Russia and the Revolution



The Collectivization of Agriculture

Excerpted from the book Poverty, Wealth Dictatorship, Democracy: Resource Scarcity and the Origins of Dictatorship

The Push for Collectivization - June 1929

On June 1, 1929 there were some 57,000 collective farms in the Soviet Union. This figure was much better than Party projections for the first year of the five-year plan.  (The First Five-Year Plan had begun in July 1928.)  The original number of households expected to join by July 1929 had been set only at 564,200.  The plan had provided for only a 0.5 percent increase in the amount of collectivization in the first year of the plan - from 1.7 percent, it would be increased to 2.2 percent.  The ultimate goal for collectivization for the five years was 23 percent of peasant farms.  It was estimated that this would place 43 percent of grain production within government control.

By December 1929 there would be 4,311,000 households in collectives. To the one million households included in the membership on June 1st, another 3, 311,000 would be added between July and December.  The number of collectives by that time had increased to 70,000.  In the first three months, July, August, and September, some 911,000 households joined, while the remaining 2,400,000 would join between October and December.  Whether the household statistics were exact, the figure represented some twenty-five million individual peasants, out of a total peasant population of 125 million.  In six months, one-fifth of the peasantry had been collectivized.  An even more startling figure would come in 1930.  It would be claimed, on February 20, 1930, that collectivization had reached fifty percent of all peasant households.

While Stalin and Party leaders could exert pressure from above, it was local officials who were responsible for the high numbers. Why did the second half of 1929 see such dramatic results? The Party had been advocating collectivization for many years, yet little had been accomplished or even attempted. There are perhaps two reasons for the success. Perhaps the biggest reason was the single-minded focus of Stalin on collectivization. Party policy had been constantly shifting prior to 1929. As long as the peasants had not actively opposed the regime they had been pretty much left alone. In the second half of 1929 Stalin had already decided what needed to be done. The other reason was that Stalin maintained his focus over the long term. Stalin did not initiate the policy and then back off when he encountered difficulties. As with any bureaucracy, pressure for change needs to be sustained to accomplish results. Stalin, by Pravda editorials, Party directives, and exhortations by high-level officials, continually reminded local officials that collectivization remained a priority.

If Stalin was successful at increasing the number of collectives, his management mistake was in substituting a minor accomplishment for his real goal. His ultimate goal was industrialization, not collectivization. The agricultural sector was intended only as a tool to finance industrialization. To achieve that goal, agricultural productivity and output needed to be sustained. Rather than moving toward that goal, Stalin instead became sidetracked with collectivization statistics. Statistics are a useful tool for quantifying progress or success - but they need to be kept in perspective. The problem was that Stalin became obsessed with numbers, to the exclusion of all else. The result was that local officials found ways to increase the numbers. The methods used were of little concern to Moscow. They ranged from extravagant promises to threats. Peasants were promised easy credit and tractors, in some cases. In other cases, they were threatened with dekulakization and, if that were not enough, they were dekulakized. Where even these actions failed, local officials simply made up numbers. In some cases, the names of peasant households were added to the list of collective farm members without being told they had joined.

All Out War on the Peasant - December 1929

On December 27, 1929 Stalin met with a group of Marxist agricultural scholars. He chose the meeting to publicly announce an extreme change in agricultural policy. The kulaks were to be liquidated as a class, he said. While his policy to this point had been to force all peasants into collectives, he announced that kulaks would not be allowed to join. One of the unintended consequences of this policy was to increase the likelihood that farm animals would be killed. Peasants who owned two horses or cows ran the risk of being automatically classified as kulaks, providing officials the excuse needed to dekulakize them, seize their property, and deport them. That was not the only reason for the slaughter. Many peasants killed their animals rather than contribute the animals to the collectives. While these actions provided the state with meat, they also devastated the agricultural sector.

Stalin's speech was not necessarily an abrupt change in policy. He had begun waging war on the kulaks in July. What the speech signalled was that Stalin had no intention of calling off the attack. In hindsight, Stalin could have taken an alternative course in December 1929, relying on market forces to bring about collectivization. The market was already subtly changing the agricultural sector. Tradition-bound peasants were only too aware that mechanized equipment was an advantage and that farming was not the most efficient economic endeavor. In the 1920s many peasants were leaving the land in search of work in the growing number of factories.

Whether Stalin would have made different choices if he had known the costs can never be known. Two different statistics provide some indication of the terrible impact of the 1929 decisions. One relates to the number of animals destroyed; the other relates to the number of peasants deported and imprisoned. The figures for the collectivization drive were not made public until after Stalin had died. The number of animals killed was devastatingly high. Between 1928 and 1933, 46.6 percent of the Soviet Union's cattle, 47 percent of its horses and 65.1 percent of its sheep were slaughtered. In actual figures, the number of cattle killed was 26.6 million, the number of horses killed was 15.3 million, and the number of sheep killed was 63.4 million. In terms of human cost, one estimate places the number of peasant households deported to labor camps or colonies at around 300,000, or around 1.5 million individuals. Another estimate suggests an even higher number, around 3.5 million individual peasants. The official number of deported households was given as 381,000. Whether deported or not, dekulakization left some 15 million people homeless. If some two million escaped their fate by transferring skills to other enterprises, such as construction sites , around one million were placed in concentration camps.

There are perhaps two interpretations of Stalin's decisions. Medvedev suggests that Stalin in December 1929 came to believe in the success of his efforts based on statistics for collectivization - the numbers had proved better than the projected figures. He deluded himself, not only about how successful his program had been up to that point, but also about how easy it would be to reach his final goals. The other alternative is that Stalin was not blinded by the statistical evidence, but felt that the success of collectivization depended on speedy implementation of the program.

The statistics were very much at odds with the realities of the collectivization drive. The problem was not that the numbers were incorrect, although with inflated figures reported in some areas, there is reason to question their accuracy. A more basic problem was the type of peasant who was joining. The most productive peasants were avoiding the collectives. The majority of the households who joined were poor peasants who had been struggling in the agricultural economy. While the government had been able to entice over 7 percent of peasant households to join, it had not captured a corresponding percentage of agricultural productivity. Middle peasants and kulaks remained independent. Stalin would claim, in an article in Pravda appearing November 7, 1929, that middle peasants had joined the collectives. The statement was simply untrue.

The problem, for agricultural productivity, was not just in the numbers or type of peasant joining the collective. The problem was also in the productive capabilities of the collective, once the peasants had joined. In theory, the collective was supposed to make Soviet agriculture more productive. It was not the mere organization of a group of peasants into a common work group which was to improve productivity. The organizational structure of the collective made it little different than the organization of the peasant village. The potential advantage of the collective was found in mechanization, i.e., in the increased use of tractors and combines. While the number of peasants entering the collective was growing, the number of tractors or combines provided to the collectives was not. There was not only a serious shortage of such equipment, but also a shortage of cattle sheds and silos as well. Ironically, it was probably the lack of central planning which now contributed to the problem. Stalin's plans suffered, not from central planning, but from no planning at all.

Tucker has suggested a second interpretation of Stalin's December 1929 decisions. Under that interpretation, it was neither Stalin's ego which caused him to push harder, nor a lack of planning. A more basic reason was that the government hoped to use peasant resources to finance collectivization, which would then allow for industrial investment. Before the agricultural sector could finance industrialization, it had to be made more efficient. Collectivization, in other words, was a prerequisite to industrial development. The sooner collectivization goals were reached, the sooner industrialization could be achieved. December 1929 was chosen, not so much because Stalin was encouraged by the results of the past year, but because there was a limited window of time in which to put the plan into effect. There was a temporary grain reserve and to prolong the collectivization drive beyond March 1930 increased the risk that it would disrupt agricultural operations for the coming year.

