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Lynne Viola

The collectivization of agriculture was a central feature of twentieth-century (mainly) marxist regimes in countries ranging from Eastern Europe to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Although Marx never fully or explicitly envisioned collectivization, marxist regimes deemed collectivized agriculture an essential condition of socialism following the example set by the Soviet Union in its collectivization drive of the First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932). Collectivization proved to be a transformative experience for many regimes and their people, resulting in violence, repression, population dislocation, and food shortages, while simultaneously increasing the political rigidity of administrative controls in the countryside.

The aim of collectivization was to create a large-scale socialized agricultural economy, based on modern techniques of agronomy and animal husbandry and organized into state and collective farms. While state farms were to replicate the conditions of nationalized industry with state ownership and a salaried rural workforce, collective farms were to be profit-sharing organizations, in which farmers tilled the land collectively and governed and managed the farm through a collective farm assembly and elected officers. Collectivization was meant to transform the rural sector, replacing communal forms of peasant land tenure and small, private farms, as well as ridding the countryside of a rural bourgeoisie, capitalism, and the market.

The idea of collectivization was founded upon ideological, economic, and political factors. The tenets of Marxism-Leninism judged collectivization to be not only a more just and rational economic system than capitalist modes of farming based on market forces, but also presumed collectivization to be the logical outcome of the progressive dynamics of class forces in the countryside. Marxist-Leninists grafted urban concepts of class and class struggle onto the peasantry in what was, at best, an awkward fit. They divided the peasantry into poor peasants and rural proletarians (the natural allies of the working class), middle peasants (a large and politically wavering intermediate stratum sharing features common to both proletariat and bourgeoisie), and kulaks (a rural bourgeoisie with social and economic power disproportionate to its relatively small numbers). They assumed that poor peasants and agricultural laborers would rally to the side of the collective farm on the basis of their class interests, swaying the middle peasant to their side and defeating the kulak in the process. In practice, peasants rarely performed according to class principles, instead uniting together in defense of common interests—subsistence, ways of life, and belief—threatened by the theory and practice of collectivization. The poor peasant in most cases failed to come to the aid of the working class (in the concrete form of mobilized urban Communists and factory workers who implemented collectivization), and the regime's inability to provide a clear and consistent definition of the kulak most often meant that politics rather than social or economic status determined who was classified as a kulak.

Collectivization was viewed as an essential ingredient in the "construction" of socialism. In the Soviet Union and elsewhere, socialist construction meant not only the eradication of rural capitalism, but also the industrialization and modernization of the country. The collectivization of agriculture would facilitate the control and transfer of economic resources from the rural to the heavy industrial sector in a process the Soviet Communist theorist E. A. Preobrazhensky labeled in the 1920s "primitive socialist accumulation." By increasing grain production and mechanizing agriculture, collectivization was expected to free up capital and labor for industry, and food resources for a growing urban industrial workforce. And although most historians agree that collectivization did not pay for industrialization, at least in the short-term, it is clear that this expectation was an important motivation behind collectivization, particularly in conditions of economic isolation.

Finally, collectivization was a central aspect of state building, as regimes sought to expand political and administrative controls to the countryside, where in the Soviet Union and most of Eastern Europe (with the exception of Czechoslovakia) the majority of the population lived. The peasant commune and scattered, small private farms represented semiautonomous loci of power. Through the mobilization of urban forces, an expansion in rural party membership, and the creation of new, Soviet organs of power (the state farm, collective farm, machine-tractor stations, and so forth), the Communist Party endeavored to offset its relatively weak base of power in the countryside. Auxiliary policies aimed against religion and the kulak sought to eliminate the alternative power centers of the church and local authority figures.

In reality, the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the countries of Eastern Europe after World War II faced a largely resistant peasantry and smallholding farming population, uninterested in collectivized agriculture and generally impervious to marxist class principles. Collectivization consequently was a top-down, state-initiated transformation based on coercion and the mobilization of outside forces and animated by a fiercely urban bias and antipeasant prejudice. While collectivization in Eastern Europe generally occurred with less violence, and in some cases more in the breach, collectivization in the Soviet Union represented an upheaval of cataclysmic proportions.


The peasantry presented the Communist Party of the Soviet Union with the most formidable challenge of the revolution. Communist definitions generally sought to explain away the peasantry, to see it as a transitional class that would disappear with the advent of socialism. Communists expected the peasantry to dissolve into the working class—as indeed had been the case elsewhere in Europe—as the industrialization of the country expanded and siphoned off labor from the countryside. Until that time, however, the peasantry represented a glaring social, economic, and political contradiction to the premise and reality of the revolution.

Soviet power was based upon a "dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry." In 1917, when the Bolsheviks championed peasant revolutionary goals as their own, V. I. Lenin claimed that "there is no radical divergence of interests between the wage-workers and the working and exploited peasantry. Socialism is fully able to meet the interests of both" (Lenin, vol. 35, p. 102). In fact, the dictatorship, and the "alliance" it derived from, combined mutually irreconcilable aims and quickly broke apart in conflict. It could not have been otherwise given the contradictory nature of the October Revolution, a "working-class revolution" in an agrarian nation in which the industrial proletariat accounted for little more than 3 percent of the population, while the peasantry constituted no less than 85 percent. In fact, there were actually two revolutions in 1917—an urban, socialist revolution, and a rural, bourgeois or antimanorial revolution. The two revolutions represented different and ultimately antithetical goals. Following its forced expropriation and partition of the nobility's lands in 1917, the peasantry desired no more than the right to be left alone: to prosper as farmers and to dispose of their produce as they saw fit. Although some peasants may have shared the socialist aims of the towns, most were averse to principles of socialist collectivism.

The 1917 Revolution had the unintended consequence of reinforcing many aspects of peasant culture and, specifically, a number of important features underlying and strengthening community cohesion. Although human and material losses from years of war and the famine that followed in the wake of the Russian Civil War (1918–1920) took a tremendous toll on the peasantry, the revolution, in combination with this time of troubles, had the effect of revitalizing the peasant community. Peasants engaged in massive social leveling during the revolution and civil war. The percentages of poor peasants fell from a prerevolutionary level of some 65 percent to around 25 percent by the mid-1920s, while the proportion of wealthy peasants declined from roughly 15 percent (depending on calculation) to about 3 percent in the same time span. The middle peasant became the dominant figure in Soviet agriculture as a result of wartime losses; social revolution and redivision of wealth; and the return, often forced, of large numbers of peasants who had quit the commune to establish individual farmsteads in the prewar Stolypin agrarian reforms, Prime Minister Petr Stolypin's post-1905 "wager on the strong," whereby the tsarist government endeavored to weaken communal land tenure by encouraging individual, hereditary forms of land ownership and the emergence of a stratum of strong, individual farmers in order to create a conservative base of support for the regime in the countryside.

