Land Nationalization in the New Western Republics

P. Tolstoi, Land Nationalization in the New Western Republics and Provinces. November 1940

 

Original Source: Sovetskoe gosudarstvo i pravo, No. 11 (1940).

The first legislative acts laying the foundations of the new regime in the territory of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania comprised Laws on Land Nationalization.

In Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia land nationalization was proclaimed in L’vov and Belostok by the National Assemblies freely elected on the basis of the universal, equal, direct and secret ballot, immediately after the military defeat and the disintegration of the Polish state. The declarations ‘on the confiscation of the landlords’ land’ were adopted by the National Assembly of the Western Ukraine on October 28, 1929, and the National Assembly of Western Belorussia on October 30, 1939. In the Baltic republics, the declarations ‘on the proclamation of the land as national property, i.e. state property’, were adopted by the National Diets of Lithuania and Latvia on July 22, and by the State Duma of Estonia on July 23, 1940…

The basis of the new land regime of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina was established by the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of August 15, 1940. Since Bessarabia formerly had been an integral part of Soviet Russia, occupied in the spring of 1918 by landlord-bourgeois Rumania, its forcible severance had never been recognized by the Soviet Government; hence the decree ‘on the restoration of the Soviet land laws’ was promulgated on the territory of Bessarabia, ‘in accordance with the decree on the land adopted by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets on October 26 (November 8), 1917’. Since Bukovina had formed an integral part of Austro-Hungary until the end of the first imperialist war and, after the disintegration of the Hapsburg Empire, had been annexed by Rumania, a special decree was issued ‘on the land nationalization on the territory of Northern Bukovina’.

All these legislative acts followed the path blazed by the world-historic first decree of the Soviet Government ‘On the Land’ of October 26 (November 8), 1917: they incorporated the following basic principles:

  1. proclamation of the land with its mineral resources, forests and waters as national property, and establishment of exclusive state property rights in their regard;
  2. liquidation without any compensation (confiscation) of all landlord, church and altogether the whole of large-scale unearned landed property, including live and dead stock, and farm buildings;
  3. transfer of the confiscated land to the tenure of the working peasantry;
  4. liquidation of the former debt obligations and the numerous taxes and payments which placed an intolerable burden on the working peasantry.

In accordance with the declarations made by the National Diets of Latvia and Lithuania and the State Duma of Estonia, ‘the maximum size of the land allotted for tenure to the working peasants is established at 30 hectares’; but there was no such limit in the legislative acts on land nationalization in the other republics.

These decrees, while eliminating the parasitic private capitalist ownership in land, at the same time guarantee the complete inviolability of the working peasants’ land tenure and private property. In satisfying the primordial craving of the peasantry for land in the form of the familiar individual households, these decrees inaugurated, like the land decree of October 26, 1917, the first stage of the radical transformation of the land relationships in the village-the stage of distributing the basic mass of the confiscated land among the landless peasants and those short of arable land.

‘Every attempt to infringe on personal peasant property, or t force on the working peasants the organization of kolkhozes, will be ‘sternly punished’ as harmful to the interests of the people and the state’-such was the announcement made in the declaration of the Latvian and Lithuanian Diets and the State Duma of Estonia.

The foundations of the land system on the basis of land nationalization, as stated in the above declarations, were consolidated in the Constitutions of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics, which were confirmed by the Provisional Supreme Soviets of these Republics on August 23-24, 1940.

These constitutions are taking account of the fact that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are still in the initial stage of socialist construction. That is why the formulation of these constitutions (in Chapter 1, ‘The Social Order’) regarding the land regime (as well as industry and trade) contains certain peculiarities that differ from the wording of the 1937 constitutions of the old Soviet republics.

The Baltic constitutions make no mention of kolkhozes-neither of the property of individual kolkhozes (article 5), nor of kolkhozes side by side with public organizations (first paragraph, article 7), nor of the land tenure of kolkhozes (article 8), nor of subsidiary personal households and personal land tenure by kolkhoz households (second paragraph, article 7).