On November 10, 1929, a plenary session of the Central Committee began. While the proceedings have remained secret, there was one speech which was made public, that of Molotov. Acting as surrogate for Stalin, he argued for an increase in the pace of collectivization. His timetable did not call for a gradual increasing of the rate of collectivization, projected to take place over the five years of the five-year plan. His proposed speed-up was monumental. Collectivization needed to be complete by April of 1930. The months from November to March were called critical. He pointed to the 1.5 million ton grain reserve then-existing as contributing to the necessity for immediate action. If collectivization could be completed by March, it would not be as disruptive to spring plantings.

Molotov's speech provided perhaps one other insight into Stalin's thinking. The industrial sector of the Soviet Union was then simply too weak to create the market incentives for collectivization. In practical terms, Soviet factories could not supply the tractors, combines, or other machinery which might entice the peasant into joining the collective while the state was in no position to invest in the agricultural sector. What Molotov was proposing was to force the peasantry to finance collectivization. He conceded that peasants had little cash and that any in-kind contributions by the poorer peasants would be small. He argued that, in the aggregate, the peasantry could generate the capital investment needed.

A single speech by Molotov may not be conclusive proof that financing was the main motive for collectivization. There is other evidence which supports such an argument however. As far back as July 1929 Stalin had set up a system of forced grain requisitions. Forced requisitioning was nothing new. The difference was that it was no longer just an emergency measure but was to be operating continuously. The formal decree putting the plan into effect was issued on July 29. It had been preceded by similar decrees issued by the Russian Federation on June 28 and by the Ukraine on July 3. In a return almost to Czarist practices, the Party imposed grain delivery quotas on villages but also added quotas for individual peasants.

In November all Stalin wanted from the plenum of the Central Committee was formal approval of his proposal. While there was some cautious questioning about potential difficulties, the Central Committee voted for the plan. Following the session, Stalin quickly moved to implement his new strategy. On December 5, 1929 the Politburo set up a commission whose major task was to draft a decree implementing the decision.

The twenty-one members of the commission were divided among eight sub-commissions which dealt with different questions, such as how to deal with the kulaks. A draft decree was approved by the full commission on December 18th. On December 22nd the decree was submitted to the Politburo. Stalin did not like the draft.  He objected particularly to the provisions allowing kulaks to join the collective, even if they were willing to submit to its authority. As he would make clear in his December 27th speech, the state was to go to war against the kulak. He also pushed for more extreme punishment, i.e., the death penalty, to be applied to kulaks who most actively fought collectivization.

What did Stalin find objectionable about the initial draft? In general he found it too lenient on the kulaks. In addition, while somewhat vague, it provided peasants with too many procedural protections against governmental seizures. The commission draft had divided the kulaks into three classes. The first consisted of kulaks who actively engaged in subversive activities. Essentially this meant peasants who organized revolts or committed terrorist acts. The second included kulaks who opposed collectivization, but whose activities fell short of strong opposition. The third involved kulaks who would submit to collectivization and to the government. Punishment varied for each group.

For the first group the commission proposed imprisonment or banishment, but not the death penalty, except in extreme cases. Around 60,000 households were estimated to belong to this group. The second group, estimated to be around 150,000 households, was to be banished from their own districts. The primary difference in severity between the first and second groups was that banishment for the first classification was to distant lands, whereas banishment for the second group meant banishment from the local district (oblast or krai). The punishment for the third group, estimated to be around 800,000 households, was not to be banishment or imprisonment. Members of this group were allowed to work in the collective, but would not be allowed to vote as members. Such kulaks could be admitted to the collective after a probationary period of three to five years.

As made clear in his December 27th speech, Stalin had no intention of allowing even the third group of kulaks into the collective, whether they served a probationary period or not. He objected to the draft on three other grounds. First, he did not like the provisions which prevented officials from seizing small livestock, poultry, or implements. He wanted all peasant property or "instruments of production," subject to "socialization," or seizure by officials acting on behalf of the collective.  Second, he did not like the timetable for collectivization. The commission proposed a five-year period, but he wanted it to take place at a much faster pace.  Third, he objected to a provision allowing the peasant to withdraw from the collective. Once members of the collective, he did not want them to be able to voluntarily leave.

To ensure that the committee's final decree was acceptable, Stalin personally edited the draft on January 4, 1930.  The decree was adopted by the Central Committee the next day. The collectivization timetable was shortened - collectivization in the major grain-growing regions was to be completed by the fall of 1930.  Other areas were given until the fall of 1931, still others the spring of 1932. The proposal allowing peasants to keep their small animals and implements had been eliminated as were most procedural protections related to confiscations. The provision allowing voluntary withdrawal from the collective had also been eliminated.

Stalin also made sure that his new kulak policy - total exclusion from the collective - was incorporated into the wording of the decree. While he left the three classifications of kulaks alone, he did increase the severity of the penalties attached to each. The estimated 60,000 households in the first classification could now be executed, in addition to being imprisoned. The 150,000 households of the second classification, which included the families of the first classification, were to be sent to the distant regions (the North, Siberia, the Urals or Kazakhstan), not merely remote areas of their own districts.  The 800,000 members of the third group would be allowed to remain in the district, allocated small plots of land, and given separate quotas. While such peasants escaped the harshest penalties, they were subject to further deprivations by receiving poor, small plots of land in their allotments.  In addition, they were often forced to work in labor detachments building roads or cutting timber.

The Central Committee called its January 5th decree "On the tempo of collectivization and measures to help the organization of collective farms." The decree gave the official signal to local officials to continue with (or to begin) radical measures to speed up the pace of collectivization.   Many wanted to impress Moscow and Stalin and were so eager to achieve that goal quickly that they intended to complete collectivization by the spring of 1930, some six months ahead of the official timetable. With the backing of Moscow and the official stamp-of-approval provided by the January 5th document, officials were more inclined to resort to physical terror to carry out the program. The OGPU was more actively involved now.   What motivated local officials varied.   Some, no doubt, wanted to impress Moscow, in hopes of furthering their careers.  Others were motivated by fear. If they did not carry out the program with sufficient energy, there was the possibility that they would be accused of being 'right deviationists.' They were only too aware that they could be the target of a Party arrest order, like the peasant.

January 5, 1930 is important because the Party officially approved Stalin's new policy. At the least, the decree represented an official pronouncement of what official policy was. At the same time it contained no real bombshells which caught local officials totally unawares. They had begun implementing the policy before January 5th.  It may be wondered why Stalin put so much effort into the wording of the decree or why an official decree was important to him at all.  With the administrative apparatus in place, Stalin already could get local officials to carry out his orders simply by issuing directives. He also could rely on the secret police and lesser officials to ensure that local administrators had a clear understanding of what he wanted.  In addition, while Stalin wanted Central Committee support, he was only too aware that many of them did not really believe in all aspects of his policy. Having packed the Committee with his supporters, he was also aware that it did not represent the feelings of most Party members.

There is a temptation to dismiss Stalin's actions as another example of the sinister nature of his activities.  The explanation probably lies, not so much in the realm of the sinister, but rather in his understanding of the workings of the Soviet administrative apparatus and bureaucracy. Instructions issued from Moscow tended to be interpreted, even changed, as they moved down the chain-of-command. Part of the problem was the fact that officials in Moscow failed to anticipate all problems which local officials might encounter in carrying out orders. What was meant by peasant opposition?  Was a peasant resisting if he merely asked that his cow not be confiscated?  In addition, official decrees did not always make sense - surely Moscow didn't intend to include something as inconsequential as a chicken in its collectivization order.   Stalin would have encountered such normal bureaucratic problems even where Party instructions were clear.   Unfortunately he often intentionally kept decrees vague.

For Stalin's goals, an official decree would serve two purposes. First, it would send an unambiguous signal to local officials that they were to proceed with collectivization.  Second, it implied some standard against which to judge local performance.   A clear signal was helpful for administration.  Unlike the prodding of individual Moscow Party officials, which locals may have suspected were "interpretations" of what Moscow wanted, decrees had the official backing of the Central Committee and the Party.  Where local officials might argue that they were slow at compliance because they were not sure what Moscow wanted - perhaps it was just some overzealous official -Stalin could always point to the decree as setting out policy.   One could almost hear Stalin's answer to protestations from local officials - 'But comrades, was the decree not clear about what was to be done?' In fact, the decree was not clear.  Stalin took pains to ensure that it was vague.

