Article 21
December 29, 1988



The family farm--a step backward. Women, youth and large families. The contract brigade. The myth of the free peasant. Small holdings strengthen bureaucracy, not democracy. Gorbachev's pragmatism. West predicts abandonment of collectivized agriculture. Tikhonov on separating ownership from the state. Opposition from left and right. Gorbachev on "changing the relations of production." Marxist doctrine on the agrarian question. Three social tendencies in agriculture. Technological development requires upgrading property forms. Farm output during WWII. Post-war consolidation of collectives. Agrotowns shelved. No progress made toward a universal socialist property form. The bourgeois opposition to collectives. Centrifugal, nationalist tendencies. Capitalist "solution" leads to crisis of over-production.

The private cooperative is only one of the economic innovations of the Gorbachev regime. A second relates to the cultivation of the family farm, known as the zveno. It has undergone variations but has always been the smallest agricultural unit. These smaller units have been in operation for a long time, but have come and gone because of restrictions. In periods of upheaval, like the collectivization and the war, most tended to disappear. What is new today is that family farms or other small groupings or brigades now may be allowed to lease land and tools from the government, through the collective and state farms, for as long as 50 years. This is an enormous step backwards with grave consequences for socialist ownership, not only in agriculture but also in industry.

The family farm, as an individual enterprise, is a relic of the bygone past. It has, however, survived in one form or another throughout the revolution, the collectivization and the period thereafter. The basis for its existence is the large family unit, whose older members as well as the children are obligated to work on the farm and become fixtures on the land. To strengthen these features of the family farm today is a regressive step and would hurl a large section of the population backward and deprive them of the many opportunities which are opened up by the development of science and technology in the urban centers.

It is to be recalled that under Soviet law, large families are entitled to certain subsidies. This was to encourage the growth of the population after the devastating effects of the Second World War with its tremendous losses, especially of the male population. Large families are to be found especially in the southern republics, where the population growth exceeds that of the central and northern parts of Russia. The death rate of children in these areas is also higher. The schools and other public facilities are inferior to those in the central and European republics. By promoting large families, the subsidies have become a form of enslavement of women. They also restrict the access of the younger generation to those benefits which ordinarily would be available if they were free to choose between staying on the farm or seeking greater opportunities in the larger cities.

Large-scale mechanization and the introduction of the most advanced technologies to put farming on an industrialized, scientific basis can reduce the labor power needed on the farms. The family farm is being promoted today, however, as a way of raising the productivity of agriculture by intensifying the labor of an already overworked segment of the population. The prospect of socialism becomes more remote the further such schemes become embedded in Soviet planning. Raising the productivity of labor on the basis of intensifying labor power, rather than through raising labor-saving techniques and new technologies, runs against the grain of Marxism, which regards science and technology as the springboard for social development.

A somewhat larger unit is the contract brigade. Here the land may be rented out to a group, usually larger than the family or containing several families. Most often, it involves those who already have the wherewithal to rent the land. A new law on lease contracting will become effective sometime after a plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee scheduled for February 1989. It will undoubtedly specify many of the conditions for leasing the land, such as the down payment, the amount of interest on the machinery and equipment, if and how it is to be purchased, how long the lease will last, and what the costs may be if the lessee decides after a time to abandon the project. While, as of December 1988, these rules have not yet been enacted, it is nevertheless clear that a person with a small family and a meager income is not likely to undertake something of this nature unless supported by sufficient funding, either from personal savings or loans from the state.

Where a larger group undertakes this kind of arrangement, it is usually from a wealthier collective. Farmers from the really poor collectives do not have the financial means to go in for such a venture. Also, the success of the group depends to a great extent on the choice of the land. In more fertile areas, such a venture may prove to be altogether favorable. But should the more fertile areas of collective or state farms (which incidentally are the product of the collective labor of the workers there) be parceled out to private entrepreneurs? This is a question which requires considerable public discussion. So far, there has been only one-sided praise for the new departure in the agricultural sector.

What happens to the lessees in these smaller units at a time of natural disaster? Are they even insured? What about the availability of schools, sanitation and so on? Will the rentals be available to everybody, or are there certain economic and financial criteria meant to restrict them to the well-to-do collectives?

Whatever else this scheme may accomplish, it is certain to widen the economic disparity in the agricultural population. It fosters greater social inequality in an area where inequality is already very great.

