How far do you agree Communist ideology influenced Stalin's decision to implement Collectivisation in 1928?
How far do you agree Communist ideology influenced Stalin’s decision to implement Collectivisation in 1928?
Collectivisation was the agricultural policy, which Stalin adopted and began work on in the summer of 1928. The main features included, as Stalin quoted in Pravda
“The transition from individual peasant farming to collective socialised farming,”
and the process of De-kulakisation. It was an agricultural policy necessary to try and combat the problem with the poor provision of grain by the peasants, a problem that had always been evident in Russia’s agricultural management.
The heavy cost and brutality has led historians to offer a variety of explanations for why Collectivisation was used. Some pragmatists argue the original aim was to increase the tempo of industrialisation by increasing the grain procurement. Others draw emphasis on the process of De-kulakisation as a way of showing Stalin’s commitment to Marxism and Leninism by ridding the countryside of a ‘class enemy.’
Chapter 1 Marxism and feeding the revolution
Marx argued the need for collective farming to benefit the needs of the workers therefore the ideology behind Collectivisation is its importance to the development of a Communist state,
“They [the workers] must demand that the confiscated feudal property remain state property and be used for workers' colonies, cultivated collectively by the rural proletariat with all the advantages of large-scale farming.”
However Marx was a German lawyer with little knowledge of the rural way of life, his references to Collectivisation were sweeping generalisations and more suited to the analyses of the French Revolution to which his ideology had originally been based upon, whereby its relevance to Russia’s agricultural problems in the 1930’s were minimal. This raises the suspicion that Stalin may have had little idea of the Communist influences on Collectivisation and suggests he had other reasons to implement it. Yet in 1928 after exports there was 10 million tonnes of grain left for the urban working population yet by 1930 there was 18 million tonnes. This clearly demonstrates evidence that Stalin was using Collectivisation to fulfil the Communist dream by feeding the workers, and Soviet historians during the 1930’s, influenced by the ‘short course’ history within Russia, agreed that Marx influenced Stalin’s choice to collectivise. Yet these interpretations were very biased towards Stalin’s commitment to Communist principles and have a higher reflection of propaganda than analytical ‘truth’ as they were the result of a desire to gain promotion within the party. For example, Khrushchev, during the 1930’s wrote admiringly of Stalin and his commitment to Communism.
“Soviet Union is carrying out the great socialist ideas, the ideas of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin.”
But after 1953 Khrushchev revealed a very hostile view of Stalin, as he no longer needed to remain on his good side.
“Honest Communists were slandered,”
This shows; Stalin heavily influenced the Soviet historical interpretation.
However Marxist historians support the view that Stalin was a dedicated Communist and used Collectivisation to feed the revolution and fulfil the Communist dream.
“Stalin was a hard man, but one who represented the views of many other people, and who forced through progressive economic and social changes.”
The ‘view of many people’ especially during the struggle for power, was the importance of Communism. Two examples would be those within the Soviets and lower party members. This shows how important it was for Stalin to implement Collectivisation, to increase the tempo of industrialisation and keep the main desire of these groups, the prosperity of Communism, fulfilled. In context Deutscher’s view, was still dependent on a very small source of information, most of which was reminiscent of the 1930’s and very ‘pro-Stalin’. Therefore the quote is still of limited use due to its lack of analytical scope.
Despite this there is clear evidence that one of the big influences on Stalin’s choice to collectivise was the way in which it would allow a more efficient requisitioning process, consequently injecting more food into the urban areas of Russia, which would help the USSR towards the ideological aim of creating a Communist workers utopia.
