Collectivisation: Agriculture under Stalin

The transformation of Agriculture was a key feature of Stalinism. Stalin’s rule saw the Collectivisation of Agriculture. This was the creation of State controlled farms. It saw mass migration and the persecution of the Kulak class. At the beginning of Stalin’s rule, Agriculture lagged behind other countries. A programme of Collectivisation was introduced. This programme was target driven. The farms, kolkhozes, became state controlled and geared towards improving productivity and efficiency. The Collectivisation programme was opposed by Kulaks. They were liquaded as a class and massive famine was caused by the enforcement of the Collectivisation policy. 

Tractor on a Farm after Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture

Collectivisation of Farms under Stalin

Stalin wanted the Soviet Union to have more efficient farms. Agriculture needed to embrace modern technologies. Russia and the other Soviet states had historically produced less food than the country required. Using new farming methods and introducing a new system was needed to change this. With an aim of transforming agriculture so that it produced a surplus, the concept of Collectivisation was introduced.

Collectivisation saw the creation of ‘collective’ farms. These, called kolkhozes, would replace smallholdings held by peasants with larger farms. The idea here is to have large fields in which crops can be sown, grown and harvested using modern machinery. Farm workers would live and work together. Fewer workers would be needed and output would be more crops.

Early, optional, Collectivisation

In 1927 the idea was put forward to the peasants. Rural areas were encouraged to adopt the kolkhoz method.Items such as Tractors were made available for these new collective farms. The peasantry were being encouraged to adapt to the new idea and take advantage of the opportunity. It was hoped that the peasants would take up the idea and send more food to the towns.

Not many kolkhozes were set up between 1927 and 1929. Stalin’s idea was to all intents and purposes, ignored by the peasants. This slowed down the growth of towns and caused a supply problem for the new industrial workforce. In 1930, Pravda Newspaper announced a change of policy. Collectivisation would no longer be optional. All farms would hand over their land, crops and livestock.

The Kulaks

The peasantry had several tiers of ‘class’. Some had a reasonably good lifestyle in the system that Stalin was wanting to replace. The Kulaks hated Stalin’s idea. It would deprive them of the life they were accustomed to. They would lose the benefits that they had enjoyed of being the better off farmers. On the one hand you had angry Kulaks who did not want change. On the other, Stalin who had ideological reasons for changing the workings of Agriculture and an acute need to reform the sector.

As Stalin’s orders to enforce collectivisation were carried out, many Kulaks responded by burning crops, killing livestock and damaging machinery. Millions of cattle and pigs were slaughtered and left to rot. Estimates of the quantity vary between 20% and 35% of all livestock being deliberately killed. The result was a famine. The country struggled to feed itself.

Enforced Collectivisation and the Great Famine

Stalin altered the way in which Collectivisation was implemented. Peasants would be allowed to retain a small plot of land for themselves. However this policy was short-lived. In 1931 the enforcement of the Collectivisation programme was by force. Around two thirds of farms had been changed. The third that resisted were forced to. In areas of fierce resistance to the idea, violence was common. The Kulak’s were driven from the land. Many were sent to Gulags or forced to migrate to Siberia to work in lumber yards.

Massive areas of arable land had been damaged by the Kulaks. The famine that followed in 1932 was catastrophic. In Ukraine, 5 million people died of starvation. Kulak’s who had not already migrated were forced to, or executed. By 1934 some 7 million Kulak’s had been killed.

The process continued throughout the 1930’s. By the end of the decade 99% of farms were kolkhozes.

Reasons for Collectivisation:
  • As towns grew the increased number of people living their meant that food production needed to become more efficient.
  • To buy new technologies and chemicals, Stalin needed foreign currency. The USSR could get this from selling grain.
  • Farming was outdated and inefficient. Even after the reforms of the NEP, it was failing to meet the needs of the Soviet people.
  • The Kulaks were capitalists. They stood in the way of a true Socialist state being achieved.
Outcomes of Collectivisation
  • Mass migration, particularly in 1930/31.
  • Famines in 1930, 1931 and 1932. Millions died of starvation.
  • Land and livestock destroyed by Kulaks in the early 1930’s.
  • Transformation to Collectivised farm system: two thirds complete by 1934, virtually all farms by 1939.
  • Production levels did rise once kolkhozes were fully established.

Links – Russia and the Soviet UnionLife in the Soviet UnionImpact of Stalin’s Social Reforms

BBC Bitesize – revision guide – Excellent notes on the Collectivisation policy
Spartacus Encyclopedia – detailed narrative of the Collectivisation process in the Soviet Union

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union