Ernest Germain

The New Reform in Soviet Agriculture

(March 1958)

From Fourth International (Paris), No. 2, Spring 1958, pp. 10–16.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“We were in an impasse with agriculture.” – Khrushchev interview with The Times, 1 February 1958

The Impasse in Soviet Agriculture

It is a genuine new reform in Soviet agriculture that Khrushchev announced in his Minsk speech on 22 January 1958. The sale of tractors and farm machinery to the kolkhozes constitutes its main feature. It can be judged at its exact value, from the viewpoint of the immediate interests of the Soviet proletariat and from that of the socialist future of the USSR, only if we start with the realistic observation placed as an epigraph at the head of this article : Soviet agriculture is in an impasse. For just as much as industrial statistics demonstrate the upsurge of industry and culture despite the brake represented by bureaucratic administration of the economy and the state, just so much does the balance-sheet of 40 years of Soviet agriculture show a crashing failure.

Does anyone want figures to confirm this severe verdict? In 1913 Czarist Russia produced 80 million metric tons [1] of grains; in 1950 there were produced only 84 million, for a population that had increased by 20%. In 1954 production was still under 90 million tons, i.e., a per capita production less than that of 1913!

In 1913 Russian livestock was composed of 61 million cattle; in 1953, for a population that had increased by more than 20%, there were only 57 million cattle. And even in 1956, bovine livestock of only 70.4 million, or less beef on the hoof per capita than under the Czarist regime.

Khrushchev launched the immense movement for plowing up virgin land; the surface sown was increased to 35 million hectares [2], more than a million persons were moved, and hundreds of thousands of tractors were constructed. Grain production, in 1957, however, reached only 105 million tons, ie, the same figure as that of 1955 (the year 1956 appears to have been exceptional). As the first secretary himself recognized in his Minsk speech, the average of the 1954–57 harvests is only 27% higher than the 1950–53 average. And that 1950–53 average oscillated around the average of the last years of Czarism. That is to say that, despite an enormous mechanization, the currently achieved increase in grain production is just barely proportional to the growth in Soviet population from 1913 to 1957, which is, precisely, 27%.

The immediate cause of this stagnation is not difficult to find. The present USSR Minister of Agriculture, Maskievitch, undertook a trip to the United States that revealed to him that American farm labor consists of one worker for each 50 hectares of arable land. This datum was published in the USSR and produced an immense sensation there (see the Soviet review Oktjabr, No. 11, 1957). It is because in the USSR it is notorious that agriculture lacks manpower, in spite of the use of ten workers (men and women) per 50 hectares (calculations of M.V. Nemtchinov in Planovoié Khoshiaistvo, No. 4, 1955, and of the Report of the Economic Commission for Europe: Study on the Economic Situation of Europe in 1956, chap. I, p. 32). The productivity of agricultural labor in the USSR thus seems to be ten times less than that of the United States, even on the basis of assuming an equal output per hectare in the two countries, which is hardly the case.

The ultimate cause of this low labor productivity lies in the peasantry’s refusal to make the effort, which is the Soviet peasants’ answer to the criminal way in which the forced collectivization of agriculture was carried out. Instead of the peasant being won over to collectivization by the demonstration of superior output and income, he was obliged to enter a kolkhoz at the cost of terrible material sacrifices. The peasants’ vengeance has lain like a curse on 25 years of Soviet history. The price policy of the Stalinist era only hardened the peasant in this attitude.

It was, furthermore, not a question of a purely psychological reaction. During the greater part of that quarter-century, the kolkhoz peasant obtained from his miserable little patch of private ground, which on the average scarcely exceeded four-tenths of a hectare, an income that was relatively far greater than that afforded him by work in the kolkhoz. Even in absolute figures, the income in kind and in money derived from the private patch of land often equaled and even surpassed that of work in the kolkhoz. Is it surprising, then, that the peasant – who was neither a declared advocate of “Bolshevism” cooked up à la Stalin or Khrushchev, nor an altruist burning with a mystical love for cooperative property – should have systematically tried to cut down his labor on the kolkhoz lands?

At the moment of Stalin’s death, the impasse had become plain. The second industrial power in the world could not even guarantee its inhabitants their daily bread, not to mention butter and meat. Stalin’s successors sought all possible solutions for remedying this situation. They began by considerably increasing the price that the state pays for obligatory or voluntary deliveries of agricultural products by the kolkhozes. They aided private and kolkhozian stock-breeding. They reduced taxes on the private income of kolkhoz members. They tried at the same time to force the peasant to work more in the kolkhoz by threatening to suppress his little private plot of ground if he did not achieve a minimum norm (Decree of 10 March 1956). They tried to “get around the peasantry” by developing vast “grain factories” in the form of sovkhozes on the virgin lands of Asia. The results of all these measures seem disproportionate to the effort undertaken.

