Collectivization was initially meant to be a revolution that would modernize and stabilize agriculture while simultaneously result in the destruction of the old order. However, these grand goals were never quite achieved, but why? Was the plan for collectivization just pushed onto an unprepared population to fast and to soon? Stalin laid out a persuasive argument as to why collectivization was a political necessity. Between the growing danger of the kulaks, the need for a stable grain procurement to avoid breakdown in the relations of the working class, and the need to maintain high industrialization the message of immediacy for this change toward collectivization was sent throughout the country. However, it was this same urge for immediate results from all levels of government that led to the downfall of the whole collectivization process.
In the frenzied drive toward collectivization in winter of 1930 any idea of individual autonomy or free will for peasants vanished. The race for quantity rather than quality had begun in earnest and soon spiraled out of control. This lead to the district organs using force to promote collectivization and enforce impossible timelines to transition to full communes rather than agriculture artels. This created two very different Soviet Union’s the one of paper that was exceeding expectation and the harsh reality of the shattered collective farm cadres who had to fix themselves. The 25,000ers’ were a great resource to the center on the ground. Although they were not powerful enough to enact change on a big scale, or as Viola says were just, “a drop in the ocean”, they were able to report back to the center and act as a barometer. This crazed drive toward collectivization helped create a new tough minded pragmatist mentality that would reign over 30’s.
The question remains however would collectivization have worked if it was approached gradually? If a better understanding for the requirement of the voluntary principle and local peasant initiative was used without the race for percentages on paper would have it been the agricultural revolution they were looking for?
Actually, I think, even if started as voluntary process, collectivization at some point would get into the same thing it had come. Let me explain.
What were the people who wanted to join these collective farmings? What were incentives for that?
Imagine yourself being a “kulak”, which, actually, turns into being wealthier than your average villager: having at least a little bit more animals or at least a little bit better harvest. You are working on your land your entire life to get these results, you were managing your farm better than average person in your village, you were investing into your equipment, fertilizer, whatever else. What do you need to join the kolkhoz for? After you join, the results of your hard work are going to be divided between whole lot of people who have nothing to do with it. Besides, later on, as it’s a collective farm, decision making and implementation would also barely give you a chance to make the things done the way you want them to be (for example, because you know better what goes with your land and what’s not). So, the productivity of your resources after collectivization is also going to be lower.
In other words, being at least better than average gives you almost no incentives to join the kolkhoz. The only way you can benefit from that is if people more effective than you join and there’s an enough number of such people to overweight your losses from redistribution. But these people are even more effective than you, so, they have even less profits from joining the kolkhoz.
So, it looks like, if collectivization was made “voluntary”, it would end up being just a huge failure, because people would realize that they actually had no benefits from that. But, as you wrote, there was a political necessity for collectivization. So, at some moment authorities would realize that they would have to switch from the voluntary basis to the constraint one, if they wanted things to be done.