Collectivization in the Polish People's Republic

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Collectivization in the Polish People's Republic was a policy pursued during the Stalinist period, from 1948 until the liberalization during the Gomułka's thaw of 1956. However, Poland, was the only country of the Eastern Bloc where large scale collectivization was a failure. Legacy of the collectivization in Poland was the network of inefficient State Agricultural Farms (PGRs), many of which can still be seen in the countryside of modern Poland, especially its northern and western provinces (Recovered Territories).

The decision to carry out the process of collectivization of Polish farmls was taken in September 1948 by the Central Committee of the Polish Workers' Party. It was based on the June 20, 1948 Bucharest resolution of the Cominform, which stipulated that collectivization was to be started in all Communist countries.[1] In July 1948, during a Politburo meeting, Hilary Minc gave a speech on private ownership in Polish economy. Minc, referring to Lenins notion of permanent rebirth of capitalism, announced transformation of Polish economy into a socialist one.[2] The process of restructuring Polish agriculture was officially presented as protection of small farmers, whose position was endangered by the rich kulaks. It was supposed to take place in the fire of the class struggle. According to Minc, a kulak was a village capitalist, who exploits other peasants.[3] Since this definition was imprecise, Party officials decided that a Polish kulak was a farmer whose farm was larger than 15 hectares (in Southern and Eastern Poland - 8 to 10 hectares). Furthermore, kulaks were even those farmers who had at least two horses, so any Polish peasant who ran his farm properly, could have been accused of being a kulak.

Despite widespread use of force, by 1951 only 2200 cooperatives were created in Poland, which occupied only 0.8% of arable land, and had some 23,000 members. The cooperatives were divided into groups, such as Associations of Land Cultivation (Zrzeszenia Uprawy Ziemi, ZUZ), which kept private ownership of tools and machines, and Farmer’s Cooperative Teams (Rolnicze Zespoły Spółdzielcze, RZS), in which both land and machines were collective. Most members of these cooperatives were poor peasants, who had received land during the land reforms of 1944 - 1948. Since Polish peasantry was mostly opposed to giving up their land, in June 1952 several repressive measures were introduced against those who resisted collectivization. Their houses were searched, they were arrested, extra tax and quotas were imposed on them, their machines and goods were illegally destroyed. Furthermore, there were financial fees; between 1948 and 1955, some 1.5 million farmers were fined and some ended up in labor camps and prisons.

In 1952, after special privileges were introduced for collective farms, their number grew. A year later there were 7800 such farms, which occupied 6.7% of arable land in Poland. In 1955, the number of such farms reached 9800, covering 9.2% of Poland’s arable land, with 205,000 farmers. An average collective farm in Poland employed approximately 20 people, and covered 80 hectares, with 65 livestock. In comparison to privately owned farms, productivity at collective farms was low. In 1949, State Agricultural Farms, or PGRs were created. In course of time, these farms came to control approximately 10% of Poland’s arable land. Like collective farms, the PGRs were inefficient, with low productivity.

Polish farmers fiercely resisted collectivization. In some cases, they cut down forests which were marked for nationalization. According to sources, peasants feared collectivization more than a hypothetical future World War Three, hoping that the war would help them to keep their land.[4] However, a number of poor peasants, influenced by official propaganda, supported the changes, hoping that their quality of lives would improve. Collectivization was more widespread in the so-called Recovered Territories, where settlers were not emotionally connected to the land. Collectivization and persecution of private farmers, on whom quotas were enforced, led to a collapse of Polish agricultural production after 1950, and a large scale exodus of villagers.[5] Furthermore, government planners decided that national budget would above all finance heavy industry at the expense of agriculture. As a result, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and tools were in short supply on farms. Official propaganda blamed Western imperialists, saboteurs and kulaks for these problems.

After political changes of Polish October 1956, Władysław Gomułka officially recognized private farming as a specific element of the so-called Polish road to Socialism, and the government changed its course. The number of collective farms declined. In September 1956, there were some 10,000 of them. On December 31 of the same year, the number of such farms was reduced to less than 2,000.[6]

The idea of collectivization returned in the early 1970s, after Edward Giereks visit to Moscow (January 1971), where Leonid Brezhnev stated that Gomułka did not carry out collectivization, and that is why he had "problems". However, the position of private farmers was well-established by that time, and after some attempts, the government gave up.