Though certain superficial observers believe that Khrushchev’s undertakings have been systematically surrounded by a halo of success, an attentive reading during these last years of press cuttings concerning this noisy character produces a much more equivocal impression. Not to mention the famous project of “agrovilles,” dropped without fuss in 1951, it seems that the “Indian corn campaign” scarcely arouses any longer the enthusiasm of specialists. The virgin lands also are not treated as the panacea that they represented two years ago; the bad harvest of 1957 had something to do with that. As for the cotton-growing projects that Khrushchev developed with great volubility in 1954, they have failed lamentably. The production of raw cotton in Uzbekistan in 1957 reached only 2.75 million tons, whereas in the course of the Sixth Five-Year Plan 4.2 million tons of cotton had been foreseen for this republic in 1958, a goal which has meanwhile been reduced to 3 million tons (this is the goal originally set for 1955).

The MTS in the Soviet Economy and Agriculture

The state tractor and farm-machinery stations (MTS) for a long time were fulfilling a triple role. Owners of the great means of agricultural production, they were the essential link which bound the agricultural sector, non-statified, to the sector of the national economy. As a result of their monopoly, the tractors put at the disposal of agriculture remained outside the production and circulation of commodities. At the same time they guaranteed the state a considerable part of agricultural market production, as payment in kind for services rendered the kolkhozes. They were, lastly, the instrument of political control of the state over the villages, where they represented both the worker element and the bureaucrat element, as opposed to the peasantry properly so called.

It is unquestionable that this role, empirically attributed to the MTS by Stalin, was not without its multiple wastes and losses. The 19 February 1950 Pravda informed us that the MTS tractors were idle an average 30% of the time in the typical region of Kursk. At the time that the campaign in favor of the latest Khrushchevian reform was launched, the newspapers presented other figures, still more eloquent. The fact that many MTS had to serve several kolkhozes at once disorganized the work in the fields. Often the tractors were not ready at the most opportune moment for the harvest, which caused delays and losses.

The article quoted above from the review Oktjabr reports that in many MTS the tractors were “stored” (if it may be so called) in the open for ten months out of the year, and exposed to rapid wear under the rain and snow! The “mechanical revision” – oh sanctified bureaucracy! – was in fact planned only for the eve of harvest. The MTS have a very cumbersome bureaucratic apparatus, which weighs heavily on the production price of the grain that they receive as payment in kind for their services. In fact, according to Khrushchev’s Minsk speech, the wheat thus received cost the Soviet state 60% dearer than the wheat furnished obligatorily by the kolkhozes, and 150% dearer than the wheat obtained from the sovkhozes.

That is why the idea of transferring the tractors and farm machines to the kolkhozes themselves has been brought up on many occasions in the past. It is known that Stalin, in his last book (Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR), polemicized on the subject with two economists, Sanina and Wenger. The article by Ivan Vinnitchenko in the review Oktjabr, that we have already several times quoted, notes that Wenger did not lay down his arms. It relates an extremely interesting conversation that the author had with Wenger that shows that that theoretician is a genuine fanatic on the principle of “rousing the material interests of the peasant” for the increase of production. Doubtless other technicians and economists specializing in farm problems have systematically defended the same ideas as Wenger.

But it is interesting to report that the idea of the sale of the tractors to the kolkhozes was raised not only by theoreticians. The German publication Deutsche Zeitung und Wirtschaftszeitung, a serious organ of the capitalists of South Germany, reports in its issue of 1 February 1958 that agrarian experts of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR relate the following anecdote, according to which, on the occasion of a big reception at the Kremlin in 1955, Lyskin, president of the famous and very rich “Rossia” Kolkhoz of Kuban, spoke to Khrushchev in these terms:

“Well, Nikita Sergeïevitch, when are you going to sell me [!] the MTS that provides the tools of labor for our kolkhoz? I [!] offer you 15 million rubles for it. Think hard, Nikita Sergeïevitch; next year I’ll no longer pay you so big a sum.”

In fact, it seems, Lyskin named himself [!] president of the MTS in question some months after the incident, and the Kremlin ratified a posteriori the measure taken.

The Antecedents of the Minsk Speech

We do not believe that we are dealing here with an isolated incident. Many signs indicate that other presidents of rich kolkhozes acted in just as arbitrary a fashion as Lyskin.

