Nine years ago, Khrushchev addressed the first "agricultural" plenum of the Central Committee since Stalin's death. His frank exposure of the poor state of Soviet agriculture was followed by action along a wide front. Prices paid by the state for farm produce were substantially raised, investments in agriculture increased, peasant incomes showed a much needed and rapid rise from very low levels. Tax and other burdens on the private activities of peasants were eased, to the benefit of all concerned; for example, in five years the number of privately owned cows increased 25 percent. In 1958 a major organizational weakness was corrected: Tractors and other machinery formerly owned and operated by the Machine Tractor Stations (M.T.S.) were sold to the collective farms which the M.T.S. had previously "serviced" (and also supervised). In 1958, too, the government dropped its complex multiple-price system, under which farms received a low price for a quota of produce and a higher one for deliveries in excess of their quota; this was replaced by a single price for each product, with zonal variations.

The period 1953-58, then, was one of reform, of higher incomes, of large investments, of new methods. It was also one of higher production. The 1958 grain harvest set an all-time record. Sugar beets and cotton also did very well. Milk yields benefited from the improved diet of the cows. According to the official statistics, the annual rate of growth of gross agricultural output in the five years 1953-58 was 8.6 percent. This would be a remarkable achievement, if the statistics were reliable, but there are ample grounds for suspecting some degree of exaggeration. Even so, no serious observer doubts that a substantial advance was recorded in these years.

No doubt inspired by the figures with which they were supplied, Khrushchev and his colleagues projected an even more rapid growth of agricultural output in the Seven Year Plan (1959-65), and onward through 1970. Extremely ambitious plans were envisaged for meat production, in particular, and for other scarce items such as fruit and vegetables. Yet for three consecutive years since 1958 the figures have shown no appreciable change, merely some fluctuations reflecting better or worse weather. Indeed, grain harvests have been below the 1958 record (see table on next page). How far performance lags behind plan can be seen from the following table (totals are in millions of tons):

1961 1961 plan performance

Grain 155.2 137.2 Meat 11.8 8.8 Milk 78.4 62.5

Source: Khrushchev, Pravda, March 6, 1962.

Allowance for statistical inflation of output would make the shortfall even greater. There is no doubt that Khrushchev is alarmed, because he has admitted as much at great length, and has proposed a number of remedies.

It is the purpose of this article to examine the reasons for the difficulties in which Soviet agriculture finds itself, and to assess the likely efficacy of the measures proposed to set matters right. But before doing so it is important to repeat that there has been a sizable advance since the death of Stalin, and that the crisis in Soviet agriculture is essentially to be seen as a failure to expand, a failure to measure up to very ambitious plans, rather than as a collapse. Various foods are in short supply in many cities at different times of the year, but there is some truth in Khrushchev's assertion that the shortage has been exacerbated by an increase in personal incomes (with retail prices broadly unchanged).

In considering the problems of Soviet agriculture, it is necessary to distinguish several types of difficulty, and, correspondingly, different kinds of policies or remedial measures. There is, first, the complex of problems related to soil utilization, agricultural techniques, equipment and the like, which may be called problems of production. Secondly, there are questions connected with the peasants, with their private interests, incomes, incentives. Finally, there are the many problems of agricultural planning, administration and control. These are all to some extent interconnected, as when, for instance, an administrative measure designed to improve technique affects the peasants' private activities. None the less, it remains true that these various matters are to some extent distinct and can be separately analyzed.


One of the principal objects-though not the only object-of Soviet farm policy is to increase production. Under any political system, this would involve overcoming serious obstacles, for a large part of Soviet territory is unsuitable for agriculture. Where the soil is fertile there is usually a high risk of drought, and where rainfall is adequate the soil is generally poor. Two of Khrushchev's principal remedies-designed to provide more crops and especially more grain for human and animal consumption-were the virgin- lands and the corn campaigns. The first involved enlarging the area of extensive farming, the second was an attempt to intensify farming. Both have now been running for six years or more, and so some assessment of their effectiveness is possible.

The virgin-lands campaign was a truly formidable undertaking. It added to the farmland of the Soviet Union an area equal to the cultivated land of Canada. Between 1953 and 1956, the total sown area rose from 157 to 194.7 million hectares. So great an expansion in so short a period has no parallel in agricultural history. It was achieved through a major diversion of machinery and with a minimum number of permanent settlers, reinforced at harvest time by migrant labor (volunteers or "volunteers," probably both). The areas brought under cultivation were in the northern half of Kazakhstan, in parts of west and central Siberia and in the territories east of the lower Volga and the southern Urals. The principal crop was grain, largely spring wheat. The following table gives the official production figures (in millions of metric tons) for the total grain harvest in the years 1953-1961, with a breakdown showing that part of the total harvested in the virgin lands, of which Kazakhstan (shown as a further subtotal) is one region.

