Definitions

collective farms

Collective farming

Collective farming is an organization of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise. A collective farm is essentially an agricultural production cooperative in which members-owners engage jointly in farming activities. Typical examples of collective farms are the kolkhozy that dominated Soviet agriculture between 1930 and 1992 and the Israeli kibbutzim. Both are collective farms based on common ownership of resources and on pooling of labor and income in accordance with the theoretical principles of cooperative organizations. They are radically different, however, in the application of the cooperative principles of freedom of choice and democratic rule. The creation of kolkhozy in the Soviet Union during the country-wide collectivization campaign of 1928-1933 was an example of forced collectivization, whereas the kibbutzim in Israel were traditionally created through voluntary collectivization and were governed as democratic entities. The element of forced or state-sponsored collectivization that was present in many countries during the 20th century led to the impression that collective farms operate under the supervision of the state, but this is not universally true, as shown by the counter-example of the Israeli kibbutz.

Communist collectivization

Collective farming was sweepingly introduced in the 12 core republics of the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1933. The Baltic states and the East European countries adopted collective farming after World War II, with the accession of communist regimes to power. In Asia (People's Republic of China, North Korea, North and South Vietnam) the adoption of collective farming was also driven by communist government policies. In all communist countries, the transition to collective farming involved an element of persuasion by force, and the collective farms in these countries, lacking the principle of voluntary membership, can be regarded at best as pseudo-cooperatives.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, collectivization was introduced by Stalin in the late 1920s as a way, according to the theories of communist leaders, to boost agricultural production through the organization of land and labor into large-scale collective farms (kolkhozy). At the same time, Soviet leaders argued that collectivization would free poor peasants from economic servitude under the kulaks. Stalin believed that the goals of collectivization could be achieved voluntarily, but when the new farms failed to attract the number of peasants hoped, the government blamed the oppression of the kulaks and resorted to forceful implementation of the plan, by murder and wholesale deportation of farmers to Siberia. Millions of unfortunates who remained died of starvation, and the centuries-old system of farming was destroyed in one of the most fertile regions in the world for farming, once called "the breadbasket of Europe." The immediate effect of forced collectivization was to reduce grain output and almost halve livestock, thus producing major famines in 1932 and 1933.

In 1932-1933, an estimated 3.1–7 million people, mainly in Ukraine, died from famine after Stalin forced the peasants into the collectives (this famine is known in Ukraine as Holodomor). Most modern historians believe that this famine was caused by the sudden disruption of production brought on by collective farming policies that were implemented by the government of the Soviet Union. Some believe that, due to unreasonably high government quotas, farmers often received far less for their labor than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work; others retaliated by destroying their crops. It was not until 1940 that agricultural production finally surpassed its pre-collectivization levels.

Baltic states

The Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were only occupied by the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II, and had thus missed the first wave of Soviet collectivization. Furthermore, the opposition to kolkhozy was rather high in these countries. Primarily to break this opposition, Stalin ordered the wave of March deportations of 1949. This was successful in motivating peasants and brought great acceleration to collectivization in most regions.

Hungary

In Hungary, agricultural collectivization was attempted a number of times between 1948 and 1956 (with disastrous results), until it was finally successful in the early 1960s under János Kádár.

The first serious attempt at collectivization based on Stalinist agricultural policy was undertaken in July 1948. Both economic and direct police pressure were used to coerce peasants to join cooperatives, but large numbers opted instead to leave their villages. In the early 1950s, only one-quarter of peasants had agreed to join cooperatives. In the spring of 1955 the drive for collectivization was renewed, again using physical force to encourage membership, but this second wave also ended in dismal failure. After the events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Hungarian regime opted for a more gradual collectivization drive. The main wave of collectivization occurred between 1959 and 1961, and at the end of this period more than 95% of agricultural land in Hungary had become the property of collective farms. In February 1961, the Central Committee declared that collectivization had been completed. This quick success should not be confused with enthusiastic adoption of collective idealism on the part of the peasants. Still, demoralized after two successive (and harsh) collectivization campaigns and the events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the peasants were less keen to resist. As membership levels increased, those who remained outside likely grew worried about being permanently left out.

Czechoslovakia (1948-89)

In Czechoslovakia, land reforms after World War I distributed most of the land to peasants and created large groups of relatively well-to-do farmers (though village poor still existed). These groups showed no support for communist ideals. In 1945, immediately after World War II, new land reform started. The first phase involved a confiscation of properties of Germans, Hungarians, and collaborators of the Nazi regime in accordance with the Beneš decree. The second phase, promulgated by so-called Ďuriš's laws (after Communist Minister of Agriculture), in fact meant a complete revision of the pre-war land reform and tried to reduce maximal private property to 150 hectares (ha) of agricultural land and 250 ha of any land (forests, etc...). The third and final phase forbade possession of land above 50 ha for one family. This phase was carried out in April 1948, two months after Communists violently overtook power. Farms started to be collectivized, mostly under threat of sanctions. The most obstinate farmers were persecuted and imprisoned. The most common form of collectivization was agricultural cooperative (in Czech Jednotné zemědělské družstvo, JZD; in Slovak Jednotné roľnícke družstvo, JRD ). The collectivization was implemented in three stages (1949-1952, 1953-1955, 1955-1960) and officially ended with implementation of the constitution establishing the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, which illegalized private ownership.

