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Economic and Political Consequences of the Attempted Socialization of Agriculture in the Soviet Union

by Erwin Marquit
(Nature, Society, and Thought, All rights reserved.)

On 30 January 1930, a Central Committee resolution endorsed Stalin’s proposal to change the decision of the Fifteenth Party Congress from restricting the kulaks by economic rather than by administrative means to the elimination of the kulaks by administrative means. Their property was confiscated and their fates were determined by how their attitudes toward collectivization were assessed. Those who were accused of engaging in terroristic acts or sabotage were imprisoned or shot and their families exiled; others were exiled to distant lands with their families, still others were resettled in nearby regions or allowed to farm on land outside the collective, retaining only the necessary implements and possessions (for a more detailed account, see Medvedev, 1989, 230–40). Molotov boasted,

I personally designated districts where kulaks were to be removed. . . .
   We exiled 400,000 kulaks. My commission did its job. (Chuev 1993, 148)

Medvedev gives the official figures for deportations in 1930–31 to distant regions as 381,000—close enough to Molotov’s figures (234).

The violence with which the peasants were herded into the collective farms immediately produced such negative affects on the grain-procurement that Stalin, in his “Dizzy with Success” article published on 2 March 1930, denounced the local officials for carrying out the excesses that he had ordered. Denouncing local officials for excesses that he himself ordered became a pattern of behavior that he repeatedly employed during the purges of 1935–38. As the forced collectivization continued, increasingly draconian measures had to be taken to prevent the collapse of agricultural production. A feudal system for binding the peasants to the land was introduced by the mechanism of requiring passports for internal travel. Only industrial and office workers had the right to carry passports. The “Red militia” was given the task of catching and returning starving peasants from railroad stations and cities to their farms (Medvedev 1989, 246–47).

The next result of this forced collectivization was a drop in gross agricultural output from 16.6 billion rubles in 1927–28 to 13.1 billion in 1933. Livestock production dropped to 65 percent of the 1913 level (227). The published figures on the fulfillment of the plan, as Khrushchev was later to reveal, had been falsified by a change in the way agricultural statistics were handled, and even through the early 1950s, grain production had barely risen above the pre-Revolutionary level.

Stalin’s measures to solve the grain-procurement speedily by forcible collectivization would obviously arouse concern among large numbers of Communists. In 1928–29, three Politburo members, Nicolai Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky, and Alexei Rykov wanted to continue the NEP policy of using market forces to stimulate grain production, but were unsuccessful in their efforts to sway the majority of the Politburo and the Central Committee.. The three were promptly labeled Right Opposition. They warned about the consequences of rupturing the alliance between the working class and the peasantry. They knew that forced collectivization would encounter peasant resistance. And the peasants indeed resisted seizure by every means possible, including planting less grain. The consequences were disastrous for the peasants and the urban workers, worsening the grain shortage as physical force against the peasants escalated as Stalin abruptly ended the alliance between workers and peasants on which Lenin’s conception of NEP was based.

Judging from the subsequent events, it is apparent that many of the Old Bolsheviks, that is, Communist veterans of the October Revolution and the Civil War, shared their concern. Except for an unsuccessful movement to replace Stalin by Kirov as general secretary at the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, a move rejected by Kirov, who was an ally of Stalin (Chuev 1993, 218), there were no signs of a continuing organized opposition to Stalin’s leadership. Stalin, however, was able to sense the growth of widespread concern among the Old Bolsheviks. His response was to physically exterminate them. Stalin used the (still unresolved) assassination of Kirov in 1934 to unleash his mass exterminations of the Old Bolsheviks. He used the reign of terror to establish his unbridled personal power, including power over the life and death of any person in the Soviet Union. Both Molotov—who, even as he was about to fall victim himself in 1953, never lost his admiration of Stalin—and Khrushchev have described how the life of every member of the Politiburo was at the mercy of Stalin’s perception of him at any moment.

In his report to the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev disclosed that 70 percent of the members of the Central Committee of 1934 were executed. Of the 1,966 delegates to the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, 1,108 were arrested on charges of counterrevolutionary crimes (Khrushchev 1962). Medvedev cites additional evidence that the Old Bolsheviks were particularly targeted by the purges. At the Sixteenth Party Congress in 1930 and Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, some 80 percent of the delegates had joined the party before 1920; the figure was only 19 percent at the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939 (1989, 450).