It appears that, from the beginning of 1957 on, the Vygonitchi MTS (Briansk region) turned its tractors and machines over for a whole year to the “Leninski Putj” Kolkhoz (Selskoie Khoshidistvo, 9 January 1958). Several articles published in the October 1957 number of the review Oktjabr indicate that many kolkhozes had already bought tractors and farm machines in large numbers (especially the “Vladimir Ilyitch” Kolkhoz in the Moscow region, and the “Kranij Oktjabr” Kolkhoz in the Kirov region). The 10 December 1957 Pravda and the 16 August 1957 Pravda Vostoka reported that in other places MTS and kolkhozes had begun to fuse into sovkhozes. And the already quoted article of Vinnitchenko enumerates a certain number of variants of these reforms which had already been applied in various regions of the USSR. It notes at the same time that, in the region of Odessa for example, the richest kolkhozes already own a larger fleet of tractors of better quality than those of the MTS! It does not specify how these kolkhozes acquired these means of production, whose sale is forbidden by law and by special decrees!

It seems settled then that we have been witnessing a dual movement; discussion and experimentation of reforms within the leading bureaucracy and specialists in agronomy and political economy; and a “spontaneous” movement of acquisition by the richest kolkhozes in various regions of the country. The Minsk speech, far from having been the opening of a campaign, seems rather to constitute its finale. The very terms that it used (“There cannot be tolerated two masters on the same land”) are taken literally from the speeches of presidents of rich kolkhozes and of “reformist” economists, reported by Vinnitchenko.

It must be noted, furthermore, that these “reformists” have remained very prudent about formulating general conclusions. They have generally limited themselves to preaching “the suppression of dualism of leadership between MTS and kolkhoz,” or to advocating that “the tractors be put at the disposal of the kolkhozes.” The question of ownership has often been passed over in silence; those who raise it do so in a restrictive fashion: “It is not necessary” to give the kolkhozes property rights over the tractors for them to have the possibility of their in fact having at their disposal the tools of labor, they say. One imprudent author even affirmed: “Since the state entrusts millions of hectares of land to the kolkhozes, why can it not entrust the tractors to them?” An imprudent question, especially at the moment when Nikita Khrushchev, disregarding theoretical considerations, is giving a right of ownership where a right of use would have sufficed. Tomorrow, the question might be raised concerning the land itself ...

The Goal of the Reform: Increase in Production and Productivity

Certain people have cast doubt on the character of a concession to the peasantry involved in the reform. In the 5 March 1958 Manchester Guardian, Victor Zorza even stated that the reform marks “the end of Khrushchev’s honeymoon with the peasants.” He bases himself on the purchasing price of the tractors to affirm that the suppression of the MTS will cost the kolkhozes dear. We shall return to this question farther on. But let us say right away that to approach the problem from this angle is to overlook the concrete conditions which frame the reform: viz., Khrushchev’s struggle to increase the production and productivity of Soviet agriculture, or, as he himself likes to formulate it, “to catch up with and surpass American per capita production in milk and meat.” To believe that this goal can be reached, after the partial failure of the campaign for plowing up the virgin lands, by aggravating the living and working conditions of the peasants, is to go clean outside the limits of possibility.

The Kremlin’s desire for an increase in productivity and profitability is unquestionable. It is not by accident that Khrushchev in his theses quotes Lenin’s formula: “The struggle for bread is the struggle for socialism.” But it is also unquestionable, as the economist Wenger declared to Victor Vinnitchenko, that “peasants know how to count” (Oktjabr, No. 11, 1957). They know exactly what the annual renting of tractors from the MTS costs them. If the selling price of these tractors is such that it increases rather than lowers their costs of production, Khrushchev’s reform would lead to a stagnation rather than a rise in productivity. It therefore cannot be a question of that.

Wenger is right to insist on the fact that the peasant knows how to figure. The introduction of exchange relations between the city and the country, between the state and the kolkhozes, based on a stricter application of real and not arbitrary prices, will in the long run aid the integration of Soviet agriculture in a socialist economic system. In this sense, the measure is progressive in its more general scope. But between long-term integration and the immediate repercussions of the reform, there is a gap that some people too easily stride over. It is, however, those repercussions that must be taken as a starting point in order to judge its concrete utility, that is, taking into account the special form in which it is presented.

To estimate the risks that the reform causes the planned economy to run, one must take as a starting point today’s reality, and not future perspectives; at the most, one must complete the picture by an analysis of its dynamics, i.e., of the probable evolution of the economy in the years to come.

Today’s reality is that first of all agricultural production is and remains insufficient to satisfy the “growing needs” of the population. It is thus not a question, as some daring commentators suggest, of “bringing pressure on the selling price,” i.e., refusing to buy production that is “too dear.” In ten years one will no doubt be able to permit oneself this luxury, but not next year, or in two years either.