Many early cooperatives collapsed and were recreated again. Their productivity was low since they provided tiny salaries and no pensions, and they failed to create a sense of collective ownership; small scale pilfering was common, and food became scarce. Seeing the massive outflow of people from agriculture into cities, the government started to massively subsidize the cooperatives in order to make the standard of living of farmers equal to that of city inhabitants; this was the long-term official policy of the government. Funds, machinery, and fertilizers were provided; young people from villages were forced to study agriculture; and students were regularly sent (mandatorily) to help in cooperatives.

Subsidies and constant pressure destroyed the remaining private farmers; only a handful of them remained after the 1960s. The lifestyle of villagers had eventually reached the level of cities, and village poverty was eliminated. Czechoslovakia was again able to produce enough food for its citizens. The price of this success was a huge waste of resources because the cooperatives had no motivation to improve efficiency. Every piece of land was cultivated regardless of the expense involved, and the soil became heavily polluted with chemicals. Also, the intensive use of heavy machinery damaged topsoil. Furthermore, the cooperatives were infamous for over-employment.

In the late 1980s, the economy of Czechoslovakia stagnated, and the state-owned companies were unable to deal with advent of modern technologies. A few agricultural companies (where the rules were less strict than in state companies) used this situation to start providing high-tech products. For example, the only way to buy a PC compatible computer in the late 1980s was to get it (for an extremely high price) from one agricultural company acting as a reseller.

After the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia (1989) subsidies to agriculture were stopped with devastating effect. Most of the cooperatives had problems competing with technologically advanced foreign competition and were unable to obtain investment to improve their situation. Quite a large percentage of them collapsed. The others that remained were typically insufficiently funded, lacking competent management, without new machinery and living from day to day. Employment in the agricultural sector dropped significantly (from approx. 3% of the population to approx. 1%).

People's Republic of China

Collective farming began in the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong. It was further pursued during the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to rapidly mobilize the country in an effort to transform China into an industrialized communist society. The policy mistakes associated with this collectivization attempt during the Great Leap Forward resulted in mass starvation. According to many other sources, the death toll due to famine was most likely about 20 to 30 million people. The three years between 1959 and 1962 were known as the "Three Bitter Years" and the Three Years of Natural Disasters.

North Korea

While Hungary arguably provides the best positive example of collective farming in a communist state, North Korea provides its negative counterpart. In the late 1990s, the collective farming system collapsed under the strain of droughts. Estimates of deaths due to starvation ranged into the millions, although the government did not allow outside observers to survey the extent of the famine. Aggravating the severity of the famine, the government was accused of diverting international relief supplies to its armed forces.

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Following the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, South Vietnam briefly became the Republic of South Vietnam, a puppet state under military occupation by North Vietnam, before being officially reunified with the North under Communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976. Upon taking control, the Vietnamese communists banned other political parties, arrested suspects believed to have collaborated with the United States and embarked on a mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. Reconstruction of the war-ravaged country was slow and serious humanitarian and economic problems confronted the communist regime. In a historic shift in 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam implemented free-market reforms known as Đổi Mới (Renovation). With the authority of the state remaining unchallenged, private ownership of farms and companies, deregulation and foreign investment were encouraged. The economy of Vietnam has achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports and foreign investment. However, the power of the Communist Party of Vietnam over all organs of government remains firm.

Cuba

Agricultural production cooperatives were experimented with in the first few years following the Cuban Revolution. Between 1977 and 1983, farmers began to collectivize into CPAsCooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria (agricultural production cooperatives in Spanish). Farmers were encouraged to sell their land to the state for the establishment of a cooperative farm, receiving payments for a period of 20 years while also sharing in the fruits of the CPA. Joining a CPA allowed individuals who were previously dispersed throughout the countryside to move to a centralized location with increased access to electricity, medical care, housing, and schools. Democractic practice tends to be limited to business decisions and is constrained by the centralized economic planning of the Cuban system.

Another type of agricultural production cooperative in Cuba is UBPCUnidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa (basic unit of cooperative production in Spanish). The law authorizing the creation of UBPCs was passed on September 20, 1993. It has been used to transform many state farms into UBPCs, similarly to the transformation of Russian sovkhozes (state farms) into kolkhozes (collective farms) after 1992. The law granted indefinite usufruct to the workers of the UBPC in line with its goal to link the workers to the land, establish material incentives for increased production by tying workers' earnings to the overall production of the UBPC, and increase managerial autonomy and workers' participation in the management of the workplace.

Israel

Collective farming was also implemented in kibbutzim in Israel, which began to be created in 1909 as a unique combination of Zionism and socialism. The concept has faced occasional criticism as economically inefficient and over-reliant on subsidized credit.

A less known type of collective farm in Israel is moshav shitufi (lit. collective moshav), where production and services are managed collectively, as in a kibbutz, whereas consumption decisions are left to individual households. In terms of cooperative organization, moshav shitufi is distinct from the much more common moshav (or moshav ovdim), which is essentially a village-level service cooperative, not a collective farm.

In 2006 there were 40 moshavim shitufiim in Israel, compared with 267 kibbutzim.

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