Socioeconomic differentiation remained fairly stable through the 1920s, showing only very slight increases at the extremes. Leveling reinforced village homogeneity and cohesion while strengthening the position of the middle peasant. The kulak never regained his prerevolutionary economic status or social standing in the village and was by no means the dangerous counterrevolutionary described in the Stalinist rhetoric of the collectivization era. The commune itself was bolstered as most of the individual proprietors among the peasants (many of whom had benefited from the Stolypin reforms after 1905) returned to communal land tenure, which constituted approximately 95 percent of all forms of land tenure in the mid-1920s, thereby standardizing the peasant economy. And although peasant households splintered as the liberating effects of the revolution encouraged and enabled peasants' sons to free themselves from the authority of the patriarchal household, most peasants, especially women and the weaker members of the community, clung all the more tenaciously to customary and conservative notions of household, family, marriage, and belief in order to survive the crisis of the times. While the revolution no doubt dislodged and altered significant aspects of peasant lives, historians increasingly believe that the basic structures and institutions of the village demonstrated considerable continuity over the revolutionary divide, in many cases becoming stronger as a defensive bulwark against economic hardship and the destructive incursions of warring governments and armies.

The strengthening of homogeneity and the endurance of peasant culture in the 1920s should not imply that the peasantry was a static, unchanging rustic fixture. Profound processes of change had long been at work in the countryside, accelerating in particular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Alternative patterns of socialization appeared at this time as peasant-workers and soldiers returned permanently or on visits to their home villages. Urban patterns of taste and, to a lesser extent, consumption also began to make an appearance in rural Russia as personal contacts between town and countryside became more common. A market economy made inroads into the prerevolutionary countryside, altering the economy of the peasant household as well as the internal social dynamics of the commune. Family size declined as extended families slowly began to give way to nuclear families, and marriages began to be based less exclusively on parents' choice. Peasant culture did not stagnate, but evolved over time, absorbing change and pragmatically adapting what was of use. Fundamental structures and institutions of peasant community persisted, demonstrating the durability and adaptability of the peasantry as a culture.

Similar patterns of change persisted into the Soviet period, coexisting, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not, with the prevailing patterns of peasant and community relations and dynamics. Although many interactions between village and town were disrupted during the revolution and civil war, the town and state continued to have an enormous impact on the countryside. Tens of thousands of peasant-workers returned to the village during the civil war, bringing with them new ways and practices not always in line with those of the community. A vast number of peasants served in the army during the world war and civil war, and they, too, returned with new ideas, sometimes at odds with their neighbors. From some of these groups emerged the village's first Communists and members of the Young Communist League (Komsomol). The Communist Party, in the meantime, although in practice generally neglectful of the countryside through most of the 1920s and preoccupied with industrial and internal party politics, was, in theory, committed to remaking the peasantry, to eliminating it as an antiquated socioeconomic category in an accelerated depeasantization that would transform peasant into proletarian. The party, the Komsomol, peasant-workers home on leave, groups of poor peasants, and Red Army veterans all became dimly lit beacons of Communist sensibility in the village. Efforts at socialization and indoctrination occurred in periodic antireligious campaigns, literacy campaigns, election campaigns, campaigns to recruit party and Komsomol members, campaigns to organize poor peasants or women, and so on, as the state attempted to build bridges into the countryside in the 1920s. The state succeeded in establishing pockets of support in the village, which would serve not only as agents of change but also as new sources of cleavage and village disjunction as new political identities emerged and interacted within the peasant community.

Collectivization was to destroy most of these "cultural bridges," leaving what remained of the state's small contingent of supporters entrenched against a hostile community. Most of the natural cleavages and fault lines that crisscrossed the village in ordinary times receded into latency during collectivization as the community found itself united against a common and, by this time, deadly foe. During collectivization, the peasantry acted as a class in much the way Teodor Shanin has defined class for peasantry in Peasants and Peasant Societies: "That is, as a social entity with a community of economic interests, its identity shaped by conflict with other classes and expressed in typical patterns of cognition and political consciousness, however rudimentary, which made it capable of collective action reflecting its interests" (p. 329). The era of the New Economic Policy (NEP), a relative golden age for the peasantry, came to an abrupt end with the collectivization of Soviet agriculture.

Collectivization encapsulated the original fault lines of the revolution, between a minority class in whose name the Communists professed to rule and the majority peasantry whose very reality appeared to block the revolution. Stalin's collectivization was an attempt to eliminate the fault line, to solve the accursed peasant problem by force, to create a socialist society and economy from above. It was a campaign of domination that aimed at nothing less than the internal colonization of the peasantry. Collectivization was intended to ensure a steady flow of grain to the state to feed the nation and to pay for industrialization. It was also intended to enable Soviet power to subjugate the peasantry through the imposition of administrative and political controls and forced acculturation into the dominant culture.


In November 1929, Stalin proclaimed that the middle peasant had begun to flock to the collective farms. In fact, collectivization had increased dramatically by this time, surpassing the relatively modest rates projected for the socialized sector of agriculture after the Fifteenth Party Congress of December 1927 placed collectivization on the immediate agenda. At the Sixteenth Party Conference in April 1929, in its First Five-Year Plan on agriculture, the central committee of the Communist Party had projected the collectivization of 9.6 percent of the peasant population in the 1932–1933 economic year, and 13.6 percent (or approximately 3.7 million households) in 1933–1934. These projections were revised upward in the late summer and fall of 1929, when first Gosplan (the state planning commission) called for the collectivization of 2.5 million peasant households in the course of 1929–1930, and then Kolkhoztsentr (the central agency at the head of collective-farm administration) resolved that 3.1 million peasant households would be incorporated into collective farms by the end of 1929–1930 (Davies, The Socialist Offensive, pp. 112, 147).

In actuality, by 1 June 1928, 1.7 percent of peasant households were in collective farms; and between 1 June and 1 October 1929, alone, percentages rose from 3.9 to 7.5. The increase was especially marked in major grain-producing regions. The Lower Volga and North Caucasus surpassed all other regions with percentages of collectivized peasant households reaching 18.1 and 19.1, respectively, in October (Davies, The Socialist Offensive, p. 442). The high rates achieved in the regional collectivization campaigns lay behind Stalin's statement that the middle peasantry was entering collective farms. By arguing that the middle peasant was turning voluntarily to socialized agriculture, Stalin was claiming that the majority of the peasantry was ready for collectivization. In reality, it was mainly poor peasants who were joining collectives. And, although there was apparently some genuine enthusiasm "from below," the regional campaigns had already begun to resort to coercion to achieve their high percentages.