Chapter 2 Marxism and the social experiment
Marx was also responsible for the term ‘Petit Bourgeois.’ This term refers to the peasantry who were conservative in nature with no interest in political change. Marx believed the best way to solve this problem was by the process of social engineering. Communal sharing and working together to feed the town or village are factors that Marx believed were involved in collective farming. Again, in evaluation Marx’s suggestions on rural implementation of Communism are vague due to his urban orientation, and Marx contradicted himself with the a separate belief in the ‘idiocy of rural life’. Stalin must have come across these contradictions in Marx’s writings, which suggests he had very little idea of what the Communist ideology contributed to the policy of Collectivisation and social engineering and whether it was a class war, or simply a war on peasants. Despite this one of the reasons for Collectivisation was, how it would effectively communicate the ideals of Communism to those who had little knowledge of it. Stalin’s attempt to remove the NEP supports the idea that Stalin was trying to increase the Communist influence within the countryside, as the NEP was in all senses a basic form of free trade and a mode of capitalism. It empowered the richer peasants or ‘Kulaks’ and Marx clearly stated the importance of removing the rural bourgeoisie. Marx identified ‘rural oppression’ in the countryside of poor peasantry by the richer peasantry (Kulaks) and Marxist historians maintain Stalin was using De-kulakisation to remove this oppression. As Stalin stated
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“Talk about the Kulak being no more dangerous than the urban Nepman, such talk is sheer liberal chatter which lulls the vigilance of the working class and of the main mass of the peasantry.”
This statement refers to the importance of removing the Kulaks in order to keep the working classes mindful of Communism. In this case Communist ideology greatly influenced Stalin’s choice to collectivise in 1928.
Certain historians argue Stalin’s policies simply consolidated the formation of his own totalitarian regime. These Intentionalists would evaluate Stalin’s quote as an example of propaganda he used to increase his image as a dedicated Communist during the ‘struggle for power’ in 1928.
“The drive for power was Stalin’s strongest and most obvious motivation.”
The usefulness of the ‘Intentionalist view’ is debatable. The evidence for these arguments, which all originated around the 1960-70 time period, was still extremely hard to obtain, and distorted by the generally bitter attitude towards Communism which often resulted in an anti-communist bias. In comparison Sheila Fitzpatrick argues De-kulakisation was, “almost improvised,”
These two views both see the process of Collectivisation in a different light. Conquest see’s Collectivisation as a process of increasing Stalin’s power claiming the liquidisation of Kulaks was a way of enforcing a horrid terror upon the peasantry, who Stalin saw as an enemy, not of Communism but of his own power. E.g. In 1933 approximately 5 million peasants had been sent to ‘Gulags’ or exiled to Siberia, usually for petty offences with little relevance to characteristics of a Kulak. Fitzpatrick believes although Stalin may have had a stern theoretical idea as to what a Kulak was, when the process began, local party members had little idea what characteristics a Kulak possessed.
Both of these views contest Communist ideology had an influence on the decision to Collectivise. Conquest based the ‘influence’ on consolidation of power, and Fitzpatrick focused on the pragmatism caused by poor understanding of the original Communist concept of De-kulakisation.
When implementing Collectivisation Stalin had very little idea about what it actually was or how to go about it, but the basic reasoning was its Communist grounding and this may have been the most important reason to begin with its implementation. In support of this, before 1928, in ‘Marxism and the national question’ Stalin did not once address any Communist ideology regarding collective farming. Fitzpatrick supported this, claiming,
“There were no systematic instructions about collectivisation prepared before the fact,”
Yet Fitzpatrick based these facts on information gained at a local level from within Russia usually from peasants or local party officials and tended to ignore state records. These records would have given a very different view of the organisational structure of Collectivisation suggesting there was adequate planning and prior to 1928.
These arguments have led me to believe that Communist ideology was not the sole contributor to Stalin’s decision to collectivise. There is also strong argument that Stalin was using this as a front for various other means. For example the distortion of Communism by Lenin may have had a greater effect on Stalin’s choice to Collectivise.