1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961


HARVEST 82.5 85.6 106.8 127.6 105.0 141.2 125.9 134.3 137.3 Harvested in virgin lands 27.1 37.6 28.0 63.6 38.5 58.8 55.3 59.1 n.a. Harvested in Kazakhstan 5.4 7.7 4.8 23.8 10.5 22.0 19.1 18.8 14.8

Sources: for 1953-60, Narodnoe khozyaistvo S.S.S.R. v. 1960 godu, p. 440-1; for 1961, Pravda, March 6, 1962.

Clearly, grain production did increase greatly through 1958. In 1954, the first year of the campaign, yields were good but little had yet been ploughed. In 1955, on the other hand, drought ruined the crop; in Kazakhstan, for instance, yields in that year averaged a mere 3.8 quintals per hectare, against a nation-wide average of 8.5 quintals in a not very favorable year. In 1956 the harvest was very good-the best to date in the areas with which we are concerned. The 1957 crop was a poor one. Since 1958, a good year, no further progress has been made, and the figures for Kazakhstan, the territory with the highest drought risk, have shown an alarming downward trend.

The difficulties encountered have been of the following kinds:

The nature of the campaign itself caused the ploughing up of some land with unsuitable soil, or with excessively sparse rainfall. The causes of such errors will be discussed when we come to analyze administration.

A surprisingly high proportion of the machinery is not kept in good repair and cannot be used, owing to lack of spare parts, skilled mechanics and workshops. The situation has been getting steadily worse; thus there were 32,000 combine-harvesters in active in Kazakhstan in 1959, but 60,000 were in disrepair at the start of the 1961 harvest.1

The right kind of rapidly ripening seed is seldom available. This, in combination with the shortage of working machinery, delays the harvest, and, in this area of early frosts, heavy losses result.

Lack of amenities has driven away some of the permanent labor force, despite repeated criticisms of this state of affairs by Khrushchev and by many lesser officials.

The land has been misused. Spring wheat has been sown year after year, although there was no lack of warnings as to the consequences. Weed infestation, soil erosion, reduced natural fertility are all named as causes of falling yields. No acceptable system of cultivation and crop rotation has yet been agreed upon.

Despite these difficulties, the campaign to date has paid good dividends. It was clear from the start that there would be some bad years, and, whatever discount is made for statistical exaggeration, it is surely true that a substantial contribution has been made to Soviet grain supplies, which could not otherwise have been obtained so quickly. Moreover, poor weather conditions in the Ukraine have often coincided with good ones in Kazakhstan, so that one effect of the campaign has been to spread the risks somewhat.

The future, on the other hand, looks much less satisfactory. It is known that some of the newly opened lands are of good quality, while others appear to have been ploughed up on orders from above and against the better judgment of local experts, but we do not know how much land may be in each category. Nor have we the means of assessing the extent of damage done by prolonged monoculture, or wind erosion, though these factors have certainly contributed to the steady drop in output and yields in Kazakhstan, where the bulk of the least suitable lands happens to be situated. Probably some of the ploughed-up land will have to be abandoned. Remedial measures at present being discussed may well run into administrative difficulties, because of Khrushchev's strong distaste for fallow and grasses, which presumably should be extended in some areas if the land is to be saved. Increased application of fertilizer is unlikely to provide a solution because of lack of moisture. (Very little is used on the somewhat similar Canadian prairies, though rainfall there is slightly higher.) In all the circumstances, it would be sensible to assume that a bigger contribution will be needed from traditional agricultural areas, and that the Soviet Union will be fortunate if means are found to maintain average yields in these marginal lands at the modest levels of the last few years.

Khrushchev was conscious from the first of the need to increase substantially the output of fodder, particularly fodder grains, in the "old" cultivated areas. This was the primary object of his corn campaign, which was facilitated by the growing of so much wheat in the virgin lands. Corn had been neglected, and its acreage in 1953 was actually somewhat lower than in 1940 and 1950. To enforce a rapid change, Khrushchev had recourse to continuous propaganda and administrative pressures. As a result, the area under corn rose rapidly from 3.5 million hectares in 1953 to 19.7 in 1958 and 28.2 in 1961. With strong pressure to sow corn on good land and to give it a large share of the available fertilizer,2 yields rose also, as the following table shows:

1953 1958 1959 1961

Total corn harvest (millions of metric tons) 3.7 16.7 12.0 24.0 Yield (quintals per hectare) 10.6 20.6 13.8 18.2

However, these official averages conceal vast regional variations. Thus in some areas in which corn was sown "by order," yields were exceedingly low; these include the Volga area and the Urals, where average yields for the period 1957-59 were respectively 5.1 and 4.5 quintals per hectare. This represents utter failure.