Even at this stage, collectivization was largely imposed "from above." Orchestrated and led by the regional party organizations, with implicit or explicit sanction from Moscow, district-level officials and urban Communists and workers brought collectivization to the countryside. A volatile antipeasant mood in the cities—especially among rank-and-file Communists and industrial workers and based on bread shortages, continuing news of "kulak sabotage," and long-simmering urban-rural antipathies—infected these cadres and other, newer recruits from urban centers. This combination of official endorsement, regional initiative and direction, and unrestrained action on the part of lower-level cadres intertwined to create a radical momentum of ever-accelerating collectivization tempos. The "success" of the regional campaigns then provided the necessary impetus for Moscow to push up collectivization rates even higher in what became a deadly and continual tug-of-war between center and periphery as reality exceeded plan, and plans were continually revised to register, keep pace with, and push forward collectivization tempos.

The Politburo commission, December 1929. The November 1929 Communist Party plenum formally ratified the policy of wholesale collectivization, leaving the specifics of policy implementation to a Politburo commission that would meet the next month. The commission called for the completion of collectivization in major grain-producing regions in one to two years; in other grain regions, two to three years; and in the most important grain deficit regions, three to four years. The commission also resolved that an intermediate form of collective farm, the artel—a cooperative that featured the socialization of land, labor, draft animals, and basic inventory—would be the standard, and that private ownership of domestic livestock needed for consumption would be maintained. Any movement to extend socialization of peasant properties beyond the artel would depend on the peasantry's experience and "the growth of its confidence in the stability, benefits, and advantages" of collective farming. The kulak faced expropriation of his means of production (which would then be transferred to the collective farms) and resettlement or exile. The subcommittee on the kulak recommended a differentiated approach to the elimination of the kulak as a class. Finally, the commission warned against any attempt either to restrain collectivization or to collectivize "by decree."

The Politburo commission published its legislation on 5 January 1930. The legislation stipulated that the Lower Volga, Central Volga, and North Caucasus were to complete collectivization by fall 1930, spring 1931 at the latest; all remaining grain regions were to complete collectivization by fall 1931, spring 1932 at the latest, thus accelerating yet again the pace of the campaign. No mention was made of remaining areas. The legislation also specified that the artel would be the main form of collective farm, leaving out any particulars from the commission's work. Stalin had personally intervened on this issue, ordering the editing out of "details" on the artel, which should, he argued, more appropriately be left to the jurisdiction of the Commissariat of Agriculture. The kulak would be "eliminated as a class," as Stalin had already noted in his 27 December 1929 speech at the Conference of Marxist Agronomists, and excluded from entry into the collective farms. Stalin and other maximalists in the leadership were responsible for radicalizing further an already radical set of guidelines by revising the work of the December commission, keeping the legislation vague, and including only very weak warnings against violence.

By the time this legislation was published, collectivization percentages in the Soviet Union had leaped from 7.5 in October to 18.1 on 1 January 1930, with even higher rates in major grain regions (Lower Volga, 56–70 percent; Central Volga, 41.7 percent; North Caucasus, 48.1 percent). Through the month of January, reality continued to outpace planning. By 1 February 1930, 31.7 percent of all households were in collective farms, with rates still higher in individual regions (Moscow, 37.1 percent; Central Black Earth Region, 51 percent; Ural, 52.1 percent; Central Volga, 51.8 percent; Lower Volga, 61.1 percent; North Caucasus, 62.7 percent; see Davies, The Socialist Offensive, pp. 442–443).

Dekulakization. Dekulakization—the elimination of the kulak as a class—had also spread far and wide through the country as regional party organizations enacted their own legislation and issued their own directives in advance and in anticipation of Moscow. A Politburo commission led by V. M. Molotov, Politburo member and Stalin's right-hand man, met from 15 to 26 January in an effort to draw up central legislation on dekulakization. Like collectivization, dekulakization had gone far beyond the initial plans of the December Politburo commission by now, in what had become a melee of violence and plunder. The term "kulak" was defined broadly to include not only kulaks (an ambiguous term to start with) but (using the parlance of the day) active white guards, former bandits, former white officers, repatriated peasants, active members of church councils and sects, priests, and anyone "currently manifesting c[ounter]-r[evolutionary] activities." Following the policy recommendations of December, the commission divided kulaks into three categories: counterrevolutionaries, those refusing to submit to collectivization, and the remainder. The first, most dangerous category was limited to some 60,000 heads of households who faced execution or internment in concentration camps, while their families were expropriated of their properties and all but the most essential items and were sent into exile in remote parts of the country. The second category—primarily the richest kulaks, large-scale kulaks, and former semilandowners—was limited to 150,000 families; deemed somewhat less dangerous but still a threat, they also faced expropriation and exile to remote regions. The main points of exile for these two categories were the Northern Region (scheduled to receive 70,000 families), Siberia (50,000 families), the Urals (20–25,000 families), and Kazakhstan (20–25,000 families). The third category, well over one-half million families, was to be subjected to partial expropriation of properties and resettlement within their native districts. Overall numbers of dekulakized peasants were not to exceed 3 to 5 percent of the population. The OGPU (the political police) was charged with the implementation of arrests and deportations. The operation was to be completed in four months. District soviets, in combination with village soviets, poor peasants, and collective farmers, were responsible for drawing up lists of kulaks and carrying out expropriations.

Collectivization and dekulakization had long since jumped the rails of central control. Brigades of collectivizers with plenipotentiary powers toured the countryside, stopping briefly in villages where, often with guns in hands, they forced peasants, under threat of dekulakization, to sign up to join the collective farm. Intimidation, harassment, and even torture were used to exact signatures. Collectivization rates continued to rise through February, reaching 57.2 percent by 1 March, and the hideously unreal regional percentages of 74.2 in Moscow Region, 83.3 in the Central Black Earth Region, 75.6 in the Urals, 60.3 in Central Volga, 70.1 in Lower Volga, and 79.4 in North Caucasus (Davies, The Socialist Offensive, pp. 442–443). The high percentages belied the fact that most collective farms at this time were "paper collectives," attained in the "race for percentages" held among regional and district party organizations. Collectivization often amounted to little more than a collective farm charter and chairman, the socialization of livestock (which might remain in former owners' possession until appropriate collective space was provided), and the terror of dekulakization.

Dekulakization was no fiction. Although deportations often did not begin until later, peasants labeled as kulaks found themselves evicted from their homes or forced to exchange homes with poor peasants; fleeced of their belongings, often including household items, trinkets, and clothes; and shamed, insulted, and injured before the community. Dekulakization was sometimes carried out "conspiratorially," in the dead of night, as cadres banged on doors and windows, terrorizing families who were forced out onto the street, half-dressed. Often, everything was taken from these families, including children's underwear and earrings from women's ears. In the Central Black Earth Region, a county-level official told cadres to "dekulakize in such a way that only the ceiling beams and walls are left."