There was a third purpose which the decree accomplished.  It provided Stalin with the cover of deniability. While seeming to give explicit instructions to proceed with collectivization, it was rather vague about specifics.  If the Central Committee estimated that 60,000 households were subject to the death penalty, it did not order officials to come up with 60,000 peasants to execute.  Instead, it created an atmosphere or situation designed to provoke peasant resistance, in turn giving officials an excuse to use extreme measures.

Above all, what the decree provided Stalin with was a political justification for his policy. While he engaged in many arbitrary actions, he took pains to link most with some greater political purpose. It was one thing to be feared, it was another to be viewed as a madman. With all the executions and imprisonments which occurred there was a danger that too many extreme actions would be viewed as irrational. In spite of his position as leader, Stalin depended on, even courted the favor of, lower Party officials.  He was not worried that Party officials would fear him. In fact that was useful. As long as he was viewed as a rational, albeit strong, or even cruel, leader, he could maintain power. With the Central Committee publicly behind him, however reluctant their support, Stalin had a seemingly rational political justification for his actions.

Although Stalin had gone to great lengths to craft the decree, he did not wait until January 5th to begin implementation.  The OGPU had begun mass arrests of designated "kulaks" in November 1929. Those arrested were shot. Most were former White Army soldiers.   A second wave of arrests occurred in December, although those arrested were imprisoned, rather than executed.   Their families, who had been left alone at the time, would be rounded up for deportation in January 1930.

The arrests, executions, and deportations of kulaks represented only one part of the collectivization campaign. It was intended both to remove the most active opposition and to scare the remaining peasants into joining the collectives.   The January 5th decree made clear to local officials that, whatever it took, they were to increase the numbers of collective farm members.  While peasants who were not considered kulaks might avoid execution or imprisonment, they would nevertheless come under pressure to enter the collective.

If Stalin could point to the growing number of peasant households joining the collectives as evidence of success, there was growing peasant resistance.  Active resistance however came late and was to prove too disorganized.   Stalin had gained two advantages.   First, the peasants were not in a mood to rebel.  The chaos of the Civil War, which had created an atmosphere of revolt and had prompted local peasants to actively join the fighting, had been over for some eight years.   The peasants had been allowed to focus on farming and were less likely to get caught up in a mood of rebellion.   Second, the eight years of peace had given Stalin the opportunity to consolidate power.  The Party had been able to develop an effective military and police force in the countryside.

Despite these circumstances, peasant opposition to the government assumed violent forms.   In 1929 there were 384 murders and more than 1,400 arsons related to the collectivization policy.   The violence was aimed, not only at government officials, but also at peasant activists who supported the government or those willing to inform on other peasants.   Violence continued into 1930.   Conquest reports that, in the Ukraine alone, there were more than 150 murders or acts of arson committed between January and June. Peasant resistance was not confined to individual acts of violence but took on more organized forms in 1930.  It was often necessary to call in the military to deal with disturbances on a wider scale.   Whole villages rioted.   In the period from December 17, 1929 to February 14, 1930, the Central Black Earth province reported 38 armed outbreaks. Though sometimes violent, active peasant resistance was simply too weak and disorganized to stop or even to seriously threaten collectivization.  Peasant action, in the form of livestock destruction, proved a more effective protest.  Unfortunately, its very effectiveness also undermined the peasant's economic power.   Stalin had hoped to use agricultural resources to finance industrialization.  While peasant action effectively crippled agriculture, it also eliminated much of the economic leverage the peasant's productivity provided.

On January 16, 1930 Stalin issued a decree which allowed local authorities to confiscate the property of kulaks who destroyed livestock. In spite of the decree, or perhaps partly in response to it, peasants began slaughtering livestock. The government's own bureaucratic structure and incentive system contributed to the slaughter in its early stages. Government procurement agents worked on a quota system and were only too eager to buy.   Peasants who had been reluctant to part with grain, now willingly sold their livestock to government slaughterhouses.   Other animals were sold on the open market. Cattle which could not be sold were killed by the peasants themselves.  The greatest losses for the entire period of collectivization (1928-33) were to take place in February and March of 1930. (The total number for the entire period would be 26.6 million.) Some 14 million head of cattle would be killed in these two months. The slaughter in those months also took one-third of the pig population and one-fourth of sheep and goats.

Stalin was no doubt aware that peasant opposition was coming from more than just the kulaks. However, it was politically expedient to continue focusing attention on kulak opposition. The January 5 decree had ostensibly concentrated on collectivization, although it did contain measures specifically aimed at the kulak. On February 4th the Party passed a decree which dealt almost exclusively with the kulaks.   It had begun with a resolution passed on January 30th called "On Measures for the Elimination of Kulak Households in Districts of Comprehensive Collectivization."

The political aspect of the collectivization campaign had taken on a harsher tone and provided the Party with a needed, unifying enemy - the kulak.  Some Party officials were becoming uneasy.   While they publicly may have agreed with the political justification for what was taking place, they began to look at the underlying effect on agricultural productivity.  They were only too aware that the wheat and rye harvesting depended on the spring agricultural timetable, not some political schedule.   In February 1930 Party leaders paid visits to key rural areas to assess the agricultural situation.   They found that, not only were the actual figures for the number of collectives far below official figures, but also that Party efforts to collectivize the peasant had totally disrupted the agricultural sector. They warned of a possible famine. It was decided that the mass collectivization policy needed to be reversed.

On February 20th the Central Committee called for an end to collectivization in the minority-nation republics. Pravda editorials called for an end to the confiscation of small animals, such as pigs and chickens. A special Central Committee meeting was called to deal with the situation.  While no decree was adopted, the Committee had the backbone to stand up to Stalin. He was told he needed to issue some statement repudiating the then-existing policy.  Stalin agreed. The statement he prepared, the March 2nd Pravda article called "Dizzy with Success," emerged in a somewhat different form than the Committee intended, however.

Stalin, except for the article itself, ignored the Committee. The article was supposed to be cleared with other Politburo members before being published. Stalin submitted it to Pravda without bothering to let Committee members read it.   In addition, the tone of the article, was not an admission of error on his part. He not only criticized officials for taking the very actions he had urged them to take, he also placed the entire blame for "mistakes" on those same officials. They had been overzealous.   While Stalin had publicly given in to the Central Committee, the publication of the article created administrative problems for the Party. For example, were peasants to be given back their confiscated cattle, or their old plot of land? On the surface, the article made the Party look as though it were reversing its collectivization policy. How was such a reversal to be implemented? To many peasants at least, the article and a subsequent Party decree on March 14th, signaled the end of collectivization. Some eight million peasants chose to withdraw from the collectives.

What Stalin accomplished with "Dizzy with Success" was to temporarily restore a sense of normality for the peasant. Many would return to their fields in time for spring sowing, confident that they had permanently beaten the government. The governmental retreat was not complete however. In the grain growing regions the collectivization gains by the government remained. If Stalin may have mollified peasant resentment, he was also successful at angering local Party officials.  Eager to impress Moscow by pushing collectivization, they now felt betrayed when Stalin not only acknowledged mistakes, but blamed them for having committed them.

In reality what Stalin did in March of 1930 was to settle for a more gradual approach to collectivization. He did not abandon force or terror as part of the campaign, but he did back away from the goal of immediate collectivization.   Officially, the number of households collectivized by March 1, 1930, the day before "Dizzy with Success" appeared, was quite high - 14,264,300.   As the Party officials visiting the countryside had discovered, the numbers were inaccurate.   There were two major problems with the statistics.  First, they were inflated.   (In spite of Stalin's optimistic reports, it is hard to believe that local officials could increase the number of households collectivized by some 10 million in just one month.   In January 1930 4,393,100 households had been collectivized. By March 1st the number had increased to 14,264,300.) Officials had simply invented numbers to be sent to Moscow, where actual collectivization had failed. Second, where peasants had been forced to join against their wishes, they had not only destroyed their cattle, they had left their productivity behind.