None the less, as in the case of the virgin-lands campaign, the underlying idea behind Khrushchev's corn plan was sound, and the substantial increase in silage supplies (from 32 million tons in 1953 to 186 million tons in 1960, largely due to corn) certainly helped in raising milk yields and providing a better diet for an expanded livestock population. The trouble, as in the case of the virgin-lands campaign, has been the "campaigning" methods themselves, which caused rapid expansion under conditions which were often unsuitable. (Khrushchev has repeatedly claimed that corn can grow even as far north as Archangel.) Orders from the center demanded that all corn be sown in "square clusters," although, as several local agronomists sought vainly to point out, it is often more convenient to sow in rows.

Khrushchev has also set unrealistic goals. Thus whole provinces in the Ukraine were expected to achieve a yield of 50 quintals of corn per hectare in 1961, whereas American yields, with more suitable soils and warmer climate, averaged around 32 quintals. Even though the 1961 harvest in the Ukraine was an all-time record, with excellent weather conditions, no province came within 15 quintals of this target. Instead of learning his lesson, Khrushchev has repeated his demand for 50 quintals per hectare in 1962. One is left wondering which would do more harm: failure (with or without simulation of success), or success bought at the cost of neglecting all other farming needs of the Ukraine; presumably the former. It is this chronic tendency to overdo a good idea, to impose it by decree, which ruins its application and does so much harm to Soviet agriculture. More will be said below about the causes of such practices.

Meanwhile we must turn to consider the latest of Khrushchev's campaigns-to plough up meadows and reduce the area of sown grasses. Its motive, like that of the corn campaign, was the need for fodder, more in quantity and more diversified in type. This called for a further intensification of agriculture, which, as Khrushchev rightly saw, was inconsistent with the previously fashionable travopolye (rotational grass) crop system, associated with the name of Vilyams (Williams) and imposed under Stalin on all parts of the Soviet Union, regardless of local conditions. While grass could be a valuable source of fodder in the Baltic States or the northwest, in central and south Russia it grows poorly and provides little hay. Consequently there was much to criticize in these cropping practices. Khrushchev attacked the indiscriminate enforcement of travopolye in 1954, but agronomists had been trained in this way of thinking, officials were used to it, and those experts who had opposed it in Stalin's day had been punished or demoted. Consequently, little change actually occurred.

Khrushchev launched an all-out assault on travopolye in 1961-in speeches in many parts of the country and at the Twenty-second Party Congress. He pointed to the vast areas of sown grasses, of meadows, of low-yield crops such as oats. He ridiculed those provinces, including Leningrad and Moscow, where 50 percent or more of all arable land consisted of grasses and fallow. He demanded that such crops as corn, peas, beans and sugar beets be sown instead, in virtually all parts of the country. Only by intensification of agriculture of this kind, he asserted, would it be possible to produce sufficient fodder. Agricultural experts or officials who did not see this would have to be reeducated or removed. Crop rotation, too, must be drastically altered forthwith.

Again, as in the case of the virgin-lands and corn campaigns, Khrushchev appears right in general principle, but the method of enforcing his ideas almost ensures that very serious errors will be made in some parts of the country. The new system will not be understood. New crops will be grown by order in areas where soil conditions or labor shortage or the lack of necessary machinery or fertilizer will make it impossible to apply the directive effectively. For example, in parts of the Baltic States or in the Leningrad province it may well be rational to grow grass, because, although it would certainly be possible to produce more fodder per hectare by planting, say, beans, it would not be worth the extra labor involved. Incredibly enough, Khrushchev hardly mentioned that additional inputs would be necessary; all he declared himself concerned about was the amount of fodder produced. Of course, Khrushchev was careful to warn against excesses; grass was not to be universally banished, fallow might be necessary here and there, and so on. But the general sense of his instructions was such that they are bound to be followed by orders to plough up grass, to ban fallow and sow beans, corn, etc., regardless of circumstances. Thus the premier of Latvia mentioned that some of his colleagues in the Baltic States were already treating clover as a "forbidden crop."3 Khrushchev must know all this. Yet presumably he can see no other way of breaking up existing irrational farm practices, since his only available weapon is the party machine, and this is the sort of way it works. In his impatience with low yields and general inefficiency, these crude administrative methods must appear to him as irreplaceable.