Chapter 3 Lenin and War Communism = Stalin and Collectivisation
Russia had a very small urban population at the time of the revolution. Lenin coined the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat,” which became the main part of Leninist ideology. In order for the Communist revolution to occur in Russia, a nation with only a 20 % urban population, the Bolshevik party would have to create more Proletariat, and remain in dictatorial control until a majority of the people were urban workers and able to govern themselves in accordance with Communist ideology. War Communism, although viewed by the ‘right,’ of the party as a compromise, held down some core Communist principles. Because the civil war was fought in the countryside it affected the peasants the most, subsequently the values of Communism across the USSR. The fact it requisitioned grain from the peasants to feed the workers was also reminiscent of Marxist ideology. Yet war Communism shared some ‘anti-Communist’ factors such as the use of terror and coercion to acquire grain from the peasants and organisation by a central bureaucracy. This argues against the influence of Communism on Collectivisation as Stalin mirrored this use of coercion during Collectivisation. Reflecting a rejection of the egalitarian values of Communism and acceptance of the Leninist adaptation.
Trotskyite historians, see Lenin as the ‘prophet’ of Communism, and Stalin as a debaucher of Lenin. Medvedev argues,
“He was able to make simplifications of complex ideas which had the effect of vulgarising Marxism-Leninism.”
Medvedev was a philosopher, not a historian and this quote, rather than being based on fact makes a generalisation of how Stalin adopted Leninism, failing to take into account the fact that labour camps, terror and secret police were all around during Lenin’s rule as well. Intentionalists, like Kolakowski, argue Lenin much like Stalin used policies to consolidate power and work to his own agenda, supporting my argument that Collectivisation was foreshadowed by Lenin’s agricultural conflicts.
“Stalin was basically carrying through what Lenin started,”
Kolakowski made this comment without strong analysis of the differences between Lenin and Stalin’s policies. It is a general comment made with Marxist philosophy in mind with little relevance to economic evidence.
Stalin aimed to use Collectivisation as a way of widening the party’s power within the countryside much like War Communism had suppressed the conservative ‘Greens,’ during the civil war.
I believe Lenin’s War Communism foreshadowed some of the main features of Collectivisation; therefore Leninism-Marxism influenced Stalin’s decision to Collectivise in 1928 Stalin was attempting to be seen as Lenin’s successor during the ‘struggle for power’ in 1928 Leninism-Marxism may have influenced the choice to Collectivise to a greater extent than Communist ideology.
Chapter 4 Bureaucratic control and beating the ‘right’ in 1928
Stalin always maintained his political allegiance was to ‘Marxism-Leninism.’ Yet some of the key features of Stalinism go a long way to explain other influences on Collectivisation and why these, were more important then the Communist influence. Marx disagreed with the use of a dictatorship to achieve the prosperity of Communism. Yet Stalin’s implementation of Collectivisation was an attempt at creating a centralised bureaucracy. The NEP had allowed the peasantry to do as they pleased with their grain and subsequently the peasants often decided to hoard grain and use it for their own ends. Therefore Stalin enforced Collectivisation to remove the control from the peasants and give it to the party.
“The deposed and abused bureaucracy, from being a servant of society, has become its lord.”
This source supports the view that Stalin acted to centralise the bureaucracy, however it is victim to heavy bias against Stalin’s character. ‘From being a servant of society’ highlights the limitations of the bias, as the source rather than being a balanced assessment of two leader’s governments, implies Lenin did not use the bureaucracy to control, when in fact we know he did. This links to the other reason Collectivisation was important in the battle for leadership. Although Trotsky’s quote claims Lenin’s use of the bureaucracy was for the people, it is evident as I have argued that War Communism and ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” were both forms of elite control in order to aid the revolution. The use of Collectivisation was a way of gaining support by the hard line members of the party that supported Lenin’s more oppressive policies, and also emphasised Stalin’s loyalty to Marxism-Leninism.
By using Collectivisation all decisions could be made by Stalin and enforced through the bureaucracy. For example the requisitioning rates were enforced upon the peasants and in 1928 the state procurement of grain was 10.8 million tonnes yet by 1931 it had risen to 22.8 million tonnes.
