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John G. Wright

Stalin’s New “Three-Year” Plan for Agriculture

(May 1947)

From Fourth International, Vol.8 No.5, May 1947, pp.157-159.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Fourth Five-Year Plan for Soviet agriculture, which officially went into effect in January 1946, has been scrapped by the Kremlin. While ostensibly the original Plan still remains in effect, it has now in reality been superseded by an emergency plan which specifically covers only three years, the current year, and the next two years, 1948 and 1949. This far-reaching change was made at the secret sessions of Plenum of the Central Committee of the Russian party held “sometime” in February in Moscow.

In decreeing this substitute plan for agriculture all of the constituted governmental bodies were by-passed. Measures of such scope are customarily presented in the name of the Gosplan (the State Planning Commission) and submitted to the Supreme Council for rubber-stamping. This procedure was arbitrarily dispensed with. Similarly ignored was the Council of Ministers in whose name all of the recent important economic decrees have been issued. The report to the Plenum, on the basis of which the emergency measures were adopted, was submitted not by Benediktov, the incumbent Minister of Agriculture, but by Andreyev, member of the Politbureau, who was appointed several months ago as head of the extraordinary “Board for Collective Farm Affairs.” (This Board has in effect supplanted the Ministry of Agriculture, which has now been reduced to a completely subordinate body.) It is noteworthy that Andreyev, who today plays so prominent a role in connection with “restoring” and “safeguarding” the collectives, was one of the key figures in the program of “wholesale collectivization” during the Thirties. The situation must be critical indeed for Stalin to skip over the entire elaborate state machinery through which he has operated in recent years!

The text of the decision adopted by the February Plenum entitled, On the Measures to Build Up Agriculture in the Post-War Period, was published in the columns of the press, with Pravda devoting to it practically its entire issue of February 28. This likewise marks a sharp departure from recent procedure: since the termination of hostilities, texts of all important economic decrees, especially those relating to agriculture, have been deliberately kept out of the press.

In addition, let us note, the text of the Plenum decision, which has the force of an emergency law, is far more informative than other similar documents have been, even though its statistical section remains, as usual, extremely hazy, designed to obscure rather than to reveal the actual state of affairs.

Rare Frankness

But what the Kremlin does not and cannot any longer hide are conditions in agriculture and the terrible impact of last year’s drouth that literally pose point-blank the question: Has Soviet agriculture collapsed as a direct consequence of the war and the 1946 famine crop?

In the light of admissions contained explicitly and implicitly in the new measures, it is hard to answer this question in the negative.

The Fourth Five-Year Plan set as its goal the expansion of the “total farm produce in the USSR,” by an over-all increase of 27 per cent by 1950, which requires an average annual increase of about 5 per cent over pre-war levels.

The new project postpones all talk of “surpassing” pre-war figures and instead designates the next three years – 1947, 1948 and 1949 – as the minimum period during which agriculture must be pulled-up to pre-war production. Assuming that this new target is achieved, this would leave only one year of the original Plan – 1950 – in which agriculture could conceivably be expanded beyond levels previously attained.

Analyzing the Fourth Five-Year Plan (see Fourth International, September 1946), we concluded:

“The claim that by 1950 the annual harvest will ‘be increased by 27 per cent above the 1940 figure’ is nothing less than fantastic.”

Now we report a claim by Stalin, even more fantastic in the light of the facts, namely, that this original goal can still be achieved not “by 1950” but solely and simply “in 1950.”

This shameless lie is uttered in the face of Stalin’s own acknowledgment that the best perspective he sees himself for Soviet agriculture is – a return to 1940 levels – by 1950! If a condition of agriculture that requires for its restoration virtually the entire period of a Five-Year Plan does not mean a breakdown, then what does it mean?

As a matter of fact, the text of the February 1947 Plenum resolution states that sown areas, crop yields, labor productivity, harvests, agricultural equipment, tractor personnel, and so on have dropped “considerably below pre-war” in every branch of agricultural production without exception – from grain and other cereals, through animal husbandry and fodder to industrial crops (cotton, sugar beet, flax fiber, etc.).

Just how far Soviet agriculture has declined since 1940, still remains a jealously guarded secret of the Kremlin. It is admitted, however, that there are acute shortages in draught animals, all types of cattle, all types of tools and machinery, especially tractors and combines, all types of fertilizer, skilled and unskilled labor, and everything else. It is admitted that only 75 per cent of the pre-war cultivated area in the devastated western provinces has thus far been replanted. It is further admitted that the “government uncovered major shortcomings” in Siberia, the Urals and Kazakhstan, the Eastern granary of the USSR (Pravda, April 6). The flax crop has been only half of what was anticipated. Cotton plantations in Central Asia were permitted to run to weeds, or converted into rice plantations. Similar conditions prevail in tobacco, sunflower seed, rubber-bearing plants, etc., etc.

That the decline has been nothing short of disastrous is corroborated by the involuntary admission that millions upon millions of acres have been withdrawn from cultivation and must be replanted if Soviet agriculture is to recover. Thus the new plan calls for sown areas to be increased in 1947 by 6.3 million hectares (in the collectives by 5.7 million hectares); and in 1948 by an additional 6.1 million hectares (of which 5 million are allocated to the collectives). This makes a total, for the next two years alone of 12.4 million hectares, or 30.6 million acres (the increased acreage projected for 1949 is passed over in silence by the architects of the new plan). Here, then, we have the minimum figures by which the cultivated area has declined since 1940. This huge acreage (equal in size to one-half of the cultivated land in all of Canada) amounts to 10 per cent of the total cultivated area in the Soviet Union. The actual figure of land withdrawn from production is unquestionably far higher. In any case, even the officially acknowledged decline reveals the grim situation, which is complicated still further by the terrible drouth of 1946, by the declining crop yields and the universal scarcities.

