Talk:Agriculture in the Soviet Union

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I created this article by cutting pieces from

Therefore, See also:

Mikkalai 20:33, 16 Oct 2004 (UTC)

To do[edit]

Virgin Lands Campaigns, Khrushchev's maize campaign, MTS == Machinery-Tractor Stations (машинно-тракторная станция), agriculture during perestroika


"However, despite immense land resources, extensive machinery and chemical industries, and a large rural work force, Soviet agriculture was relatively unproductive, hampered in many areas by the climate (only 10 percent of the Soviet Union's land was arable), and poor worker productivity."

I disagree with this. "Extensive machinery....relatively unproductive...poor worker productivity". Unproductive relative to what? Depending on how one would want to do the comparisons, USSR agriculture was often more productive than Western European agriculture. The machinery was never as extensive as the US's of course, so lack of worker productivity could be blamed on lack of capital investment as much as lack of Taylorism. Ruy Lopez 09:56, 8 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Relative to what? Relative to Canada and the United States and other modern agricultural operations. Interestingly it wasn't lack of capital, vast resources were poured into agriculture beginning in the Khrushchev years and accelerated in the Breshnev era. The Soviet government aspired to US standards not to the standards of the French peasantry.

I can provide a lot of quotes and authority for the above, but I will for now just quote a paragraph from Maurice Hindus's book, The Kremlin's Human Dilemma:Russia after Half a Century of Revolution, (1967), page 194:

"I recall the bolshevik argument during the tempetuous years of collectivization. Merge the 24 million small peasant holdings, it ran, into collectives of large acreages that can be worked with tractors and other machines, and the land will be more productive than it ever had been. It sounded logical. But emphasis was on the machine, and as the years ground on and on, it became increasingly evident that the machine alone performs no miracles, that the man on the land must be engaged too, no only his muscle but his mind and heart. But once the peasant lost ownership of the land, he had no mind and heart for land, and his wisdom in keeping peace with nature, in taming it to his own needs and purposes, did not count anymore. Hence the loss of millions of acres of meadow and plow land to wild nature; dust storms blowing off the top soil, rains washing it into the river. Hence the enormous waste and loss incurred through failure to gather and process crops on time, which, one must re-emphasize, the muzhik in the old days would never have allowed to happen."

This is just another observation of the general cynicism and alienation that pervaded later Soviet society, often expressed by workers in the joke, "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." Fred Bauder 13:38, Nov 8, 2004 (UTC)