Owing to this, the constitutions of the Baltic Soviet republics stipulate not only, like the other constitutions, that ‘side by side with the socialist system of economy … private households of individual farmers are admitted …’ (article 8) but, unlike the constitution of the old Soviet republics, they also lay down that the working peasant households are guaranteed gratuitous and termless land tenure: peasant households are confirmed in the gratuitous and termless tenure of the land held by them within the limits fixed by law’ (article 9).

II

The history of each of the new Soviet territories has many characteristic peculiarities which have left their mark on the land system and the position of the peasantry.

Before the political map of Eastern Europe was redrawn, as a result of the imperialist war of 1914-18, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Western Belorussia, a portion of the Western Ukraine and Bessarabia formed part of Tsarist Russia, while others like Eastern Galicia (and a portion of the Western Ukraine) and the northern part of Bukovina were under the rule of Austria-Hungary.

Their political fate differed also after 1918 until the establishment of Soviet power in 1939-40. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became new and formally independent states-bourgeois republics. Western Belorussia and (both parts of the) Western Ukraine were forcibly incorporated in the new Polish state. And Bessarabia and the northern part of Bukovina were seized by Rumania.

After the great Socialist October Revolution, nearly all these territories had short periods of Soviet rule, between 1917 and 1920, but the political situation in which it was established (in some territories several times) differed in accordance with local peculiarities.

None the less, the land system and the position of the peasantry in these territories, prior to their reunion with the Soviet Union in 1939 and 1940, had several features that were more or less common to them all.

The agrarian policy of the bourgeois governments in these territories, between 1918 and 1939 (1940), was sharply nationalistic. They cultivated emphatically bourgeois land ownership of the new dominant nationality. The Belorussian and Ukrainian village in Western Belorussia and the Western Ukraine was being strongly Polonized by means of Polish colonization; the Ukrainian village in Northern Bukovina and the Moldavian and Ukrainian village in Bessarabia were Rumanified.

Nevertheless, because of the proximity of the Soviet frontier, the agrarian policy of these countries was bound to be much more affected by the impact of the new Soviet agrarian order than that of more distant countries. Under pressure from the peasant masses, in a situation marked by a growing revolutionary movement in the village, all these territories between 1919 and 1922 solemnly proclaimed and inaugurated ‘agrarian reforms’ which, it was declared, were to benefit the landless peasantry and those short of arable land, and to satisfy to a certain extent their land hunger at the expense of larger landed property. But later on, very little was done in the promised sense. The reforms remained either almost wholly on paper (in Poland-in the territory of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia) or they were used mainly in the interests of a reactionary nationalistic agrarian policy-to set up and consolidate kulak households of the dominant nationality (in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia).

All these ‘agrarian reforms’ of the bourgeois governments after the first imperialist war only aggravated the position of the poorest peasantry: having remained without land, it was compelled to seek employment as farm labor; yet farm labor wages were falling owing to a drop in demand arising from the curtailment of the large estates.

Nor did the ‘agrarian reforms’ raise the prosperity of the peasant smallholders with insufficient stock who had been allotted land. They were unable to recuperate from the weight of the large land-redemption payments, from the bondage imposed on them by the credit terms, the growing taxation and so forth. The number of peasant households auctioned off because of non-payment of obligations due grew from year to year (in Lithuania, for instance, during the last year 13,000 households).

All these western republics and provinces had also common forms of peasant land ownership which were distinct from peasant land ownership in Central Russia. They had not a trace left of communal land-holding based on leveling-out through redistribution. Peasant land ownership was based on farmsteads, without periodic leveling-out through redistributions, and with a great deal of settling separately in detached farms (especially in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). …

Western Belorussia and the Western Ukraine, already backward under Russian and Austro-Hungarian rule, had a still more miserable existence under Polish overlordship. They were in the position of cruelly exploited colonies with an industry which was not only stagnating but actually shrinking. In view of the immense proportion of large-scale Polish private land ownership, and owing to the harsh policy of Polonization pursued by Poland (that sickly offspring of Versailles, inflated beyond measure by incorporating numerous national minorities), the Ukrainian and Belorussian peasantry in the eastern peripheries of Poland (the so-called kresy) in the last twenty years suffered from the sharp hostility of the Polish ruling circles, headed by the Polish magnates and gentry.