This dwindling of cultivated land expresses most strikingly the extent to which the technological foundation of Soviet agriculture, that is, its mechanized equipment, has deteriorated in wartime. The backbone of collective farming is the tractor. The shortage of draught animals renders tractor production all the more imperative. It is precisely here that the ravages of war have struck most deeply and lastingly. 137,000 tractors are listed among the official war-losses. The Fourth Five-Year Plan called for the production of “no less than 325,000 tractors” in 1945-1950. Such an output would have permitted the war losses to be covered in the space of two years, i.e., by the beginning of 1948.

The Deficit in Tractors

But production of tractors has fallen far below even the most pessimistic expectations. Resumption of tractor production has proceeded at a snail’s pace. Tractor production at the present time is half of what was originally envisaged, and less than one-third of the pre-war levels. This is obvious from the new plan targets. It now calls for the delivery of only 34,000 tractors in 1947, and hopes to double this figure by 1948 (the 1949 target is not even mentioned). At such a projected rate of production, the war losses cannot possibly be made until as late as 1949.

It inescapably follows that very few new tractors were delivered to agriculture last year. For if the target delivery for 1947 is 34,000 tractors, no more than a fraction of this number could have been made in 1946. Comrade Germain, in his brilliant analysis of Soviet economy in 1946, estimates that tractor production last year could not have gone much above 30,000. It is now an official Stalinist boast that this year “farms are to be supplied with from two to three times as many tractors and other agricultural machines and implements as last year” (USSR Information Bulletin, published by Soviet Embassy in USA, vol.VII, No.6, pages 9-10). This would fix the 1946 tractor output at from 11,000 to 17,000, a figure that is in all likelihood much closer to the actual one, than higher estimates.

In view of this situation, whether the 1947 output comes up to expectations or not, it is certain that the overwhelming bulk of the war-losses will not have been made good in time for sowing and harvesting of the 1947 spring crops. If 20,000 new tractors are supplied by June of this year, it would be far above the official anticipations. This cannot fail to affect the crop yields adversely. Should dry spells again ensue, under the famine conditions that already prevail, a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions would be precipitated.

Will it perhaps be possible to restore the war-losses by 1949? The Kremlin obviously is pinning all its hopes on precisely this perspective. It banks on squeezing by the year 1947 with 34,000 new tractors and then plans to cover the deficit with an additional 67,000 tractors in 1948. From the statistical standpoint, a solution seems to be within reach by 1949. But between these latest Stalinist statistics and the actual course of developments lie a great many unknowns. Let us single out only two of the most important factors.

In the first place, neither in 1947 nor in 1948 will agriculture have the necessary technological means for full-scale restoration. Just as the current tractor production cannot possibly be available except in part for spring sowing and harvesting, so, at best, only one-half of the projected 1949 tractor output will be available in the spring of 1949 (the remainder will roll off the production lines only in the fall and winter).

The question therefore actually poses itself as follows: Will it be possible, under these conditions, to achieve relative stability in agriculture during the next two critical years? As we have seen, this is by no means assured even from a purely technical standpoint. Adding greatly to this uncertainty are social and political factors that are undermining the entire collective farm system. It is evident, in any case, that the greatest obstacles to be surmounted in agriculture lie ahead and not behind.

Secondly, this minimum tractor output, for 1947 and 1948 alike, is not at all assured, even if all the resources are marshalled behind the effort, as the Kremlin will doubtless do. Tractor production is so low because labor productivity has sharply declined. It is virtually impossible to raise labor productivity under conditions where the workers are not guaranteed even their bare minimum of subsistence. But to remedy this situation it is first necessary to restore agriculture. The Kremlin has little immediate prospect for breaking out of this vicious circle.

Moreover, tractor production is so low because none of the major plants has as yet been fully re-equipped and reconverted to peacetime production. This grim news is implicit in the text of the February Plenum resolution which calls for the completion of all “construction work” in the Altai, Stalingrad, Kharkov, Vladimirsk and Lipetsky tractor plants only by the “first part of 1948.” This means that the reconstruction of the Stalingrad and Kharkov plants will not even be completed this year. The Altai and Vladimirsk plants are new ones that were supposed to have gone into operation last year; the Lipetsky plant, another new one, was scheduled for production this year. The old Chelyabinsk plant has only recently resumed the production of tractors. The other major Minsk plant is still under construction; it is to “be completed” by the first part of 1948; and to “be placed in operation” by the latter part of 1948. All this is hardly reassuring. It is quite easy – on paper – to double the output of plants which are either in process of construction or not even yet in operation. But achieving this in practice is an entirely different matter.

Translated into the language of economics, Stalin’s new “three-year” plan for agriculture means that ahead lie at least two more years of acutest crisis for the collective farm system as a whole, and, consequently, two years of crisis for Soviet economy as a whole, which cannot possibly be stabilized unless and until its agricultural sector is rehabilitated.

This unfolding crisis cannot fail to entail ever sharper political and social consequences. The instability of the Stalinist regime, which the economic impasse expresses so eloquently, will tend to aggravate the political and social consequences, which in their turn, will render the position of the ruling oligarchy more and more untenable. This is the only realistic perspective for Soviet development in the next period.

Last updated: 29.12.2005