Collectivization in the Soviet Union
On the night of 8 November 1917 the Second All-Russian Congress passed a decree to eliminate all private possession of land without compensation. Though private use of land was for the time still being permitted, the Bolsheviki soon began to favor communal use of land and to organize communes and land co-operatives. During the Civil War (1917-1921) many communes were formed which burst like bubbles. The experiment failed and with the introduction of the New Economic Policy (1921) private use of the soil in individual farms was again permitted without restriction, which soon brought about an agricultural boom. But this lasted only a few years, and the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (December 1927) declared that the "unification and reformation of small peasant farms into great collectives" must be accomplished as the basic objective of the party in the villages.
Most of the peasants did not accept this policy and offered passive resistance; so the Bolsheviki resorted to increasingly sharp measures to press them into collective farms. These measures culminated in the "year of the great reform" (1929) in the "offensive along the entire front," which led to the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class" (kulak: Russian for "fist"; the term meant the more prosperous peasants). Confiscation of property, arrests, exile, banishment to concentration camps—these were the common measures applied to the peasants to force them into collectives.
In 1929, 25 million peasant farms were counted in the Soviet Union; in 1937 there were only 20 million, 5 million having been liquidated, involving 20-25 million souls! Where were they? Some of them had succeeded in submerging themselves in the cities, but most were in exile, in concentration camps, or dead. This great operation dealt a terrific blow to the supply of cattle and other livestock. From 1929 to 1932 the number of horses decreased from 34 million to less than 20 million; cattle decreased from 68 million to about 40 million; sheep and goats fell from 147 million to 52 million, and hogs from 21 million to 12 million.
In 1932 and 1933 the Soviet Union, particularly the Ukraine, suffered a severe famine, which claimed several million human victims. Thus the Soviet Union was able to reach its goal: of the 20 million remaining peasant families, 18.5 million were "united" in collectives by 1937. By the 1950s the collective farms had been combined into larger units and the number of such farms reduced. On the basis of a compulsory cooperative (artel), which became a law on 17 February 1935, all production was socialized, especially that of food. The management was nominally elected by the members, but was actually appointed (at least the chairman) by the Party. The liquidation of the kulaks and the collectivization of agriculture were, according to Stalin's words, "a very deep revolutionary change, . . . in its consequences akin to the Revolution of October 1917."
This process, which was also applied to the church life, was catastrophic to the Mennonite settlements. Mennonite organizations had to cease all activity, and the Mennonite farmers were helplessly subject to arbitrary government. In 1929 they attempted to escape—they came to Moscow by the thousands to apply for emigration permits. But only a small number were successful (not even 6,000); the rest were sent back in locked cattle cars and suffered the common fate of farmers in Russia: they were banished to the forests of North and Northeast Russia, to the steppes of Kazakhstan. The leaders were thrown into prison; how many of them survived is not known. This was a devastation that caused inestimable and irreparable damage. In the collectives it was of course impossible for the Mennonites, even when in the majority, to carry on any organized religious life of their own. The Mennonite Church as a distinct entity accordingly ceased to exist in the measure that collectivization was pushed through. However, the rate of collectivization varied somewhat in different regions. It proceeded much more slowly in Siberia, where Mennonite villages with private ownership persisted as late as 1935 and after. In some areas also, the Mennonite population remained almost intact, with little admixture of non-Mennonites in the villages and collectives. In such areas Mennonitism could still maintain itself to some degree, even though without organization. The release and ultimate repatriation in 1943 to Germany of some 35,000 (about 20,000 were again captured and returned to Russia) Mennonites, chiefly from the Chortitza area, showed that in spite of collectivization and dilution Mennonitism was not destroyed.
The later stage in Soviet agricultural policy in the 1950s, made possible by mechanization, was the establishment of large state farms, in which the last stage of socialization was reached where the individual farmer became merely a state employee.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 635-636. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Froese, Peter F. "Collectivization in the Soviet Union." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/collectivization_in_the_soviet_union.
APA style: Froese, Peter F. (1953). Collectivization in the Soviet Union. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/collectivization_in_the_soviet_union.