The countryside was engulfed in what peasants called a Bartholomew's night massacre. As state repression increased, peasant violence increased, and as peasant violence increased, state violence increased, leading to a seemingly never-ending crescendo of arrests, pillage, beatings, and rage. The crescendo came to an abrupt halt, however, when, on 2 March 1930, Stalin published his article "Dizziness from Success," which blamed the outrages on the lower-level cadres—who were indeed dizzy from success—but failed to admit any central responsibility. Soon collectivization percentages began to tumble as peasants appropriated Stalin's name in their struggle against the cadres of collectivization. Peasants quit the collective farms in droves, driving down percentages of collectivized households from 57.2 in March to 38.6 in April, 28 in May, and further downward until hitting a low of 21.5 in September. The decline in regional rates was equally drastic. Between 1 March and 1 May, percentages of collectivized households fell in Moscow Region from 74.2 to 7.5; in the Central Black Earth Region, from 83.3 to 18.2; in the Urals, from 75.6 to 31.9; in the Lower Volga, from 70.1 to 41.4; in the Central Volga, from 60.3 to 30.1; and in the North Caucasus, from 79.4 to 63.2 (Davies, The Socialist Offensive, pp. 442–443).

Collectivization resumed in the fall of 1930 at a slightly less breakneck speed. The major grain-producing regions attained complete collectivization by the end of the First Five-Year Plan in 1932; other regions climbed more gradually to that goal, generally reaching it by the end of the 1930s. In the meantime, over one million peasant families (five to six million people) were subjected to some form of dekulakization during the years of wholesale collectivization. Of these, some 381,026 families (totaling 1,803,392 people) were exiled in 1930 and 1931, the two key years of deportation. The deportations were perhaps one of the most horrendous episodes in a decade marked by horror and, through the vast expansion of the use of internal exile, the concentration camp system, and the political police, helped to establish the foundations for the Stalinist police state.


Collectivization posed a profound threat to the peasant way of life. Peasants of every social strata responded to this threat by uniting in defense of their families, beliefs, communities, and livelihood, and overcoming their ordinary and multiple differences. In 1930, more than two million peasants took part in 13,794 mass disturbances against Communist Party policies. In 1929 and 1930, the OGPU recorded 22,887 "terrorist acts" aimed at local officials and peasant activists, more than 1,100 of them murders (Viola, 1996, pp. 103, 105, 110, 112, 140). Peasant resistance was rooted in peasant culture rather than in any specific social stratum and was shaped by an agency and political consciousness that derived from reasoned concerns centered largely on issues of justice and subsistence, and supplemented by retribution, anger, and desperation. The peasant rebellion against collectivization was the most serious episode of popular resistance experienced by the Communist Party after the Russian Civil War.

In the end, peasant rebels were no match for the vast police powers of the state, and, like most other peasant rebellions, this one was destined to fail. The main element in the peasantry's defeat was state repression. Millions of peasants were arrested, imprisoned, deported, or executed in the years of collectivization. The state dismantled existing authority structures in the village, removing and replacing traditional elites. The devastating famine of 1932–1933, caused by collectivization and the state's inhumanly high grain requisitions, complemented state repression, first robbing peasants of their grain and then depriving perhaps as many as five million people of their lives as starvation and disease took their toll. Repression and a one-sided war of attrition effectively silenced peasant rebels.

Yet repression alone could not and did not end peasant resistance; nor could it have served as the only mechanism of control in the long term. For reasons of sheer necessity, the state largely gave up its revolutionary aspirations in the countryside after collectivization, choosing, pragmatically and cynically, to exert its domination over the peasantry through the control of vital resources, most especially grain. The peasant household continued to be the mainstay of the peasant—if not collective farm—economy, and homes, domestic livestock, barns, sheds, and household necessities were deemed peasants' private property. The private plot and a limited collective farm market remained alongside socialized agriculture to guarantee a minimum subsistence for collective farmers and to supplement the nation's consumer needs. Peasants were co-opted into positions of authority, and in the decades following the death of Stalin, the state gradually extended more of its admittedly paltry benefits from the urban to the rural sector. The Soviet agricultural system became a hybrid system, based on peasant private plots and collective farms, all in the service of the state, but offering the peasantry something in the exchange.

In the long term, the social by-products of industrialization and urbanization proved as efficacious in securing peasant acquiescence as the brute force of the state. Continued outmigration and permanent resettlement in cities of males and young people spread extended families between town and village, bringing peasant culture to the town and fixing in place urban bridges to the village more firmly than ever before. Education, military service, and improved transportation and communications facilitated a certain degree of sovietization in the countryside, or, at the very least, some homogenization across the urban divide.

The Stalinist state and the collective farm system triumphed in the end, but their triumph did not spell the end of peasant culture. The peasantry re-emerged, not unchanged to be sure, from within socialized agriculture. Passive resistance and other "weapons of the weak" became endemic mechanisms of coping and survival for the peasantry within the collective farm. Agriculture stagnated, becoming the Achilles' heel of the Soviet economy, a ceaseless reminder of the ironies of the "proletarian revolution" in peasant Russia. Like the peasant commune before it, the collective farm became a bulwark against change and as much a subsistence shelter for peasants as a control mechanism for the state. Over time, the collective farm became the quintessential risk-aversion guarantor that peasants had always sought. Socioeconomic leveling, a basic and insured subsistence, and some degree of cultural independence, demographic isolation, and feminization of the village maintained and even strengthened aspects of village culture.

To the extent that it was possible, peasants made the collective farm their own. State attempts at decollectivization after 1991 provide ample evidence for this. Decollectivization was blocked by a peasantry grown accustomed to the collective farm. This seeming intransigence was less the result of backwardness, or a "serf mentality," as some interpreters see it, than a simple continuity of peasant needs, values, and ways of living. Decollectivization, moreover, demonstrated continuity with earlier state efforts to remold the peasantry. Its implementation was top down, based on some measure of force (although nothing like that of collectivization), and relied counterproductively on a tradition-bound equalization of small land parcels in cases of privatization, revealing all the usual elements of the cultural manipulation and imperialism of state modernization. Peasants in post-Communist Russia and other former Soviet republics have responded to decollectivization with skepticism and hostility, having molded the collective farm at least partially to their own needs.


