The Achievement of Socialism in One Country Through Collectivisation

“Collectivisation in the USSR, in the years 1929 to 1941, was a success.” Assess the validity of this view.

Collectivisation was an essential economic component of Stalin’s Great Turn and the success of Socialism in One Country, aiming to increase production efficiency to support heavy industrialisation while moving towards a more Marxist society. However, the degree to which this can be considered successful may be different depending on the perspective: political, economic or social. Moreover, there is debate among historians as to whether this was the ‘correct’ move for Stalin, as though Davies asserts that it was necessary considering his aims, Cohen argued that continued NEP would be more successful.

One cannot argue that collectivisation, and the Great Turn itself, was a political success considering what had gone before: the divisive NEP. In fact, it was so divisive that it forced Lenin’s resolution ‘On Party Unity’ in 1921 which banned factionalism within the party. NEP was seen as a right-wing concession, since it promoted a free market, which came to be dominated by independent traders or ‘Nepmen’, who controlled ¾ of the trade. Additionally, NEP was slow to take effect, as by 1928 real wages only just surpassed pre-war levels, and exports were 1/3 of those in 1913. This supports Davies’ viewpoint that NEP was not able to support heavy industrialisation as the exports were not enough to gain capital investment into industry, making the choice to ditch this a success. There was one further advantage, to Stalin himself, of the policy of moving away from NEP: an issue over which to isolate and defeat the Rightists within the party; Bukharin had lost key positions by April 1929, including his editorship of Pravda. All of these factors led to a more secure political standing for Stalin, by removing opposition and approaching more traditional Marxist ideology, making this policy a political success as a move away from NEP.

Furthermore, as well as an alternative to NEP, collectivisation had further merits in its socialisation of the peasantry. Firstly, this policy helped to reduce the size of the peasantry, particularly the ‘class enemy’ of kulaks. The peasants did not really fit in Marx’s society and were naturally conservative and held support for the pre-revolutionary regime, so 19 million peasants moving to the cities was beneficial since it reduced the size of this section of society, and also increased the proportion of the proletariat. Moreover, 390,000 kulaks, and their relatives lost their lives in camps as a result of the purges of the 1930s, ridding Russia of so-called ‘capitalist elements’. Instead of independent farmers looking out for their own interests, collectivisation attempted to socialise the peasants by making them live on kolhozes, to farm a communal plot of land with 75 other families, and with modern machinery, with food being distributed according to how much they worked. 100% of farms were collectivised by 1941. This attempted to create a ‘proletariat of the countryside’, more in keeping with socialist ideals, so this was a further political success of this policy as greater progress towards a Marxist state.

Additionally, collectivisation found some success economically too. Grain production slowly increased after the policy began, from 73 million tons in 1928 to 97 million in 1937; the greater procurement of grain from 10.8 million tons in 1928 to 22.6 million in 1933 also shows a political as well as economic success, since it showed a greater progress towards a socialist centralised command economy. This also contributed towards further economic success as this meant more grain could be exported to support the Five Year Plans, as exports increased from 0.03 million tons in 1928 to 5.06 million in 1931, increasing industrialisation and thus creating an independent nation capable of supporting itself in the event of a war, as well as becoming more socialist, thus this policy had economic success.

However, the economic success must not be exaggerated: the grain production only increased after a sharp decline after 1928 due to peasant opposition. As a display of this opposition, they left 50% of crops in the fields and 25-30% of livestock were slaughtered, as they would rather do this than hand over their property to the state. Livestock numbers did not recover until 1953, and grain production not until 1935. The lack of incentive also hampered the scheme, with high quotas meaning peasants had little for themselves or to sell, so had no reason to work hard, while the industrial workers imported from the cities to oversee collectivisation had no expertise in the agricultural field. This was compounded by the fact that the most skilled farmers were kulaks, and Stalin was committed to their ‘liquidation as a class’, though they were responsible for 38% of production. Indeed, Cohen argues that the continuation of Bukharinist support for the kulaks would have brought more success. The lack of expertise and opposition created huge inefficiencies within the collectivisation program, when this policy was created to remove inefficiency, so this cannot be considered a real economic success.

Moreover, the social cost of this policy was appalling. As already mentioned, 390,000 kulaks and relatives were killed from 1932 to 1940, but even greater numbers were involved. 10 million died as a direct result of their own opposition to the collective farms; 3.5 million died from famine in the Ukrainian Holodomor. Though 19 million peasants moved to towns (which as much may be indicative of the social cost than economic success), movement away from famine-stricken areas was prevented, meaning that ‘cannibalism became commonplace’ in these districts. Harsh penalties were also in force for minor offences: 10 years imprisonment was given to anyone ‘stealing socialised property’ or selling grain before their quota was fulfilled. Ultimately, this decreased the unity between the cities and countryside and was a move away from Marxist equality, so this was arguably both a social and political failure.

To conclude, through collectivisation, the aims of Socialism in One Country were ultimately achieved: heavy industrialisation took place making Russia ready for war in 10 years. It was also, on paper, a great move away from the capitalist NEP and towards a Marxist society. However the social reality of this could hardly be further from this utopian vision, with the social cost outweighing the limited economic success and theoretical political advances.