Grain Crisis of 1928

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The Grain Crisis of 1928 was economic and political in nature and was a turning point in the Soviet regime's policy toward the peasantry, a preview of Josef Stalin's harsh methods of collectivization. Ten years after the Revolution, agriculture was still based on individual farming, with peasants cultivating more than ninety-seven percent of the land and selling their product to the state at set procurement prices in order to meet their tax obligations. The most important product was grain, and the system of state procurement supplied grain to feed the cities and the military, and for export. Under the New Economic Policy (NEP), the existence of a free market for agricultural products helped keep procurement prices competitive. Most peasants were at or near the subsistence level. A small number of richer peasants (the so-called kulaks) supplied most of the grain sold on the free market. Prices for industrial products produced by the state sector were kept relatively high in order to accumulate capital. In December 1927, the Fifteenth Party Congress of the Communist Party endorsed the idea of planned economic development, requiring the state to accumulate even more capital from domestic sources, principally the peasantry, while maintaining exports. Grain procurement prices were lowered in order to keep state expenditures down. A war scare in 1927 led people to hoard food.

Within this context, the grain crisis began to take shape toward the end of 1927. Although it was an average harvest, grain procurements fell precipitously at the end of the year; in November and December of 1927, procurements were about half of what they had been during the same months of the previous year. The problem was especially acute in Siberia, the Volga, and the Urals, even though the harvest had been good in these areas. Richer peasants withheld grain from the market, waiting for prices to rise. Peasants also switched from producing grain to other agricultural commodities. For example, in the Urals, while peasant grain sales to the state declined by a third, the sale of meat rose by fifty percent, egg sales doubled, and bacon sales went up four times.

Stalin insisted that the kulaks were withholding grain from the market to sabotage the regime, creating as much a political problem as an economic problem. He argued that the class struggle was intensifying. In January 1928 he visited the Urals and West Siberia and called for a series of emergency measures to extract grain from the recalcitrant peasantry. In direct opposition to the views of Nikolai Bukharin and other moderates in the Politburo, quotas for compulsory grain deliveries were imposed on kulaks and also on middle peasants. Peasants responded by decreasing grain production during 1928, but this simply intensified the crisis. For the year October 1927October 1928, grain procurements fell by fourteen percent relative to the same period a year earlier, although the harvest was down by only seven to eight percent.

The grain crisis of 1928 was a critical turning point in Soviet economic and political history. Applying compulsion to the peasants rather than using economic incentives meant that NEP was dead. Most significantly, the events of 1928 showed that Stalin saw the peasantry as the enemy and established the context of a warlike crisis that would justify violence. The outlines of the harsh collectivization drive were already visible.

See also: collectivization of agriculture; kulaks; new economic policy


Nove, Alec. (1969). An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. London: Allen Lane.

Tucker, Robert. (1990). Stalin in Power. New York: Norton.

Carol Gayle

William Moskoff