The ‘agrarian reform’ proclaimed by the Polish Sejm in July 1919 and passed by it in July 1920, envisaged the allocation of land to the peasantry at the expense of large landed property (over 400 hectares, exclusive of forests). In practice, however, the reform was extremely slow in materializing; it was sabotaged outright by the ruling classes, and as soon as the alarm caused by the defeat in the Polish-Soviet war had passed, there was but an utterly insignificant reduction in the huge privately owned Polish latifundia which predominated precisely in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine. Moreover, it was the worst land that was thus severed. The redemption payments were an extremely heavy burden for the households to which land was allotted.

But there was quite a different approach to the law on ‘settlement’ (1920 and 1932) concerning peasant households on the eastern borders of Poland owned exclusively by settlers of Polish nationality: Polish legionaries, soldiers, gendarmes and civilian officials. The purpose of this law, which was tackled energetically and quickly, was to establish a strong body of Polish kulaks in the Ukrainian and Belorussian village. Plots were allotted to the ‘settlers’ even at the expense of land owned by the Ukrainian and Belorussian peasant majority.

At the same time, under the slogan of regulating land relationships, the peasantry, although it had almost no forests of its own, was deprived of its ancient rights of wood-cutting for household needs, pasture and so forth in forests of the landlords, and became even more dependent on the latter. The obligations for road maintenance and road building were exceptionally heavy. The continuously rising taxation placed a particular burden on the poor peasant households.

The position of the Moldavian and Ukrainian peasantry in Bessarabia under Rumanian rule (1918-40) was analogous.

Bessarabia is an agrarian country almost without industry, with a well-developed horticulture, fruit- and wine-growing and a high proportion of large estates.

The peasantry of Bessarabia, which had formed part of Russia from 1812 but was occupied by Rumania in the spring of 1918, hated the Rumanian regime all the more since it had not only stopped the distribution of the landlords’ land inaugurated by the Soviet Government, but also restored most of the private landowners, above all the medium holders, in their rights to land ownership.

Later on, however, to mitigate the sharp peasant discontent, Rumania and Poland had to adopt agrarian reforms (1919) by compulsory alienation with compensation of landed property exceeding the established norm of 100 hectares. The agrarian policy of the ruling Rumanian boyars in Bessarabia was at the same time a policy of colonization, for both the Ukrainian minority and the Moldavian majority of the peasantry gravitated far more to the Ukrainian and Moldavian culture east of the Dnestr (in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) than to the Rumanian culture west of the Pruth. In selecting the households that were to receive land, special attention was paid to the political complexion of each beneficiary his ‘reliability’ and his ‘merits’ gained on behalf of the Rumanian authorities in the struggle against Bolshevism.

The land allocation under that ‘reform’ failed to improve conditions in the Bessarabian village owing to the onerous redemption terms (forty years), the peasantry’s shortage of live and dead stock and lack of means for acquiring it, the bondage of credit terms, the exorbitant taxation, the forcible severance of the historical economic links with the Ukraine and the RSFSR, and the general conditions imposed by the unrestricted and arbitrary rule of the Rumanian bureaucracy and Sigurantsa.

The incessant peasant risings in Bessarabia (notably in Khotin in 1919 and in Tatarbunar in 1924; according to the official statistics of the Rumanian government, there were more than 150 risings between 1919 and 1924) indicated the exceptional hardships of the peasantry under the yoke of the Rumanian regime, and especially its agrarian system. The increased peasant mortality tells the same tale.

The social structure of Northern Bukovina under Rumanian rule was very similar to the social structure of Eastern Galicia in the former Polish state. The majority of the rural population was Ukrainian, whilst the largest landowners were predominantly Polish. Economically Bukovina is rich in pastures and forests (the country of beeches) and has well-developed cattle-breeding.