The concept of the free peasant, or free farmer, which is the subject of so much lore and legend in bourgeois literature, has been a myth, certainly in the period of monopoly capitalism. Both during periods of natural catastrophe and periods of capitalist over-production, small farmers are devastated by the continual process of centralization of the means of production in the hands of large pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural machinery manufacturers, not to speak of the "sympathetic" local bankers and giant agribusiness banks.

The encouragement of small-holding units, which is projected today by the Gorbachev administration for the USSR, is also palmed off as a measure in the democratization of Soviet society. In reality, it will strengthen bureaucracy at the expense of the farmers, particularly the smaller units. Since the days when collectivization first began, these small units, known as zvenos, at least had this significant political feature: they met regularly within the framework of the collectives. Meetings of these units were conducted in a wholly democratic fashion. There was a great deal of encouragement from the Party for their participation in management and in the election of the chairperson of the collective. Now they will be on their own and won't have the advantage of what is sometimes called in the U.S. "participatory democracy." They won't be part of a collective where they can participate in the decisions. It is questionable what their relations will be to the specialists and technicians who work in the service centers, that is, the machine and tractor stations which have become part of the collectives.

This opens up a wide road for commercial and financial juggling. It opens the door wide to commodity circulation and there does not seem to be a clear idea of where all this leads. Because of the new lease arrangement, their rights are no longer operational. Of course, for the wealthy ones, particularly if they succeed, this will not matter much. Their newfound advantages, especially if they reap significant profits and can expand, will make up for any losses of a political character. But the loss of the leverage that the small-holding units had in the collectives will result in a strengthened bureaucracy.

The champions of the leasing arrangement will tell you that whatever democratic or political leverage the smaller units might have had will be made up for with the revitalization of the Soviets in the rural areas. But that is a long way off and no one at this time can foretell whether there will be any effective democratization of the Soviets for the masses. On the basis of the historical experience of agriculture during the period of capitalist development, the parcelization, the ultimate breakup of collectives into smaller units, can in no way be regarded as a step towards democratization.

This is not a new thought. Marx discovered it 140 years ago, and no one since has put it better than he did in "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte":

The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. . . . Their field of production, the small holding, admits of no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science and, therefore, no diversity of development, no variety of talent, no wealth of social relationships. . . . Insofar as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organization among them, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power subordinating society to itself.1

. . . By its very nature, small-holding property forms a suitable basis for an all-powerful and innumerable bureaucracy.2

While written 140 years ago about the French peasants under capitalism, this still explains the lot of the small-holder in relation to the bureaucracy.

In everything that Gorbachev does, he is proving himself to be the supreme pragmatist. Pragmatism always seems to work when one is not confronted with immediate, fundamental problems which in turn require not only fundamental solutions but, certainly from Marxists, a broad theoretical approach. This is precisely what the Gorbachev leadership is entirely avoiding. It is easy to make do with everyday political issues, but what if there are crying political problems that imperiously demand taking a firm position, one way or the other? This is the situation in the USSR today in the area of food and agriculture, which, it is admitted from all sides, is in deep crisis. Let us take an example.

On a trip to Krasnoyarsk on September 16, 1988, Gorbachev spoke to a group of workers. This was three months after his talk to the 19th Party Conference, which exuded so much enthusiasm about perestroika. But he was forced to again say, "Comrades, the food supply remains our most acute current problem. . . . Some people even claim that we now consume less meat than we did in 1927, on the eve of collectivization." 3 Of course, that's not true, but Gorbachev was forced to produce statistics to prove it isn't. The very fact that people think there was more food available in 1927, some 60 years ago, is the most damaging testimony against his agricultural program.

"Why do people have in their memory the impression that the stores were full in past years, while today they quite often feel that there is a food shortage?" he asked.4 Gorbachev then demonstrated with a pile of statistics the absurdity of saying that there is less food produced today than in 1927. But that was only touching the surface of the issue. It is a pity he did not address himself fully to the deeper questions. He should have pointed out which political or social groups were raising this, and why the year 1927 in particular was repeated over and over again. Had he done this, he would have raised the issue to a principled question and contributed a great deal towards pinpointing the source of the confusion. Gorbachev was obligated, from the point of view of principle, to show that there exists a full-scale bourgeois opposition within the USSR to socialist agriculture, that is, to collectivization, and that that is where this question comes from. By neglecting to reveal publicly the bourgeois character of the opposition, he damages his own case. Why do they zero in on the year 1927? They have revived this old kulak canard presumably to demonstrate that there was plenty of food before the collectivization of agriculture began! And that 60 years later, collectivization has been unable to solve the food problem, so therefore the proper course is to dismantle the collectives and go back to the so-called free peasantry that existed in the years after the Revolution and more particularly in the period of the New Economic Policy.