Having formally urged the Party to execute or deport kulaks, Stalin was hardly in a position to criticize local officials for "excesses." He may have been more embarrassed than disturbed by what was actually taking place. He had hoped for swift results, but continuing peasant resistance brought public reports and Party discussions of abuses.  At least part of the problem may have been that, while Stalin had a clear vision of the final results - collectivization would modernize agriculture and finance industrialization - he had not really thought through the administrative steps it would take to reach that goal.  He had not seriously analyzed the problems nor come up with a clear step-by-step plan for officials to follow.   His job was to formulate a general plan - the details could be worked out later.  His perception may have been that the advantages of collectivization were so obvious, even to the peasants, that they would be eager to join.   If Stalin was willing to use a reward system to motivate people, he seemed to view physical force and intimidation as necessary partners in any motivational scheme. It was not local Party officials, but the secret police, who began the push for collectivization in November 1929. If the mass arrests and executions of supposed kulaks were not viewed as having a direct link to collectivization, they did set a tone, reinforced by the new arrests in December. Initially these actions were handled by the OGPU itself. However, it did not have the manpower to deal with the increasing scale of the operation intended by Stalin. With his insistence on meeting collectivization goals local officials were soon given a greater role.

While local officials were aware that execution was available to enforce their decisions, they often hoped that less extreme measures would be effective.  There was a belief that persuasive tactics would motivate peasants to join.  The Party organized groups of workers to administer rural areas.  In January 1930, a somewhat structured group called the "25,000-ers," (actually numbering about 27,000), was formed.  Consisting of volunteer workers from the cities, the 25,000-ers were given a two-week training course and sent into the countryside to serve as managers of the collectives.  Another 72,204 temporary workers were also sent, along with 50,000 soon-to-be ex-soldiers. In many villages, meetings were held by these volunteers in which peasants were urged to join the collective.

If promises of tractors or easy credit worked to persuade the poorer peasants to join the collective, officials found that promises alone would not convince the more well-to-do village members.  Some officials began making threats, either of arrest or dekulakization, which were sometimes sufficient to get peasants to sign up for kolkholz membership.   Where they were not, officials began to carry out their threats. Fitzpatrick cites one instance, in the Urals, where the local chairman gave the peasants the option of joining the kolkholz or of being arrested by the police chief. Twelve peasants who did not join were immediately placed under arrest. In other cases officials had peasants interrogated, beaten, or subjected to mock executions. If joining the kolkholz allowed peasants to escape such acts of official harassment, it did not prevent further abuse by local officials. Peasant livestock, grain or even money was immediately seized for the kolkholz, once peasants signed the papers agreeing to join.

In some cases officials sought to avoid direct physical confrontations with hostile peasants.   Instead they used the voting mechanism of the village mir (commune).  Members of the mir accepted collectivization by simply voting to change the mir into a kolkholz. If it was devious, it at least allowed local officials to report success to Moscow.   Unfortunately, it encouraged Stalin in the belief that collectivization would come easily.  It also did little to create a sense of trust among the peasantry.   In some cases, not all the members eligible to vote were present when the vote was taken.

The threat of dekulakization became perhaps the most commonly used ploy. While the Party pressured local officials to increase the number of households collectivized, it also pressured them to increase the number of peasants who were dekulakized and deported.  The Party had decided in its December 1929 meetings that 60,000 kulaks should be imprisoned.  Although the number was only an estimate, the orders which came from Moscow quickly turned it into a quota.  Each district had so many kulaks to arrest.  Included with the arrest orders were orders relating to quotas for the 150,000 households to be deported. The OGPU contributed to an atmosphere of official coercion by providing kulak names from its own lists, then asking local leaders to make up the shortfall.   Persuaded that terrorist threats were most effective if carried out, officials were more willing to dekulakize those who were otherwise unwilling to join the collectives.

Officials who were pressured to provide numbers for collectivization were now required to compile statistical proof of the success of their dekulakization campaign. They proved just as creative at this new mathematical game. In one sense, it was made easier by the state's concept of what a kulak was.   A kulak was defined as much by the supposed attitude of the well-to-do peasant, as it was by his material possessions.   In another sense the game was made more difficult by the very vagueness of what the kulak was supposed to be.   The only advantage was that Stalin was indifferent to the truth or falsity of the charges.   If people were added arbitrarily to the list of names of kulaks, the state was not inclined to question the figures.  Teachers were sometimes the targets.   In some cases those who became victims were chosen mainly because they were regarded as outsiders.   Sometimes villages were allowed to vote.  Villagers exacted revenge on the communists by naming former Red Army soldiers as kulaks.

The combined collectivization drive and war against the kulak appeared to produce results. Officially 50 percent of peasant households had been collectivized by February 20, 1930. Fighting a war on two fronts did give Stalin pause.  If he reduced the pressure on the collectivization front when he published "Dizzy with Success," he was unrelenting in his war against the kulak.  That he intended to continue.  Even given Stalin's retreat, collectivization had made significant gains. Despite the disruptions, the kolkholz accounted for 26 percent of peasant households in the 1930 spring sowing.

March 1930 - Collectivization Resumed

Despite the seeming retreat of "Dizzy with Success," Stalin had no intention of giving up the fight. He did have some officials dismissed and had others tried for mistakes, providing proof that he meant what he said. While the article and subsequent actions convinced peasants that the collectivization drive was over, Stalin sent different signals to local officials. The withdrawal of eight million to nine million households from the collectives (some 40-50 million people) wreaked havoc with the official statistics.  On March 1, 1930 55 percent of peasant households were reported as being collectivized.   By June 1st, the percentage figure had dropped to 23.6 percent. While Stalin's retreat may have been forced on him by officials, its timing before the spring sowing probably saved the harvest.  In spite of the deportations and forced collectivization, the 1930 harvest was some twelve million tons better than that of 1929.

The March 2, 1930 edition of Pravda contained significant concessions on the part of the Party - at least on the surface. "Dizzy with Success" emphasized the voluntary nature of membership in the collective. Pravda, in that day's edition, also published a lengthy version of the charter for the artel, one form of the collective farm. According to the charter, the peasants would be allowed to keep small farm implements, a milk cow, and smaller animals such as sheep, pigs, and poultry. To some peasants, leaving was the natural consequence of Stalin's article - he had now publicly said that membership was voluntary. They found however that leaving was no simple matter. If secret police or army units symbolized the most sinister and abusive elements of authority, they were only the most obvious tools available to the government. The Party had managed to establish a local bureaucratic structure which, if still seemingly fragile, was nevertheless tenacious. Peasants who managed to escape death or imprisonment, had to face continuous harassment from ambitious local leaders. The literal interpretation given Moscow's orders by local officials often made them seem, not just out of touch with reality, but even silly. The emphasis on communal property brought out a certain pettiness.   In one district in the Urals, officials went so far as to include peasant clothing in their orders relating to the commune.  They put all the peasant clothes in a pile and peasants had to chose what to wear from the pile before going to work for the day.

Although such examples serve to illustrate the Bolshevik obsession with private property, they need to be kept in perspective.  Peasant property rights had never been absolute, even before the communists came to power.   The peasant commune (mir) had, to a large degree, controlled how individual peasants worked their land within the village.  If the village mir had acted more democratically, out of concern for the well-being of the village, it was the mir, not the individual peasant, which effectively controlled use of the land.