The background for the large-scale executions of the Old Bolsheviks was provided by show trials of former Soviet leaders that were held in Moscow in 1936, 1937, and 1938 and ended with execution of almost every defendant, including Bukharin and Rykov—Tomsky committed suicide before being arrested. A secret trial of military leaders followed in later in 1938. In the wake of that trial, almost all the military commanders of the Red Army, Navy, and Air Force were executed.

Examination of the now available Soviet archives has established that 681,692, largely political, executions were carried out during the years 1937–38 (Getty et al. 1993, 1022). In his secret report to the Twentieth Party Congress, Khrushchev discussed only the cases in which nonpublic trials were held, so as not to embarrass the leaders of the Communist parties of other countries who had defended the handful of public trials. One such nonpublic trial was that of Marshall Michail Tuchachevsky and other high-ranking military officials on the charge of conspiring with German, Poland, and Japan to give those countries Soviet territory in exchange for their support for a military coup. In discussing the grounds for the rehabilitation of Tuchachevsky and others, Khrushchev cited the text of authorization sent by Stalin to the NKVD to authorizing the use of physical torture to extract confessions (1962). No documentary evidence was presented at any of the trials. In his memoirs, Khrushchev explained why the victims of the public trials had not been rehabilitated:

The reason for our decision was that there had been representatives of the fraternal Communist parties present when Rykov, Bukharin, and other leaders of the people were tried and sentenced. These representatives had then gone home and testified in their own countries to the justice of the sentences. We didn’t want to discredit the fraternal Party representatives who had attended the open trials, so we indefinitely postponed the rehabilitation of Bukharin, Zinoviev, Rykov. (1970, 352–53)

For details on the trials, I again refer readers to Medvedev (1989).

What then was the net effect of Stalin’s rush to collectivization? Had Lenin’s policy adhering to the alliance of the workers and peasants been continued by allowing the peasants, including the kulaks, to market their surplus at reasonable prices, while providing a greater supply of manufactured goods, a greater amount of grain would have been available for the food for the urban workers and as a resource for industrialization. This would have allowed a faster rate of industrialization than had been achieved in the course of the first two five-year plans. The kulaks never represented a coherent counterrevolutionary force committed to the overthrow of Soviet power.

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1. The draft of the first edition of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, in most respects a Marxist-Leninist critique of the Stalin period by Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, then a member of the CPSU, began circulating informally in the USSR in 1964. After Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as leader of the CPSU in 1964, criticism of Stalin was limited to the phrase cult of the individual; no details about the terror of the 1930s were permitted, nor criticism of forced collectivization other than what had been allowed in Stalin’s time. Stalin was, in effect, rehabilitated. Soviet publications such as History of the USSR, written in 1974, again justified the excesses—for example, the 1928 Shakhty frame-up trials in the course of which confessions were beaten out of members of fictitious organizations of wreckers and saboteurs “in the service of Russian and foreign capitalists and foreign intelligence;” Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky were again referred to as leaders of the Right Opposition, who “expressed the interests of the kulaks and other well-off elements in the villages that were opposed to the socialist reconstruction of agriculture” (Kim et al. 1982, 252, 259). Medvedev was expelled from the CPSU in 1969 after his book was published in the West. His Party membership was restored in 1988.

2. The Impossible Fact

Palmstroem, old, an aimless rover,
walking in the wrong direction
at a busy intersection
is run over.

“How,” he says, his life restoring
and with pluck his death ignoring,
“can an accident like this
ever happen? What’s amiss?"

"Did the state administration
fail in motor transportation?
Did police ignore the need
for reducing driving speed?"

"Isn’t there a prohibition,
barring motorized transmission
of the living to the dead?
Was the driver right who sped . . . ?”

Tightly swathed in dampened tissues
he explores the legal issues,
and it soon is clear as air:
Cars were not permitted there!

And he comes to the conclusion:
His mishap was an illusion,
for, he reasons pointedly,
that which must not, cannot be.


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