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John G. Wright

The Crisis in Soviet Agriculture

Reveal Once More Character of Regime
Stalin’s Latest Decrees Against Peasants

(28 September 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 39, 28 September 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Number to Be Purged Is Raised by Izvestia

In his report to the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Trade Unions as reported by Pravda, Shvernik had announced that 108,000 paid functionaries would be dropped from the rolls. As we explained in last week’s Appeal, this means ousting a majority of the union functionaries. This figure it now turns out is a typographical error, the actual number involved is 128,000. “The Commission of the CCTU which is investigating the personnel of the trade unions has found it necessary to cut the apparatus by dropping 128,000 people.” (Izvestia, July 30)

In the same issue Izvestia declares; “It should be pointed out that the reduction of the paid workers in the trade union organizations is not taking place without resistance.” Could this perhaps be a subtle hint to Comrade Shvernik and his confrères?


(This is the third in a series of articles on the present crisis in the Soviet Union)

The collapse of the Third Five Year Plan in industry is accompanied by equally grave developments on the agricultural front.

In June, 1934, Comrade Trotsky predicted that war-time conditions in the Soviet Union under Stalin would lead to the following consequences in agriculture:

“Under the influence of the critical need of the state for articles of prime necessity, the individualistic tendencies of the peasant economy will receive a considerable reinforcement, and the centrifugal forces within the kolkhozes (the collective farms) will increase with every month of war.” (War and the Fourth International)

Reality has verified this prediction. Under war-time conditions that have existed in the USSR since the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact the individualistic tendencies have been growing by leaps and bounds.

There was a forced growth of these tendencies even prior to the outbreak of war. The text of the new income laws issued on April 9, 1940 contains the following, declaration: “The fiscal income of handicraft workers ... has increased from 2.557 billion roubles to 5.133 billion roubles in 1938, that is, it doubled in four years.” “Handicraft work” is of course outside the collectives. But the functioning of the collectives was not seriously impaired during this period.

The very first year of war-time conditions, however, found the peasants reducing the Spring sowing, delaying deliveries to the state, concentrating more and more on the cultivation of their own land strips, engaging more extensively in selling in the open market.

And now in 1940, despite the most rigid censorship, it is apparent that the individualistic tendencies within the collectives have grown to the point of endangering the very existence of the collectives.

This year’s Spring sowing has been the worst on record since the terrible period of forced collectivization. The collective farmers are refusing to fulfill plan-quotas.

Mr. Gedye, the Moscow correspondent of the N.Y. Times, enumerates from Bulgaria the following items, which he had gathered from the official Stalinist press, and which the Moscow censors refused to pass:

Izvestia’s editorial on bad state of Spring sowing ... Reference to Izvestia’s editorial saying ‘Izvestia once again calls attention to bad Spring sowing’ ... Soviet press statement, ‘No single republic fulfilled the potato plan last year’ ... Official report showing cotton sowing decreased by nearly 30 per cent since last year ... Figures for price increases of necessities, varying from 25 to 150 per cent.” (N.Y. Times, Sept. 14)

Revealing as these newspaper editorials, comments, figures, etc. are, the administrative and repressive measures adopted to cope with the situation serve to disclose even more graphically the critical condition of agriculture.

Applying the Lash to the Peasants

New laws are now in effect governing deliveries of staple crops to the state. Hitherto these deliveries were based on a fixed proportion of the acreage sown and harvested.

On April 1, a ukase was issued fixing a new standard, independent of the actual crop hut based on the total number of acres at the disposal of the collective farms.

The purpose of this emergency decree is twofold. Stalin hopes thereby to compel the collectives to carry out the sowing plans. But a more immediate goal is pursued. Through this administrative measure, the regime seeks to obtain from the kolkhozes a greater share of the sharply reduced 1940 crop, which has fallen so far below the plan that state-deliveries on the old basis would be catastrophically short of the needs of the cities for the coming winter, and would mean the depletion of accumulated reserve stocks. Here, then, we have the first stage of a thinly disguised return to forced collections.

Several other decrees followed. On April 11, a ukase ordered “obligatory deliveries of grain and rice”; on April 16 came another ordering “obligatory deliveries of potatoes.”

