggests that the great aristocrats saw such concerns derisively as rather 'middle class'. Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs (1861). It was, however, a halfway meassure as the debts resultingfor debts crippled the peasantry and made it difficult for them to fully benefit from their freedom. Despite these problems, however, Tsarist agriculture produced vast quantities of grain which supported the Tsarist state and helped feed Westrn Europe.
Tsarist Russia before the Revolution was the bread basket of Europe. Grain exports were the primary export commodity of Tsarist Russia. The grain harvests before World War I were larger than those achieved by Soviet agriculture until many years after World War II. And the peasantry despite the claims of Soviet propaganda was better off under Tsarist than Soviet rule. It is true that the aristocracy took the lion's share of the production, but under Stalin, the Soviet state would extract and even greater share of the harvest.
World War I erupted over a conflict in the Balkans. This could have been settled until Kaiser Wilhelm wrote Austria Hungary a blank check. Unlike the Wesern Front, the Eastern Front with the three great continental empires locked in a life and death struggle -- Tsarist Imperial Russia fighting Imperil Germany and Austria Hungary did not bog down in trench warfare. The Germans moved steadily, but slowly east and extracted huge casualties on poorly equiped Russian armies. All of the major beligerant powers expected the War to be a short conflict. They were wrong. All of the major Eastern Front belgerants placed their primary emphasis on conscripting men on the front and very little on maintaining food production. And as a result each of the empires cracked, in large part because of food shortages at home. This is a little surprising because Russia and Austria-Hungary were agricultural countries. Tsarist Russia was the firt to crack (February 1917). The Allied democracies (Britain and France) gave more attention to the food issue. In addition, with control of the sea, they could import food, readiy availble in America, Canada, and other countries.
The Blshecicks were a minority among the revolutionary forces that overthre the Tsar. They were, however, the best organized and under Lenin's ledership the most resolute. They offered bread to the prople and land to the pesants that work the great estates of aristocratic landlords. They also offered peace to war weary country. The Tsar's largely peasanted army was descimated by the Germans. Some rebelled to join the Revolution. Many deserted to return to the crumbling estates and seize their piece of land. The Bolsheviks at the time did not hint at collectivization. Most had no clearly thoughout plan of government, in part because Marxist theory foresaw the Revolution coming first in the heavily industrialized countries of Western Europe
The World War food crisis did not end with the Bolshevik's signing of a humiliating peace treaty with the Germans--Brest Litovsk (March 1918). The Bolshevik seizure of power set in motion the Russian Civil War. The revolutionay disorder in the country side and the Civil War affected harvests and food eliveries to the cities. Not fully understood by the Rusian people is the millions of Soviet citizens saved by American food programs. Ametican food aid saved millions of Soviet citizens after World War I through a massive relief effort (1919-23). America launched a massive food relief effort to prevent starvation in Europe. This began with Belgium (1915). Getting food to Eastern Europe was notpossible until the end of the War. Millions were saved throughout Europe. Russia was an exception. The food was badly needed, but the Bolsheviks wanted to use it as a weapon, providing the food only to areas under Bolshevik control. The American Relief Administration (ARA) refused such an arrangement and demanded contol over distibution. As a result the American Relief effort in Russia was delayed. The Bolsheviks finally relented when the food situation was in crosis. The American Relief Mission in Russia would eventually save millions of Russians without regard to political affiliation,
With the Revolution, these exports declined and eventually ended. The Soviet Union as a result not longer had the export earnings, but had difficulty adeqquatly supplying the domestic market. The Russian economy inckluding the agricultural sphere was devestated by first World War I (1914-18) and then the Civil War (1919-21) which followed the Revoultion. Lenin adopted the New Economic Policy (NEP) to get the economy functioning again (1921). Soviet War Communism, the seizure of factories and other productive facilities caused further disruptions. The NEP was designed as a temporary porogram to reintroduce limited private owenership back into the Soviet economy. The NEP was a considerable success. The fact that it resulted in increased production and relatibe prosperity does not seem to have ebntered into Stalin's thinking. Stalin who was gaining control of the Party and Soviet state had other goals in mind, namely the absolute control of the Soviet economy and rapid industriaklization. Stalin replaced the NEP with the First Five Year Plan (1928).
