Collectivization Under Stalin
Stalin's Personal Motivation
The investigation seeks to evaluate whether Stalin’s personal motivation for collectivization was political or economic. The study of this topic during class brought to my attention that several different historians believed the private objective behind Stalin’s plans were economic in principle and some believed them to be political. It piqued my curiosity and influenced my decision for my topic.
Stalin changed the agricultural policy from Lenin’s New Economic Policy to collectivization in November of 1929 as stated in his first five-year plan. Stalin did not view favorably the growing strength of the small landowners. Therefore, this new policy planned to use the collective farms to produce more grain than necessary for survival, allowing the government to seize the excess and sell it for profit to foreign countries. Collective farms were a few thousand acres apiece, run by between fifty and one hundred families as government workers. They would enable fewer farms to produce more crops, providing agricultural surpluses for industrial development. By condensing the number of farms, there would be an increase in workers for industrial production. In turn, this would help to promote the rapid industrialization of the Russian economy. The capital from agricultural surpluses would then be put to use for industrial investment. The harvest was split three ways: (1) compulsory deliveries to the state, (2) the Machine Tractor Stations (MTS) share, and (3) the shares of the individual members of the collective, in that order of importance. (Bullock, 267-268) The state’s share was the source of capital investments in industry. The state sold off the confiscated or forcibly delivered grain at higher than average prices.
Stalin promised to facilitate the mechanization of agriculture by sharing machines while giving the Communist party control over the peasants. Since the state’s share was top priority, Russia now had to import food to feed its people, which defeated the purpose of deporting the grain for profit. The money earned in grain sold abroad was to be put toward financing factories, dams, and power plants.
Peasants fought back against the Communist party, stating their ancestors had fought the nobles for ownership of their farms in a bloody war. Stalin used violent suppression to obtain ownership of peasantry farms. As a result, Stalin killed twice as many people as Hitler in order to attain his goals. When food shortages started appearing, Stalin switched to the terror and brute force tactic to persuade the peasants to cooperate. Ten’s of thousands of political party members and the Red Army were dispatched to the countryside, where peasants were beaten to force them to work on state farms. If they refused, they were either exiled to Siberia to a concentration camp or killed. The Red Guards (Stalin’s army) crushed all uprisings, exterminating five million peasants in the process.
A "terror-famine" started as a result from the peasants’ slaughtering of their livestock and the extractions by the state out of the subsistence needed to sustain the nation. Russian government officials refused help from international relief agencies and the famine went unrecorded by the Soviet press. The economic depression in 1929 made the five-year plan impossible to accomplish since Russia was counting on other countries to have the financial backing to pay for the slightly elevated grain prices.
The ultimate goal remained to make the peasants into members of the rural proletariat. Stalin believed this was one way of converting the peasantry class into the working class. By 1936, seven years after the start of collectivization, ninety one percent of all peasants were affected by the economic changes.
The two main books I used for my investigation were Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock and Why Lenin? Why Stalin? A Reappraisal of the Russian Revolution 1900-1930 by Theodore H. Von Laue. Both informative books addressed Stalin’s reason(s) for collectivization as either political or economic. However, each one seems to focus more on one viewpoint than the opposing viewpoint. I used Bullock’s analysis for the political aspects of my investigation and Von Laue’s analysis for the economical aspects of my investigation.
The origin of Alan Bullock’s research came from his interest as a historian in the time period of the beginning of the Second World War in the first half of the twentieth century. His attraction to certain subjects comes from living through the time period and combining his experiences with an investigation later as a historian with access to documentary evidence and witnesses. Both Hitler, A Study in Tyranny and Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary pointed him to the subject that had attracted him at the end of the war in a form of a comparative study of the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions. He became involved in the 1970s with the international seminar program of the Aspen Institute in Berlin that made frequent visits to the German capital, at that time deep within the Soviet occupation zone. He started to look for a framework in order to combine the exploration of this international dimension with a comparison of the Stalinist and the Nazi, two revolutionary systems of power. This developed into a comparative study between the two men who brought about each of these systems, Hitler and Stalin. No historian before Bullock’s time had attempted to place both dictators’ lives alongside each other and follow them together from beginning to end. And since he was neither German nor Russian, he had no political statement to make based on prejudice. (Bullock, xv-xviii)
The origin of Theodore H. Von Laue’s research came from constantly setting new challenges for himself. After studying German history, he changed lanes to study Russian history. This resulted in a comprehensive history of the industrialization of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. His most famous and influential book, Why Lenin? Why Stalin? came into existence in order to ensure his research was relevant to the solution of current world problems at the summit of the Cold War. (Von Laue, 1-4) It explains the rise of Lenin and Stalin as part of the logical imperative of modernization and industrialization in a country attempting to play catch-up with Western Europe.