In the text of the April 6th ukase it is suddenly proclaimed that the old policy of the regime fostered “an urge on the part of the kolkhozes to reduce the plans for sowing grain, oil seed, potatoes, resulting in a reduction of areas sown for these crops.”

Prefer Working for Themselves

Translated into human language this bureaucratic formula means that peasants find it far more profitable to tend their own land strips, and that they prefer to sow and harvest those crops which bring highest prices in the market.

Pravda devotes its entire editorial on June 16 to “stressing” the need of rigid discipline in the collective farms. The kolkhoz members, admits Pravda, are spending only the bare minimum on work in the collectives while devoting their main energies to their own enterprises.

Leading party members in Orel are singled out for attack. While themselves members of the kolkhoz, these party members are spending all their time on their own land strips. (Pravda, June 17).

The Peasants Are Resisting

The peasants are resisting by either delaying state-deliveries or refusing to make them altogether. The favorite pretext is lack of transport. While awaiting the trucks to come and gather the grain due to the state, the peasants are using their horse and ox-drawn vehicles to carry their own produce to the open market.

The columns of the official press are filled with “alarm signals” which are strikingly reminiscent of the “kulak grain strike” of 1928–1929.

In the Kuubishev district no deliveries were made in July (Pravda, August 2). Report from Voronezh: Delay in harvesting crops causing enormous losses. “Many kolkhozniks systematically refrain from coming to work, they prefer to take trips to the market” (Pravda, August 3). Report from the Starominsk district: Grain is rotting in the fields (Pravda, August 5). Literally by the hundred the reports are coming in, monotonously the same: no deliveries ... arrears in deliveries ... crops rotting in the field ... collective farmers busy with their own affairs ...

Stalin’s Latest Decree

On August 7, Pravda prints a special resolution on state-deliveries, signed by Stalin, in the name of the Central Committee of the Party, and by Molotov, in the name of the Council of People’s Commissars.

The decree begins with the warning that it is “impermissible for the Party, the Soviet and the Agricultural organs to repeat last year’s mistakes when the harvest was excessively delayed which led to large losses in crops in a number of Republics, Regions and Provinces owing to the negligent attitude of the leaders of the total organizations. The beginning of the grain harvest shows that these mistakes are again being repeated in a whole series of regions.” (Our emphasis)

This preamble is followed by the statement that state deliveries are lagging behind or are not being made at all. Especially singled out are the Provinces of Omsk, Chelyabinsk and Kuubishev, the District of Krasnoyarsk and the Autonomous Republic of Bashkira “where many leading party and Soviet workers proved to be captives of the anti-state tendencies of isolated kolkhozes and kolkhozniki, and as a consequence of this, the plan of grain deliveries was not fulfilled and serious arrears have accumulated in the obligatory deliveries of grain.”

In the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union accredited to none other than Stalin himself, it is stated: “The collective farm peasantry, as the Sixteenth Party Congress stated in one of its resolutions, had become ‘a real and firm mainstay of the Soviet Power’.” (p. 312) Expressed here is Stalin’s most cherished hope that his regime could be stabilized by the “prosperous collectives.” Now another of Stalin’s world-publicized boasts has been exploded.

We have not long to wait before news comes of purges of the “party, Soviet and Administrative organs” in the rural areas, together with another drive against the “anti-state elements” in the collectives. Pravda for August already carries accounts of the first trials of the administrative personnel of the kolkhozes.

The rumblings of the “kulak danger” are about to break into a storm that must exceed in its fury the ravages of the previous struggle against the peasantry.

Soviet Workers Resisting Stalin’s Anti-Labor Laws

That Soviet workers are striking and in other ways resisting Stalin’s anti-labor legislation was revealed officially by Pravda itself in a leading editorial which stated:


Never before has Stalin’s official press allowed itself any reference, no matter how veiled, to strikes on the job or other forms of mass resistance on the part of the workers. If it does so now in so thinly disguised form, then it must mean that a mass-scale resistance is involved, and that the apparatus of repression must be lashed into action to overcome it..

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