Agricultural production after impressive gains durng the NEP of the 1920s declined in the 1930s. This was in sharp contrast to rising industrial production and wholly the result of Stalin's decession to end individual peasant propretorship (1929-31). We do not fully understand Stalin's thought processes here. There may have been an element of idelogical purity involved. The organization of the collective proved useful in fighting the NAZI invasion. The principal reason, however, appears to be that private proprietors were an independent interest group outside his control and he wanted total control of not only the Sovet state, but of Soviet society as well. The mechanisms used were brutal. Successful peasants were vilified as Kulaks. Most were forced into collectives others were deported to Siberia where many died. Resistance flared. Many peeasants slaughtered their livestock rather than turn it over to the collectives. [Wells, pp. 960-961] The Soviet livestock industry did not recover until well after World War II. Resistance was espcially pronounced in the. and was brutally supressed by the NKVD. The center of resistance was the Ukraine. There a terrible famine not only resulted, but was enginered by Stalin.
An excetion to the series of agicultural criss, the United States did not provide emergency food aid to the Ukrain to prevent mass starvation in the Ukraine. This was because Stalin suceeded in keeping conditions know to the outsid world. One of the greatest crimes of the Stalinist era was horific famine in the Ukraine. The famine area included both the Ukraine and the Soviet northern Caucasus, as well as Russian areas in the lower Volga River basin. Famines are historically primarily the results of natural events such as drought, heat, diseases, insect infestations, and other natural causes. The Ukranian famine was primarily caused by Stalin's program of collectiving Soviet agriculture, especially the forced collectivization of the Ukraine. The Ukraine had been the bread basket of Russia. It was the prize sought by the Germans in two world wars. The rich, well watered soil made the Ukraine the most productive agrivcultural area of the Soviet Union. Two issues merged which resulted in dissaster for the Ukranian people. Not only did the Ukranian peasantry resist collectivization, but there was a strong Ukranian national spirit, especially in the western Ukraine. Stalin was determined to both bring agicultural under central control, but to crush Ukrainian nationalism at the same time. Stalin not only used the famine to crush the spirit of the Ukranian peole, but he also purged the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Stalin even purged the Ukrainian Communist party. At the cost of millions of lives, many of them children, the famine succeedded in breaking any organized redsistance on the part of the peasantry to collectivization. Stalin's purges also succeeded in smashing the Ukranian national movement. Stalin's actions in the Ukraine were not without costs beyond the deaths of Ukranians. Agricultural production plummeted. Soviet agricultural became one of the most inefficent agricultural operations in the world. Stalin bought Ukranian agricultural under his control through collectivization, he also signicantly reduced the output of Soviet agriculture.
Kulak is the Russian term for a prosperous pasant farmer. No all pesants were poor. Many owned land and those who owe a easnable amount of lnd before the Revolution could do reasonably well. For centuries it was not deisive term. Some were sucessful enough to hire farm labor ad even lease land. The kulaks were important individuals in a village. They often lent money, provided mortgages, and played central roles in running village affairs. During the initial years of the Revolution, War Communism (1918–21), Bolshevik authorities seized the property of businessmenincluding small properyies in the cities and towns. They also seized the large estates in the countryside thaat the peasants had not seized. The Bosheviks did not, however, seize pesant holdings. They did began to undermined the kulaks’ status. The Bolsheviks moved to appoint supporters of the Revolution in positions of authority. They organized committees of poor peasants to run village affairs. Thee committees often requisitioned of grain from the better off peasants to support the Red Army in the conflict with the Whites. This had the impact of discouraging planting and lowering harvets. Lenin's NEP changed this (1921). Although the victorious Bolsheviks saw the Kulaks as small-scale capitalists and thus potential enemies of the new Soviet state, Lenin was confrnted with the realities of government. The Kulaks were the best farmers in Russia. And payng the peasants, rich and poor, a decent price for their grain would result in bountiful harvess. The NEP adopted various incentives to encourage peasants to increase agricultural production and enrich themselves. An uninteded resulws that in many villages, the kulaks becam to regain their pre-Revolutionry staus, often rivaling the authority of Soviet authorities. As Stalin began to gain increasing control over the Sovet state. The Kulaks became a target. Stalin's goal was a absolute dictatorship, both political and econonoic control. The Kulaks threaten Soviet political control of the villages and economic control of avitl part of the economy. Stalin's goal was to finance a massive industrialization effort by extracting the maximum of wealth from the peasantry. A strongly independent easantry led by the Kulaks was a challenge. Led by Stalin, the Government behgan to put an end to the NEP (1927). One aspect of this was chnges in policies towad the peasantry. The Government increased taxes on the Klaks’ and restricting their ability to lease land. Rhan the major