Since its forcible incorporation in Rumania (after the imperialist war) Bukovina, too, experienced a policy of resolute Rumanification, especially by means of Rumanian colonization which the agrarian reform (of 1921) was designed to serve. Not only the public and crown lands of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy but also the old fund of peasant lands were used for this purpose.

The status of the peasantry of the two Baltic countries, Estonia and Latvia, had many common features-both in the past when they formed part of Russia (from the eighteenth century until 1918) and during the twenty years when they were ‘independent’ bourgeois republics, i.e. before they joined the Soviet Union.

In both countries, the peasant reform which, over a hundred years ago, liquidated serfdom without allotting land to the peasantry (the reform of 1816-19) retained considerable significance. Until 1918, the land ownership here was concentrated mostly in the hands of the German barons, the descendants of the [Teutonic] knights (hence the predominant type of landed property-the so-called ‘knightly estates’). The kulak stratum of Latvian and Estonian nationality was basically represented by farmers owning detached properties. The working masses of the peasantry served as farm laborers on the landlords’ estates and kulak farms. No other part of Russia had so many landless peasants compelled to seek employment as farm laborers as the former provinces of Livonia and Courland (i.e. the territory of Latvia): in Livonia the farm laborers amounted to 60 per cent and in Courland to as much as 72 per cent of the entire population engaged in agriculture (in Russia they totaled an average of 17-18 per cent).

The Estonian and Latvian bourgeoisie, which came to power in the middle of 1918, marked the establishment of the new Estonian and Latvian bourgeois republics by the most ferocious chastisement of the urban and rural workers who had supported, and struggled for, the Soviet regime in the first half of 1918, when the red flag was unfurled in these countries. The subsequent bourgeois agrarian reforms of 1919 and 1920 by the Estonian and Latvian governments allotted land to those commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the young Estonian and Latvian armies who had particularly ‘distinguished themselves’ in the suppression of the revolutionary movement. The reforms transformed Estonia and Latvia into countries of large-scale peasant kulak households (the ‘gray barons’ of Estonian and Latvian nationality). The worst position was that of the village poor in Latgalia (the eastern part of Latvia bordering on the USSR), whom land shortage compelled to serve as the main source of cheap hired labor in agriculture.

The territory on which the bourgeois Lithuanian state was set up as a result of the revolutions in Russia and Germany after the imperialist war, and after the short period of Soviet rule, had been part of Russia for over a hundred years (from the time of the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century). It was an agrarian country with a low level of agriculture, in which large-scale and medium landed property, predominantly Polish and partly Russian, played the leading part, whereas most of the peasantry, mainly of Lithuanian nationality, were either landless or short of land. The characteristic features of class differentiation in the Lithuanian village were, on the one hand, a growing pauperization parallel with a continuous rise in the number of farm laborers (of whom the basic group were the so-called ordinary farm workers, hired for annual labor, together with their families) and, arising from this, the mounting emigration of the poorest strata of the Lithuanian peasantry to North America; and, on the other hand, an increase and consolidation of kulak holdings and separate kulak farms before and especially after Stolypin’s agrarian legislation of 1906-10.

The agrarian reforms of the Lithuanian government during the first years of the republic (the reforms of 1920 and 1922) were directed in particular against Russian and Polish land ownership. The young Lithuanian bourgeoisie hastened to wind up the legacy of Tsarism-the land ownership by the Orthodox Church (the dominant religion was Catholicism) and the large-scale land ownership by Russian dignitaries and officials who had established themselves, after the suppression of the Polish rising of 1863, in the estates confiscated by the Tsarist government from the Polish insurgents and attached to the new landlords in the form of inalienable ‘entailed’ estates. A sharp anti-Polish note was given to the reform of 1922 after the occupation and severance of the city and district of Vilna by the forces of the Polish general Zeligovski. All those who participated in his campaign had their land confiscated.