Relative to the US? If the USSR is in Europe, why is it being measure relative to a country across the ocean instead of European countries - in fact, why is it being measured relative to anything other than itself? Russia's economy was comparable to Brazil's in 1917, the US was light-years ahead of Russia the day of the October revolution. I don't see why the absence of some deus ex machina on that day, to magically compress the decades of a head-start the US had on industrialization over Russia, means there was a lack of productivity.
The US also did not suffer any destruction during capitalist World War II. The USSR, on the other hand, lost more than 20 million people and a third of its assets. Shorne 11:00, 11 Nov 2004 (UTC)
As far as your "source", I see no facts or data about productivity or capital expenditures, just more soporific Cold War propaganda. You'd get the impression reading that that in the countryside, most farmers tended land that they and their families owned for centuries, before the Bolsheviks came and collectivized everything. The reality is the majority of Russian farmers worked on land someone else owned, and the small plots a small number of peasants got most of them got just a few decades prior to the Bolshevik takeover. And it was stated openly then that that was done so as to try to bring about a more conservative class in the countryside. Ruy Lopez 00:59, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Quite so. Where were the "mind and heart for land" of the landless peasants working for kulaks? Take this crap with you to church on Sunday. It doesn't belong in a scientific discussion. Shorne 11:00, 11 Nov 2004 (UTC)
And even if we were to do the ridiculous US/USSR comparison, Russian cotton yield was often better than American cotton yield. How is that "relatively unproductive"? Ruy Lopez 02:08, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Please check your sources. Cotton is not grown in Russia, it's grown primarily in Uzbekistan. Correct, the raw yied there is higher than in he US, but that's because the climate there is better for cotton. On the other hand, the yied in the US grew steadily through decades. In Uzbekistan it did not grow. The yields in Greece, OZ or Turkey are higher than in Uzbekistan. You seem to be carried by pro-soviet propaganda.
Comparing raw yields is not a good measure. You need to compare what was actually harvested, including numbers per worker. Keep in mind that stats for SU are not always true - the falsification of statistical numbers was systematic. Also remember that the present article covers about 70 years.
Shortages of bread in Moscow (which was supplied a lot better than the rest of the country) during Khruschev era are well documented. That alone should tell you about agricultural productivity in the USSR. --Gene s 09:21, 11 Nov 2004 (UTC)
It is true that Ruy Lopez should have said "Soviet" instead of "Russian". It is also true that yields vary for reasons of climate and other factors that have little to do with the economic system.
I am sure he can speak for himself.
But defining efficiency in terms of output per worker reflects a capitalist POV. A socialist system will have priorities other than profit, such as universal employment, that may make maximising the output per worker undesirable.
Well, if you define productivity in some other way then commonly accepted, then you should make your definition explicit. You obviously agree that the per-worker productivity in the USSR was relatively low. Then what other productivity was high?
In any case, it is inappropriate to call Soviet agriculture "unproductive" because it did not match that of the US and Canada according to certain yardsticks. The Soviet Union did not exterminate the indigenous population of an entire continent,
I don't think extermination (or not) is relevant to the article titled Agriculture
import slaves from another, and profit from broad expanses of stolen arable land in conditions very favourable to agriculture.
It's funny that you brought up the subject of slave labor. USSR practiced forced agricultural labor for people living in the cities. Students, clerks, soldiers were forced to work in the fields, often on Saturdays without extra pay and without being able to refuse. You may also read on trudoden for kolkhoz workers and how they had to moonlight on private plots just to have something to eat, how they were not allowed to migrate. That was happenning in the second half of the 20th century, not 19th as in the US.
Nor, for that matter, did most capitalist countries. Why choose the US as the benchmark rather than Bolivia or Nigeria?
Because USSR leaders chose such comparison? Because by other standards USSR was not considered a developing country? But you can compare to Finland or Canada if you like.
Ruy Lopez correctly pointed out that the USSR should be compared to a country like Brazil, which was comparably backward in 1917, or to pre-Soviet Russia (or even to post-Soviet Russia). Shorne 11:00, 11 Nov 2004 (UTC)
You believe a comparison of USSR to tropical Brazil is meaningful? That's really odd. Comparison with Finland would be a lot more interesting. --Gene s 11:40, 11 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Regarding your comment on reconciling differences, I seek to do so. VeryVerily, who has been banned before, who has broken the three revert rule within the past 24 hours, and who goes through my (and others) edit history and reverts everything we do, and who is currently in arbitration, makes it a little more difficult for me as he is trying to drive articles into a revert war, but hopefully a consensus can be come to despite what I consider VeryVerily's attempts at sabotage of that.
I suggest we keep the discussion strictly on the subject of agriculture in the USSR.
You're correct about my comments above, I should have said Soviet cotton yield rather than Russian cotton yield. Yes, Khruschev, bread, Virgin Lands, yes that had a lot of problems, more soil erosion than anticipated.
Regarding your second paragraph, you say raw yields are not a good measure, what is harvested has to be compared, including number of workers. And then on top of that this article covers 70 some odd years. I agree that there are many variables at play. What year are we talking about, what condition was the USSR in relative to whoever is being compared against in 1917, what variables are we talking about - capital investment, number of workers, yield per acre and so on and so forth.