Collectivization in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe (defined here as the former German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Albania) followed similar patterns to Soviet collectivization. Following occupation by Soviet military forces at the end of World War II, these countries were subject to a process of sovietization, which, in the years before the death of Stalin in 1953, was tantamount to Stalinization. Political repression, the nationalization of industry, and the beginnings of agricultural collectivization were carried out in the years between 1948 and 1953. As in the Soviet Union, collectivization was a state-directed policy and met with little or no support from the peasantry. Collectivization in Eastern Europe also entailed the elimination of a rural bourgeoisie, leading to national policies of dekulakization. By 1953, collectivization in most of Eastern Europe had only been partially implemented. The brief "thaw" in policy following the death of Stalin meant in most cases a respite for the peasantry and a temporary halt in collectivization. The second stage of collectivization came in the late 1950s, with the result that collectivization was completed throughout Eastern Europe by 1962, with the notable exceptions of Poland and Yugoslavia, which did not experience a second collectivization drive and had largely abandoned collectivization after the initial drive of the late Stalin period.

The motivations behind collectivization were fairly uniform through Eastern Europe. Following Soviet patterns of ideology and economic and political development, Eastern European collectivization was based on theories of rural class struggle, the idea of "primitive socialist accumulation," and the extension of political and administrative controls to the countryside. Most important, Eastern European collectivization came with Soviet hegemony, as an imported by-product of military occupation and sovietization.

Eastern European collectivization exhibited patterns of national variation. While the initial collectivization drive in Poland was relatively moderate, collectivization in Bulgaria, for example, was brutal and much closer in style to the Soviet drive of 1930. And in spite of initial collectivization campaigns, private agriculture continued to dominate the rural economies of Poland and Yugoslavia. In Hungary the policies of the New Economic Mechanism after 1968 gradually introduced market forces into the socialized agricultural economy, diminishing the intensity of collectivization. And, as in the case of the Soviet Union, a private sector based on the household economies of collective farmers played an important role in both collective farmers' income and the nation's consumer needs throughout Eastern Europe.

Peasants often resisted collectivization in Eastern Europe. Although peasants and farmers sometimes offered active forms of resistance to collectivization, the more widespread and long-term reaction of the rural population to socialized agriculture was passive resistance in the form of foot-dragging, pilfering, and the like. Eastern Europe also experienced patterns of demographic change similar to the Soviet Union, with population movement between rural and urban sectors.

After 1989, with perestroika and the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, policies of decollectivization and property restitution were initiated in much of Eastern Europe. These policies were not entirely successful. In most cases, reform policies were hastily constructed and implemented in the more general context of a complex economic restructuring of the system entailing myriad economic problems and disruptions. In general, where collectivization was most entrenched (Bulgaria, Romania, Albania), decollectivization was most problematic. As of the late 1990s, decollectivization was a continuing process, necessitating new policies, new legislation, and the rewriting of legal codes.

See alsoPeasants and Rural Laborers (volume 3); and other articles in this section.


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Fainsod, Merle. Smolensk under Soviet Rule. Cambridge, Mass., 1958.

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Lewin, Moshe. Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization. Translated by Irene Nove. New York, 1975.

Medvedev, Zhores A. Soviet Agriculture. New York, 1987.

Millar, James R., and Alec Nove. "A Debate on Collectivization: Was Stalin Really Necessary?" Problems of Communism 25 (1976): 49–62.

Pryor, Frederic L. The Red and the Green: The Rise and Fall of Collectivized Agriculture in Marxist Regimes. Princeton, N.J., 1992.

Rakowska-Harmstone, Teresa, and Andrew Gyorgy, eds. Communism in EasternEurope. Bloomington, Ind., 1979.

Shanin, Teodor, ed. Peasants and Peasant Societies. 2d ed. Oxford, 1987.

Sokolovsky, Joan. Peasants and Power: State Autonomy and the Collectivization ofAgriculture in Eastern Europe. Boulder, Colo., 1990.

Swain, Nigel. Collective Farms Which Work? Cambridge, U.K., 1985.

Turnock, David, ed. Privatization in Rural Eastern Europe: The Process of Restitution and Restructuring. Cheltenham, U.K., 1998.

Viola, Lynne. The Best Sons of the Fatherland: Workers in the Vanguard of SovietCollectivization. Oxford and New York, 1987.

Viola, Lynne. Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of PeasantResistance. Oxford and New York, 1996.


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The collectivization of Soviet agriculture accompanied rapid industrialization during Joseph Stalin's First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932). Collectivization was meant to create a large-scale socialized agricultural economy based on state and collective farms. While state farms were to replicate nationalized industry with state ownership and the employment of a salaried workforce, collective farms were to be profit-sharing organizations, in which farmers tilled and managed the land collectively. Collectivization was intended to radically transform the rural sector, displacing communal forms of peasant land tenure as well as ridding the countryside of a rural bourgeoisie (the "kulaks"), capitalism, and the market.

The Communist Party viewed collectivization as a solution to agrarian backwardness and the industrial development of the nation. By the late 1920s, when the state turned toward forced industrialization, the peasantry (some 85 percent of the population) had emerged as a key economic resource to be tapped for the capital funding of industrialization by way of taxation, grain levies for export, and labor (voluntary and forced) for industry and the extraction of raw materials. The collective farm was to be a control mechanism for the economic exploitation of the peasantry.

Through collectivization, the state also sought hegemony over the countryside and the eradication of the peasantry as a semiautonomous cultural entity. Collectivization therefore entailed not only the creation of collective farms and the taking of grain, but also the implementation of a series of ancillary policies that aimed to destroy peasant self-government, to curtail and control the peasant market, to suppress religion, and to remove all sources of traditional village leadership and authority by way of the so-called liquidation of the kulaks as a class. Dekulakization, as it was known, was an endeavor to decapitate village authority structures and to remove undesirable elements in order to break down village cohesion and minimize peasant resistance.

Implemented in the midst of the crisis atmosphere of the late 1920s, collectivization was imposed with brute force, largely by workers and urban communists mobilized for work in the countryside. Based on a Marxist-Leninist reading of the rural community, the Communist Party attempted to divide the village by exploiting social tensions and cleavages; it failed, however, to understand the strength and cohesion of what was largely a pre-capitalist, communal peasantry. This ideological misreading, along with counterproductive policies against religion and the kulaks and the use of outside forces to implement collectivization, served to unite the peasantry against the state. In 1930 peasants fought collectivization in a wave of resistance that included close to fourteen thousand mass disturbances (mostly riots) encompassing as many as two million participants and over one thousand murders of and just under six thousand assaults against rural officials and peasant activists. In the end, peasant resistance was no match for the superior forces of the state. Collectivization would be largely completed by the end of the First Five-Year Plan.