Privately owned land above the limits of 80-150 hectares was subject to compulsory alienation with compensation. Land parcels were also transferred on the basis of compensation predominantly to the kulak stratum of the Lithuanian peasantry-in the first place to those who had taken part in military operations against the Polish troops of General Zeligovski and, to some extent, to veterans of the imperialist war. Separate settlement in detached farms was particularly encouraged. More than half of the land (2.2 million hectares out of 4.1 million) belonged to less than one-tenth of the total number of households (27,500 households out of 295,000).

III

The peculiar nature of agrarian relationships prior to the establishment of the Soviet regime has to a certain extent affected the way in which the new agrarian order was introduced into each of the new western Soviet republics and provinces.

Nevertheless the identity of purpose underlying the agrarian policy of the communist parties, the identical principles of land nationalization and abolition of the basic forms of unearned land ownership, the identical forms of collectivization and the identical method of Soviet democracy, brought about considerable similarities in the way the fundamental reorganization of agrarian relationships was applied in the new western borderlands of the USSR.

It was necessary, above all, to take account of the mistakes which had been committed by the Soviet regime between 1918 and 1920, during the initial stages of establishing new agrarian relationships in these territories as well as in some other [Soviet] republics (for example, in Hungary and partly in the Ukraine), which had caused the peasant masses, who were unprepared for immediate socialist reconstruction of agriculture, to sever themselves from the Soviet regime. It was particularly important to respond to the age-old longing of the working peasant masses by boldly tackling the division of the mass of the landlords’ estates for the benefit of the small peasant households, without yielding to the temptation to preserve the greatest possible number of large-scale farms as a basis for state farms or collective farms. When the very first steps towards agrarian reorganization in the new western borderlands were made in 1939-40, they followed V. I. Lenin’s instructions (1919):

‘This is how the peasant thinks: “If there is a large-scale farm, that means that I am again a farm laborer.” This is, of course, incorrect. But the peasant mind connects the conception of a large-scale farm with hatred, with his recollections of how the landlords had oppressed the people. This feeling is still there. It has not died out yet.”

The land was reorganized on the broad initiative of the rural working masses in the Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldavia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Everywhere, in the larger and smaller rural districts, after the establishment of the people’s government, an aktiv was formed of people who under the bourgeois regime had already proved their devotion to the cause of the people. Special local committees, guided by the corresponding republican or provincial committees, were organized for the land [reform], the organization of land exploitation and so forth. In the Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia some of these local committees were set up even before the national assembly had adopted the declaration on the confiscation of the landlords’ lands. They played an important part in the first days after the liberation from the Polish yoke, maintaining iron revolutionary discipline, protecting from loot the abandoned landlords’ estates, buildings and stock, and seeing to the proper care of the property which had become the sacred and inviolable possession of the whole people.

The redistribution of the former unearned landed property had to be accomplished as a matter of urgency. It was necessary at once to wind up the exploiters’ regime and allot land to the landless peasantry and those short of it, so as to make it obvious to the whole people that a fundamental revolution in the agrarian policy had taken place, and that the partition of the former unearned landed property was to be accomplished by the beginning of the new agricultural year. Accordingly, rigid time limits were fixed for the entire redistribution of the land (11/2 2 months) and were more or less observed.

In conformity with the legislature’s directives on the new agrarian order, norms were worked out and issued specifying the land subject and not subject to confiscation, the order of distributing the land fund among the landless peasants and those short of land and so forth. These norms were laid down in great detail for Latvia and Estonia. It was specified that the redistribution did not extend to lands within the administrative boundaries of the cities, [but] that the entire land belonging to churches, parishes, religious societies and monasteries was subject to confiscation and inclusion in the state land funds, the so-called Reserve Fund, as was also large-scale private landed property (in the Baltic republics land exceeding 30 hectares) and all land owned by the enemies of the people and by those who speculated in land (in the Latvian SSR).

Except for a small number of plots reserved for various state and public requirements, the bulk of the former unearned landed property which was confiscated, and the former treasury lands suitable for agriculture, were to be allocated to landless peasants and those short of land. The establishment of model state agricultural enterprises (state farms) was provided only for the largest and best organized privately owned estates, or for some adjoining properties which were drawn together into a single whole.