The second paragraph of the introduction, which was reverted the most, offers something like a summary and thus (in my opinion) covers the extended period from collectivization to the second half of the 80s.
I meant your second paragraph in the discussion. I just summarized it and said I agreed with much of it, especially the idea that it was still a question what variables constituted productivity.
That's why I said at the top "Unproductive relative to what?" I'm told that USSR agriculture was relatively unproductive but I'm not told what it's unproductive relative to. Itself? Western Europe? The US? Russia was more like Brazil than the US in 1917, a US which, as you said, was of course not standing still at its 1917 level. What is the basis for worker productivity? As you say, there are many variables and many years being discussed. Which variables are meant, which years are being discussed?
OK, fair enough. Let's compare to Finland, 1917-1985. Finland was a poorer province of the Russian Empire until the revolution. The climate in Finland is worse than an average Russian climate.
We can compare to Finland, and other countries as well. If Finnish workers were more productive, we can say the USSR was less productive than these countries, and more productive than these countries. This seems like a solution to me, just place the USSR in a comparison to multiple countries. Of course then the question of what the variables are arises.
USSR usually claimed to be a developed country, just like the West. The total GDP and the per-capita GDP were reasonable close to European numbers. But the agricultural productivity lagged substantially. It was closer to the developing nations. This is my understanding of the productivity in the USSR in the last ~30 years of its existence.
This page states at the top that Soviet workers were unproductive, and then states they were relatively unproductive.
I am not sure what you refer to. The word "unproductive" is used two times in the article, both in the second paragraph of the introduction.
I don't feel this is a correct assessment of Soviet agriculture. With so many factors at play, from when to where to what, I don't even see how such a summation could be made. I seek to make a statement regarding Soviet agriculture that is different. Ruy Lopez 07:15, 12 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Yes, there is a large number of factors. A lot of them are hard to account for. But look at the overall picture. In 1914 Russia was exporting grain. In 1980 USSR was the largest importer of grain. In 2003 Russia was exporting grain again, as well as Kazakhstan and Ukraine. In 1980s, use of unpaid students, clerks, and soldiers in the fields was wide spread, and crops were still insufficient. Today crops cover domestic demand and some is exported. No unpaid people work in the fields. That should tell about productivity.
It's hard for me to see why unpaid worker would be more productive than a paid one. --Gene s 08:49, 12 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Well, I think the focus should be more on production than consumption or trade, although it's two sides of the same coin. As far as Agriculture of the Soviet Union and production, the bread shortages in Moscow in 1963 don't matter much although the soil erosion and failure of the Virgin Lands program and harvest of 1963 do matter. So since this is an article about agriculture and production, the latter is the focus, and the former might fall within the scope of the article, but is not central to it, as this is more about agriculture production than consumer products. In other words, for an example, the problems with the Virgin Lands campaign and soil erosion is part of the subject of this article, the effects of it might be mentioned but are more peripheral.
You wrote: bread shortages in Moscow in 1963 don't matter much. I think it should not be discounted. The "management" (Khruschev) of a "business" (Soviet agriculture) made bad decisions, which almost bankrupted the business. The overall productivity suffered. The Soviet system allowed him to make such bad decisions. These are two sides of the same coin.
You wrote: more about agriculture production than consumer products. Let me give you an example. In the late 70s-early 80s the potato yields in central Russia were reasonable - 10-15 tons/hectare. But kolkhozes/sovkhozes lacked storage facilities. So, the potatoes were left in the field in piles. The idea was to cover piles with dirt and soil and let them stay through the winter. Some potatoes would rot and provide natural heat, so the pile would not freeze through. In the spring, when snow thawed students or soldier would go through the piles and pick good potatoes from the rot. I don't know the actual statistics because it was never made public (AFAIK), but by witness accounts usually from 50 to 90% of potatoes rotted.
If you count just the initial yield, then the productivity was a reasonable 10-15 tons/hectare. If you counted what became consumer products, you get a low 1-7.5 tons/hectare.
I also think the article should mention the use of forced labor during 1960-1980s. Right now it's missing from the article completely.
Trade and consumer goods really does not tell me much about production at all - under Stalin a lot of production went into making more production facilities (capital goods), while under Khruschev more went into making consumer goods, and after Khruschev, more certainly went into making agricultural consumer goods for domestic consumption. In a command economy like the Soviet Union, more consumer goods means less productivity, since capital went into making consumer goods instead of making capital goods. Ruy Lopez 23:36, 12 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Correct. It would be very interesting to compare the fraction of consumer/capital for USSR and other developed countries. I vaguely remember reading an article from early 90s where such numbers were given, with the USSR fraction of spending on consumer goods some 2-3 times less, than in the US. --Gene s