The policy of dekulakization was auxiliary to collectivization. Local activists employed dekulakization to intimidate peasants into joining collective farms (lest they be subject to the fate of the kulak) and to halt the flight of peasants seeking to escape repression and leave for the cities. In all, in 1930 as many as 337,563 peasant families were subject to some form of dekulakization. Kulaks were divided into three categories. The first category, consisting of supposed "counterrevolutionary kulak activists," was to be quickly liquidated by way of the incarceration of heads of households in concentration camps or, when deemed necessary, execution. Their families were subject to property confiscation and internal exile. The second category was made up of the remaining elements among the "kulak activists," especially the wealthiest kulaks; following property expropriations, they and their families were to be exiled to distant parts of the Soviet Union beyond or within their native regions. Those in the third category were subject to property expropriation and left largely in place, but were not allowed to join collective farms.

Repression in fact was not limited to the largely mythical rural bourgeoisie, but instead struck all manner of peasant and nonpeasant in the village, including poor and middle-class peasants, the families of Red Army soldiers and industrial workers, members of the rural intelligentsia (i.e., teachers, agronomists, doctors), people with ties to the old regime or anticommunist political parties, and, in general, anyone who dared to criticize or object. The total number of kulaks deported in 1930 and 1931 ranges from 356,544 families (1,679,528 people) to 381,026 families (1,803,392 people). These figures do not include those peasants designated as third-category kulaks, nor those who fled the countryside. If one includes the smaller exiles of 1932 and 1933, the total number of people exiled would surpass two million. The major regions of exile were the remote hinterlands of the Urals (128,233 families), Western Siberia (69,950 families), the Northern Region (58,271 families), Kazakhstan (50,879 families), and Eastern Siberia (26,555 families). Once there, deported peasant families built and lived in "special settlements" (spetsposelenie, later trudposelenie) administered by the secret police and gulag. Death rates through the first half of the 1930s were massive, in the hundreds of thousands, as a result of famine and disease. Employed in forestry, mining, fishing, and other industries, the special settlers became forced laborers for the extraction of the Soviet Union's natural resources so crucial for industrialization and hard-currency-earning exports. They were forbidden to return home until 1954 and officially "rehabilitated" only in the early 1990s.


The short-term consequences of collectivization included a huge influx of peasants into the labor force, massive social fluidity, and the disruption of agriculture on a scale that led to a major famine in 1932 and 1933. The Stalinist state and the collective farm system triumphed in the end, but their triumph did not spell the end of the peasantry. Passive resistance and other weapons of the weak became endemic mechanisms of coping and survival for the peasantry within the collective farm. Agriculture stagnated, becoming the Achilles' heel of the Soviet economy, weakened by low productivity, poor management, massive peasant indifference, and official neglect. Like the peasant commune before it, the collective farm became a bulwark against change, as much a subsistence shelter for peasants as a control mechanism for the state. Over time, the collective farm became the quintessential risk-aversion guarantor that peasants had always sought. Socioeconomic leveling, a basis subsistence, and some degree of cultural independence, demographic isolation, and feminization of the village maintained and even strengthened certain aspects of village culture and tradition. The constant and historic insecurity of peasant life ironically bonded the peasant to the collective farm. State attempts at decollectivization, after the fall of the Soviet Union, were resisted and blocked by a peasantry grown accustomed to the collective farm.


The classic Soviet historiographical view proclaimed collectivization to be a "revolution from above with support from below." This view derived largely from Stalin's own pronouncements concerning collectivization in official party histories. This view was first challenged within the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev years (1953–1964), when a series of historians suggested that Stalin committed "mistakes" both in the implementation of collectivization and in the assumption that the peasantry welcomed the new policy; the mistakes resulted in widespread violence and peasant suffering. These views were largely muted during the Brezhnev years (1964–1982), only to resurface during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika (1985–1991) and after. At that time, the historians of the Khrushchev years returned to a critical analysis of collectivization, for the first time discussing the famine of 1932 and 1933 and its victims as well as the deportation of the kulaks.

Western historians were far more skeptical of Stalinist claims regarding collectivization. The earliest Western studies tended to view collectivization as "necessary" to industrialization: the collective farms facilitated the state's access to peasant grain, thereby providing a source of capital for industrialization through grain exports. This viewpoint was challenged in the late 1960s and 1970s by scholars who argued that collectivization in fact made a negative contribution to industrialization as capital flowed not from countryside to town, but in the reverse direction. The construction and modernization of a new agricultural system proved costly to the state, and the damage wrought by collectivization reduced agricultural output.

In the 1970s Western historians explored the social history of collectivization, challenging in no uncertain terms Stalinist arguments about class war in the village and advanced social stratification. Historians were divided, however, on ways of seeing the village. Some have implicitly viewed the countryside through a Marxist-Leninist lens, while arguing that social stratification was minimal and class war a reality only in the Stalinist imagination. Others have explicitly rejected Marxist-Leninist conceptions of the village, turning instead to an understanding of the Russian village as an overwhelmingly precapitalist, communal peasantry made up of small family productive units. In both cases, scholars agree that social support for collectivization within the village was minimal and class war all but nonexistent. In the 1980s Western historians continued their explorations of the social basis of collectivization, suggesting that the regime relied on urban sources of support to implement collectivization; others investigated the massive social fluidity caused by collectivization as millions of peasants headed for the cities.

From the late 1980s, the study of collectivization has benefited from the partial opening of Soviet archives and the declassification of key documentation. This has allowed both Western and Russian historians to explore in depth Stalin's role in decision-making and the evolution of state policy, the scope and dynamics of peasant resistance, the famine of 1932 and 1933, and the expropriation and deportation of the kulaks. The opening of the archives has revealed the extent to which collectivization was formative to the rise of the Stalinist police state. The liquidation of the kulaks as a class represented the first mass deportation and use of forced labor of the Stalin era, setting the precedent for and marking the beginning of the rise of the Soviet secret police as a vast economic empire and a state within a state.

Collectivization was the Soviet state's first major project in social engineering on a massive scale. In its goals of transforming peasants into collective farmers and eradicating peasant culture, collectivization represented what James C. Scott has called the "imperialism of high-modernist, planned social order," so characteristic of the twentieth century. At the same time, dekulakization was an early model of the murderous, excisionary population politics aimed against supposed enemy or alien segments of the population so characteristic of the worst of the excesses of twentieth-century European dictatorships. Yet, while collectivization and dekulakization can be seen as sharing features in common with the most repressive aspects of twentieth-century European modernity, it is also important to recognize that the overwhelmingly agrarian nature of the early Soviet Union, its vast geography, and its underdeveloped provincial governmental structures set it apart from Western European polities. The result was a unique Soviet modernity characterized by modernist intentions carried out in the context of rather unmodern conditions and by a state that relied on repression as a substitute for rule by routine administrative and legal institutions.

See alsoFive-Year Plan; New Economic Policy (NEP); Purges; Soviet Union; Stalin, Joseph.