The maximum size of the new plots and of plots augmented for peasants short of land was fixed in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at from 8 to 15 hectares. It was suggested that the land should be allocated in the following order: to annual and seasonal agricultural workers, to peasants short of land, to migrants, and to tenants (the Estonian SSR). Preference was given to families with many children. All those desiring to obtain land had to submit to the local land committees appropriate questionnaires (in Latvia there were even prepared questionnaires in four different colors according to the categories of priority of the population). In allotting land to landless peasants, the agrarian order to which the local population was used was taken into account, and various forms of settlement were allowed. In the Baltic republics, for example, even detached settlement was permitted, as far as possible in the form of ‘households’ groups’.

As was the case when the first laws on the land were applied in the RSFSR and the other Soviet Republics, the confiscation and distribution of unearned landed property and the entire reorganization of land relationships on the new Soviet territories was and is still taking place under the conditions marked by the acute class struggle over the land.

There was genuine happiness among the economically weak landless peasants and those short of land. ‘Our cherished dream is coming true, the dream of the village poor and of the farm laborer, the dream of one’s own plot of land sufficient to feed the family’ -this was the unanimous opinion of those working in the village as reported by numerous correspondents from Western Belorussia and the Western Ukraine in the autumn of 1939 and from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia in the autumn of 1940.

On the other hand, the capitalist elements in the village resorted, and are still resorting, to every means likely to hold up the distribution of land, so as to be able to retain the maximum. The periodicals of the new Soviet republics are quoting many concrete illustrations of the ways in which these elements resist the radical reorganization of the land. To incite the medium peasants against the Soviet regime, the class enemy spreads the provocative rumor that they, too, will be deprived of land, that agricultural stock will be removed from peasants en masse, that the harvest will be requisitioned, that forcible collectivization is imminent. The class enemy recruits his agents to act among the less conscious strata of the peasantry as servants of the kulaks, resorting to threats and, in some places, actual acts of arson and murder. He excels in evading the activity of the land reform committees by fictitious divisions of the larger properties, concealing and camouflaging his ownership of several landed properties in more than one place, and endeavoring to set up fictitious ‘protective’ kulak collective farms (the collective farms of the ‘gray barons’).

The division of the former unearned landed property has radically changed the physiognomy of the village in all the new Soviet territories. The large estates of the exploiters (landlords and so forth) have been swept out without trace. Kulak land ownership has been substantially curtailed. The number of landless peasants and those short of land has been greatly reduced. The numerical strength of the medium peasantry has considerably risen.

In the individual republics and provinces, the following unearned landed property was included in the state land fund and transferred to the working peasantry for gratis and termless use: in the Western Ukraine (in the six provinces belonging to the Ukrainian SSR), more than one million hectares were divided among 400,000 households without or with insufficient land; in Western Belorussia (in the five provinces belonging to the Belorussian SSR), over 430,000 hectares; in the Lithuanian SSR, over 600,000 hectares, of which as many as 400,000 hectares were distributed among 72,000 households without or with insufficient land; in the Latvian SSR, approximately 550,000 hectares were distributed among 70,000 peasant households (these include 47,000 new households of formerly landless peasants or farm laborers who received 475,000 hectares, while 23,000 peasant households short of land received an additional 75,000 hectares); in the Estonian SSR, more than 300,000 hectares were distributed among 55,000 households (these include 23,000 newly established households of formerly landless farm laborers, while 32,000 peasant households short of land received additional land); in Northern Bukovina. (in the Chernovits province which forms part of the Ukrainian SSR), 200,000 hectares; in Central Bessarabia, which forms part of the Moldavian SSR (according to preliminary data), approximately 250,000 hectares were transferred to the landless peasantry; in the Izmail (formerly Akkerman) province in the territory of Bessarabia which is a part of the Ukrainian SSR, 65,000 hectares were distributed among 6,000 new households of landless peasants and farm laborers and 18,000 peasant households short of land.

