“Stalin’s policy of collectivisation was politically a success but was economically a failure and a human catastrophe” how far do you agree with this point of view?
Collectivism was an economic policy that was introduced in communist Russia in 1928 it’s economic aims was to increase the governments procurement of grain, to increase the grain harvest , to increase the amount of grain that was exported for foreign currency and free people from agricultural industries to work in urban areas instead. All theses aims combined was to try and ensure that Russia could industrialise rapidly. Its political aims were to break the peasants grip on food production so that it was state controlled, to remove the unpopular capitalist “element” that was the NEP scheme the old agricultural policy and to create self-sufficiency in agriculture. Additionally it wanted to weaken the peasants as a class they weren’t seen as “true” socialists shown by their resistant to former Bolshevik policies such as war communism and their dropping production of grain within the NEP system.
Economically Russia altered radically over the ten year period starting in 1928 when Stalin achieved absolute dominance within power. This was due to Stalin economic aims of industrialised Russia rapidly he stated in a speech talking about Russia “That we are fifty to hundred years behind the other powers we must make good this gap in ten otherwise we will be crushed”. It was an ominous statement of the plans ahead. For Stalin this meant that Russia had to go through a three stage process to industrialise rapidly, firstly they would have to export their only massed produced resource, grain to build reserves of foreign currency to purchase the machinery needed to create the factories and the modern infrastructure needed for an industrial country. Secondly they would have to shift people out from the countryside into factories and cities that would be built to be the human capital to fuel the industrial advance.
Finally there would need to be a secure and reliable flow of grain and food into these cities so that they could flourish and mean that people could focus on increasing the production of manufactured goods. This meant what was key to Stalin’s plan was an effective agricultural system as it was pivotal in all three sections, to produce grain for export, to feed the growing cities and to divert the agricultural peasant labour into the new cities. To do this Stalin introduced collectivisation first through the voluntary admission of peasants and then by coercion to force peasants into the program. Its effects were massive and by 1933 there were 250,000 collectivised farms.
Collectivised farms revolved around two key types either the peasants would give up all their belongings to the state and would work on massive state farms and be paid wages and the state would supply the tools needed, or the peasants would organise a collective around their village they would hand in their tools and a factory depot would be provided for the peasants to borrow tractors and other tools. The state would then procure the grain produced from theses collectives and share the grain between feeding the citizens and exporting the grain.
However the reality was highly different to the plan, the peasant were fiercely hostile to the idea as it was basically removing their own belonging and making them the dependent on the state and work for the state. They slaughtered their animals even though it was their livelihoods to prevent the state acquiring them and hid stores of grain to try and feed themselves instead of giving the grain over. Additionally Stalin’s aims of removing the more successful peasants dubbed “Kulaks” meant that the most successful and experienced peasants were removed from the agricultural system. Also the hostility of the peasants meant that when they were finally forced into collectives they were incredibly unproductive. On top of this the state couldn’t provide enough tractors to the new tractor depots meaning machinery was lacking and there wasn’t the infrastructure across the country to efficiently procure grain from the peasants.
Overall this meant that between 1928 to 1933 grain production actually fell from 73.3 million to 68.4 million and even more drastic is the shocking reduction the quantity of the animal stock between 1928 to 1933 stock of sheep and goats collapsed from 146.7 million to 50.2 million due to peasants either eating or killing their animals before they were taken. If we examine the economic question from the basic view of amount produced collectivisation was a catastrophe failing to produce grain harvests that were as good ass those in 1917 under the Tsar and in a feudal system. However they weren’t the economic aims of Stalin. All Stalin’s aims around collectivisation revolved around one key feature the ability to procure a far greater amount of grain for the state to be able to export and for it to be able to supply the cities with a reliable supply of cheap grain. With collectivisation as the entire process from production to supply was state controlled this meant that Stalin could take the acquired grain to export for foreign currency to start the great industrialisation and supply the cities with cheap grain even when grain production was being reduced.
This was achieved because the people who produced the grain were placed on the lowest priority for grain distribution meaning that as grain harvest dropped it wasn’t the exports that were dropped or supply to cities it was grain to the peasants that failed to be produced causing massive man made famines in the “breadbasket” of Europe around the area of Ukraine. Stalin made this situation worse by sending out recruits to find and confiscate hidden grain supplies of the peasants for export as they were stealing “socialised” property. Its been estimated that between 1932 – 1934 around five million people died around the Ukraine area from famine, figures are hard to be concrete due to states chosen ignorance to the scale of the famine facing the peasants.
Additionally this mass famine meant that Stalin inadvertently achieved his aim of acquiring the large amounts of labour needed for the new cities as peasants fled from the countryside to the cities to try and find food. A historian described this effect by saying Stalin had acquired a “reservoir of terrified peasants who would supply him with cheap industrial labour” Due to Stalin achieving the aims of his agricultural process Russia could industrialise spectacularly fast with Russian industry rocketing. Coal production increased from 36 million tons in 1928 to 166 million tons in 1940 and Steel production went from 4 million tons in 1928 to 18 million tons in 1940.
However this is only the short term impact of the economic policy in the long term it meant that agriculture in Russia was stagnated and vastly behind those of its other great powers at the time and even at the height of the cold war it was forced to import grain from its great nemesis the U.S.A to be able to feed its own population. Simply collectivisation was a failure as an economic policy it fulfilled its short term aims correctly by giving Stalin control of food supply being able to coerce and control his own people to acquire his industrial aims at a massive human cost. But economic policy isn’t short term and its long term effects were dismal and it servilely weakened the longevity of the industrial economy that Stalin had built upon its shoulders. Often when economic policy fails in such a massive way it suggest that there were alterer motives to the implementation of the policy meaning its weaknesses were over looked.
Stalin knew a policy which was more in line with Marxist ideology would be popular with the grass root supporters of the Bolshevik party, additionally he wanted to achieve the aims of this ideology ensuring that policies focussed on the working class acquiring the needs of them. With collectivisation he achieved those aims and could still balance the negatives of mass human cost and a weaker agricultural system against the benefits he brought as those negatives effected the peasants and not the working class. So the statement that”Stalin’s policy of collectivisation was politically a success but was economically a failure and a human catastrophe” supports the evidence.
As even though there was vast industrial economic progress it was gained at a too greater cost to the agricultural sector of the economy and it caused there to be a fundamental flaw in the soviet economy. The human cost was and always will have been massive in a system which placed a particular sector of societies needs so far below every other priority and gave them no ability to deal with the crisis themselves as it forced them to depend on the system which had only contempt for them. But the policy meant that Stalin achieved his aims and did provide a massive leap in the standard of living for the majority of Russians and turned Russia into a super power in only ten years which is a political achievement which is miraculous.
This explains why eye witness accounts differ so wildly from “He was the defender of the working people….. a great leader” to “He was not a man…. but a devil”. Reflecting different view points. This divide represents clearly the vast and altering effects that collectivisation had and whether you view it as a success or failure depends on whether you rate vast industrialisation a benefit great enough to justify huge human cost and whether you believe economic success for one segment of society can ever be counted as an overall economic success for a state as a whole.