Those who are asking this question have a definite program of their own, but they camouflage it by using socialist phraseology, which adds to the confusion. Such is the method, for example, of the economist Nikolai Shmelyov, a leading proponent of bourgeois agriculture, and his colleague, Professor Leonid Abalkin.5 All the more reason why clarifying things, calling groups by their right name, would be such a contribution. But that is not what Gorbachev appeared intent on doing at Krasnoyarsk. Nor did he do it the following month, when on October 12, 1988, he spoke to a meeting between members of the Central Committee and managers of collective and state farms and agro-industrial enterprises.

The main topic of this conference attended by leaders of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes and other enterprises of the agro-industrial complex was to discuss the new laws to be presented for approval in February regarding the lease contracting of land. Gorbachev spoke on this and it was broadcast on Soviet television. His address jolted even the bourgeois press, in the U.S. as well as in Europe.

Their interpretation of it was that Gorbachev was preparing the public for the abandonment of the collective farm system. Even before his address, some of the bourgeois analysts in the U.S., basing themselves on earlier reports of what was afoot in the USSR, were openly discussing the demise of the collective farm system.

"Soviet leaders have initiated the end, in essence if not in name, of the collective agricultural system," wrote Roy D. Laird in the Christian Science Monitor.6 Hopefully, this is one of those great anticipations of the ruling class which never come true. Nevertheless, it becomes clearer every day that the trend towards discrediting collectivization in agriculture and centralization in industry is taking on a frenzied pace.

For instance, an article entitled "How to Spend the Billions?" by Vladimir Tikhonov, a full member of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences, proposed the following:

"We need radical changes in the basic principles of the economic system, notably the separation of state ownership of key means of production from their possession as an object of economic management. In other words, enterprises should be granted the right to own, manage and control the means of production on the principle of leasing them from the owner, the state." 7 (Our emphasis.)

This is a deliberately confusing statement which is calculated to bring about the separation of the ownership of the means of production from the state. The state is to lease all the means of production to the various managerial cliques. The state as the abstract owner becomes a fiction, since it does not have the authority over the lessees to whom the means of production are transferred. The latter will have the right to manage them as they see fit.

"[T]he establishment of small and average size state, cooperative and individually owned enterprises directly linked to the market and the customer . . . is the way to effectively develop the processing industry and the infrastructure of the agro-industrial complex," says Tikhonov.8

The overall emphasis should be as clear as crystal. It is against state ownership and for the dispersal of the means of production, indeed their break-up into small units, where the market is the real locomotive and the state as owner becomes a fiction. This is the real issue that is posed by the bourgeois right, and they have become increasingly more aggressive.

At the conference in October, Gorbachev tried to meet the bourgeois opposition halfway. This was soon after Yegor Ligachev, presumably still the leader of the progressive opposition (called "conservative" in the Western press), had been appointed to head the food and agricultural program. Ligachev, it was noticed, was absent from this important Central Committee conference, without any explanation. Ligachev is apparently an opponent of the bourgeois approach to the agricultural problem, that is, to decollectivization. His acceptance of the agriculture post, as we indicated in an earlier article,9 was therefore wrong. It was also wrong, of course, for Gorbachev to put him in this embarrassing situation. But all this is merely an example of a make-do solution, if it could be called that.

If there are progressive elements among the so-called "conservatives," they are virtually excluded from the press and the media. In reality, they seem to exist mainly as an underground opposition. And all this at a time when there is more talk than ever about democratization, about the need to discuss issues, to bring the vital issues into the open. But so far, it is only the Gorbachev supporters and the bourgeois rightwing who are being heard. If a progressive wing actually exists, it has not made itself felt publicly. This is the most important aspect of any internal struggle. How can the public be enlightened, how can there be real democratization, if the only ones heard are either those solidly committed to the Gorbachev reforms or the right bourgeois opposition?