Altogether, according to preliminary, incomplete and still imprecise data, as many as 3.5 million hectares of cultivable land taken from unearned landed property were distributed among 0.75 million small peasant holdings which used to be either landless or short of land.

While allotting land to tens and hundreds of thousands of landless peasants and poor peasant households short of land, a whole set of measures were taken simultaneously to help them to become self-supporting, to acquire dwellings and farm buildings, and to organize their households which in most cases lacked the required agricultural equipment.

The live and dead stock confiscated from the landlords’ estates is being extensively distributed among the new households of the poorest peasantry. Building material is being supplied from state timber funds (all the forests have been nationalized), and from the quarries producing building stones (the mineral resources have also been nationalized). The new households are offered special long-term credits for construction and the acquisition of the required agricultural equipment. Appropriate sums for this purpose have been assigned in the state budget (for example, 20 million lits in Lithuania, and 7.2 million lats in Latvia). A special preference credit is available to the poor peasant households without cows to enable them to acquire the animals (a credit total of 8.4 million rubles in Western Belorussia). Encouragement is given to the organization of Supriagi (groups of peasants who combine for particular jobs such as plowing, harrowing and threshing), which are particularly widespread in Western Belorussia. A network of state machine tractor stations is being rapidly set up in the former private estates to serve the peasant households with agricultural machines on a contractual basis. The best of the former large private estates, which provide the basis for state farms, fulfill an important function as socialist model households for the whole county, and lend practical assistance to the adjacent villages (with seeds, pedigree cattle and so forth).

IV

The first collective farms on the land freed from the exploiters were set up on the initiative of the farm laborers, village poor and medium farmers, and under the leadership of the working class during the first months of the genuine people’s government.

It is obvious that the working people in the western republics and provinces are now far more favorably placed for the transition from the individual household to the communal kolkhoz household, and for developing and consolidating the kolkhoz structure in the village, than were the peasants of the old Soviet republics… They can benefit from the enormous experience and immense achievements of the socialist economy of over 200,000 collective farms covering with a dense network the territory of the old Soviet republics.

The popularization of the collective farm system is immensely enhanced by the periodical press, the personal impressions which numerous delegates from the new Soviet republics and provinces have gained from the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition-a real people’s university for socialist agriculture-by personal observations made by individual peasant delegates visiting certain advanced collective farms on the territory east of the former state frontier, and letters to the local press with colorful descriptions of the prosperity of kolkhoz life from collective farmers who used to live in the village in question but had since settled elsewhere.

The peasantry in the new Soviet territories has no longer to grope its way from the traditional individual petty households to the large-scale socialist households. It need no longer look for the most practicable rules for producers’ co-operatives in agriculture. The only statutory form of kolkhoz development that fits the present stage is already clearly defined-the agricultural artel, whose model statute has stood every test as ‘the basic law regulating the organization of the new society in the countryside.’

The transition to the socialist artel economy on the part of the working peasantry which has been newly assimilated to the Soviet regime has been substantially eased by the powerful material and technical aid which the state gives to the collective farms, above all through the widely ramified network of state machine-tractor stations which are bringing into the village the most advanced and hitherto unknown technique of mechanized agricultural production. In the western provinces of the Ukraine over 170 machine-tractor stations have already been organized and more than 100 in the western provinces of Belorussia. In 1941, 115 machine-tractor stations were under construction in the three Baltic republics (40 in Lithuania, 50 in Latvia, and 25 in Estonia), 27 in the Izmail province, and 13 in the Chernovits province (Northern Bukovina).

The degree of initiative evinced by the working peasantry in the transition to the socialist kolkhoz economy in the various western republics and provinces, of course, differs. It is undoubtedly affected by certain traditional forms of economy and peasant settlement, and by the extent to which the local population is in contact with the population of the old Soviet republics.

Applications for collective farms to be set up are coming in from the peasants of entire villages, and often from nearly everyone in every household. Collective farms are coming into being continuously. Thus, the Rovno province in the Western Ukraine had 14 collective farms in the winter of 1940, 37 at the time of the spring sowing, and 76 by the end of the agricultural year.

