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Collectivization of Agriculture

"Gorbachev Factor"

Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization of the countryside, launched at the end of 1929, was designed to overcome this obstacle by destroying the private sector in agriculture and putting the countryside under his unrestrained control. His collectivization of agriculture sought to achieve two interconnected objectives: one was political and the other, socioeconomic. Politically, collectivization was to solve once and for all the vexing problem of the persistence of “capitalist elements” in the village embodied in small individual farming. It allowed the regime to “liquidate the kulak as a class,” that is, to eradicate those groups of the village population that were capable of challenging the regime and putting up resistance to its policies.

SOCIAL STRATIFICATION OF THE PEASANTRY, 1927 

Social categories

Million people

Percent

All peasants

108

100

Poor peasants

21.1

19.5

Middle peasants

81.0

75

Prosperous peasants  (kulaks)

5.9

5.5

The second, socioeconomic, reason was to create on the basis of small and low-productive individual peasant farmsteads large-scale socialist collective farms. It would be much easier to exercise direct administrative control over large collectivized farms than over twenty-five million individual farmsteads. The new state-controlled agricultural units would be unaffected by the vagaries of market forces and would generate profits that could be ploughed back into the development of heavy industry.

In less than two years, starting in November 1929, the regime used the army and the police to remove from villages by force all groups of the peasant population capable of resisting collectivization. The “dekulakization,” as it was known, was ostensibly directed against the kulaks and successful middle peasants, who were usually the more hard-working and industrious of villagers. In real life, the line between different groups of peasants was not always clear-cut, and many middle and even poor peasants fell victim to arbitrary dekulakization. The property of the kulaks, including their houses, was confiscated, while they themselves were arrested and transported with their families under duress into remote and inhospitable regions of the north and Siberia. Historians estimate that 1.1 million peasant households were liquidated in this manner, with over a third of that number of dekulakized families forcefully resettled.

The peasants rebelled, killed Communists and collective farm bosses, slaughtered cattle, burned down collective-farm property, or fled to the cities. However, as all political opposition had been routed, intimidated, or demoralized, there were no forces capable of transforming these spontaneous eruptions of popular discontent into an organized revolt and providing it with leadership. Millions of peasants showed their passive resistance by fleeing to towns: in 1931 alone over four million people voted with their feet against collectivization. The rest of the peasants were induced by force or cajolement to join collective farms, where they had to work for a pittance. On the whole, the tragic saga of collectivization was over by the mid-1930s. By the end of 1939 collective and state farms had integrated 93 percent of all peasant households.

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