One cannot envisage a rapid advance of Soviet agriculture by such methods- the more so as the agricultural machinery industry has been undergoing a painful period of readjustment. Production of some vital items has fallen drastically. Khrushchev himself cited with dismay the fact that output of corn silage combines, urgently needed as a result of the expansion of the corn acreage, actually fell from 55,000 in 1957 to 13,000 in 1960.4 Other sources confirm that the new system of industrial planning has caused much confusion in farm machinery factories.5 The chronic shortage of spare parts continues, and decrees about expanding their output and making them available to farms on free purchase (as distinct from administrative allocation) have remained on paper.6 Finally, fertilizer production and output of other important agricultural chemicals (sprays, weed-killers, etc.) are far behind schedule. Khrushchev contrasted the Seven Year Plan target for mineral fertilizer-an increase from 12 to 35 million tons-with the "achievement" of an increase of a mere 2.9 million tons in three years. New capacity is being delayed, and the completion plan for the three years is only 44 percent fulfilled.7 No wonder the Ukrainian party leader, Podgornyi, complained that fertilizer supplies were inadequate: "For instance, deliveries to the Ukraine of fertilizer for sugar beet growing, per unit of land, has actually diminished in the past few years." He also deplored serious difficulties in supplies of timber, vehicles, tires and metal.8 These are products of obvious importance to agriculture. The adoption of even the best techniques cannot bring results if the required machines are not available, or if they break down and cannot be repaired, or if, as in some areas, farms do not even have carts or trailers to move into the fields the fertilizer which they do have available.

One purpose of the Party's recent declarations may be to restore a high priority to the industrial sectors which serve agriculture, and surely some improvements are both possible and likely. However, these shortages, which hamper agriculture even with existing cropping arrangements, must greatly hinder the application of the anti-travopolye policies, which call for much increased utilization of both machinery and fertilizer. If this call cannot be met, the result is likely to be a large additional expenditure of peasant labor without sufficient return.9 It should be added that, as a consequence of the ploughing up of grasses, private livestock may be deprived of pasturage, to the further detriment of production and peasant morale. (When the corn campaign was launched, the peasants were promised part of the corn for their animals; but no such promises are being made at present.)


By the end of 1957, many collectivized peasants must have felt considerable grounds for satisfaction. Cash distributions from the farms had risen almost fourfold in five years. They were about to be freed from all delivery obligations to the state from their private holdings, and their private livestock was expanding at a fairly impressive rate. It is true that work discipline was being tightened. But clearly things were improving.

In the past four years, the peasants have been in a much less satisfactory situation. Space precludes anything like a full analysis of the many factors involved. The following is a summary of unfavorable developments:

Attempts, sometimes encouraged by the authorities, to pay collective farmers a guaranteed minimum "wage," instead of in "workday units" of uncertain value, have broken down in many areas10 because there is still no financial basis for any regular payment for work done, except on the richer farms. For seven years the press has been publishing articles and letters insisting on the necessity of earmarking a fixed share of farm revenue to pay the peasant members. Yet nothing effective has been done.

The 1958 reforms had the unintended consequence of in creasing disparities in income between rich and poor farms. This was because, until that year, the more fertile areas were charged a kind of disguised differential rent by having to pay more for work done by the M.T.S. and by being compelled to deliver a bigger quota of produce at low prices. The abolition of the M.T.S. and the unification of delivery prices eliminated these methods. It is true that the unified delivery prices are lower in fertile areas, but the difference is quite small.

Peasant income from collective farms appears to have declined since 1957. The evidence for this lies, first, in the fact that there has been statistical silence since 1957, which usually indicates that the figures look bad. Second, two Soviet scholars have used regional and/or sample data to show a fall in distributions to peasants since that date; one of the writers, citing a 15 percent reduction between 1957 and 1960 in the province of Rostov, lists a number of other areas in which "the situation is broadly similar."11 This happened despite a rise in gross revenues, and appears to have been due to pressure to spend large sums on investment, to exorbitant charges for repairs in state-run workshops, and the need to pay black-market prices to obtain desperately scarce tires, building materials and spare parts.12

Restrictions have been imposed on private activities of peasants, and the number of privately owned cows has declined sharply since the end of 1957. In consequence, and also because of a decline in free-market sales, peasant incomes in cash and produce from their private plots have fallen too. Thus there is evidence of a significant decline in peasant living standards, which must affect incentives.

Several measures have been taken to ease the financial burdens of the collective farms: prices of some items which farms must purchase were reduced in 1961, credit terms were eased, and payments for produce were made in advance. Also, nearly two million collective-farm peasants have been converted to state-farm status since 1957, making them regular wage earners (though the wages are low). However, possibly because of financial stringency, the government has done little indeed to improve peasant incomes, and must have caused much irritation by its measures against private livestock.