The "conservative" opposition, due to its dogmatism, is in reality pursuing an anti-Leninist line by not publicly debating such life and death questions as the food and agriculture problem and the trend toward decollectivization. The Leninist way in matters of internal party struggles is to first present documents for internal discussion and then publish them, so the public may participate. This is entirely lacking today and accounts for the failure of public opinion in the Soviet Union to respond to the destructive effects of the restructuring, both in industry and in agriculture. Leaders who oppose the current program, or even the extent to which the program is being carried out in agriculture and industry by Gorbachev's supporters, are by their silence objectively supporting the reforms.

In his speech to the 19th Party Conference in June 1988, Gorbachev had struck a new note that went far beyond his earlier attacks on bureaucracy and mismanagement.

In short, comrades, the substance of the current agrarian policy is to change the relations of production on the farms. We must restore the economic balance between town and countryside, and release to the utmost the potential of collective and state farms by promoting diverse contractual and lease arrangements. We must overcome the estrangement between farmer and soil.10

Changes in the relations of production have been properly regarded by Marxists since the days of the Communist Manifesto as a change in property relations, a change from owners to non-owners, or vice versa. Changes in relations of production invariably involve changes of ownership, unless one is talking about mere technical changes in the process of production, which is something altogether different.

What Gorbachev proposes, apparently, are halfway changes in ownership. He is proposing a change from the present collective system in agriculture to one of landlord-tenant relations, where the state remains the landlord, so to speak, and the collective farmer becomes a tenant. It's a halfway measure meant to accommodate both the bourgeois opposition to collectivization and the progressive opposition to decollectivization; the state retains its ownership of the land in the form of the landlord-tenant relationship. But long-term tenancy can evolve into de facto ownership by wealthy collective farms, especially if the lessee's tenure is for such extended periods as 10, 20 and even 50 years. The state's ownership could become a fiction. Such is the essence of the Gorbachev program on the agrarian question. Even at that, it has yet to prove its workability--the collective farmers are still skeptical, the specialists on the farms are dubious and fearful of taking responsibility, and the self-seekers, those interested in promoting themselves, see it as a possible avenue to deepen individual, proprietary tendencies that go against the grain of state or collective farm arrangements.

In order to understand what is at stake, it is necessary here to sketch as briefly as possible the stages in the evolution of Marxist doctrine on this question as it developed prior to, during and after the October Revolution.

As is well known, Marx and Engels envisioned the socialist development of agriculture within the context of a workers' state, where the proletariat would carry out a careful policy of gradually socializing the scattered peasant property holders on the basis of showing by example the efficiency and superiority of large-scale socialist production over small-scale private production. Unquestionably, this would be a slow process based upon the voluntary consent of the peasantry. A lot would depend upon the nature of the opposition put up by the dispossessed and expropriated bourgeoisie and whether they would seek and obtain external support from outside capitalist forces for sabotage and counterrevolution (as has happened in all the socialist countries). Barring all that, the socialized industry of the workers' state would prove its superiority and would eventually supply the peasantry with all necessary consumer goods and win its support for the socialization of agriculture.

Marx and Engels always championed the revolutionary struggle of the peasants against the large landowners for the division of the big estates, even though that was a temporary retreat from the more efficient, large-scale agriculture in the hands of the large estates. Marx put the liberation of the peasantry ahead of the efficiency of the large landed estates.

Even before the 1905 revolution, the program of the Russian Social Democrats, including the Bolsheviks under Lenin, while it incorporated Marx's teaching on the question of the peasantry, also called for the nationalization of the land. At the same time, it did not oppose the parcelization of the landlords' estates should the peasantry, in a revolutionary insurrection, seize them and begin to divide them up.

Also in Russia there were the Social Revolutionaries (SRs), who were the so-called champions of the peasantry. The distribution of the land was one of the principal tenets of their program. Suffice it to say that once the revolution did break out in earnest in 1917 and the peasants began to seize the land, the liberal capitalist regime of Kerensky and the SRs had second thoughts about the redistribution of the land to the peasants. As a matter of fact, it began to attack the peasantry precisely for their unlawful seizures of the land. The Bolsheviks, however, made land distribution a principal plank of their program in their slogan "peace, land and bread."