A big criticism of this view is the Revisionist debate. The core belief of the Revisionist debate is that Stalin’s personality is overemphasised. Historians tend to see Stalin as the sole oppressor when in fact many adored him, and negative aspects of his policies were as much the responsibility of others within the party as Stalin’s. Fitzpatrick argues much of the problems and famine during the policy was due to both the actions of local party members and urban outsiders
“This lead them to interpret their mission in the most extreme terms…forcible closing of the village establishment and public destruction of icons,”
This counters the view, Stalin planned from the start, to use Collectivisation in the same way as Lenin used War Communism, and that the countryside oppression was not a direct intention,
“Some of our comrades have become dizzy with success and for the moment have lost clearness of mind and sobriety of vision.”
However this source like others by Stalin had a specific reason, to temporarily calm the peasants before resuming Collectivisation and to shift the blame to other people within the party so as to not lose face so soon after consolidating his power. Regardless it is clear that Collectivisation much like industrialisation served as a tool to beat the opposition during Stalin’s struggle for power.
Chapter 5 “Cult of the individual” and Technocratic influences
Collectivisation would not only help to win the battle for leadership within the party, but the battle for total control within the countryside by spreading the ‘Cult of individuality.’ By using the party bureaucracy during Collectivisation Stalin could enforce his rule upon peasants that made up 80% of Russia’s population whereby although ‘Kulak’ was originally an attack on a class enemy, it became a way of distinguishing those who opposed Stalin and those who didn’t.
“Such a man knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything.”
This was not possible if Russia’s entirety were not answerable to Stalin. Basically this argument shows that Stalin used Collectivisation not only to win the battle for power within the party, but also to establish his rule over the countryside much like Lenin did with War Communism. He was effectively using Collectivisation to make his identity known to the rest of Russia and this,
“Mainspring of his personality: Love of power, ambition, envy,”
Is the main source of the intentionalist debate but Trotsky was constantly bitter towards Stalin, mainly as it was he that destroyed his chances of leadership. Therefore the source’s use of bias and ignorance of Stalin’s qualities limits its usefulness.
This is instrumental in another explanation of why Stalin implemented Collectivisation, to improve the extreme backwardness of Russia’s economy and technology.
“…Behind the advance countries…make good this distance in ten years, or we shall be crushed.”
This highlights how important Stalin saw the use of Collectivisation as a way of modernising the USSR; firstly it would allow Stalin to have a greater control of the grain procurement rates, as on
Collective farms there would be fewer collection points and each farm would have Communist supporters who would know how much had been produced. This is evidently true, as grain procurements rose by 10 million from 1928 to 1930. By making peasants farm in a more controlled manner, and increasing the state procurements, exports on grain would rise and allow a surge of machinery and raw materials into Russia, subsequently aiding the process of rapid industrialisation. Also the huge increase in procurements would allow Stalin to feed the urban population better.
“They [the workers] were hungry and angry at what they saw as the deliberate actions of peasants in holding back food.”
Secondly the process of Collectivisation was an attempt at modernisation in itself. The process involved the setting up of MTS, tractor stations that would allow the peasants to harvest far more grain, far quicker. This in itself was an example of technological advancement that reflected the progressing of socialism to the international audience. Not only this, but the use of better technology would release peasants into industrial projects such as Magnitigorsk.
This is the argument that the major influence on Stalin’s decision to collectivise was to bring Russia out of its backward state.
“Collectivisation of the rural economy, however, had technocratic as well as ideological reasons.”
This can be supported by an increase in exports from 0.3 million tonnes of grain in 1928 to 5.1 million tonnes in 1931. Yet this source does not address the fact the technocratic pursuits were most likely just ways of consolidating power. Collectivisation showed Stalin to be addressing the peasants and controlling the grain problem, to aid the process of industrialisation. Which severely increased his popularity both within the party and from the workers. In a sense the importance of the technocratic influence is mainly the effects of Stalin trying to gain and maintain his power.
In retrospect of the last two chapters, it is clear Stalin’s own needs as a powerful dictator were also important in the implementation of such a policy. It was necessary to beat the right wing in 1928, by attacking the NEP outright. This in turn would enable the centralised bureaucratic control over the countryside and it has been debated, empower the cult of personality to its fullest.
