Second Kolkhoz Charter

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

The Second Kolkhoz Charter effectively entrenched the collective farm system of agriculture. It was issued as an exemplary or model document in February 1935, replacing the hastily issued version of March 1930 that had become outdated as a result of the subsequent evolution of collective farms. Drafted by the Central Committee’s Agricultural Department, it was distributed to delegates to the Second All-Union Congress of Kolkhoz Shock Workers which was held in Moscow. The Congress was attended by 1,433 delegates among whom approximately one-quarter were kolkhoz chairmen and another quarter were brigade leaders. The remainder consisted of rank-and-file collective farmers who had been selected supposedly on the basis of their production achievements. The final version of the charter was produced by an editorial commission of 170 people including Stalin and the new Commissar of Agriculture, Mikhail Chernov, who chaired its sessions.

Among the issues debated in the editorial commission and at the congress were the size of garden (“private”) plots for kolkhoz households, maternity benefits for kolkhoz women, conditions for admission to and expulsion from kolkhozes, and the right of expropriated kulaks to join collective farms. On each of these, the party leadership proved to be more conciliatory towards the bulk of the peasantry than did the shock worker activists. Stalin, for example, reportedly advocated expanding the size of private plots to at least half a hectare and granting two months of maternity leave at half the average earnings. Thus, as was the case with his “Dizzy with Success” article of March 1930, he appeared to distance himself from local activists in the name of accommodating ordinary peasants’ needs.

The Second Kolkhoz Charter was confirmed by Sovnarkom and thereafter served as a basis for individual kolkhoz charters which were to be registered by raion executive committees. The tasks of determining which kolkhoz lands would be set aside for private plots, allocating the use of kolkhoz horses for personal needs, and adjudicating requirements of kolkhoz membership presented local authorities with formidable challenges. They remained sources of contention within collective farms for many years to come. Thus ultimately, collectivization represented only a partial victory for the state over the peasantry. True, it did bring peasants under the administrative control of the state and, through the machine-tractor stations, made them technologically dependent. But peasant resistance extracted certain concessions. In the longer term, a combination of administrative incompetence, under-investment, and peasant alienation led to extremely low levels of productivity and an agricultural sector that, rather than providing resources and capital investment for industrial development, became a net drain on economic growth.

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