When once the revolution had stabilized itself, and the Bolsheviks were firmly in control, the question immediately arose of how to proceed with the socialist program of the proletariat in the face of what existed: a vast sea of individual peasants broken up roughly into three social categories: the poor, the middle and the rich (kulaks). Under the circumstances of an overwhelming and vast peasantry, an isolated workers' state and a poor industrial structure, it was necessary, in order to speed up industrial production and develop socialist industry, to have a firm alliance with the peasantry, where the city workers would supply the peasants with consumer goods and farming implements in exchange for the produce of the farms. But this proved impossible. The kulaks refused to go along point-blank. The middle peasants wavered and a large section of them feared entering even cooperatives, which Lenin favored and expounded on in writings on the subject. All this proved to be of no avail because, as Lenin explained over and over again, small-scale production "daily, hourly revives capitalism."

This brought the years of the New Economic Policy to an impasse and forced a struggle of momentous historical significance among the right, left and center within the Bolshevik Party. Of the three alternatives presented, Stalin wavered among them. His pragmatic solutions from day to day finally propelled him into an historic adventure: forced collectivization. The dreadful civil war it opened up was so costly in human lives that it has left scars to this very day. Nevertheless, no analysis of the agricultural crisis today can be understood, nor can a forward step be made, without first taking into account that, however cruelly the collectivization was accomplished, it is a fact of history and marked a progressive change in the mode of production in agriculture. It was, in truth, the second agricultural revolution in Russia. Like the first one, the expropriation of the landlords by the peasantry, it was also a change in property relations. The collectivization was a revolution from individual, private ownership to collective ownership.

Throughout that prolonged period, from the early 1930s to the outbreak of the Second World War, there prevailed three forms of property relations in Soviet agriculture. The most widespread one, involving the bulk of the peasantry, was the collective--the kolkhoz. The second, with fewer people, was the state farm--the sovkhoz. But the collectivization was not universal. The collective farms also were allotted private plots. Thus in agriculture there were three social tendencies.

The private sector should be viewed from two angles. To the extent that the kolkhoz farmer uses his allotted private plot for personal consumption, this is altogether consistent with socialist development. There's nothing wrong with any worker, in any area, establishing a garden or plot of land to cultivate on his or her own time for personal consumption only. However, matters are different when the produce is destined to be sold, either to the state directly, or, as is all too frequently done, through market channels. It becomes a hazard and the tendency for the collective farmer, especially under difficult conditions, is to give more of his and the family's attention and labor power to the private plot and less to the collective. It is hardly likely that the situation could be otherwise, particularly over a prolonged period in which favorable as well as adverse conditions could alternate rapidly, as happens in agriculture.

That, however, is not the only problem. The more formidable one is that the collectives themselves have been only a form of group property, as distinct from state property. That is, the produce of the collective and its implements are owned by the collective, not by the state. One collective might be poor, another might be very rich. In times of drought, all of the weaknesses of the collective system are shown up. Group property is only partially consistent with the socialist perspective. Group property in the evolution of agriculture to communist society is only an intermediate phase on the way to gradual dissolution into state property and eventually into the collective property of the whole people.

Unless one keeps in mind the sequence in the historical stages of the development into communism, it is impossible to construct a progressive program for agriculture or, for that matter, for industry, without continually falling back, especially under adverse circumstances.

From the days following the collectivization period to the end of the Second World War, there prevailed these three more or less contradictory and conflicting forms of property relations in Soviet agriculture. The general perspective of communist strategy was that with the progress of the scientific-technological revolution and of socialist consciousness, the task of coordinating and later amalgamating these three forms of property ownership would become facilitated. These three forms of property ownership, from the viewpoint of orthodox Marxism and the development toward communism, have to be viewed dynamically, not as changeless, timeless social categories that remain rigid and ossified. Under circumstances where industry is making rapid strides, where science and technology are continually advancing, the static character of these conflicting social forms of property can be a hindrance to further evolution into the phase of communism. Therefore, they must be upgraded. One must see them in continual motion ascending up the ladder toward communism, in which all these forms would eventually be coordinated and dissolved into the one universal form of most consistent socialism, that is, the classless society of communism.

For a considerable period of time after the death of Stalin, the leadership of the Soviet Union--Khrushchev, Kosygin, Brezhnev and those who followed--paid most of their attention to immediate reforms which tended to ossify the forms of ownership in the agricultural sector. While general scientific advances were made, some of a truly spectacular character, like Sputnik or atomic energy, the forms of social ownership in agriculture remained archaic.

Most of the reforms made during this extended period tended to strengthen the three forms of agricultural ownership. Time and again the debts of the collectives were written off. The transfer of the machine-tractor stations to the collectives seemed on the surface a backward step, but had this merit: it arrested the tendency toward private ownership.

