The Successes of Collectivization

Dyelo Truda, the organ of our Russian comrades carried the following item in its edition of 3 April last.

In the absence of any rational solution to the agrarian or peasant question, the achievement of communism is an impossibility as agriculture still plays the greatest role in economic terms and in terms of the numbers of people engaged in it. Upwards of a half of the population around the globe are involved in agriculture and even in the heavily industrialized countries it occupies 40% of the population.

The problem with finding a solution to the agrarian question lies in the conditions attendant upon the spread of agrarian industrialization. Agriculture enjoying only the most meagre access to mechanization, collective effort there is less widespread than in industry. From which it follows that whereas technical progress per se leads to collectivization in industry and whittles down the whole issue to the abolition of private ownership; – in agriculture, by contrast, once such private ownership has been done away with, collectivization is far from achieved, precisely because of the absence of collective effort, which cannot be imposed by force but requires a certain period of adaptation. 

This is the very problem that the Bolsheviks in Russia have now run up against. They cannot, do not know how and will be unlikely to resolve the agrarian question along collectivization lines as long as they cling to marxism and so-called “Leninism”. But since they cannot disown it, that being outside of their ability, agriculture is going to lead them to perdition.

Over the past ten years, the Bolsheviks have busied themselves with wiping out their political enemies, eradicating them in the name of their own party’s dictatorship. They were paying but little heed to the collectivization of agriculture and were not even laying the groundwork for it. It all boiled down to insisting that the peasantry supply bread to the towns, without equivalent recompense. The State monopoly on wheat, with its high pricing, its requisitioning, its regulations regarding farm supplies, its supplementary levies, its shock troops, etc., – the whole gamut of methods whereby the Bolsheviks intended to secure bread for the towns have produced nothing but shrinkage of the area planted, a fall in livestock numbers, the ruination of agriculture and famine throughout the land. The attempt to liberate the peasantry by organizing “wheat factories”, sovkhozes, has not come up with any conclusive outcome. 

A certain show of freedom to trade [the ‘New Economic Policy’] conjured up the famous “scissors” and has driven a formidable number of peasants into the towns in search of an easier life, leading to unemployment rates far in excess of anything previously witnessed, and one of the most acute crises. Under the pressure of that unemployment, the idea emerged of industrializing the country, the accomplishment of which was supposed to absorb all of the unemployed and hoist Russia up to the same level as, in not into the lead among the industrialized countries. This was the Five-Year-Plan.

The upshot of this has been a number of mammoth industrial ventures, triggering an amazement akin to that felt at the sight of the pyramids of Egypt; but which have done nothing to ease the material circumstances of the broader toiling masses, but have instead worsened them economically and politically, through the loss of the last remaining human rights in the process of the implementation of the Five-Year-Plan. All that is left now is serfs of the State, doomed to physical and moral decline, the authorities having, over the years, squandered their resources in the most frightful manner, at a time when they were already exhausted from the preceding ten years of scarcity. Rather than the plenty promised by the Plan, the country is facing the threat of complete ruination of industry and agriculture, unemployment and famine.

Agriculture has also been subjected to industrialization after a Kremlin decree ordered collectivization of a high percentage of peasant homesteads in the most fertile areas. That collectivization could bring the food shortages to an end and been a step in the direction of constructive communism. The idea was right: but the implementation of it takes time and some psychological preparation of the peasants, their own native activity and initiative, their freedom and their direct in-put. The Bolsheviks have not and cannot pull any of this off whilst remaining Bolsheviks as they believe in compulsion as a salutary approach, even more profoundly than a medieval monk would have believed in the Holy Trinity.

Next came the mass round-ups of peasants so that they could be immured in the kolkhozes and that spelled ruination for their households. The kolkhozes resurrected serfdom and along with serf toil, production was the sort one might expect of slave labour.

The resistance to Bolshevik Araktcheevism, (Araktcheev [Arakcheyev] being a general from the time of Nicholas I, the creator of indescribably horrific, state-run, militarized villages [note by original translator]) led to the slaughter of livestock, the selling off of poor furnishings, the sabotaging of equipment and machinery. The pathetic pay rates, the State’s excessive seizures of goods from the kolkhozes, the dragooned labour organization, and bureaucracy could not help but create a convict mentality with disastrous impact on production. With a lot of the kolkhozes, the food scarcity created mayhem everywhere and threatened to assume the dimensions of the 1921-1922 famine. 

Russia’s bread baskets – Ukraine, the Kuban, the Volga – are suffering bread shortages. One peasant from the Ukraine has written to tell us that one pound of black bread costs 5 roubles, more than the daily wage of a workman. Nevertheless, Stalin has proclaimed the collectivization a success. He says: “The success of collectivization has outstripped the Five-Year-Plan three times over. Not only has widespread collectivization ended, but we have impressed it upon the minds of the vast majority of peasants that there can be no other mode of farm organization.”

No way does Stalin’s claim correspond to the truth: it lays claim to a merit that it does not deserve. If the vast majority of peasants really had realized that collectivism is the best form of agricultural work, the Bolsheviks would not have felt the need to set up a brand-new special police for deployment against those same peasants. Collectivization’s success resulting in a brand-new police thumb-screw. Just a bit too odd, that.

The facts are quite different: lots of kolkhozes, but little in the way of wheat. The kolkhozes’ productivity has turned out to be inferior to that of the family farm. Hence the latest madcap attempt by maniacal centralists brutalized by unbounded power to boost the productivity of the kolkhozes by means of violence and executions, alleging thievery and sabotage, leading to deportation of the population of whole districts.

The countryside has therefore been subjected to ruthless terror. This is the straightforward, salutary and cheap way of breathing life into collectivization! A brand-new police agency has been set up for agriculture, along the lines of the political sections established inside the army. There are 12,446 stations, with 120,000 tractors. The new police force’s commissioner-in-chief, who holds the rank of attaché to the Agricultural Commissariat, has been appointed by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the entire force is made up of “trustworthy communists”. This police force is to:
    1. Force the sovkhozes and kolkhozes to carry out State orders.
    2.  Combat thievery and sabotage, or the crime of hiding wheat.
    3. Fight to boost productivity rates.
    4. Finally, guarantee the regular monitoring of class enemies and un-collectivized peasants. 

A truly odd success, this, that has necessitated the setting up of a brand-new army of bureaucrats and parasites some 50,000 strong!

The Bolshevik approach to collectivization has lined up all the peasants against it and it is to be feared that that approach may have stamped out the idea of communism at village level for a long time, bringing ruination to agriculture and dooming the country to protracted shortages leading to physical degeneration. An entire population reduced to serfdom. With an ensuing organized slump in the cultural and moral levels of the wider toiling masses. 

In 47 districts in the North Caucasus, as well as in 65 districts around Ukraine, the “success of collectivization” had led to a decline in wheat production on a frightening scale and with horrifying consequences in the shape of famine, epidemics, deaths and ruination. And the entire country is under threat of the same treatment.

There is only one way of averting this horror: to demolish the dictatorship, and reintroduce basic human rights everywhere. Local areas must have a free hand in proceeding with socialization of the land, with work shared equally and in bringing the entire peasantry together into buy-and-sell cooperatives so as to establish intercourse between farming communes and industrial communes. That way, we can improve agriculture in such away as to switch from the tram-tracks of private ownership to those of a libertarian communism. 

The Bolshevik experiment in building socialism through the State has been a tragic failure. It must now be a question of implementing the anarchist approach, shorn of any dictatorship whose beneficiaries are definitely not about to give it up of their own volition.

From: Le Réveil (Geneva) 27 May 1933. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.