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Industrializing agriculture in the Soviet Union

The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volume 1: The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930 - Robert William Davies

Over the course of the interwar era, the Soviet Union sought to bring their economy fully into the 20th century through a massive campaign of industrialization. Not only were considerable resources directed to expand the industrial sector, but its products were then employed to modernize agricultural production, which was in many ways still wedded to practices dating back to the prewar tsarist perios. How the Soviet leadership sought to do that is the subject of R. W. Davies's book, the first of several volumes devoted to detailing the efforts to the Soviet leadership to reshape their economy according to their ideological vision and how they responded to the challenges they faced in doing so.


Key to this effort was the collectivization of Soviet agriculture. As Davies explains, efforts to exert greater control in the years immediately after the Russian Revolution were frustrated by the disruptions of the civil war that followed. In response, under Lenin's direction the Soviet leadership allowed peasants to sell some of their surplus. The most successful of these, known as the kulaks, prospered during the 1920s and were the main beneficiaries of Soviet efforts to introduce tractors and industrial products to agriculture. As the decade came to an end, however, the ability of the Soviet government to use industrial goods to pay for surpluses declined, increasing the costs of supporting the growing industrial workforce.

Davies sees the 1928 harvest as the tipping point for the push towards collectivization. With the cost of grain increasing, a growing majority in the Soviet leadership spearheaded by Joseph Stalin embraced collectivizing the peasant farms as a means of exerting control. Until that point the Communist Party presence in the rural areas was limited, with traditional peasant institutions such as the mir bring the dominant form of peasant governance. Under Stalin's direction this changed, with kulaks targeted as opponents of the regime and the land reorganized. Though this effort was publicly hailed as a success, Davies highlights the resistance that soon gave the Soviet leadership pause. By 1930 the initial campaign was at an end, with collectivization considerably advanced but still incomplete in the minds of Stalin and his subordinates.


All of this Davies details with an economics-based analysis that is supported by an abundance of statistics. While this doesn't always make for the most scintillating reading, it nonetheless offers a convincingly detailed analysis of the issues facing the Soviet economy and the effects of the policy upon the countryside. Nor does Davies neglect the peasants themselves, as he uses the available sources to penetrate through the propaganda to get at their true attitudes and reactions. Taken together, it makes for a book that is not for the fainthearted but one that is nonetheless informative reading for anyone seeking to understand one of the critical events of not just Russian history but the history of the modern world as a whole.