Perhaps the renewed restrictions on private activities of peasants are designed to persuade them to work harder for the collectives. Certainly, it could be shown that millions of man-hours are dissipated on private landholdings and millions more on taking produce to market. The Soviet leaders could well argue that these are not efficient ways of using labor. Yet, in existing circumstances, the private plot and the free market are indispensable, both for the peasants and for urban consumers of foodstuffs. In the first place, the private holdings, though primitively cultivated, are often much more productive, per unit of land, than collective or state farms, due partly to hard work and partly to the concentration of manure on a small area. To take a particularly striking example, in 1959 a hectare of potatoes on private holdings yielded 11.6 tons, as against 6.6 on state and collective farms.13 Second, particularly in small towns and in rural districts, the state distribution network is utterly incapable of coping with food supplies, except for a narrow range of staple items. In this situation a cut in the number of private cows may create serious shortages.

Why, since milk production on state and collective farms has fully offset the decline in private output, does this situation occur? Some would point to exaggerations in the reporting of milk production, asserting that output has in fact fallen. This may well be so. But there is another and simpler reason. To distribute milk in a "modern" manner is a complex affair. It requires storage, refrigeration, specialized transport, bottles or cartons, and so on. All these are lacking, outside of a few big cities. In these circumstances, even if milk does exist on some farm 30 miles away, it is impracticable to distribute it, and so the local woman and her one private cow are irreplaceable. In villages, except in a very few showplaces, the private plot is almost the sole source of milk and vegetables for peasant families. Given the present structure of Soviet farming and food distribution, measures against the private sector must have unfortunate results, and the quickest way of ensuring an increase in production of many much-needed items is to permit some enlargement of private farming activities. It is extraordinary that Khrushchev, who so strongly criticized the measures taken under Stalin against private plots, should be adopting his present policies-or permitting them, since it is not impossible for the party machine in the villages to take some initiative in these matters. Surely he must know better than anyone that such interference damages not only the supply of food from the private sector but also the morale of the peasants and their work for the collective and state farms. Yet only recently it was proposed that private plots on state farms be done away with and that communal vegetable-growing be substituted.14 One can imagine the unpopularity of such imposed measures. Here ideology and administrative habit seem to stand directly in the way of increasing production.


The Soviet leaders must surely be fully aware that agriculture does not take kindly to centralized planning, that local initiative is vital. Yet ever since collectivization they have interfered with farming operations. This is to some extent explained by the fact that collectivization itself was imposed by the Party, and it has required constant vigilance to maintain collective farms and to "protect" them from their peasant members. Party watchdogs must also supervise the party-nominated "elected" chairmen who were often peasants themselves and therefore liable to give priority to the farm's needs rather than the state's. Low prices, which helped to finance industrialization but offered no financial incentive, made it necessary that the coercive apparatus of Party and state be mobilized annually to enforce deliveries to the state. For many years the principal task of the local party officials in rural areas, and of the political officers within the M.T.S., was to squeeze out produce for the state from reluctant and potentially backsliding peasants, who had to be restrained from spending their time on their private holdings. Farms could not be allowed to pursue the principle of maximizing revenues, since the price system was (and still is) geared to other objectives. The existence of a free market exercised a particularly distracting influence. Thus collective farms have been accused of marketing vegetables in distant cities at high prices, or growing sunflowers instead of sugar beets because they could sell sunflower seed in the free market at a profit,15 or even-in the case of a state farm in 1961-growing grass instead of grain because, as a surprisingly honest director told Khrushchev to his face, grass does not need to be delivered to the state and grain does.

Consequently, the habit developed of controlling agriculture from above, and of so organizing farms and planning as to facilitate this control. To some extent the amalgamation of collective farms, which has more than quadrupled their average size since 1950 (and which is still going on), is explained by the greater convenience in exerting control from above, rather than the convenience of management. From the latter standpoint, most state and collective farms are much too big. This tendency to very large size is also explained in part by the traditional Marxist belief that there are substantial economies of scale in agriculture.

When, in 1953, the appalling state of Soviet farming called for drastic remedial measures, Khrushchev showed himself very conscious of the harm done by inefficient central planning. The Soviet press printed a long series of articles criticizing the stupidity of inflexible production plans passed down the administrative hierarchy to farms for which they were quite unsuitable. Khrushchev and others declared that this must cease. In 1955, a decree was adopted freeing the collective farms from having production plans determined for them; they were to be given delivery quotas, and were to be free to decide their crop and livestock plans, so long as these were consistent with the quotas. It was repeatedly asserted that farm management and agronomists should be free to decide their own methods in the light of the very varied circumstances which always exist in agriculture.

