How far do you agree that the collectivisation of agriculture made an essential contribution to Stalin’s transformation of the Russian’s economy?
In 1928 Stalin was firmly established as the leader of the USSR. Despite the efforts of Lenin and the limited move towards a limited degree of private enterprise in the New Economic Policy (NEP) The Soviet Union was still relatively economically underdeveloped compared with the main economic powers of Western Europe. Her industrial development level lagged far behind that of its western neighbours particularly Germany. The farms were still not producing sufficient food to feed the country. Stalin needed to find a way to improve Russia and catch up with the West, and become more independent. Russia needed more modern machinery, especially tractors to mechanise farming and produce more food. If a strong industry was built then Russia could invest on producing manufactured goods and armaments. To complete this aim Stalin made the Soviet state take over the running of the nation’s economy and he introduced two essential methods: collectivisation and industrialisation. But realistically, both these elements can be summarised as being that Russia had to modernise, in speeches Stalin noted that Russia was behind the advanced countries (U.S.A and Western Europe) by fifty or hundred years. To catch up Stalin believed they needed to increase the “tempo” in the next ten years with hopefully Russia becoming a powerful country by the end of the decade. But the Russian people were not fully aware of the tribulation they would face because of this process of forced modernisation.
Stalin judged that the only way to raise the capital that was needed to develop Soviet industry was to use the land. So collectivisation was used to improve the efficiency of the Russian agricultural sector. This involved taking the land from small farmers, known as Kulaks, and giving it all to the state. These resulted in many peasants no longer farming their own land but working for the state and receiving a wage. The thinking behind this was because it was believed that the larger units of land could be farmed more efficiently through mechanisation e.g. use of tractors would result in much higher food production. Furthermore, with Russia nearly at breaking point in terms of food shortages, the decision to collectivise so rapidly was an emergency decision. In addition with mechanised agriculture there would be less demand for peasants to work the land which would release labour for the new industries which would be developed through the collectivisation. If the people of Russia wanted to move on from the past they would have to give up their land, with collectivisation being a socialist solution for agriculture a socialist state could not be built if the majority of the population were private landowners.
In 1928 Joseph Stalin started politically attacking kulaks (Rich peasants who had grown wealthy under the NEP) for not contributing enough food for industrial workers. He also encouraged the setting up of collective farms (Kolkhoz). The proposal involved small farmers joining forces to form larger-scale units. In this way, it was argued, they would be in a position to afford the latest machinery. Stalin believed this policy would lead to increased production. However, the peasants greatly preferred farming their ‘own’ land and were reluctant to form themselves into state collectives.
Joseph Stalin was enraged by the resistance to collectivisation of agriculture; he viewed it as a case of the peasants were putting their own individual welfare before that of the collective welfare of the people of the Soviet Union. Local communist officials were given instructions to confiscate the kulaks property. This land would then be used to form new collective farms. The kulaks themselves were not allowed to undermine the success of the scheme. Thousands were executed and an estimated five million were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. Of these, it has been estimated by some historians that approximately twenty-five per cent perished by the time they reached their destination.