In the meantime, there had taken place a historical reversal of a fundamental contradiction between the level of the productive forces and the character of the social relations, in the following way. During the earlier period of the Soviet Union, especially immediately after the seizure of power, the fundamental contradiction was between the low character of the productive forces, with their weak, small industrial infrastructure, and the advanced character of the social relationships, especially during War Communism. Now, however, the productive forces are very far advanced indeed, and it is the conflicting social relations of private, collective and state-owned farms that have to be upgraded and elevated to meet the standards which science and technology can make available.

A powerful bureaucracy arose on the basis of the low cultural level of the broad masses and their inexperience in running such a new world phenomenon as a workers' state. They needed considerable time to advance in order to be able to firmly take hold of and manage the affairs of state. It should be remembered that Lenin called for a cultural revolution in his famous article "On Cooperation." The bureaucracy has steadily grown until it has become an obstacle to the further advance of socialism. But to fight bureaucracy, to eliminate it, by no means entails a retreat from socialist forms of property in favor of bourgeois restorationist forms. Democratization of the Soviet state should not mean economic reversal of socialist forms in favor of bourgeois forms.

The neobourgeois elements in the USSR deliberately confuse these two separate issues. In the name of democratization, some are blatantly venturing to reverse socialist forms of property in favor of a hodge-podge of what will amount to bourgeois property.

The years of the purges and the havoc and destruction of the Second World War unquestionably caused a great deal of disorganization. It must be said, however, that throughout the entire turbulent period from the dreadful civil war brought on by the adventurism of the Stalin period in carrying out collectivization, to the end of World War II, the fact that the Soviet Union emerged victorious is due in no small measure to the ownership of the means of production by the state and the collectivized farm property--which is now under severe attack by the bourgeois elements in the USSR.

To show the effectiveness of collectivization, it is only necessary to remember that the victorious Red Army could not have survived and been fed except for this tremendously revolutionary social factor. In The Economy of the USSR During World War II, Nikolai Voznesensky gave details on agricultural production during those difficult years:

During the years of the greatest ordeals of our homeland, kolkhoz farmers were providing the population of the country and the Soviet Army with bread and foodstuffs. The Patriotic War was an historical test of the firmness of the kolkhoz system. During the war economy period in the USSR, socialist discipline was strengthened in the kolkhozes, labor productivity rose, and new ranks of kolkhoz intelligentsia grew up, which replaced personnel inducted into the Soviet Army. The decisive role in this personnel replacement was played by Soviet women. . . .

The proportion of women among tractor drivers of the MTS (Machine and Tractor Service Stations) increased from 4 percent at the beginning of 1940 to 45 percent in 1942; the proportion of women among combine operators of the MTS increased from 6 percent to 43 percent; the proportion of women among MTS drivers rose from 5 percent to 36 percent, and the proportion of women among foremen of MTS tractor crews increased from 1 percent to 10 percent. . . .

In spite of the serious decline in mechanization of agriculture and the diminution of manpower, the total sown area in kolkhozes in the regions of the USSR which were not subjected to occupation--the Center, the Volga, the Urals, Siberia, Transcaucasia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, the Far East, and the North--not only did not decline, but even increased.11

Furthermore, in 1946, even though there was the worst drought since 1891, the Soviet Union had enough grain not only to feed the population at home but also to export some to Eastern Europe.

It is also interesting that, when the German army overran the Ukraine, the Nazi high command was in favor of retaining the collectivized farms because of their efficiency! However, the civilians in the Nazi hierarchy, who were dreaming of winning over the peasants to become collaborators, were for distributing and breaking up the collectives. But the partisans in collaboration with the Soviet army didn't give them time to continue their debate.

After the Second World War, the question arose of how to proceed in light of the new situation that was developing in agriculture and industry. There was, of course, the problem of reconstruction of industry and of raising the standard of living of the people. And there were international problems of enormous magnitude which consistently worked in the direction of diverting resources away from the construction of socialism and away from moving to the eventual phase of communist society itself.

After Stalin's death, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and succeeding leaders were eager to push their own reform programs and, as we said, virtually disregarded the need to upgrade in a progressive socialist direction the forms of property in agriculture and also in industry. This made the task doubly difficult of projecting and reinvigorating the communist perspective, especially in the evolution of socialist agriculture from lower to higher forms. It is in this area in particular that the reformist leadership has fallen down.