step--seizure of private land and collectivization (1929). The Kulaks and even oesants with smll plots opposed the seizure of their land and join large cooperatives called collectives. he result was to mobilie the NKVD to 'liquidate the kulaks as a class' -- dekulakization (1931). While Svier propagands spoke of dekulakization. The Kulaks were only a small part of the peasantry caught up in the process. The Ukraine adently Roman Catholic peasatry was caught up in this process. Whole peasant families were driven from their farms, often after the harvest during the winter. Their land was confiscated nd became state property. The kulaks were executed, arested and intered in the Gulag, or deported to remote regions. Stalin in only a few years collectivized some 75 percent of the farms in the Soviet Union. In the process e murdered most of the best farmers in the country. Soviet agriculture would never recover
The second pole of Stalin's First Five-Year Plan was to fundamentally change the organization of Soviet agriculture. The individual peasant-owned farms would be combined into a system of state-owned collective farms. The theory was that collectivization would make Soviet agriculture more efficient and the production increases would help finance industrial expansion and feed the resulting expanding urban population. In addition, as collectivization was seen as more efficient, Soviet planners believed that fewer peasants would be needed to work the land, making more workers available for industrial projects. From Stalin's point of few there ws also a political dimebnsion. The peasantry was the last sector of the Soviet population not inder state control. They were able to decidec how much of their harvest to consume or sell. It state purchasing agents offered low prices they could decidecto horde the harvest nd to reduce plantings the following year. Worst still, many had anti-Soviet attitudes, either because of religious beliefs or because of national/ethnic orientation. Here Stalin was particularly concerned with the Ukranians. The initial goals were realatively modest. The First Five Year Plan called for collectivising only 20 percent of peasant families. The draconian measures enployed by Stalin, however, set in motion a process that once begun destroyed peasant agriculuture and tragically many of the peasants as well, especially in the Ukraine. Several millions would be killed in the process of collectivization. By the time that World War II began estimates suggest that 97 percent of peasant families had been collectivized. Combined with the motivating incentive of privte ownership, Stalin as a matter of policy used the NKVD to actually murder or send the country's best farmers to the Gulag--the so-called Kulacks. And there were not only shortages, but actual famine. Famines wre not only the result of Soviet policy, but used to destroy those who resisted such as the Ukranin peasantry. Soviet agriculure never recovered from Stalin's collectivazation program (1931-32).
Unlike the Ukranian Famine, Stalin turned to the West for assistance with Hitler launched the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). The Soviets had been providing their NAZI ally with vast quantities of grain and critical war materials. Now it was the Soviets who needed aid. The British provided some aid, but it was America which provided massive assistance through Lend Lease during World War II (1941-45). This included both manufactured goods such as trucks, aircraft, and communiction gear as well as raw material like aluminum needed for aircraft construction. Also included was food stuffs. The Barbarossa successes gave the Germans controll over muh of the best agriculturl land of the Soviet Union, including the Ukraine. Again for the second time, America came to Russia's assistance, helping to prevent starvation in a country with drastic food shortages. Unlike World War I, a very strict ratining system was adopted. This meant that food became a major issue for the Soviet war econmy. American lend lease became vital in feeding the Red Army. Spam became a new word in the Russian language.
Lend Lease ended with the official Japanese surrender (September 2, 1945). America no longer sw a needto supply militaryequiment, especially to the Sovier Union given its behavior in Germany as part of the four-power ocupation. Lend Lease was, however, not just about military euipment and supplies. America had shipped vast quantities of food to the Soviet Union as part of Lend Lease. And even with the end of the War, the need for food aid did not suddenly change. The Germans had been driven from the Soviet Union, but the damage they did was incredible: people killed, villags burned and farm inrastructure destroyed. The Soviet Union had enormous agricultural potential, but the damages combined with the inefficient collectives meant that it wold be some time before the Soviets could meet domestic demand, let alone fully utilize
the potential of some of the richest farm land in the world. And America food shipments did not stop. A third American effort to save millions of Russians had come into existence. President Roosevelt had begun using the term 'United Nations' before the United Nations organization even existed. At the time, the erm meant countries fighting the Axis tryranies. One U.N. agency was created before the United Nations itself--the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The situation for civilians in the captive nations was intolerable. Some managed to escape and as the Allies began to liberate them, UNRRA was tasked with providing relief. And this included the Soviet Union and the captive nations in Eastern Europe. While UNRRA was a U.N. agency almost all the financing as well as the food and other relief supplies came from the United States.