In practice, since prices of neither output nor inputs reflected either needs or scarcities, direction from above had to continue. The period 1955- 61 was one of experiment and frequent change in administrative arrangements. The Ministry of Agriculture was gradually shorn of its powers, part of which were transferred to Gosplan (the central planning agency) and part to a new body responsible for supply and utilization of farm machinery and fertilizer (Sel'khoztekhnika). A number of changes in purchasing arrangements culminated in the setting up, in 1961, of a Procurements Committee with local organs in close touch with farms, whose production programs they were supposed to influence. But production planning was also supposed to be the responsibility of the provincial agricultural department, while state farms came under a provincial trust which took its orders from organs of the individual republics.

The result was confusion. Everyone was to some extent responsible, therefore no one was. In practice, the local party organs at provincial (oblast) and district (rayon) levels exercised the most effective control over collective farms (and to a lesser extent over state farms). They issued orders on a variety of topics, they could and did dismiss the "elected" chairmen of farms and "recommend" others. But the responsibilities of the local parties, and the pressures to which they were subjected, gave rise to an administrative disease which is worth analyzing more closely.

A rural party secretary has always spent the bulk of his time dealing with agricultural problems. His promotion, or dismissal, depends on his success in coping with them. But how is his success or failure to be determined? The answer in practice has been: by his ability to report the fulfillment of plans to his superiors, if possible ahead of time. These plans tend to be very ambitious, and Khrushchev has systematically encouraged party secretaries to "compete" with one another by offering to overfulfill them. The plans in question are of many different kinds: they might concern grain procurement, meat deliveries, milk production, the completion of sowing by a certain date, the quadrupling of the corn acreage, the use of some fashionable method of harvesting, and so on. Almost invariably, the plans are either impossible of fulfillment, or (and this is the cause of much trouble) can be fulfilled only if other agricultural activities, which may be important but not at the moment the subject of a campaign, are neglected. Party secretaries are therefore repeatedly placed in an impossible situation. They are, of course, told to administer their areas efficiently, to take into account all the multifarious needs of agriculture. But they simply cannot do this while they are being cajoled to fulfill plans which, in the circumstances, are inconsistent with a healthy agriculture.

By long training, party officials have tended to adapt their behavior to the need to report success in the current campaign. Therefore cases like these recur repeatedly (all the examples are genuine and could be multiplied) : seed grain is delivered to the state to fulfill delivery plans, and later other grain, unsorted and unsuitable, has to be returned for seed; farms are ordered to sow before the ground is fit for it, and/or to harvest by a fashionable but, in the given circumstances, unsuitable method; meat quotas are met at the cost of slaughtering livestock needed in the following year; to fulfill the procurement plan the local party boss orders the state elevators to receive what Khrushchev (in his speech at Novosibirsk) described as "mud, ice, snow and unthreshed stalks," which damaged the elevator's equipment. Party officials have repeatedly broken up established crop rotations to compel the adoption of whatever was the subject of the current campaign; if they understood the long-term damage which this might do to the soil, they would, in any case, probably be in charge of some other area by then. Other party secretaries inspired or condoned large-scale falsification of plan fulfillment, by such methods as instructing farms to buy butter in retail stores for delivery as their own produce (note that the cost of this operation falls on the peasants), or more simply by "writing in" non-existent figures (pripiski). They did not do these things because they enjoyed cheating or damaging the farms of their area, but as a response to pressures to achieve the impossible.

It is interesting to speculate why agricultural plans are so much less realistic than industrial ones. The uncertainties of the weather constitute one reason, but another is surely the habit of "campaigning," which is of such long standing, has done so much damage to sound farming and which still continues. A campaign must have clearly defined objectives, priorities and dates on which achievements are to be measured; it must involve strain and effort to achieve success, and must lead, therefore, to neglect of other considerations. But in agriculture this does great harm.

Given these administrative habits, it followed logically that the planning autonomy granted to collective farms in 1955 could never be a reality. It is also easy to understand why all decentralization measures were doomed to failure. Devolution of authority in the existing setting meant in practice devolution to party secretaries, who alone were in a position to enforce decisions, and this led to the systematic neglect of anything for which there was no pressure from the center. In a genuine effort to encourage local initiative, Khrushchev announced in 1958 that only grain-surplus regions were to be given grain delivery quotas. The idea was to encourage other regions to meet their own needs from their own resources, and in particular to concentrate on fodder grains for their livestock. What happened was that both grain acreage and production fell sharply in the areas freed from delivery quotas. In returning to centralized procurement planning in 1961, Khrushchev himself explained the reason: party secretaries, finding themselves no longer under pressure to deliver grain, instructed "their" farms to pursue other objectives in which the center seemed more interested; consequently, the fodder shortage was accentuated.