Davies, R. W. The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929–1930. Vol. 1 of The Industrialization of Soviet Russia. Cambridge, Mass., 1980. Authoritative and thorough study of the collectivization campaign.

Davies, R. W., and Stephen G. Wheatcroft, eds. The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–1933. Vol. 5 of The Industrialization of Soviet Russia. New York, 2003. Treatment of the famine, making use of newly declassified archival documents.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization. New York, 1994. A survey of the collectivized village.

Lewin, M. Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization. Translated by Irene Nove. Evanston, Ill., 1968. Reprint, New York, 1975. Classic study of the peasantry and the state in the years leading to collectivization.

Millar, James R., and Alec Nove. "A Debate on Collectivization: Was Stalin Really Necessary?" Problems of Communism 25, no. 4 (1976): 49–62. An introduction to the debate on collectivization's contribution to industrialization.

Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn., 1998. A pioneering study of the modern state's attempts to transform society in conditions of what Scott calls "high modernism."

Shanin, Teodor. The Awkward Class: Political Sociology of Peasantry in a Developing Society; Russia, 1910–1925. Oxford, U.K., 1972. Classic study and critique of sociology of the Russian village.

Viola, Lynne. Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of Peasant Resistance. New York, 1996. Outline and analysis of peasant resistance during collectivization, making use of newly declassified archival documentation.

Ward, Chris. Stalin's Russia. 2nd ed. London, 1999. Includes an excellent discussion of the historiography on collectivization.

Lynne Viola


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Collectivism is a term used to describe various social, political, and economic relations that stress the primacy of the collective, which may be a group of individuals, a society, a state, a nation, race, or social class, over that of the individual. Collectivists subscribe to the belief that the groups societal or communal will takes precedence over that of the individual, who must then sacrifice self-interest for the good of the whole. Thus the group is the fundamental unit of social, political, and economic concern.

From a social perspective, collectivism maintains that humans are interdependent and closely linked to one or more groups. This doctrine views group harmony and solidarity as more important than personal desires and goals. In this case, the group might take the form of a family, race, social class, or religious denomination. Thus, respectfulness, cooperation, and conformity to group norms are expected. Competition and conflict are devalued within the group but viewed as acceptable intergroup behaviors.

Politically, collectivism might be viewed as a doctrine that maintains that the will of the people supersedes that of the individual, who must subordinate personal interests to those of the majority. Thus society as a whole is the standard of moral value. An early example of this kind of collectivism has been associated with Jean-Jacques Rosseaus social contract. In this work, Rousseau posits that human society is organized along the lines of an implicit contract between members of society, with the terms of the contract, such governmental powers, citizens rights and responsibilities, defined by the general will. This notion of collectivism is often equated with democracy.

As an economic doctrine, collectivism holds that material resources should be owned by the group and used for the benefit of all rather than being owned by individuals. Although this view of collectivism advocates public over private ownership of property, the state is not necessarily the manager or overseer of collective property, as has been the case with most modern day manifestations of communism. It should also be noted that the principle of collective ownership of property might refer to the means of production or to all commodities that are valued.

While there are many examples of societies characterized as collectivist, few, if any, are entirely collectivist. Moreover, one can find characteristics of collectivism in most societies. Perhaps the best-known practical applications of collectivism are those associated with the agriculture sector of societies. Many of these attempts, however, have resulted in some well-documented failures. For example, the Soviet states experiment with agricultural collectivization in the 1920s and 1930s was abandoned owing to negative economic consequences. Similarly, Operation Dodoma, which refers to Julius Nyereres 1974 program of forced collectivization of farming in Tanzania, was largely unsuccessful as a means of increasing benefits perceived to accrue from collective farming. Chinas 1958 attempt at collectivization of agricultural production, though somewhat more successful than that of the Soviet Union and Tanzania, also failed to yield perceived economic benefits.

SEE ALSO Agricultural Industry; Communalism; Communism; Democracy; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Social Contract; Socialism; Socialism, African; Stalin, Joseph; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


Ayittey, George B. 1991. Africa Betrayed. New York: St. Martins Press.

Gregory, Paul R., and Robert C. Stuart. 1981. Soviet Economic Structure and Performance. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row.

Inkeles, Alex. 1971. Social Change in Soviet Russia. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Spence, Jonathan. 1990. The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton.

Triandis, Harry C. 1995. Individualism and Collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Kathie Stromile Golden


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collectivism A term with a general and a variety of specific applications. In the most common usage it refers to any political or socio-economic theory or practice which encourages communal or state ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. Particular applications vary greatly since there are numerous examples of collectivist organizations.

Farmers organized into collectives were, until recently, a significant social group in the former USSR. These farms controlled the labour inputs of members, fixed rates of remuneration, and determined the content of agricultural production. Many were the result of a violent forced collectivization of peasant and family-owned farms during the Stalinist period. Agricultural collectives in China have had a more varied history. One of the most popular schemes was a ‘responsibility system’ introduced in the 1980s, whereby individual peasant households signed a contract by which the land still belonged technically to the collective, but was assigned to individual households for their own use. These contracts specified obligations on either side, for example with respect to the provision of tools and equipment, payment of taxes, and meeting of production quotas. A particularly interesting form of collective—the workers' self-management of the economy—emerged in Tito's Yugoslavia. However, sociological research confirmed that the theoretically democratic distribution of influence within the enterprise was not matched by the real power of Workers' Councils, which tended in practice to be largely symbolic.

The collectivist critique of liberal and other theories of individualism argues that market relationships are competitive, tend also therefore to be divisive, and undermine those communal bonds which are necessary between individuals if they are to cope with misfortunes to which all are in principle vulnerable. For example, social welfare theorists argue that unrestrained free exchange causes welfare problems, as evidenced by the housing market which fails to provide shelter to those in demonstrable need. One of the most celebrated collectivist defences of the welfare state was made by Richard Titmuss (see The Gift Relationship, 1970
), who argued that welfare systems should be defended by reference to arguments about altruism. His argument was that people should receive welfare as a gift from strangers, an expression of social solidarity, rather than as an entitlement or right derived from a complex network of reciprocal relationships. Thus, in the case of blood donations, Titmuss maintained that if this ‘most sacred’ of commodities were to be commercialized then the moral bonds between individuals would become wholly contaminated by calculations of self-interest and market price. As he puts it, ‘In not asking for or expecting any payment of money those donors signified their belief in the willingness of men to act altruistically in the future, and to combine together to make a gift freely should they have need for it. By expressing confidence in the behaviour of future unknown strangers they were thus denying the Hobbesian thesis that men are devoid of any instinctive moral sense’. This communitarian view of welfare as an expression of the common values that bind otherwise disparate individuals together may be contrasted with the more individualistic conception of welfare derived from the theory of citizenship. The latter implies that claims to welfare resources are simply an extension of the legal and political rights that are characteristic of liberal democracies and, therefore, that collective welfare is quite consistent with the theory of liberal pluralism. Welfare states are simply adjuncts to markets; that is, rational deprivation-alleviating institutions and policies, resting on the individualistic principles of reciprocal obligations and exchange. Communitarianism, by contrast, embodies a vision of a social order that fosters intimate communal bonds.

