Courtesy Reuters

The Turn of the Screw in Soviet Agriculture

THE forced drive for a merger of collective farms and the resettlement of peasants, which was begun about two years ago in Russia, has once more brought Soviet agrarian policy into the spotlight. Since it has come at a time of high international tension and feverish military preparations by the Kremlin --a process in which agriculture, as all other sectors of Soviet economy, is expected to play its part--the significance of this new turn of policy warrants examination. Is it a revolutionary development? How does it bear on the probability of war or peace? And what will be its effect on the Russian peasant, who still represents the masses of the nation despite the lopsided advance of industrialization under the Soviet Five Year Plans?

It is safe to say that, after more than 30 years of activity, the magicians of the Kremlin are able to display few, if any, untried tricks. Huge farms have been tried before and have failed. The Bolsheviks inherited the predilection for bigness as part and parcel of the Marxist dogma, which postulates the superiority of large-scale methods of production in agriculture as in industry, uninhibited by the economic law of diminishing returns or by special factors peculiar to agriculture. Lenin's fascination and enthusiasm for that American invention, the tractor, was transmitted to his heirs and reënforced the old Marxist cult of bigness. It was natural, therefore, for the Bolsheviks to pin their faith on large-scale mechanized farming when, early in their rule, they were confronted by the need of greatly expanded supplies of low cost foodstuffs and fibers and yet were meeting with stubborn resistance from the peasant farmers. The latter were restive under the action of the so-called "scissors," that is, the effect of low prices paid them by the state for agricultural products, and high prices charged them for the manufactured goods of the nationalized monopolistic industries--goods which, in addition, were scarce and poor in quality. In the late twenties, the situation worsened as

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