Chapter 6 Conclusion
The single greatest influence on Stalin’s decision to collectivise in 1928 was his need to consolidate and further his power. It is arguable that Collectivisation was originally a Communist principal, as it related to both social engineering and the state possession of countryside property to benefit the workers. Yet this factor alone made it far easier for Stalin to implement a policy that was so brutal. Ultimately the peasants had always been a problem, especially for the Communist Party, this is why the resemblance Collectivisation had to War Communism, in terms of terror and coercion, made it even more respectable amongst the party and the urban population as it was reminiscent of the prophet of Communism; Lenin. The context is vital in explaining why I came to this decision. In 1928 Stalin was still in a heated battle of leadership against Bukharin, who advocated the NEP. It was important for Stalin to have both a policy entirely different to Bukharin’s in order to establish his personality, and a policy that stood for strong left wing Communism. By using Collectivisation Stalin was implying to the party and the workers that he was spreading the ideals of Collectivisation through out the countryside by removing the NEP, as well as gaining the food to feed the revolution. However it is clear the peasants were not interested in the slightest about Communism, shown by their reactions to the Civil war in 1917 to 1921. Stalin knew this; he knew what Collectivisation really meant. It was a way of bringing the peasants under his complete control. By creating the kolkhoz he could easily put the countryside under the bureaucracy and he would be in complete control of the grain. However I think the arguments for deciding to collectivise have been skewed considerably by the terror that ensued. It is arguable that the terror did not begin until 1932, but I believe the terror was inevitable, when forcing the peasants to give such a large percentage of their grain to the state. For example in 1928 the remainder of grain for the peasants after state procurement was 62.5 million tonnes yet by 1931 the remainder had fell to 46.7 million tonnes. Stalin knew there would be starvation from the start, as he had witnessed the very same starvation during War Communism. The inclusion of terror into Collectivisation was intended from the start, again to further Stalin’s hold over Russia.
“ Stalin subordinates everything to his lust for power,”
Collectivisation also had its technocratic influences, to provide Russia with enough exports to buy machinery and industrialise, in order to prevent war from the west. But yet again the huge focus on competing with the west in both agriculture and industry was a form of propaganda to increase the popularity for Stalin’s regime. Which it did very well.
I do agree that the extent to which Collectivisation coerced and terrorised the peasantry was not intended when Stalin implement it in 1928, and that some of the brutality was due to the over zealousness of local party officials. Despite this Stalin’s main reason for collectivising in 1928 was to further his own power, both by increasing his popularity amongst the party, applying a policy smacking of Marxism-Leninism, to destroy Bukharin during the succession for power. And to increase the Party grip over the countryside and put the country’s most important raw material, grain, under Stalin’s total control. The apparent strong influence of Communism was simply a form of propaganda to justify a bureaucratic, dictatorial policy, to the more dedicated Communists within the party clearly demonstrating the choice to Collectivise was influenced almost entirely by Stalin’s desire to increase his power both within the party and the Russian populous.
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Tony Cliff quoting Karl Marx, Marxism and the Collectivisation of Agriculture (1964)
Khrushchev, Secret speech, (1956)
‘Russia after Stalin’ (1953)
Das Kapital, Karl Marx (1887)
Stalin, ‘On the grain front’ (1932)
Harvests of Sorrow, Robert Conquest (1986)
Stalin’s Peasants, Sheila Fitzpatrick (1994)
Stalin’s Peasants, Sheila Fitzpatrick (1994)
Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge, (1971)
Leszeck Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, (1970)
Leon Trotsky, Miscellaneous quote.
Stalin’s Peasants, Sheila Fitzpatrick, (1994)
Pravda Article, Stalin, (1932)
Alan Wood, Stalin and Stalinism (1990)
Party Congress Meeting, Stalin (1928)
Chris Corin & Terry Fiehen, Communist Russia under Lenin and Stalin (2002)
Even Mawdsley, The Stalin years, (1998)