Stalin after brutally collectivizing agriculture and murdering many oif the vest farmers in the ciybtry, faced a serious problen. Rather than improving efficency and increasing agricultural harvests, effucency and harvests plummeted. Stalin was sure that tractors and collective ownershio would result in huge vountiful harvests. Russia and Ukraine had once been the breadbasket of Europe. Huge grain harvests once enabled exports to Europe. Under Communism and Stalin, however, the Soviet Union not only ceased exporting grain to Eurooe, but experienced domestic food shoratages becuse of the declining harvests resulting from collectibization. One tiny concession to Soviet collctive farmers was what became called garden plots. Soviet aparatcheks debated the size of the garden plots. Of course Stalin would decide. One hustorian stmapthetic to Stalin and the Sovirt ecperience, putting a humanitarian spin on Stalin's agricultural policy tell us, "After he had listened to everyone else, comrade Stalin then expressed his own opinion. 'You are all progressive people that are gathered here,' he said, 'and it’s very good that you think more of working on the kolkhoz land than on your own plots. But you must not forget that the majority of kolkhozniks want to plant an orchard, cultivate a vegetable garden, or keep bees. The kolkhozniks want to live a decent life, and for that this 0.12 hectares is not enough. We need to allocate a quarter to half a hectare, and even as much as one hectare in some districts." [Fitzpatrick, p. 122.] It was not just collective farm workers allowed garden plots. There were also many dachas. Most Soviert officials had dacaha, including Stalin. But it was not just poerful officials. Lower level apparatchiks had dachaas as well as government workers, scientists, authors, artists and many others had dachas. And dacha oeners were aloowed garden plots. The idea behind household plot was primarily cultivated for subsistence and provide the family with food. Stalin permitted surplus production to be sold to neighbors, relatives, and often in farmer markets that came to be an imprtant element in the Soviet food ststem. The garden plot was the one single form of private farming permitted during the Soviet era. The tital area of the fardennplots were an increasably small portion of the area fat,med in the Soviet Union, yet produced a huge prtion of the fruits and vegtables. But it was not just fruits and vegetables. It was also subatantial quanties of eggs, poultry, and hogs. One source reports that "The hand-cultivated garden plots—occupying 3 percent of the Soviet Union’s farmland and receiving little or no government assistance—produced 18 percent of all crops and 29 percent of livestock products in 1989." [Buchot] This of course is all based on Soviet data. The actual profuctibity of the garden plot farmers may have been even larger. Any one assessing the data could not nut ask, why not privatize agriculture and unleasing the energy and producibity pf pribate individuals. Itvwas, however, never seriously considered by Sovirt og=ffucuals, but it cut at the heart of Doviet orthodovt and the legitimacy of Markist ideology. Chinese Communist officals did shift to market reforms which is why Communist China not ionly still exisrs and us a superpower and the Sivier Uniin in Markist terms has been confined to the ash can of history.
And in the later years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union with its failing collectivized agriculure was forced to purchase grain on the international market,including the United States (1970s). Soviet idea;ogues assumed that the country's agricultural sector would eventually recover from Staliniist collectivization. They believed that the application of tecnology and mechinzation would gadually increase productivity and harvests. This did not occur. Soviet agriculture never recovered. The Soviet Union at the time had two times as much farm land and six times as many people working that land as the United States, but with extrodinarily low productivity. It was not that Soviet agriculture was not mechanized. The Soviets built large numbers of tractors, but they tended to be poorly maintaind and large numbers were not in service. And it is not that the Soviets did not attempt to do sothing avbout it. They tried many different iniatives, to bring fallow land into culture and to increase he use of fertilizr. The one thing they did not try for ideological reason was to permit private ownership of farm land. In addition to production, Soviet citizens wanted improved diets. And to increase meat production, grain harvests had to be increased for animal feed. The United States and the Soviet Union signed a grain deal (1972).
American food aid also aided Russia after the implosion of the Soviet Union (1990s)
Buchot, Emmnanuel. "Economy of USSR : Agriculture".
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Stalin’s Peasants (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
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