In forcing Stalin to back down, even partially, the peasants temporarily could claim victory.   The more obvious aspect of Stalin's program involved force and physical intimidation.  It was this "public" side of the policy which Stalin chose to address in "Dizzy with Success."  Behind the scenes he was working to change the administrative structure of the agricultural sector.  What Stalin was attempting to do was to replace local control and administration with a centralized one.  His fight was as much with the village council as it was with the individual peasant.   Ironically, even as Stalin tried to establish centralized control, he had to rely on local Party leaders to carry out his orders.  His public retreat did not stop the administrative revolution Stalin was pushing.   Evidence of this change was the decree of July 10, 1930, passed by the Central Committee, which abolished the commune in areas which had been collectivized.  In fact the Party had been at work on this aspect of the change in 1929.   From an administrative perspective the Party had a major problem at the village level.  It had to contend with two competing governmental bodies, the rural soviet and the village mir.  Officially, the rural soviet had jurisdiction of the village mir.   In fact the rural soviet normally had responsibility for six to eight village mirs.

Although the rural soviet was the officially recognized governmental unit, it lacked credible authority with the peasants. The mir was regarded as the legitimate governing body. Part of the reason was that the Party had put very few resources into the rural soviets. When they had been formed in the early 1920s, their chairmen had no budget and were themselves paid very little. Another problem was that the Party continued to recognize many of the rights and powers the mir had traditionally exercised. Perhaps a more basic problem was that the soviets were too closely tied to the village. On paper, the chairmen were part of the rural soviet. In reality, they voted as though they were still members of the village.

The administrative answers to such problems were not long in coming.  The basic solution involved nothing more than focusing greater attention on the problem of rural administration.  Two obvious solutions were to appoint officials more sympathetic to the Party and to eliminate the power of the mir.  Beginning in 1929 the chairmen of the rural soviets were removed and replaced by more aggressive administrators.  Conquest cites figures for the Central Volga indicating that, out of 370 village soviet chairmen, 300 had been replaced by March 1930.   The Party also moved away from a village elective system to a governmental system in which officials were appointed.  The power of the mir was destroyed by frontal assault.  Initially the Party had hoped that the mir would aid in collectivization. When the Party found that it got in the way, it simply did away with the July 1930 decree.

Stalin soon taught the peasants another lesson in power.  The peasants believed that Stalin had confirmed their traditional property rights.  At best, he was willing to confer only vague and abstract rights. To be of any use a right had to be enforceable. If rights related to some abstract concept, as they did where land "ownership" was concerned, power depended on the government's recognition of property claims.  Similarly, where rights involved actions taken by officials, power stemmed from official recognition or approval of the actions taken.  In such a case, recognition might come in the form of a legal claim of action.   Stalin could have recognized peasant grievances against local Party officials by giving them a legal claim against officials or by granting a legal claim to the land they had given up.

The ability to either recognize decisions or to deny them legitimacy, i.e., to approve or to disapprove of actions, was a great source of power.   The village mirs had maintained their power because the central government continued to recognize their legal rights, such as the power to enforce contracts and initiate court actions.  The decree abolishing the commune was a step toward consolidating power.  The weakening of traditional power structures at the local level was only part of Stalin's plans.  He also needed to strengthen the power of local officials.  He did this by, not only granting them greater authority and more resources, but also by attacks aimed directly at the individual peasant.

One of the great ironies, given Party hostility to private property, was that the power to decide property rights proved to be one of the most powerful weapons in the government arsenal.  Peasants who read "Dizzy with Success" believed that Stalin was returning things to the status quo.  They believed that the article allowed them to resume farming on their original plot.  Yet, when they tried to leave the collective, they found that local Party officials controlled land distribution.  Officials claimed much of the former peasant land as the property of the collective.  Where they allowed peasants to withdraw, they allotted them plots which were either further away from the village or of poor quality or both. Sometimes the plots were smaller than before or consisted of marsh or wasteland. Officials, in some cases, refused to grant some of the traditional privileges associated with farming, such as access to water or to pastureland.

The refusal to recognize peasant rights in their former landholdings was only one problem.   Officials also ignored peasant claims to the cattle or animals confiscated by the collective.   In some cases they claimed that the collective now owned the animals and refused to return them.   In other cases, the animals had died or been slaughtered.  Peasant implements were not returned.  Officials offered no compensation in either case.  Even in cases where peasants were permitted to withdraw, local officials were slow at deciding which land to allocate them or at distributing the seed necessary for spring sowing.  The fact that eight to nine million households chose to leave, in spite of the obstacles officials placed in their path, represented a major defeat for the Party.

Official foot-dragging was only one governmental weapon, taxation was another.  Taxes were both a source of revenue and a coercive measure.   The Party provided tax incentives for the collective.  In April 1930, fines levied for failure to pay taxes on livestock were cancelled for the peasant members of collectives.  Collective members were also given a tax exemption for livestock for two years.   More general taxes were imposed in the form of grain quotas, which were increased in the case of individual peasants.   For a time, individual peasants seemed able to defy the government, managing to out produce the collective farms in 1930.  Yet the "free" peasant was losing the battle.

In the end it was probably not a single governmental action which defeated the peasant, but a combination of factors.  Efforts to monopolize the most productive land did not prevent peasants from withdrawing from the collective.  Agricultural productivity depended on the productivity of the land. Whatever the result of individual effort, the  long-term impact of restrictions would be to limit the individual's productivity.  Even with the inefficiencies of collective farming, control of the most productive land would be an immense advantage.

While the Party was temporarily willing to rely on less confrontational economic pressure during 1930, it was planning a renewal of the campaign of force.  The kulaks would be the targets again.  In January 1931, the Party used failure to meet quotas as the excuse to begin deportations of kulaks who had been allowed to remain in their home districts.  This was preliminary to a formal decision to act against the kulak taken in February 1931.   In contrast to the dekulakization campaign of 1930, the 1931 campaign was more organized and more centrally run.   Where local officials had been in charge, the OGPU assumed responsibility in 1931.  Where the 1930 campaign involved a loosely administered quota system for dekulakization, the 1931 campaign involved a tightly controlled system targeting specific individuals.  The OGPU used tax questionnaires to gain or confirm information about peasant households.  From this information lists were compiled. Before the start of the second dekulakization campaign, i.e., at the end of 1930, there had already been some 400,000 peasant households dekulakized.   The 1931 campaign, the so-called 'second-wave,' which officially ended in October 1931, would add another 381,000 households to that number - in individual numbers about 2.5 million people. The end of the 'second wave' did not completely end the deportations.  Conquest estimates that another 150,000 households would be deported between October 1931 and May 1933.  In May 1933 Stalin would formally decree the end of forced deportation.

Peasant withdrawal from the collectives had quickly deflated the statistics for March 1, 1930 - 14,264,300 households collectivized. A little over one year later however, on April 1, 1931, the figures showed that the collectivization campaign had been revived. Some 13 million households now were collectivized. In July 1931 52.7 percent of all peasant households had been collectivized, more than double the 23.6 percent figure for July 1930.  In terms of crop area collectivized, the July percentage was even higher - 67.8 percent of agricultural land was now farmed collectively.   The next twelve months would add another 1.9 million households, so that by July 1932 14.9 million households would be collectivized, or, in percentage terms, 61.5 percent. This represented an increase of nearly nine percent. The next twelve-month period however revealed a slowing of the rate. Only 64.4 percent of peasant households were collectivized as of July 1933, or an increase of only 2.9 percent over the previous year. Part of the reason for the slowdown may have been that problems within the collectives themselves forced Stalin to divert resources to deal with them. He was confronted by an internal revolt and it was necessary to consolidate the gains already made.

In 1933 Stalin chose to reply to a letter sent him by the Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov. Sholokhov had complained that some local officials were committing excesses against the peasants and that such practices appeared to be widespread. Stalin, in his reply, acknowledged that the excesses were taking place. While condemning such excesses, Stalin complained that peasants were sabotaging agricultural production. Even without committing acts of violence, the peasants were engaged in a 'quiet' war against the government. What Stalin's letter referred to was general interference with government grain procurement.  On other occasions he made reference to specific acts committed by peasants - the burning of storage depots or the breaking of machines or theft.  This time, it was not outsiders, but individuals within the system who were to blame.   Kulaks and kulak supporters were now causing problems as members of the collectives.

