Collectivization and the Famine

The large collective farms amalgamated land from several villages. The peasants were turned into agricultural workers in kolkhoz brigades, receiving a food ration (which they were expected to supplement by growing vegetables and keeping pigs and chickens on their private garden plots) and payment in cash once or twice a year. The money they received was pitifully small.

The collective farms were forced to sell their surplus to the state through compulsory 'contracts' that kept prices very low. Kolkhoz managers reduced running costs to meet the output targets upon which state credits for machinery depended. Tied to the land and exploited by the kolkhoz managers and officials, the peasants thought of collectivization as a 'second serfdom'.

For the first years the collective farms were a dismal failure. Few had tractors to replace the horses slaughtered by the peasantry (human draught was used). They were badly run by managers appointed for their loyalty to the Party rather than their expertise. But Stalin's aims had been achieved: the independent peasantry has been eliminated as a source of potential opposition; and the regime had got its hands on all the agricultural surpluses to invest in industry.

The harvests of 1931 and 1932 were very bad. Yet state procurements remained high - twice the level they had been in the bumper years of 1929 and 1930 - because of exaggerated harvest figures submitted by officials eager to win favour from Moscow. The result was widespread famine, starting in the spring of 1932. The number of deaths is impossible to calculate, but demographers suggest that between 4.6 million and 8.5 million people died of starvation or disease between 1930 and 1933.

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