The Ryazan miracle (or Ryazan affair) was a scandal resulting from a propaganda campaign in support of the Soviet planned economy and organised by the Communist Party Committee of Ryazan Oblast in 1959. It involved promising and then faking the over-fulfilment of the production plan for meat and milk in Ryazan oblast.
On May 22, 1957 Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader at that time, made a speech at a regional meeting of Soviet agroindustry representatives, in which he aired his famous slogan "Catch up and overtake America" (Догнать и перегнать Америку). In this speech Khrushchev promised to overtake the United States in terms of major economic indicators and to complete building communism by 1980. One of the goals stated in this speech was to triple the amount of meat produced in the Soviet Union within the following three years. However, implementation of this goal remained far from the target. A year after the promise the production had not grown and the USSR was still experiencing food shortages. Khruschev expressed his discontent and, towards the end of 1958, the Central Committee of CPSU issued a circular to obkoms, regional party committees on the oblast level, to take "decisive action" to ensure improvements in meat production in 1959.
Alexei Larionov, the first secretary of the Ryazan Obkom (the effective head of the region in the Soviet system), announced a very ambitious goal of tripling the amount of meat produced in the region within the next year. The promise, in spite of being unrealistic, was confirmed at the regional party conference. On October 12, 1958 Larionov delivered the promise to Khrushchev in person, who became excited by the initiative. On January 9, 1959 the promise was published in Pravda, the official party newspaper at the time. The publication was rushed by Khrushchev in spite of objections from the Agricultural Department of the Central Committee. The challenge was met by several other regions including Stavropol and Krasnodar. Even before starting its ambitious programme, the Ryazan region received several awards. In February 1959 the region was awarded with the Order of Lenin.
In order to meet the promise, the region had to slaughter all the bovine herd of 1959, as well as a considerable part of its dairy stock. In addition, all cattle reared by kolkhoz farmers in their private households was appropriated "temporarily". As the collected amount was still not enough to meet the target, obkom had to buy meat in neighbouring regions by relocating funds from other sources, such as the purchase of agricultural tools and construction. On December 16, 1959, Ryazan obkom was able to announce that the region delivered 150,000 tons of meat to the state, which was three times the amount delivered the previous year. On top of this, the regional authorities promised to deliver 180,000 in the next year.
On December 27, 1959 the success was announced by Khruschev himself at the CPSU Plenum "On further development of agricultural production" (О дальнейшем развитии сельскохозяйственного производства). Also in December, Larionov was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour.
However, in 1960 production of meat in Ryazan oblast plummeted to 30,000 tons, since mass slaughter had reduced the amount of cattle by 65% in comparison to the level of 1958. To make matters worse, kolkhoz farmers whose private cattle were "temporarily" appropriated the year before refused to process kolkhoz land. This halved the amount of grain produced in Ryazan oblast. By the fall of 1960, it became impossible to hide the affair. In September 1960 Larionov was dismissed from his post, stripped of the title of Hero of Labour. On October 10, 1960, he committed suicide.
Similar events happening on a smaller scale in other regions of the Soviet Union resulted in a statewide drop in agricultural production. Around the same time Khruschev was obsessed with growing maize and forced its widespread planting. Some party leaders in North-West Russia and Baltic were also eager to report their following of the party line, even though maize does not grow well in northern regions.
All these events gave a blow to Khrushchev's image in the Soviet Union. His slogan "Catch up and overtake America" was widely mocked in jokes. The events contributed to his final fall from power in 1964.
- The Great Leap Forward in China and the resulting Great Chinese Famine of 1959-1960, which stemmed from similar practices of agricultural planning.
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