Whatever severe criticism one may have of the 19th Party Congress, held while Stalin was still alive, it did outline the next phase in the development of socialist agriculture, that is, the amalgamation of the many, many thousands of small, scattered collectives into larger collectives as a way of coordinating and making a stronger foundation for socialist construction in agriculture. This was the most important step taken since the period of collectivization in the 1930s. Indeed, it was a revolutionary step if one views it in the communist perspective. The fact that it was under Khrushchev's supervision and occurred during the Stalin regime should in no way detract from its historic social and political significance.

The next proposal was the so-called agrotown idea: to create centralized groupings in the rural areas, to make cities out of the myriad of small hamlets. Although this was regrettably rejected by the Congress reporter, Georgi Malenkov, who had at least the implied support of Stalin, this should have been the very next historical step.

Some Soviet writers, like Roy Medvedev, maintain that this was utopian because the technological and industrial infrastructure needed was not yet available. Perhaps so. But that was in 1953. It was during the years of the greatest difficulty between the imperialist powers and the emerging socialist countries. There was a wild witchhunt in the U.S. As a result of the Korean war, the Eisenhower administration was threatening atomic attack against both China and the USSR, which had to prepare for such an eventuality.

None of this, however, should in any way detract from the perspective of the development of socialist agriculture from lower to higher forms, from the amalgamations of agricultural towns, that is, the development of farming into an industry like other industries in order to mitigate the sharp division between town and country and overcome the vast underdevelopment of the rural areas. The prevalence of sharp inequality between industry and agriculture, between town and country, is inconsistent with the development of communism, which seeks to eradicate this difference. That was the meaning of Marx's famous statement about the "idiocy of rural life."

The problem that arose after Stalin's death was that this general perspective was dropped, perhaps not deliberately, but because of the urgency of taking other practical measures which were always presumed to be for a brief period but in reality stretched over decades. The politics of the post-Stalin period were consumed by such panaceas as Khrushchev's plan for the virgin lands and the reorganization of the relation between the governmental apparatus in agriculture and the Party apparatus.

Gradually the perspective of really long-term planning, with the overall objective of wiping out the differences between town and country, of integrating the small farms into larger units and of liquidating the three conflicting forms of property into one overall socialist form, was either shunted off to the distant future or was altogether forgotten. So that, to this day, what has prevailed are these three forms of property which, instead of having been looked upon as dynamic phases with a view to their overall dissolution into a universal socialist form, have become ossified and their contradictions aggravated.

This is what the situation is today. Gorbachev, in order to meet the objections of the bourgeois rightwing, has proposed leasing the farms out as a concession to them, while to the left he holds out the prospect that all this is after all within the framework of a socialist system. It is a classical example of eclecticism in practice. Aside from being a reactionary step backward, it is not working.

"Today, comrades," said Gorbachev in October, "the main thing is to halt this process of the depeasantization of the country and to return man to the land as a master with full rights." 12 We had thought that the land was returned to the peasants as long ago as the October Revolution. Is he denying this? Or does he mean that the bureaucracy has deprived the peasant of his land? This also is not true, certainly not now.

What is needed is a change in production relations, in property forms, but not the regressive path that Gorbachev is charting out, which brings it halfway back to bourgeois agriculture instead of forward to a further stage in the evolution of socialist forms. The social forms of property have to be upgraded so as to be able to take full advantage of the high-tech scientific revolution. Instead, what is being proposed is a so-called change in the management of the farms which aims at splitting them up into smaller units, making the application of the fruits of the high-tech revolution more difficult.

True, the contradiction we have described is not yet of such a formidable magnitude as to threaten a political upheaval. But the bourgeois opposition to collectivization is growing in direct proportion to the duration of the food crisis. The longer the food crisis continues, the stronger becomes the bourgeois opposition to collectivization.

The domestic opposition gets its strength from and is succored daily by the bourgeois elements in the imperialist countries. Every day they say in so many words that China has abandoned the communes and has virtually returned to bourgeois agriculture, and that this happened even earlier in Hungary and in Poland. In the U.S. and in other imperialist countries, such bourgeois analysts of Soviet affairs as Jerry Hough, Ed Hewett and Marshall Goldman have all been busy grinding out tomes of "constructive" criticism of the Soviet reforms, directing their heaviest blows at collectivization. These tracts are in many ways newsletter advisories to their counterparts in the USSR which continually urge the Soviet leaders to take on the "fundamental" solution--their solution, the abandonment of collectivization. But the Gorbachev administration is seemingly complacent about this swelling opposition to that area of the Soviet economy which is most vulnerable to bourgeois invasion.