It is in the light of all this that one must assess Khrushchev's latest administrative reforms. There were two possible ways out: either to grant much more autonomy to farm management, or, on the contrary, to attempt to organize a more streamlined and flexible machine of central control. He chose the latter. Given his own background and the traditions of the Party, he could hardly have done otherwise.

A completely new hierarchical pyramid of control has been created in 1962. A new All-Union Committee on Agriculture is to be headed by a deputy premier, and is to include the head of the agricultural department of the Central Committee of the Party, and the heads of other relevant organizations, which retain their identity within, or alongside, the new structure: the Procurements Committee, Setl'khoztekhnika, the Ministry of Agriculture (reduced to purely research and advisory functions), plus representatives of the planning agencies. This new committee will apparently not be a policy-making body (Khrushchev would have headed it if it were); it is merely to ensure that party and state directives for agriculture are carried out. But below the all-union level the situation is different in one all-important respect: the heads of the agricultural committees in republics and provinces are to be the first secretaries of the republican and provincial parties. At provincial level and below, the tasks of procurement as well as production planning, for collective farms and state farms, will be unified under the new committee within a provincial agricultural department. The basic unit of agricultural planning, operating on the instructions of the provincial committee, will now be a new "territorial state and collective farm administration," which, as a rule, will group together several districts (rayony). In each of these territorial administrations there will be a "party organizer" deputed by the republican or provincial party organization.

This new hierarchy is to have authority to plan production, to issue directives as to methods, crop rotations, procurements, and in general to be in charge of both state farms and collective farm operations. "Inspector- organizers" employed by the territorial administrations will work within the farms and "will decide on the spot questions of production and procurement." The large number of workshops and other minor enterprises carried on jointly by two or more collective farms will be placed directly under the territorial administrations. An end is finally made of the doctrine, so often disregarded in practice, that collective farms are autonomous coöperatives governed by their members.

The reorganization marks a drastic alteration in, and a tightening of, the entire system of administration. Within it, the role of territorial party officials has undergone an important change. Hitherto, however frequently these officials interfered with plans and operations, they were not directly in charge of them. Their job was supposed to be to ensure that the relevant state organs did their job, to act as political commissars and not as army commanders, so to speak. It is true that they did in fact frequently issue commands, but-and this point was made several times-they could and often did dodge responsibility by putting the blame on one or more of the state officials whose formal duty it was to plan this or that aspect of agriculture. Now, the most senior party secretaries at the republic and provincial level have been put in direct command over farming in their areas, have been given full powers to issue orders to ensure that the agricultural plans are fulfilled. The state organs at their level, and beneath them, are at their command. The most powerful man in the new basic territorial controlling organs will be the "party organizer" whom they will appoint, and even the nominal chiefs of these organs will clearly be party officials for the most part, certainly not professional agricultural managers; both Khrushchev and Voronov warned against appointing farm managers to these posts.16 One category of party official loses-the district (rayon) secretaries-and protests from them were mentioned by Khrushchev. (They will sit on a council which will be attached to the territorial administrations, but so will farm managers and other lesser lights.) Apparently their behavior vis-à-vis the farms is regarded as having contributed to past distortion, which is true enough. Khrushchev appears to believe that the past failures of party control were due to the fact that it was unsystematic, spasmodic, with many overlaps with various state organs which in turn confused one another and, as he put it, left the farms "undirected." Presumably he imagines that, if a party secretary knows he is personally responsible for all agriculture in "his" province, he will no longer concentrate only on the immediately current campaign, and the many defects of party activities in rural areas will thereby be corrected.

But will they? If our analysis is correct, then the essential weakness arises not from irregularity of their interference but from the overambitious nature of the plans which, willy-nilly, they have to force down the throats of their subordinates, and from the contradiction between these plans and the self-interest of farms and peasants. Party officials will surely continue to try to please their superiors and to organize matters so as to be able to report what these superiors wish to hear. While it is true that a more logical administrative structure has been achieved, it lessens the effective powers of farm managements and farm agronomists. It is on the farms that crops are grown, and it cannot be right to diminish the range of choice open to those who can actually see the crops growing, who bear formal responsibility for farm operations and, in the case of collective farms, for the incomes of the labor force.