When studying the Russian Revolution that began when Lenin came into power and continued through Stalin’s reign, there was an inconsistency pertaining to the reasoning behind agricultural reforms during 1928 according to two authors. Theordore Von Laue wrote a reappraisal of the Russian Revolution claiming that collectivization was an economic move on Stalin’s part. However, Alan Bullock argues that in his investigation of Stalin and his policies, the agrarian reform was a political move. Stalin was set in the other areas of the country. He held control over the social fraction of the country with his newspaper Pravada (truth) and his mastery of propaganda. At the time, there was no religion because Stalin was waging a war against the Russian Orthodox Church and the people were afraid of being persecuted. (Bullock, 264) The building of his military might started while Lenin was still alive. Stalin was in the background gaining support for when he took Lenin’s place as dictator. By the time he became the new ruler of Russia, he already held the military in his hands. Lenin also set him up nicely with the creation of the secret police, Cheka whom followed the orders of the dictator. The only two aspects he was missing was control over politics and the economy.
Von Laue states collectivization was for economic purposes. He believes Stalin enforced this agrarian movement because he was trying to strengthen the weakness in the Russian economy. Stalin’s ultimate goal was to make Russia a completely socialist country that could survive on its own without foreign aid. One of his goals was to produce enough food that would enable the survival of the Russian peoples. Stalin promised collectivization would help to facilitate the mechanization of agriculture by sharing machines. The improved availability of machinery also increased the output per peasant. This increase in machinery allowed more work to be done by less people, thus furthering industrialization. It increased the supply of workers for the factories, therefore increasing the rate at which Russia was industrializing. (Von Laue, 199) Stalin’s promise of an increase in the standard of living was false since the government reaped the profits, not the individual. Laue argues that both industrialization and collectivization were for defending the nation against the Nazi attack, and reconstructing the war devastated nation.
Bullock claims collectivization was a political move made to further Stalin’s quest for absolute power. Stalin blamed the peasants, mainly the kulaks for the government’s inability to achieve absolute socialism. In order to achieve his goals, he found ways to dispose of the problem. He called for the liquidation of the kulaks as a class, requiring to murder or deport them by millions. Unfortunately, Stalin’s men made no distinction between rich and poor peasants. The peasants’ rebellion from the confiscation of their land enabled Stalin to use brute force to get them to cooperate. He used the excuse of a class war to justify his retaliation measures. Some he had killed as a warning example for other peasants; some were exiled to Siberia to work in gulags, a Russian form of a Nazis concentration camp. His control over the peasants became another stepping stone toward complete and absolute power. Stalin’s changing viewpoints on all his political decisions followed the fastest and easiest road to supreme authority. In 1928 he declared the expropriating the kulaks would be folly to the nation’s economy. In 1929 he ordered their eradication as a class and did not allow them to join the collective farms.(Bullock, 268) Communists had initially considered private farming more efficient but Stalin changed his mind, arguing that collectives with the modern technology would suit the agricultural conditions in Russia. The famine that resulted from the slaughter of livestock was blamed on the peasants, since they refused to give up their property to the government in order to help the nation survive. Anything and everything that went wrong during his reign was blamed on the peasants in order to turn the nation against them, which gave Stalin the means and power to destroy them.
Stalin was an intelligent and sly dictator who knew how to manipulate people in order to get what he wanted. After studying his possible motivations for inflicting collectivization onto the Russian peoples, it can be concluded that he used an economic plan to accomplish his political goals. His motivation for implementing agricultural collectivization was both economic and political. His intelligence and cunning enabled him to twist the economic situation around in order to accomplish stability for the nation and satisfy his personal vendetta. For the first time in history, the government controlled all significant economic activity through a central planning apparatus. Both industrialization and collectivization combined made Stalin’s hold on the economy absolute. His methods for obtaining this stability gave him political supremacy. By killing two birds with one stone, he accomplished something no other dictator had: complete, absolute power over his people.
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