Joseph Stalin modernized Soviet agriculture by consolidating private farms into a huge government collective, according to the BBC. Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Russian farms were private businesses usually run by families. By 1928, the government had begun to seize crops, livestock and land. Within two years, 60 percent of Russian farms belonged to the state.
In the years leading up to collectivization, peasant farmers had autonomy over their surplus harvests. Most sold their surpluses in local markets and set their own prices. As the government gradually seized control over the surplus crops, many farmers initially refused to cooperate. Stalin increased pressure on farmers by obliterating land boundaries and combining adjacent plots of land into giant farms operated by state agents.
The vociferous resistance to Stalin's collectivization scheme had negative consequences for all Russians, according to documents in the Russian archives of the United States Library of Congress. The BBC explains that state enforcers sent to seize livestock often found that the farmers had slaughtered their animals to avoid giving them to the government. Others burned their crops. This created serious shortages of animal products, grain and produce throughout Russia.
Stalin deployed 25,000 aggressive activists to coerce farmers to obey by any means necessary. At Stalin's orders, thousands were arrested and shipped to distant government farms, where they worked in draconian conditions. Twenty percent of these workers died, including pregnant women, babies and young children.