There was some truth to what Stalin charged. Kulaks who had been allowed into the collectives, despite Stalin's efforts, were involved in acts of 'sabotage.' Yet the nature of Stalin's campaign had involved almost total war against the peasant and resistance was not limited to former kulaks. Even peasants who joined the collectives were treated as enemies, regardless of whether they fell under the classification of kulak or not. The extreme and strident tone of Stalin's campaign made new enemies among the peasant class, even among those who had been largely neutral.  In some cases it was local officials who took extreme measures against the peasants.   In other cases, Party leadership pushed such measures.  In 1932, district officials in the Ukraine allowed collective farms to keep some of their grain for seed and as a reserve. An enraged Stalin accused the officials of deceit and called them crooks. In a circular, he called for the imprisonment of any officials who followed such a policy.

The political tone of the campaign against the peasant was only partly to blame for the problems within the collective. There were two other, somewhat related, factors which contributed to internal problems.   First, the government was squeezing the collectives, as well as individual peasants, for more grain.   Second, its administrative methods, as in 1930, still measured performance in terms of short-term numbers.

The government, in 1931 and 1932, placed extraordinary demands on the agricultural sector in the area of grain procurements.  In spite of all the disruption which was occurring, production in 1931 and 1932 was high, some 70 million tons in each year.  The governmental share, 22.8 million tons in 1931 and 18.5 million tons in 1932, was even sufficient to provide grain for export.   Unfortunately, the monetary value was lessened because the sales occurred during the Great Depression, when prices were substantially depressed.  Stalin's focus on increased state grain procurements was part of the problem.   It pressured local officials to increase current contributions at the expense of future harvests.   Those officials who did try to plan for future harvests or disasters found Stalin unsympathetic. He wanted a maximum immediate return.

The heavy quotas demanded by the government began to take a physical toll on the peasants.   They were hungry and the collectives had grain in storage, destined for procurement agencies.   Where barns or storage facilities were left unguarded in the spring of 1932, collectivized peasants broke in to take grain or cows and horses.  Some peasants found unexpected allies in the form of collective managers, who used the local grain to feed those working in the fields, or at least looked the other way when their own peasants took the grain.  Peasants in the summer began raiding fields to harvest grain as it was ripening.

Often peasant women, seeing their children near starvation, were the culprits.  Given the label 'hairdressers' or 'barbers' by the press, they would go out into the fields at night to clip stalks of grain with their scissors.   Others would wait until the grain had been gathered.  They would then stuff what grain they could into pockets or hide it inside their clothing.   Stalin was unmoved.   He did not want to lose any of the harvest, which in 1932, had reached 69.9 million tons.   As in 1930, he pressured local officials to crack down.  The secret police were once more enlisted in the campaign.  Peasants were the main targets, but sometimes it was local officials, those who were felt to be lax in carrying out a campaign against the peasant 'wreckers.'   That officials were considered to be as much the problem as the peasant, is shown by the fact that between 25 and 30 percent of middle management on the collectives were arrested in five months during 1932.

On August 7, 1932 a law was enacted which provided for the death penalty for the theft of state or collective-farm property. The law did not set any minimum value on the stolen property to which it would apply.   Theft of as little as a stalk of grain could be considered a capital offense, giving the law the unofficial name of the "five stalks law."  Stalin showed little mercy to those unlucky enough to get caught.   There were 54,545 convicted within five months of the law's enactment and of this number, 2,110 were shot.   That resistance within the collective was a serious problem is indicated by the fact that kolkhoz members made up three-fifths of those convicted between January and March of 1933.

Stalin, in January 1933, added a more effective policing organization to carry out his orders.   Administratively, he had created what were called "political sections" or special police units assigned to the collectives and to the accompanying machine-tractor stations (MTS).   By 1932 there were around five thousand of these special police units.  Members were not locals but recruited by the Central Committee.   They had the authority to dismiss even Party members from management positions in the collectives.   Stalin did not rely entirely on the political sections.  As in 1930 he mobilized Party members from the cities to work in the countryside.

The harsh measures taken by Stalin in 1932 remained in effect for only a brief period of time.  In the spring of 1933 Stalin reversed policy and the mass deportations were stopped.   The repressive measures, though brief, were severe.  In some areas, the peasants gained little when Stalin eased the pressure.  The hardships inflicted by the state were simply replaced by another merciless foe - famine.


The worst of the famine would come in 1933, but it was beginning to be felt in some areas in the summer of 1932. What made the famine worse was the fact that Stalin refused to help those who were starving.   In fact, he seemed to view the famine as another means of dealing with the peasant.  The state did not have to actively deport or shoot peasants, it could just let them starve.  Whether Stalin deliberately planned the famine or simply saw it as another opportunity once it began, it does seem clear that it became a weapon.   Many of the peasants came to that conclusion.   At the same time, dismissing the famine as government-caused leaves some questions unanswered.   Was famine a specific goal of Stalin, intended to deal the fatal blow to the peasantry, or was it an unintended result of trying to reach another goal?  Was it the result of the inefficiencies of the Soviet system or of an indecisive agricultural policy?  Or was it a case of Stalin's failure to fully analyze a situation before setting policy and, once committed, a refusal to admit mistakes or to change policies?

There was clearly more than one factor at work.  In addition, the significance of each factor changed over time, i.e., what caused the famine was different than what caused it to continue or factors which contributed to its severity.  Fitzpatrick provides one of the more plausible summaries of the basic cause of the famine.   Her argument relates to the administrative structure of the grain procurement system.  A basic problem with the system was not that it was centrally planned, but that it lacked real planning.  To be sure officials planned to the extent of preparing budgets.   However they had little hard data and tended to be overly optimistic in the face of political pressures.   The system was based too much on haggling and administrative bargaining between each level of administration.   It was not simply that there was posturing about how much could be produced.  The problem was more that there was a cynical view that the opposing side was assumed to be posturing.  The administrative system, from Stalin on down, had built in the assumption that the other side was simply trying to get the upper hand in a bargaining arrangement.

Each administrative level tried to bargain with the level above or below it.  At the lowest level, the peasants complained that weather or other conditions would prevent them from fulfilling their quota.   Their managers would pressure them to increase their production.  At the same time the managers would adopt the peasant line in dealing with their superiors.  Each administrative level pressured those below it to meet quotas while arguing with those higher up that the quotas could not be met.  In theory, it was a manageable system.  Whether it could have operated without Stalin's reliance on imprisonment or the death penalty to reinforce its operation is an open question.   With such threats in the background however, the administrative structure responded in a cautious manner.   Everyone had to assume or at least report the most optimistic figures to those above.  Few dared to openly question the demands or the logic behind them.   Stalin was quick to make object lessons of management failures, whatever their cause.  In September 1930 he had 48 members of People's Commissariat of Trade arrested on charges of sabotaging food supplies.   After confessing to their crimes all 48 were executed.

Fitzpatrick points out a problem unique to 1932 and 1933.  The collective system was too new to provide accurate data on what yields should be.   Officials in Moscow did not know how much grain would be available.  The peasants in the field did not know how much the state would demand.   The lack of data and the view that peasants and managers were probably lying about harvest problems to better their bargaining position was bad enough.  An additional problem was that performance was measured by immediate results.   The only quantifiable means of measuring performance was the amount of grain collected in the current season.  The pressure to meet immediate quota demands, often meant that grain reserves for seed or for emergencies were sacrificed to satisfy demands made by higher officials.  The government issued contradictory orders at times.   Officials were ordered not to take seed grain.  At the same time they were told to fill their quotas.

In general Stalin's administrative structure relied heavily on intimidation and fear, rather than positive reinforcement or rewards, for stronger performance. That same management philosophy often favored the collective, while coming down as hard as possible on the peasant.  Yet, in some cases, Stalin viewed the collectives with the same disdain as he did the peasants.   If the collective was favored over the individual peasant, the administrative structure disadvantaged the collective in dealings with the state.  Individual collectives were often punished for poor performance.   Such collectives risked being placed on a "black board" of dishonor.  In such cases their seed grain could be confiscated and given to other collectives.  In extreme cases a whole collective might be deported.

