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. ((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.)) 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. ((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.)) 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.” ((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.)) 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. ((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.)) 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. ((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.)) 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.” ((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.)) 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.

Purging for the Good of the State

Stalin had a clear agenda for what he wanted to get done in the Soviet economy. The base of the society rests on if they can get food, so naturally agriculture is very important to the success of an economy. Due to the poor results he was getting from the agricultural sector, he sought to find new ways to inspire production from the Soviet people.

Interestingly, the dominant force within Soviet argriculture were the kulaks, the peasants who controlled the majority of production or were doing well for themselves. While the term represented a large spectrum of wealth, they were an oddball in a socialist country. Stalin saw these people to be enemies of the state and began to discredit them through party agitators and eventually began to purge them. (( http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/collectivization/ )) Stalin realized that these kulaks did hold a tremendous amount of power on a local level, which matters more to the everyday lives of the Soviet citizen. In his essay regarding the grain crisis, he reiterates that those who seek to return to kulak farming are similar to that of the great serf estates of the tsarist regime. (( http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/collectivization/collectivization-texts/stalin-on-the-grain-crisis/ )) He also mentions that the kulak is the antithesis of communism, and for that reason alone, it should not be allowed. Stalin mentions how the kulaks have lost a large amount of power in the years leading up to his writing, and now they can finally bring the power of the kulaks into the realm of the state so that it can produce for everyone. (( http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/collectivization/collectivization-texts/stalin-on-the-liquidation-of-the-kulak/ ))

A year after his essay on the liquidation of the kulaks, Stalin writes in the party newspaper, Pravda, that the successes of liquidating an entire class of people has been phenomenal for the state as a whole. The success was “dizzying” and this sets a very dangerous precedent for the rest of Stalin’s reign. He is justifying the murder of his own people for the good of the state and the party. He sees success in the rural community through his destruction of the kulaks, writing, “It shows that the radical turn of the rural districts towards Socialism may already be regarded as guaranteed.” (( http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/collectivization/collectivization-texts/dizzy-with-success/ )) By defending murder for the good of the state, Stalin is tightening his grip on the Soviet Union more and more.

The rural parts of the Soviet Union were always going to be the hardest to adjust to socialism, and Stalin believed that drastic steps were needed to impose it upon them. By removing their local “lords” and replacing them with the state, Stalin is taking the steps towards having socialism entirely in one country.


The Realities of Collectivization

In 1928, Joseph Stalin addressed the need for collectivization of grain farms and the procurement of grain from villages throughout the Soviet countryside. His speech, “Grain Procurements and Prospects for Development of Agriculture,” attacks villages throughout Siberia who refused to relinquish their surplus grain to the State. He cites the grain shortage occurring throughout the country, and states, “The effect will be that our towns and industrial centres, as well as our Red Army, will be in grave difficulties; they will be poorly supplied and will be threatened with hunger. Obviously, we cannot allow that.”[1] This statement highlights the fragility of the Soviet Union at the beginning of Stalin’s time in office. It also demonstrates his fears of an unnecessary war that the Soviet Union could not withstand, as Lynne Viola mentions in her chapter on collectivization.[2] In an attempt to motivate the local masses, Stalin accuses the local Party organizations and kulak, or local gentry, of hoarding the surplus grain, and implores the peasants to force the kulak to give the grain to the State. However, as his subsequent speeches and the legislation of the Central Committee in the following years indicates, this call to action led the collectivization efforts to spin out of control and away from the State’s expectations.

Viola notes in her chapter the violence that resulted from Stalin’s collectivization plans and his anti-kulak statements. The cadres placed in the countryside, wishing to prove themselves to the State, forced peasants and workers to collectivize in order to reach their quotas. They also attacked the kulak in order to force them to give up their capitalistic system of grain management. Such actions led to Stalin’s “Dizzy with Success” speech in March of 1930 and the Central Committee’s On Forced Collectivization of Livestock legislation in March of 1932. After mentioning the success of completely socializing the countryside, Stalin attempts to reprimand the country peasants and quell the attacks on the kulak. He states, “They [successful people] show a tendency to overrate their own strength and to underrate the strength of the enemy.”[3] The success of collectivization is and should be the voluntary nature of collective-farm movement, he reminds the populous.

Similarly, the Central Committee calls the forced collectivization of the countryside a “flagrant violation of repeatedly issued directives.”[4] However, this resolution remained ineffective given the soft language used when telling the party how to address the problem on the ground. “The TsK of the VKP (b) proposes to all party, Soviet and kolkhoz organizations…”[5] The word “proposes” is not nearly as definitive or intimidating enough to force the party officials along the countryside to adhere to the Committee’s suggestions, when they gained popularity and success administering collectivization their own ways through pressure and fear.

As Viola demonstrates in her chapter, due to Stalin’s insufficient intervention and the Committee’s ineffective, unenforceable legislation, party officials throughout the countryside developed their own system of collectivization that nearly destroyed the government’s mission as well as the country.

[1] J.V. Stalin, Grain Procurements and the Prospects for the Development of Agriculture, http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/GPPDA28.html.

[2] Lynne Viola, “Collectivization as a Revolution,” in Robert V. Daniels (ed.) The Stalin Revolution: Foundations of the Totalitarian Era. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994: 108-126.

[3] J.V. Stalin,

[4] TsK VKP (b), On Forced Collectivization of Livestock, http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/soviet.exhibit/e2livest.html.

[5] Ibid.

Brain Slave to the Machine

I found this reading to be invaluable insight into both the zeitgeist of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and human psychology. Being born in the United States in 1993, I found this article to be both very fascinating and disturbing. Part of what I have been taught growing up is that it takes until somewhere in early adulthood to obtain a grasp of what you’re identity is as a person, and many never understand. I see the journey to understanding ones self as a fluid part of life, shapeless and easily distorted by pressure, but ultimately liberating. My conscience has been heavily influenced by a type of social revolution of cultural, religious, ethnic, and sexual acceptance brought about closely before the second millennium, and through my education I have been taught to transcend observed boundaries. Podlubnyi’s world is one which is hard to imagine myself in.

The first thing that surprised me was that Podlubnyi truly believes that he has been tainted with some sort of kulak blood, as if it were an inescapable genetic trait or a physiological, psychological defect. Podlubnyi spent his life as a prisoner of his own conscience, desperately digging an escape route from his kulak past to be identified as a worker of the state. The state truly owned him through what I would assume he would perceive as a somewhat transparent label which had been given to his father. Podlubnyi continued to lose sleep even when the state validated him as “working class”, as he continued to look towards guidelines for his thoughts and behaviors in order to be “free”.

The fact that suicide was brought about by a self-perceived uselessness towards the state also shocked me. Suicide to me comes about after extreme personal failure, but it is usually because of severe psychological depression or a severe implosion of ones life, causing one to see no purpose to continue. Although these may have been the thoughts and emotions of Podlubnyi, they were a product of the state’s influence on him rather than what I would perceive to be as a more personal affair. But perhaps the state was more personal to him than love or friendship would be to me, it is impossible to know.