During the early 1990s, the term ‘communitarianism’ was appropriated by a small group of mainly American social scientists, linked by a common hostility to the philosophies of liberalism and libertarianism. The sociologist Amitai Etzioni was one of the prominent founders of this movement (see his The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society, 1996
). Etzioni argues that the advanced industrial societies of the capitalist West suffer from ‘rampant moral confusion and social anarchy’ because individuals have been given too much freedom and not enough responsibilities. Etzioni and other communitarians are in favour of more obligations and fewer rights. They tend to shun economic explanations of social problems, preferring instead to blame everything from crime to excessive consumerism on the moral decline of the family, much of which can be traced to the increasing employment of women outside the home. Etzioni claims this has created a ‘parenting deficit’ which prevents ‘effective personality formation’ in infants, increasing reliance on child-care facilities that often amount to little more than ‘kennels for kids’, and in due course producing a generation of young people who lack the moral fibre to resist crime, drugs, and early sex.

Communitarians deny that they are advocating a return to the 1950s-style division of labour (formal employment for men, back into the home for women), and proffer instead a range of ‘pro-family practices and policies’, such as Etzioni's ideas for ‘peer marriage’ (a two-parent family, in which each partner has the same rights to extended ‘family leave’ after the birth of children, underwritten by a hardening of the laws against divorce). More broadly, communitarians favour a social order in which ‘the community’ identifies the common good, and persuades its members to act towards it. In this way arguments in favour of (say) safer driving will succeed because they have moral force.

Communitarians claim to have influenced the development of social policy in America (Etzioni has been a policy adviser to the Clinton administrations) and Britain (where communitarian ideas are said to have found favour with New Labour). Community policing, for example, is a policy consistent with communitarian ideals. Critics have suggested that communitarian arguments are both vague and naïve. Who will pay for extended parental leave-of-absence from employment? What if ‘the community’ endorses values such as homophobia or racialism? What happens to dissenters, who refuse to conform to the ideals of the two-parent family and marriage for life, and are not persuaded by mere exhortation alone? Communitarian social policies are also said to be authoritarian in effect if not intention. See also BROKEN WINDOWS THESIS; COMMUNE; GIFT RELATIONSHIP.

Collectivization of Agriculture

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The introduction of the collective farm (kolkhoz) into the Soviet countryside began in the late 1920s and was substantially completed by the mid-1930s. The collectivization of Soviet agriculture, along with the introduction of state ownership (nationalization) and national economic planning (replacing markets as a mechanism of resource allocation), formed the dominant framework of the Soviet economic system, a set of institutions and related policies that remained in place until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Lenin attempted to introduce change in the Soviet agricultural sector, and especially to exert state control, through methods such as the extraction of grain from the rural economy by force (the prodrazverstka ). This was the first attempt under Soviet rule to change both the institutional arrangements governing interaction between the agrarian and industrial sectors (the market) and the terms of trade between the state and the rural economy. The impact of these arrangements resulted in a significant decline in agricultural output during the period of war communism.

Following the collapse of war communism, the peasant economy predominated during the New Economic Policy (NEP). The relationship between the rural economy and the urban industrial economy was characterized by alliance (smytchka ), although the issue of the rural economy and its role in socialist industrialization remained controversial. Events such as the Scissors Crisis brought these issues to the fore. In addition, the potential contribution of agriculture to the process of economic development was a major issue in the great industrialization debate.

In 1929 Josef Stalin initiated the process of collectivization, arguing that a "grain crisis" (peasant withholding of grain) could effectively limit the pace of Soviet industrialization. Collectivization was intended to introduce socialist organizational arrangements into the countryside, and to change fundamentally the nature of the relationship between the rural and urban (industrial) sectors of the Soviet economy. Markets were to be eliminated, and state control was to prevail.

The organizational arrangements in the countryside were fundamentally changed, the relations between the state and the rural economy were altered, and the socialist ideology served as the framework for the decision to collectivize. The process and outcome of collectivization remain controversial to the present time.

Why has collectivization been so controversial? First, the process of collectivization was forcible and violent, resulting in substantial destruction of physical capital (e.g., animal herds) and the reduction of peasant morale, as peasants resisted the statedriven creation of collective farms. Second, the kolkhoz as an organization incorporated socialist elements into the rural economy. It was also viewed as a mechanism through which state and party power could be used to change the terms of trade in favor of the city, to eliminate markets, and, specifically, to extract grain from the countryside on terms favorable to the state. The collective farm was, in theory, a cooperative form of organization through which the state could extract grain, leaving a residual for peasant consumption. The mechanism of payment for labor, the labor day (trudoden ), facilitated this process. Third, peasant resistance to the creation of the collective farms was cast largely within an ideological framework. Thus resistance to collectivization, in whatever form, was blamed largely upon the wealthy peasants (kulaks). Fourth, the institutions and policies resulting from the collectivization process, even with significant modifications over time, have been blamed for the poor record of agricultural performance in the Soviet Union. In addition to the costs associated with the initial means of implementation, the collective farms lacked sufficient means of finance and were unable to provide appropriate incentives to stimulate the necessary growth of agricultural productivity.

Thus collectivization replaced markets with state controls and, in so doing, used a process and instituted a set of organizational arrangements ultimately deemed to be detrimental to the longterm growth of the agricultural economy in the Soviet Union.

See also: agriculture; collective farm; economic growth, soviet; peasant economy; sovkhoz


Davies, R. W. (1980). The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lewin, Moshe. (1968). Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization. London: Allen & Unwin.

Robert C. Stuart


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col·lec·tiv·ism / kəˈlektəˌvizəm/ • n. the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it. ∎  the theory and practice of the ownership of land and the means of production by the people or the state.DERIVATIVES: col·lec·tiv·ist adj. & n.col·lec·tiv·is·tic / -ˌlektəˈvistik/ adj.


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collectivization Agricultural policy enforced in the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1929, and adopted by China after the Communist takeover in 1949. With the object of modernizing agriculture and making it more efficient, peasant holdings were combined and agriculture brought under state control.


views updated May 18 2018

collectivism Political and economic theory, opposed to individualism. It emphasizes the need to replace competition with cooperation. Socialism and communism are both expressions of the collectivist idea.

collectivist organizations

views updated May 18 2018

collectivist organizations See COLLECTIVISM.

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