In smaller ways, collectives were also treated little better than peasants.  When collectives were paid by the government the prices were very low.  Collectives were required to pay for services performed by other state organs.  They had to make payments in kind to the Machine Tractor Stations (MTS), in return for the mechanized work done by the MTS and had to make payments in kind for having their grain ground.  They were taxed for acreage sown and were fined for late deliveries of grain or for failing to meet their quotas.

The famine which began in late 1932 had its causes in the philosophy and administrative structure of the agricultural system.  Stalin intended to obtain as much grain as quickly as possible from the agricultural system.   If the overall design and operation of the system should shoulder the blame for agricultural failure, a simple explanation for the famine was that grain quotas were too high, as Fitzpatrick points out.   It might be added that Stalin's refusal to lower the quotas made a bad situation worse.  In January 1933, rather than easing up, Stalin tried to bring even more pressure to bear on the countryside.

The first deaths from starvation began to be reported in November 1932.  Officially there was little sympathy.  The focus was on obtaining grain deliveries.  Villages were sanctioned for failing to meet quotas.  Officials acted to prevent goods from reaching villages in the Ukraine, even setting up blockades until grain had been produced.  Stores selling state goods were shut down.  Officials refused to distribute grain in storage in local facilities.   In some cases officials allowed grain or potatoes to rot rather than distributing them to peasants.

Peasants in some areas tried to escape the famine by leaving their villages, although the government attempted to stop the migration as much as possible.  It reintroduced the system of internal passports.   Anyone needing to travel had to obtain a passport, but peasants were not allowed to even carry passports. Only industrial or office workers could be issued passports. Those caught without them were returned to their villages.  While enforcement was initially somewhat lax, it was tightened in the spring of 1933.  Railway workers were ordered not to transport peasants.  Peasants encountered still another obstacle even if they managed to reach the cities.  Without ration cards they could not buy bread in the stores.  The residents and workers, while able to obtain food, were themselves living on short rations.  Sometimes city residents tried to help, but the assistance was too little to do any good.

Many of the peasants managed to survive the months of January and February, but the death toll began to rise sharply in March 1933.  Soldiers and railway workers were confronted by large numbers of peasants begging for food and starving.  Cities were overwhelmed by peasants who, without help, died in large numbers.   For a time in the city of Poltava, as many as 150 corpses were being collected each day.  Poltava was not alone.  The cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odessa had to deal, on a daily basis, with the corpses of peasants who had died during the night.

While the campaign seemed to be aimed at all the peasants, there is some evidence that peasants in the Ukraine were specifically targeted. It was not simply that the state itself would not help, it also actively worked to prevent individuals from helping.   Some people tried to smuggle bread in from Russia, where it was still available.  If officials found out about it, they acted to stop it.   Police would confiscate any bread found on people they stopped and searched.  To prevent peasants from even leaving the Ukraine to search for food, military units were stationed at railroad border checkpoints.

Re-newed terror...

Stalin had begun his new terror campaign with the five stalks law of August 1932.   This was followed in January 1933 by an aggressive terror campaign in the countryside.  It was decided to send another group of urban recruits into the countryside, an idea patterned after the '25,000-ers' campaign of late 1929 and early 1930.  Rather than employ the recruits as managers of the collectives, they were to be organized into police units and assigned to the Machine Tractor Stations (MST).   The MST was intended to provide mechanized services, such as plowing, to the various collectives in its immediate vicinity.  The number of party-police units grew to around 5,000.  Their primary job was to purge the kolkhoz, as opposed to trying to collectivize.  As with other such operations, the measure of success was the number of kolkhoz members purged.   The numbers from the Central Black Earth province provide some indication of the success of the campaign.   There were 11,000 arrests and 20,000 firings.  In addition, 3,677 kolkhoz administrators were purged.  While it is not known how many total kolkhoz households were 'dekulakized' in this period of renewed repression, in the Leningrad district some 7,000 households were deported.

Though severe, the repression of 1933 was relatively short-lived.  Perhaps that was because Stalin's dream of collectivization was slowly being realized.  By July 1933, some 15.2 million peasant households, or 64.4 percent of the total, had been collectivized.   The percentage of crop area collectivized was even greater - around 83.1 percent.

Stalin, despite the progress, may have felt that a renewed terror campaign was necessary in order to push his program through to completion.  At the same time he was preparing to ease economic restrictions.   Even as the party-political cadres were beginning their terror campaign, the Party began implementing administrative changes.  A new law was passed on January 19, 1933 substituting a grain tax for grain collections.   This was followed, on February 18th, by an easing of restrictions on grain trading in certain provinces.   Perhaps more surprising, on February 25th, a decree authorized the distribution of grain for seed for the spring sowing.  The Ukraine was to receive 325,000 tons and the North Caucasus another 230,000.  As if to publicly acknowledge the famine, the demand for grain from the Ukraine was officially lifted on March 15, 1933.   There were even belated attempts to save those peasants still surviving.  Army grain reserves were provided to starving villages in April and clinics were set up in May.  Many peasants were too weak to respond and died despite such efforts.

Administrative Changes

In May 1933 Stalin ended the terror campaign with a secret instruction.  Mass deportations and terrorist measures were to stop.   If the instruction brought an end to the intense political campaign, the economic help did not completely end the famine, which would continue into 1934.The death toll from the famine was high, although the exact numbers are unknown. The lowest estimates place the number of dead at around three to four million, while the highest place the figure at between seven and eight million.  Whatever the total number, most agree that some 3 million children died.

The administrative restructuring of the agricultural system was marked by the January 19th decree eliminating compulsory grain requisitions.  Yet, in one sense, compulsory requisitioning had been changed in name only.   The zagotovki, or compulsory requisitioning, was changed to a compulsory state tax, with the decree.   However, the new tax was fixed by the central government, not subject to change and, despite its predictability, was still high.  The fairness which seemed to be embodied in the tax changes was undercut by the creation of a new tax - a payment in kind which was to be made to the MTS - the naturplata.   The prior system had involved payment of money based on the amount of acreage sown or harvested.   In defense of the government, the old method had allowed the collectives to be paid for acreage harvested, whether the crop was suitable for eating or not. The collective could be paid for harvesting weeds as well as for harvesting wheat or rye. Unfortunately, the new tax represented another burden which the struggling collectives had to shoulder.

The basic problem with the system was that the government still wanted to use the agricultural sector as a source of financing.  That goal was at odds with the aspirations of the peasantry.  Whatever face the government put on its system, the demand for more grain created an underlying weakness - the government would still need to squeeze the peasantry if it wanted money for investment and such a system could only be maintained by force.  In the end, the only real hope for the peasantry lay in convincing Stalin that the system was providing the government with as much grain as possible.   From Stalin's perspective, the solution was not necessarily to eliminate the haggling over quotas between each political unit. The solution was more basic - get an accurate estimate of the amount of grain the system could provide.

The change from the zagotovki to the state tax was one administrative change.  Perhaps a more important change lay in a governmental restructuring which gave responsibility for agricultural planning to a single agency. The Committee for Procurements (Komzag) was created in December 1932.  It was somewhat of a self-contained administrative unit.  Organizationally, it was set up as a pyramid structure with Moscow at the top and regional and district administrators below.  It was somewhat immune to local politics, because its members were outside the authority of the Party.   It was also given emergency powers.

To reinforce the authority of the Komzag, the special political or party-police units, mentioned previously, were formed.  Attached to the machine-tractor stations (MTS) and collectives, they acted as an affiliate of the secret police - a representative of the OGPU was appointed as first deputy in every section.  (The OGPU deputy reported to officials in the OGPU, and could call on OGPU units for help as well.)  While the OGPU presence added a sinister element to the political units, there was at least an attempt to raise the level of administrative competence.  Those appointed to local posts had administrative experience.  Some had even been in the military.