What has been happening now is that while productivity on large farms, former Kolhotzes, remains very low, (many are bankrupt and have no reliable outlet for their product and, by the way, are sometimes not able to pay money wages or pay months late) , the shortfall is being met by imports. During Soviet times imports were sold only in dollar stores. Another reason for the endemic shortages then is that food was being diverted by employes of state markets into private markets or sold under the counter. So in many cases there was no actual shortfall, just artificial restriction of volume at state mandated prices so there were long lines at state shops, but the identical product, perhaps from the same farm. could be purchased at a markup in the farmers market or at the back door of the state store. Fred Bauder 05:19, Nov 13, 2004 (UTC)

I actually agree with you, Fred, to some extent. Corruption and capitalist subversion of the economy did distort the picture somewhat. My main criticism of your comments is that they speak to distribution or consumption rather than to production. But you are obviously aware of that. Also, I think you're being too vague in painting the entire Soviet era—more than seventy years—with the same brush.
"During Soviet times imports were sold only in dollar stores" is incorrect. Like every other country, the Soviet Union did engage in trade, and plenty of food and other products were available to the public alongside Soviet commodities. Indeed, one major leftist criticism of the USSR in the post-war era (especially after Stalin) is that it became the hegemon of the Second World, turning entire countries into banana republics that produced what the USSR needed. Shorne 08:31, 13 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Fred Bauder wrote: the shortfall is being met by imports. I wrote a paragraph about raw grain. The raw grain is not currently imported in a significant amount (just some varieties like durum), it's exported, just like in 1913. It was imported in large quantities during the Soviet times.
You wrote: During Soviet times imports were sold only in dollar stores. That's incorrect. Imports sometimes were sold through normal stores (assembling huge lines), sometimes they were distributed by subscription to employees of various organizations.
You wrote: being diverted by employes of state markets into private markets or sold under the counter. Yes, it was. It was covering some of the shortages of the official economy, some but not all by far. Also, not everyone had access to the black market.
You wrote: in many cases there was no actual shortfall, just artificial restriction of volume at state mandated prices. OK, you say in many places and that could be correct, it's like saying some people suffer during wars and being correct at that. Maybe, just maybe there was a case of an artificial restriction, but I personally know nothing of it. Could you provide an example?
You wrote: long lines at state shops, but the identical product, perhaps from the same farm. could be purchased at a markup in the farmers market or at the back door of the state store.. And you think people were stupid to stand in long lines instead of getting the same product elsewhere? They were standing in lines because they could not get things elsewhere. In the late 70s and 80s outside of Moscow & Leningrad meat was hard to find. The official price was RUR2.00/kg, but it was not sold in stores at all. Not sold. Not even at the back entrance since shop employees did not have it too. In the bigger cities it was sold maybe once per month. One had to know someone at the shop personally to be able to buy even at a higher price. The farmer's market price cap was RUR3.50/kg. Everything was sold at that top price - fat, meat, bones, everything @ 3.50 (good salary was RUR 150/month, some people were getting 80, retirement payments started about 45). There was no first or second grade meat, just "meat". In small towns market worked once or twice per week, usually on weekends. If one came at 6:30 am, it was often too late, everything was already sold out. And there was no guarantee there would be meat at all. I could write similar stories about pretty much everythng else - food, clothes, shoes, soap. Getting staples was almost a full time job by itself.
--Gene s 12:54, 15 Nov 2004 (UTC)

I'm back after a few days, although if I'm banned for a week this will have to start and stop again. Anyhow, I don't care if people don't want to say Soviet workers are very productive, as long as they don't say they are unproductive. I don't think Soviet workers were relatively unproductive. By different measurements, they could be considered more productive than American farmers, and certainly more than the European farmers that they should be compared with. If a country which just began industrializing should be compared to industrial countries at all. Ruy Lopez 03:21, 21 Nov 2004 (UTC)

I think this had beed discussed before. I can't claim I know about productivity of the Soviet agriculture in 1920-1940s compare to Brazil. But I can certainly say that they were seriously unproductive in 1960s-80s compare to developed nations. I would be interested in seeing statitical data regarding kolkhozes being more productive than american farms.
Regarding statistics. There was a joke in the USSR in Brezhnev era: A journalist comes to a kolkhoz to take an interview from a particularly productive milker. J: "You show such great results milking 50 liters per cow. But what if the party asks you to increase productivity? Can you milk 60 liters per cow?" M: "Sure", J: "How about 70 liters?". M: "Well, if I try harder, perhaps I can". J: "80 liters?". M: "That would be very difficult, but not impossible". J: "100 liters?". M: "Nah, impossible. Otherwise everyone would see already that it's water".
As far as productivity in the 1960s, putting aside the devasatation wreaked on the USSR during the Great Patriotic War, which was not helped by a Marshall Plan (in fact, the USSR had to have a military buildup due to the Cold War), the US had a massive head start on the USSR. Even if the USSR stayed constant with the US's growth rate from 1917-1960, the US would still be far ahead due to its enormous head start in 1917. Which is the same for other countries. The USSR had to industrialize when the Bolsheviks took over, somethign Western countries had already done long ago.
Beyond that is the question of despite the enormous head start, if USSR productivity ever outstripped Western productivity. As posted above, are examples such as Soviet cotton yield, which was often better than American cotton yield, including the period of the second half of the 20th century. Ruy Lopez 22:57, 22 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Mechanization of Soviet Agriculure[edit]

