USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Stalin’s Collectivization of Agriculture

The big problem for Stalin was the agricultural sector, which was not providing the necessary grain at the necessary prices to allow for massive industrialization. The one group that was seen as the primary obstacle to the entire structural transformation of agriculture and industry was the so-called kulak class. The kulaks were basically some sort of private family farmer with smaller or larger holdings depending on the case. They were often well off relative to their peasant neighbors, but were not, of course, rich in any real sense. Nonetheless, Stalin needed an enemy—one that would provide the ideological cover for his massively intrusive plans to reorganize all peasant land into collective farms. This was not what the peasants had fought a revolution for and Stalin knew quite well that to break the peasants would be both hugely violent and the last great obstacle to massive social revolution. The “Collectivization of Agriculture” was the campaign to do just that.

We had a glimpse into the results of this process—and they were bleak. Huge famine hit the breadbasket of Russia, the Ukraine. Millions died of starvation. Perhaps up to two million people perished as the collectivization effort disrupted all normal agricultural activity. Massive protests developed against the movement, and farmers took to slaughtering their horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats instead of giving them over to the state. The numbers of animal losses from 1929 to 1933 are astounding.  The number of horses in the Soviet Union fell from 34 to around 17 million. The number of cattle fell from 68 million to 38 million. Sheep and goats dropped dramatically from 147 million to a mere 50 million. Stalin reacted with a campaign of terror that would create the Stalinist structure for terror that would last until his death in the early 1950s. In just these years of collectivization alone, some five million “kulaks” were removed from society and sent to the Gulags, the vast system of forced labor camps in Siberia and Central Asia.

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