Conceding the need for some incentive for the peasants, the government did allow private trade in the summer of 1932.  Administrators were walking a fine line.  They were aware that profit would provide the peasants with an incentive to be more productive.   At the same time, they knew that this incentive would cause peasants to concentrate on their personal production, rather than the government harvest.  Both individuals and collectives were allowed to sell surpluses on the open market.  Unfortunately, in the situations in which private markets were allowed, officials often found that government procurement suffered.  The solution, for officials, was to move as quickly as possible to eliminate such private trade.  Markets were ordered closed as soon as collections for the state tax began.  In order to reopen, a special decree was required, and officials would only grant the decree after the state quotas had been reached.

The administrative and policy changes of 1933 eased the pressure on the peasants somewhat.  However, in areas hit hard by the government campaign, such as the Ukraine, peasants were too weak to carry out their work.  Working animals died or, in a weakened state, were in no better condition.  Students and army troops were used to help with the harvest.

Stalin was prepared to continue, even to renew, a more ferocious campaign.  If the Ukraine was suffering, Stalin seemed to view it with a special hatred.  In June 1933, in a circular, he promised even more drastic measures.  A chairman of one collective was publicly criticized by the press and then arrested for baking bread from the peasant's wheat on three occasions.  Another was arrested for distributing wheat to his peasants.  Both actions occurred in the Ukraine.

While Stalin may have wanted to continue, there are signs that political pressure was building to force him to retreat.  The pressure came from all levels, at the lowest, from peasants, at the top, from Party officials.   The peasants found a voice in the newspapers.  The press did not necessarily report peasant opposition directly.  Instead it spoke of peasant distrust of the government.   It is difficult to imagine that the press would report such opinions without Stalin's knowledge or permission.   It can be surmised that he, not only allowed the publication, but was aware of the background to the criticism.   Party leaders also were publicly calling for a change.  Though carefully wording what was said, in one speech Kirov suggested that it was time to stop 'squeezing' the peasantry. Other top officials were pressing for a more moderate policy.

Pressure for moderating policy also came from the recently created political sections of the MTSs.  Many questioned the grain quotas being set by Moscow.  Some went so far as to defend the collectives against charges of mismanagement.  Some refused to go along with prosecutions of collective managers.  In creating the political sections, Moscow may have assumed that their predecessors at the local level had too many ties to the peasants.  Replace them with more reliable Party outsiders and the Party would be able to defeat the countryside.  The realization that dedicated Party people had turned against him no doubt aroused feelings of betrayal in Stalin.  He also realized that his plans, in the end, depended on the support of lower echelon administrators.  If he pushed too hard he risked losing the confidence so crucial to effective administration.  The pressure from below probably helped convince Stalin to ease his policies.  It did not appease him for the betrayal.  He would dissolve the political sections in December 1934.

The new atmosphere even gave the peasants outside the collective some peace.  The number of households collectivized between July 1933 and July 1934 only increased by 500,000, going from 15.2 million to 15.7 million.  Nevertheless, in June 1934 Stalin renewed the campaign against the independent peasant, now reduced in numbers to only 9 million individuals. The attack took the form of a tax increase.  In October 1934 the remaining individual households were required to pay a tax in cash.  This tax was followed by an increase in the grain delivery quota, which had been 10 percent, to 50 percent above that demanded of the collective.  As a result of the renewed drive, collectivized households increased to 17.3 million by July 1935. In percentage terms this number represented some 83.2 percent of the peasantry.  The amount of collectivized land had reached 94.1 percent by that time.  Between August 1935 and July 1936 another 1.1 million households were added.  The following twelve months added just 100,000 households, although the total number of households collectivized had reached 18.5 million, or 93 percent by July 1937. In 1938 the Party succeeded in eliminating the few remaining independent peasants.  It did this by passing a special tax on horses, between 275 and 500 rubles, which most independents could not afford to pay.  To avoid the tax, many decided to join.

By 1937, life in the countryside for the peasant assumed some form of normality.  Having resisted the collective for so long, they were beginning to accept it.  The kolkhoz, apart from the terror, was attaining a form of legitimacy, in their eyes.   The Party even felt secure enough to introduce a limited form of democracy at the local level.   It did not give up the authority to appoint chairmen, but encouraged local leaders to participate.   Peasants even began to see political gain by participating in the kolkhoz and competing for the leadership positions.

One area in which the government tried to restore a sense of normality was that of land tenure.   For all the energy the Party expended on forcing peasants to give up their private landholdings, the desire for legal recognition of land rights remained strong among the peasantry.   At the same time, it seemed to express itself along collective lines - it often was the collective which pushed most strongly for some form of ownership.  Surprisingly, the Party agreed to such a concession.  In mid-1935 a law was passed which provided for "eternal use" by the collective of the land worked.  It was estimated that 80,000 land surveyors would be needed to determine the boundaries and there were not that many which could be found in 1935.  It would not be until 1937 that the surveying was completed.

In some ways it is surprising that the traditional regard for land rights, rights associated with the village, continued, even among Party officials.  For all the efforts local officials put into forcing peasants to join collectives, they tended to respect property rights, once allocated.  In one village, peasants began the spring sowing late because neither the members of the collective nor the independent peasants were certain what the new boundaries were.

The countryside would endure one more political shock in 1937 - the Great Purges.   Moscow was center stage for most of the trials, with Stalin's last major political rivals serving as the primary victims.  Yet peasants found themselves victims as well, especially those who had been bold enough to enter the collective political arena in hopes of advancement.  The victims of the purge often found that there was no systematic way to predict who would be targeted.  Sometimes those indicted were charged simply because those who had hired them had fallen out of favor.  Sometimes the trials involved those few collective chairmen who were not Party members.  In some cases charges related to general mismanagement, such as a failure to meet production quotas. Charges were not limited to these categories.  As if to appease the peasants, the Party seemed to encourage them to bring complaints against officials who had treated them badly.  Stalin had been in the habit of encouraging his subordinates to take extreme action, then eliminating them later - often charging them with the very actions he had earlier encouraged them to take.

Where Stalin had acted indifferently to the wishes of the peasants, he now seemed interested in how they viewed the government - he wanted to win back their hearts. They were not only encouraged to make complaints, those complaints were taken seriously. Many of those put on trial in the rural areas were accused of having mistreated the peasants or of having violated the rights of collective members.  Peasants, no doubt, felt some satisfaction when their complaints were actually acted on.  In the Western oblast, for example, peasants had lodged nearly a thousand complaints about land titles, the poor quality of land assigned, and loss of forested land, in 1937. Such complaints provided the Party the excuse needed to purge those considered officially responsible.

Officials may have been inclined to exercise some leniency in their treatment of the countryside because the 1937 harvest had been a bumper crop. Perhaps in an effort to give the appearance of being vigilant, local officials responded to the purges by expelling collective members from the kolkhoz. Those expelled were often charged with being kulaks.  The Party allowed the expulsions for a time but then in April 1938, ordered that they come to an end. Whether such actions saved those officials, the Great Purge was running out of steam.  It was largely spent by the second half of 1938.

Suggestions for further reading.

Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, "KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev," HarperCollins Publishers, (New York, NY 1990).

Robert Conquest, "The Harvest of Sorrow," Oxford University Press, (New York, NY 1986).

R. W. Davies, Mark Harrison, and S. G. Wheatcroft, eds., "The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945," Cambridge University Press, (New York, NY 1994).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Stalin's Peasants: Resistance & Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization," Oxford University Press, (New York, NY 1994).

J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning, eds. "Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives," Columbia University Press, (New York, NY 1993).

Roy Medvedev, "Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism," Columbia University Press, (New York, NY 1989).

Alec Nove, "An Economic History of the USSR: 1917-1991," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1990).

Richard Pipes, "Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1993).

Richard Pipes, "The Russian Revolution," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York, NY 1990).

Robert C. Tucker, "Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941," W. W. Norton & Company, (New York, NY 1992).