Collectivisation was a political success but an economic failure and a human disaster Essay
Well, where does one begin to discuss three views that are completely open to interpretation, and with one of those views being as extreme to say that the human cost was a ‘disaster’, at least it is going to be easier to write about collectivisation in retrospect than I’m sure it was for Stalin who had to deal with the problem head on there and then.
To open this essay first I feel it important that everyone knows what exactly the term collectivisation is. The Merriam-Webmaster Online dictionary tells us it is: a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution. This basically means that the Russian government was planning to merge all the small privately owned farms under one central power that will control all production and all the finances of said farm, these groups of farms will be known as collectives. Each collective will be given a set targets to reach within a set time, failure to complete said target could mean a lot of punishment for the peasants working on these collective farms. This was a huge scale event involving 120 million people living in 600,000 villages, 25 million private holdings where turned into 240,000 state-controlled collective farms in a matter of months.
Secondly we should take a brief moment to look at the reasons why it was implicated in the first place. The reason was Stalin’s plan to modernise Russia, to do this he needed his industrialisation plans to work, for these plans to work they needed an increased grain output. He believed that collectivisation was the best way to achieve such a goal.
Now to look at the political aspects of collectivisation, the quote used in the title of this essay would lay claim that it was a success, but is this indeed the case?
On the plus side many ideological goals where fulfilled by the introduction of collectivisation, the collectivisation of agriculture is a good example of what the ideal of Communism is. In theory this should have worked brilliantly but in essence it did not due to many different factors. The class of Russians known as the Kulaks where virtually destroyed as a class, this was another positive political move if you were Stalin, the Kulaks were a threat to Stalin’s ideas and because of this he had to get rid of this problem.
‘It may be said with certainty that so long as there are kulaks, so long will there be sabotage of grain procurements.’
Lenin has also said in his time that the kulaks are ‘bloodsucking, vampires, robbers of the people’.
If the state owned all the farms, then the well off peasants would no longer have any extra money than the peasants that were always down the lower end of the scale. Although it should be noted at this point that because of Kulak resistance many people were killed along with many livestock, although this will be talked about in more detail later when I look at the human costs of the collectivisation programme.
Inside of Russia the programme may have been seen as a political success, especially with the introduction of a lot of pro collectivisation propaganda appearing, however, on a world wide scale it would seem that collectivisation was a political disaster, many countries who already held Russia in the lowest possible regard saw all the negatives that were coming out of this programme so Russia’s world wide popularity decreased even more.
One has to ponder the thought that it is maybe wrong to even include politics in this essay, since there were no other parties to contend with and the army and the navy were too scared to try and go against Stalin, there was next to no chance that the party was going to suffer if collectivisation did not work, and if it did people will only like them more but that doesn’t really change anything in effect. On a worldwide scale, because Russia was the first communist state, people’s views on them where already rock bottom, so would this move actually make a difference?
Now we shall take a look at the economic side of collectivisation. The statement in the title of this essay lays claim to it being an economic failure, other sources I have looked at would say as much as an economic disaster. These comments are not without reason; by looking at figures for the grain harvest and grain procurement we can see disturbing trends. Trends such as grain harvest never getting over the amount harvested by the peasants in Tsarist Russia, and when you compare figures we also find that even though grain production dropped, grain procurement did not, this left the peasants with very high demands and would obviously leave them feeling disgruntled. Fear of famine because grain was not meeting the required targets lead to Stalin having to intervene in an attempt to appease the people, using Article 107 he was able to justify seizures of large amounts of grain, further enraging the peasants. The loss of animal livestock must also be noted, a loss that Russia did not recover from until after the Second World War.
Now with the negativities out of the way we should look at the more positive side of the collectivisation program with regards to the economic well being of Russia. With the enforcement of collectivisation, many peasants moved to the cities, this meant more people for an industrial workforce, more people working in factories of course meant more profit and more of the demands of the five year plans would be met. In essence, collectivisation succeeded in its main purpose, to provide the resources for industrialisation. The government did not have to pay out as much money as it had to do previously, this is because instead of paying the workers on the kolkhoz (term given to one type of collective farm) money, they paid them with ‘workdays’, these days are basically time off working on the communal farm to work at your own plot of land, the peasants seen little in the way of wages at all. Although economically this would be seen as a success it could be seen as a point proving it was a human disaster.
In weighing up the good against the bad points, I would have to disagree with the original statement that it was a failure, I would say that in the long run economically it was a success, people are too quick to jump the easy conclusion that because they had a bad spout at the start it was automatically a failure, if we look at things in the long run, Russia did become a super power under Stalin, a lot of this was because of collectivisation. Outside entities must also be considered when looking at Russia’s economics, the Great Depression that sent America and most of Europe into a depression where the stock market collapsed did not effect Russia as they did not rely on American money, however due to the Great Depression Russia was not getting the amount of money it deserved for exported grain to certain countries. Russia could not be blamed for this.
The third and final point that needs to be examined is the statement ‘and a human disaster’; Obviously the reason for this comment to be made was the many deaths that have been said to have occurred as a direct result form collectivisation. The famine that occurred due to it killed many, many people with an estimate of around seven million people dying, about five million of those people where in the Ukraine alone. Many kulak people died because Stalin wanted rid of what he saw as a threat. We have estimates like around ten million peasants where dispossessed between 1929 and 1932, around two and a half million of those peasants lost their lives. Mass arrests where also commonplace in the struggle to achieve collectivisation.
One must consider however, that with the changes that came after collectivisation due to collectivisation, many people’s lives might have been saved or at least made easier. Because of all the policies and plans that Stalin had introduced, Russia was able to be part of the Allied forces that won the war, had they not adopted collectivisation the story might not be the same. So you can take the perspective of comparing the human death toll to what the death rate among the Russian people was in Tsarist Russia, or you could look at it compared to what it might have been if they did not during the war.
Personally I would not call it a disaster, because there are positives and in my mind a disaster has to be total devastation. I understand this viewpoint may breed controversy but I don’t believe it should generate anymore than the point that it’s a disaster. I will close this section with a famous quote that sums up this section well
‘The death of one individual is a tragedy, death to millions is a statistic’
To conclude, just because the arguments I have put forward differ from that of the original statement, it does not mean that mine are wrong, or indeed theirs is wrong, it simply proves the point that all of history is open to interpretation with different quotes and actions seen differently from person to person. This final quotation to end this essay seems appropriate
‘What happened between November 1929 and December 1931 cannot be grasped merely by reciting statistics… a socio-economic system in existence for five hundred years vanished for ever.’