At the first anniversary of the liberation from the Polish yoke, on September 17, 1940, Western Belorussia had about 600 collective farms comprising 30,000 households, and the Western Ukraine more than 400 collective farms. By January 1, 1941, the total number of collective farms in the Western Ukraine (exclusive of the Izmail and Chernovits provinces) had risen to 571, comprising 34,000 households, in addition to 535 groups which had initiated the establishment of collective farms comprising collectivization of 14,000 households. Collectivization has started in Northern Bukovina, where the first seven collective farms drew together over 1,000 village poor and medium farm households and socialized as many as 3,000 hectares of land. In Estonia, the first collective farms (Krasnaia Niva, Obshchee delo and others) were set up three to four months after the establishment of the Soviet regime, i.e. as early as October 1940.

The collective farms are being established on the basis of the Stalin Rules of the Agricultural Artel.

In organizing collective farms in the large and small villages of the new Soviet territories, where only yesterday the landlord, the kulak and policeman were omnipotent, the farm laborers, village poor and medium farmers are displaying revolutionary class vigilance. As the well-known writer Wanda Wasilewska testifies in her article ‘The First Kolkhoz’, the working peasantry in Western Belorussia does not admit to kolkhoz membership anyone who at one time or other has been connected with the police, has failed to show his solidarity with the villagers, committed certain sins against the workers and the cause of the peasants, and thought only of himself, without sharing in the common life of blood and toil …

The public economy is getting well under way in the new collective farms: brigades and links are in the process of organization; livestock farms are being set up. From the thick of the peasantry which has been liberated from the yoke of the landlord and kulak, enthusiastic devotees of collectivization are beginning to emerge; they are the architects of the new free peasant life. New trades are appearing in the village–combine operators, tractor drivers, brigade leaders, appointed from local peasants, are given training at short-term courses. The buildings of the former landlords’ estates, which have been taken over by collective farms and are carefully preserved, are used as schools, kindergartens, collective farm clubs, hostels, accommodation for tractor drivers and so forth.

In the Western Ukraine, in less than a year, 233 cattle farms, 185 sheep farms and 112 pig farms have been set up. By January 1, 1941, there were 742 livestock farms.

Many collective farms have obtained excellent results for the first agricultural year, and such earnings for artel members as the peasants could never have imagined before. For example, in the artel named after Stalin, in the Rovno province, the family of the former farm laborer N. Patii received for the days-days it had put in: 300(22) pood of grain, 180 pood of potatoes and 5,000 rubles. In the artel named after Kirov in the same province, the woman link-leader M. Mazur and her family received for their days-days as many as 250 pood of grain, 270 pood of potatoes and more than 4,000 rubles. Some collective farms, such as the kolkhoz named after Lenin in the village of Davidovichi in the L’vov province, were able to sell already in the first agricultural year 20 wagons of market grain, whereas the landlord’s household, where this particular collective farm has been established, used to produce a maximum of 12 wagons of grain. The average grain harvest in the collective farms was considerably higher than that of the individual farmers; for example, in the Volhynia province the proportion was 12:1 to 10:6 hundredweights [per hectare], and in the Rovno province 13:6 to 9 hundredweights. …

Comrade Stalin said: ‘What we need is not just some kind of alliance with the peasantry, but only an alliance based on the struggle against the capitalist elements of the peasantry.” Thanks to the wise agrarian policy of the Soviet Government, the working class has concluded just such an alliance with the peasantry of the new western republics and provinces, an alliance which guarantees the consolidation of the Soviet regime and the continued success of socialist construction in all spheres of national economy as a whole, and of the socialist reconstruction of agriculture in particular.

Only the Soviet regime, which has destroyed the private ownership of land, put an end to the hated landed property and proclaimed the land to be the property of the whole people, could open to the working peasant masses of the western territories from the Baltic to the Black Sea the road to prosperity and culture, and create the conditions required to overcome ‘the idiocy of village life’.

Source: Rudolf Schlesinger, ed., Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia; the nationalities problem and Soviet administration (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1956), pp. 262-279.

 

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