I once came across a book that contained some interesting information about Soviet farm equipment. The info was from the mid-late '70s. One thing it mentioned was that the Soviets were manufacturing 3-4 times as many tractors as the U.S. It also stated that the average age of the Soviet tractor was about 3 years versus 20 years for the U.S. The problem was that the Soviet tractors were of such poor quality, they didn't last very long and needed to be replaced quite often. I'll have to see If I can locate that book again. (talk) 03:57, 4 November 2009 (UTC)

How could they get reliable information on such things in the middle of the cold war? (talk) 02:34, 2 September 2015 (UTC)

References rather than opinions[edit]

With respect to the question of productivity we need to move away from opinions based on our preferences to statistics and reports of actual situations. For example, from page 183 to 191 of Age of Delerium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, ISBN 0394529340 are journalistic reports of agricultural life, at page 186, "In fact, the atmosphere on the collective farm was that of a permanent general strike. The farmers were drunk at least half of the time, and each one did everything possible to avoid work while maintaining a keen interest in the shirking of others." At page 187, "The group drinking usually began a short time later as the collective farmers gathered in the woods or behind bushes or in a garage where tractors were being prepared. Elsewhere on the territory, tractor drivers met in the fields to drink. Life on the collective farm soon fell under an alcoholic cloud as scores of people swayed as they walked through the villages, and there were violent scenes in the stores." I'm not sure how to handle these anecdotal reports, but they reflect the viewpoint of western observers of collective farm life. Fred Bauder 14:57, Nov 22, 2004 (UTC)

I completely agree, we need references, not opinions. But then you give some anecdotal stories, which even you question the worth of. Some type of anecdotal material is fine, but the entire article can't be composed of that. Regarding things like productivity, we need to talk about yield per acre, yield per capital invested and that sort of thing more than anecdotes. I've used various sources such as "Soviet Agriculture: A critique of the myths constructed by Western critics" written by an American liberal.
No disagreement with you here, I completely agree. Ruy Lopez 23:02, 22 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Just in case if you are interested - I was born in 1966 and though I lived in Moscow, I am somewhat familiar with the situation in agriculture. My familiarity comes from two sources: (a) I consmed their products and (b) Every year they were mobilizing people from the city to go to the kolhozes and sovhozes to help out with the harvest. I worked on the milk farm and potato farms. Now, as for the things they produced - there was an opinion somewhere here that it is wrong to compare state sector with private one becase state sector has been working only on "low-value" crops. Wrong. They were supposed to work on everything. Problem was - they could not even produce basic staples. Also, it is quite wrong to proclaim that in the USSR people consumed more milk then in the US and still they were dissatisfied. You know - in Chukotka they consume more meat then anywhere in the world - but this is only because meat is all they have! We did not have fresh produce, fuits, vegetables during the most of the year. In the second half of Winter and Spring the only potatoes, carrots and onions left in stores were frost-bitten and partially rotten. We had a handfull of types of canned fish, bologna with unknown recipe (I once worked on a meat-packing plant and saw rats running between meat-grinders - on top of whatever went there by design) and two-three kinds of cheese. Now, (b) - working on collective farm. However much you read about drunkenness there - you won't believe the scale of the problem. Nobody cared. Barely anybody worked. Barely any equipement worked. There were few "Potemkin farms" to be shown to the West and on TV - but that was all. People worked on their small private lots that were usually 600 square meters per family (that means that one builds a small hous on 200-300 and grows some vegetables on the rest). People from Moscow were getting lots that sometimes were 100 kilometers away - 2-4 hours commute on trains, busses and such. And those were the lucky ones. My mom was a teacher - and schools were neither rich nor important to get lots for their faculties. It also worth mentioning that USSR operated on the soils that were the best for the agricultural purposes. Probasbly the best in the World and the most abundant ones. For the USSR to import wheat from Canada was as a defeat as for Saudi Arabia to start importing oil from Germany. last, but not the least, I think you should mention that during Stalin agriculture workers were not allowed to leave theier kolhozes and sovhozes. They were not issued internal passports. They were practically slaves.