Gorbachev's arguments on this are always couched in the kind of generalities which leave his audience perplexed. He waxes eloquent against the "period of stagnation" and the mistakes that have been made during the "period of socialism," as he puts it. Is he condemning only the forced character of collectivization, or is he in reality opening the door to doing away with it altogether? When he talks enthusiastically about "returning the land to man as the master," what does he mean?

The economist Tatyana Zaslavskaya, who is certainly not an unfriendly critic of the Gorbachev administration, being on the whole sympathetic to his general views, points out that if Gorbachev means to make the peasant independent today, "In 70 years of Soviet power--60 years of state-run agriculture--generations have changed and the people who today work in the collectives and state farms not only never were independent peasant farmers, but their parents were not independent peasants and their grandparents joined the collectives." Indeed, Gorbachev's scheme, if he means what he says, would bring agriculture back some 70 years to before socialist development took on any momentum!

This is a basic retreat of a strategic character. If the Gorbachev administration had said at the outset, the way Lenin did in relation to the New Economic Policy, that it was a strategic retreat, then it would be understandable, even if one were to disagree. The question then would be whether it was advisable to make the retreat or not. But here he is palming off a retreat as a forward advance, a turning point in society. That's altogether different from what Lenin would have said. Thus, in this case it calls for opposition of a principled and determined character.

The loosening of economic controls and the dispersal of collective farms into private or family plots and so-called contract brigades under long-term leases not only tends to undermine collectivization of agriculture. It also strengthens centrifugal, regional tendencies against the center and reawakens and stimulates nationalism. We have seen this most clearly in the Baltic states, where the bourgeois reforms, particularly in agriculture, have moved them so far toward Western capitalism as to alarm the Gorbachev leadership itself. This is not to mention the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, which was fueled and exacerbated by the "innovative, experimental" (bourgeois) new thinking in Moscow, about which we have already written.13

In China, the dismantling of the communes and the introduction of bourgeois reforms (so-called free enterprise) have brought about an utterly incredible situation, which could not have been conceived of 20 or even 10 years ago. The New York Times of December 11, 1988, cited this alarming statement from none other than the authoritative China Economic News of November 1988, published in Beijing: "China today is divided into more than 20 independent kingdoms and more than 2,000 fiefdoms."

There is no doubt that the food crisis in the Soviet Union will be solved, one way or another. Hopefully it will be solved on the basis of further social reorganization within a socialist perspective. However, it could be solved on the basis of reintroducing bourgeois mechanisms and norms of the type that are so prevalent in capitalist farming.

The predominant characteristic of both capitalist industry and farming is not scarcity. It is super-abundance, followed by a protracted economic crisis. The undeviating pattern in capitalist countries, and particularly in the most advanced, is that a virtual epidemic of abundance, caused by capitalist over-production, results in wholesale foreclosures and even abandonment of thousands upon thousands of small farms. Small farmers are helpless in the face of such abundance. The capitalist government helps the giant agribusiness monopolies with huge bail-out funds. These in turn swallow up the small ones, who are unable to weather the crisis of super-abundance.

On more than one occasion, the leadership of the USSR has had to pull back from dangerous schemes and adventures. This is a critically important departure, and the circumstances for its reversal are more favorable than in earlier periods.


1. Karl Marx, Marx and Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1978), Vol. 11, pp. 187-188.

2. Ibid., p. 191.

3. Pravda, September 18, 1988.

4. Ibid.

5. See Article 3.

6. Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1988. Laird is the author of The Politburo: Demographic Trends, Gorbachev and the Future (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1986).

7. Vladimir Tikhonov, "How to Spend the Billions?," Moscow News, November 27-December 4, 1988.

8. Ibid.

9. See Article 18.

10. Gorbachev speech to 19th Party Conference, p. 14.

11. Nikolai Voznesensky, The Economy of the USSR During World War II (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1948), pp. 55-56.

12. Mikhail Gorbachev speech to CPSU Central Committee Conference on Agriculture, Moscow, October 12, 1988, recorded and translated by Foreign Broadcast Information Service, October 14, 1988, p. 81.

13. See Article 13.

Main menu Book menu