Power of the Masses: How Regional Government Organs Shaped Collectivization in the USSR

Though at first Stalin and the Central Committee argued that it was necessary to collectivize and mobilized the 25,000ers in order to promote controlled collectivization in the countryside, collectivization in rural areas often became controlled by local government organs. The 25,000ers themselves were not influential in these regions because these “rural offices” outnumbered them.1 Further, when members of the 25,000 attempted to provide feedback to the Central Committee’s Department of Agitation and Mass Campaigns regarding unclear government policies on the gathering of seeds for sowing , they were often rejected from the party. The Central Committee’s inability to accept all feedback from the 25,000ers made the task of controlling collectivization from the top down more difficult.

Despite Stalin’s initial argument that “it was necessary to begin gradually to organize agriculture on the basis of large-scale collective farming,” regional organizations took initiative and began to collectivize at a rapid rate between the years of 1929 and 1930.2 As a result, Stalin and the central government found themselves attempting to control collectivization in response to this rapid growth. In January of 1930, the Central Committee released the decree “On the Tempos of Collectivization and Measures of State Aid to Collective Farm Construction” in order to discourage the forming of rural parties who took it upon themselves to control their region’s collectivization process. Further, the decree encouraged the elimination of the Russian kulaks “as a race.”3 This decree was an empty threat to rural communities because the members of the 25,000ers who were in each region were not only outnumbered, but considered as outsiders. Though some 25,000ers went against policy and resorted to violence to control these communities, the majority had little authority over the communities and the local government organs.4 In addition, the encouragement of the elimination of the kulak “race” led to uncontrollable violence in the countryside. In the government’s attempt to regain central control, its policies perpetuated more instability in the rural regions of the USSR.

The 25,000ers did not allow this lack of control to go unnoticed, they frequently reported back to the central government. Members of the 25,000 noted the threat that the kulaks presented, lack of “support offered by villagers,” and the problem of collecting seeds for sowing.5 Regarding the later concern, workers who complained about the government’s lack of specific instructions on the collection of seeds were “transferred, fired, or expelled from the party.”6 Though these members were trying to point out to the government its own inefficiency and ambiguity, the government rejected this constructive criticism. These reports were clear indicators of many issues present in the countryside, and the government often chose to ignore these critiques. As collectivization continued to increase, the government found itself having difficulty keeping up with this rapid, uncontrollable growth because of its inability to make full use of its reach through the 25,000ers.

  1. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 126. []
  2. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 110-112. []
  3. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 114. []
  4. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 122. []
  5. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 118-120. []
  6. Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in The Stalin Revolution: Foundation of the Totalitarian Era, ed. Robert V. Daniels (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,1997), 119. []

3 thoughts on “Power of the Masses: How Regional Government Organs Shaped Collectivization in the USSR

  1. The initial idea of the 25,000ers was a good one; they were part of the working class themselves and would fill the role as a leader for the peasants in the collectivization process. In reality, however, the peasants still saw the 25,000ers as outsiders and not one of them, and the revolts continued. It didn’t help that sometimes members of the 25,000ers would resort to the same tactics of violence and bad behavior which just put them in worse relations with the peasants.

  2. The issues arising from collectivization can partially be attributed to Russia’s geography; a factor which frequently comes up when discussing government control over the nation. Historically, the countryside in Russia has always been an expansive, isolated bulwark of conservative thought which those in power either largely ignore, or in recent centuries, attempt to force into modern life. The attempt by Stalin to infiltrate the lives of peasants in the countryside largely failed for the reasons you pointed out: the 25,000ers were too small in number, and more importantly, they were considered outsiders. Peasants were typically not interested in ideals or the changes they brought, making it difficult to effectively institute significant changes in the countryside.

  3. The element of geography is a key complication that virulently pervades the methods through which the revolution is conducted from the center. Allowing the proletarianization of agriculture and peasant directorates to occur over such a grand scale of land spawned an onslaught of irrationality, disorganization, confusion, and disagreements. This detachment from the central governing body also led to the subjugation of the peasants, as described by the 25,000er Zborovskii – “…he who does not enlist, this means that [he] is our enemy and that we will not let him live, we will give him the worst land…” (Viola, 121) The 25,000ers did not make an entirely immense contribution to collectivization; nonetheless, their actions and attitudes provide a clear reflection of the extent to which Stalin’s Five-Year Plan was able to influence the masses.

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