Soviet agriculture is indeed marking time. The liberal post-Stalin policies did produce quick results, but since 1958 the growth rate has been negligible, for a number of interconnected reasons which I have endeavored to analyze here. It clearly does not follow that growth cannot be resumed. If more investment funds can be made available for the fertilizer and farm- machinery industries, for instance, then the very low crop yields in the naturally unfertile lands of the center, north and west of European Russia can be increased. Success in agriculture tends to reinforce itself (higher yields of fodder grains, more livestock, more manure, higher yields, higher productivity, increased incomes, more incentives, therefore still higher productivity, etc., etc.). None of this is impossible, despite the adverse natural conditions under which Soviet agriculture operates. The trouble is that policies toward the peasant and the organizational arrangements of the régime seem inconsistent with the great advance in food production which Khrushchev desires with evident sincerity. And paradoxically, his impatient urgings, and their organizational and "campaigning" consequences, are among the principal obstacles to soundly based progress. Although we should expect to see some increases in production, there can be no question of fulfilling-or anything like it-the plans for 1965 and 1970, to which so much publicity has been given in the Soviet Union.

Finally, it is only right and fair to emphasize that there is no easy solution to the problems with which the Soviet leadership is wrestling. It is easy to criticize the price system, but it ill behooves us to lecture Khrushchev about the virtues of a free price mechanism when not a single major Western country permits it to operate in the agricultural sector. Difficulties arise in ensuring even modest efficiency in traditional peasant farming in many non-Communist countries, and agricultural plans have a regrettable habit of going awry in places well to the west of the Soviet border. Thus at the moment of writing there is an acute potato shortage in England, due largely to the fact that the Potato Board restricted plantings in the incorrect expectation of favorable growing weather; if there were a 1962 sheep plan in Scotland it would be a failure, since so many sheep have been killed by the severe winter. It is also not to be forgotten that, seen historically, Soviet agriculture has served as a means of financing and sustaining industrialization and has suffered in consequence. This is a disadvantage unknown to farmers in developed Western countries.

Yet it remains true that the huge farms of the Soviet Union have been inefficient in the use of resources and have shown a deplorable lack of flexibility and a failure to mobilize necessary human ingenuity. It is also significant that the only country in the Communist bloc which fulfills its agricultural plans is Poland, where most farms are privately owned and privately run. One reason for this is that Polish plans are reasonable: had Gomulka been so foolish as to promise to treble meat production in five years, he too would have "failed." Polish farming has its own weaknesses, and it is surely impossible on practical as well as ideological grounds to apply the "Polish model" to the Soviet Union. Yet, Polish experience underlines a fact too often overlooked: that with all the familiar inadequacies of small-peasant agriculture, it possesses advantages which Marxist theory has failed to recognize and Soviet practice has yet to find a way of emulating. Khrushchev is making an all-out effort to seek efficiency within the basic institutional and political framework of the Soviet system, and has mobilized the Communist Party machine for this purpose. The next few years will show whether a breakthrough can be achieved under these conditions. Much depends on the outcome-perhaps Khrushchev's political standing, probably also the influence of the Soviet Union on other peasant countries, within and outside the Communist bloc. 1 These figures are taken from the remarkable speech by the premier of Kazakhstan, Sharipov, in Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, Dec. 24, 1961. 2 Perhaps this is why potatoes, which "compete" for scarce fertilizer with the more fashionable corn, have been doing badly of late. 3 Y. Peive, Ekonomicheskaya gazeta, March 5, 1962, p. 5. 4 Pravda, March 6, 1962. Khrushchev there cites other examples. 5 See in particular the article by the director of the Tula farm machinery factory, Ekonomicheskaya gazeta, Jan. 15, 1962, p. 8. 6 A 1961 decree provides for severe punishment for allowing farm machinery to deteriorate, but often enough the cause of the trouble is lack of spare parts, or of materials with which to build shelter and storage space. 7 Pravda, March 8, 1962. 8 Pravda, March 7, 1962. 9 The burdens on the labor force which present policies impose were stressed at the Central Committee plenum by P. Abrosimov (Pravda, March 8, 1962). 10 See evidence in A. Kraeva, Voprosy ekonomiki, No. 8/1961, p. 74. 11 Ibid., p. 77, and E. Kapustin, Ekonomicheskaya gazeta, April 9, 1962, p. 8. 12 E.g. see articles in Ekonomicheskaya gazeta by M. Semko and A. Severov, respectively March 5 and March 19, 1962. 13 Calculated from detailed figures given in the statistical compendium, Selskoe khozyaistvo S.S.S.R. (Moscow, 1960). 14 V. Grif.hin, the "trade union" chief, Pravda, March 10, 1962. 15 I. Bodyul, Ekonomicheskaya gazeta, March 5, 1962, p. 6. Many similar examples could be cited. 16 Voronov in Pravda, March 28, 1962. The big role played by Voronov in carrying out this reform is surely a significant pointer to his rapidly increasing position of power in the U.S.S.R.

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