Today’s reality is, next, that, with the present rate of accumulation of capital, within the framework of bureaucratic administration and its enormous unnecessary overhead, and with an arms race whose end nobody can even faintly discern, it is excluded that the state can provide the countryside with enough consumers’ goods and “small” means of production (particularly building materials) at sufficiently low prices, to bring about a genuine revolution in the peasant’s behavior. The day that he knows that, by doubling his kolkhoz production, he will be able for certain to acquire a little stone cottage in three years or a car in two, he will make an extraordinary effort. But on the scale of 30 millions of peasant households, that day is still far off.

Today’s reality, finally, is the growing inequality among kolkhozes and within kolkhozes. In his Minsk speech Khrushchev gave the example of the “Komintern” Kolkhoz in the Mohilev sector, whose output was five times higher than the average of the sector, and six times higher than the average of the province. It must be supposed that its income is in the same proportions to the average of the kolkhozes of this region. Khrushchev sang the praises of K.P. Orlovski, president of the Ruthenian “Razviet” Kolkhoz, one of the “inspirers” of the reform (see his article in the review Oktjabr, No. 12, 1957). Now it is a question here of one of the richest kolkhozes in the country, which possesses 9,000 hectares of arable land (the Soviet average is a little higher than 1,000 hectares), and which has increased its income 17 million rubles within one year (the Soviet average is 350,000 rubles). As with the “Budjenny” Kolkhoz of the Odessa region, the “Gorki” Kolkhoz of the Moscow region, or the “Rossia” Kolkhoz of the Kuban, we here have genuine privileged elites, the “kulaks” among the kolkhozes. They can buy all the farm machines they need at one go, thanks to the liquid funds they have at their disposal.

Means of Production Are Again Becoming Commodities

But there are on the other hand some 40,000 small and medium-sized kolkhozes, with an average surface of 750 hectares under cultivation, with output and income often less than 20% and even 10% of those of the rich kolkhozes, for whom the purchase of tractors would mean a very heavy, and even unbearable, burden. The theses accepted by the Central Committee permit these kolkhozes to continue to rent tractors from the MTS during a transitional period. They furthermore foresee the granting of low-cost credit. But during this whole period the inequality between the rich and poor kolkhozes will become accentuated.

Besides this, new juridical problems will be raised. If the tractors become the property of the kolkhozes, will they have the right in their turn to rent them out? Will they not be tempted to do so in order to get supplementary income, especially if they can offer their services at a low price since the amortization of their materiel has been carried out on their own current production? And at the time when this amortization will have been completed, and their tractors will “no longer have value,” will they not be tempted to resell them to their poorer neighbors, since any price obtained represents a factual “profit”?

We still do not know whether the CC theses foresee safeguarding measures to avoid such an evolution. It seems that Khrushchev is counting above all on the presidents of the kolkhozes to brake such tendencies to the dissolution of certain planified tie-ups. It is true that for several years now the majority if not practically all of the kolkhoz presidents are members of the party, often come from the cities, who control the peasantry “from the inside” in a more effective way than the MTS did so “from the outside.” But it would be wrong to trust the altruism of such presidents. Khrushchev talked a lot about the bureaucracy of the MTS which weighed on agricultural production. He forgot to say that, to the extent that the fleet of tractors and farm machines was transferred to the kolkhozes, the bureaucracy of the MTS would be there too, if not under the form of former MTS functionaries, then under the form of new administrators, accountants, and functionaries. Exactly in the same way that the famous decentralization – the Jugoslavs and the Russians now jointly admit it – ended up in a simple transfer of the bureaucracy from the centre toward the periphery, without lessening either their weight or their harmful role in the economy.

Now inequality within the kolkhozes grows proportionately to the growth of this kolkhoz bureaucracy. In the 7 January 1958 Selskoié Khoshiaistvo, the CP secretary of the region of Krasnodar informs us that in such-and-such a kolkhoz the indirect (non-productive) expenditures are today already greater than the direct expenditures; that in such-and-such another kolkhoz the leading bureaucrats appropriate a monthly share from five to six times higher than that of a good farmer. These data cross-check with those contained in the book of N. Nasarzev (The Kolkhoz Work Unit), published in Moscow in 1951, and demonstrate that what we have here is a long-term tendency in Soviet agriculture. And recently the sumptuous expenditures of the bureaucrats of the “cotton-growing” kolkhozes while meeting at a conference in Moscow, produced a scandal there.

But if the upper layers of the kolkhozes are acting like privileged strata having special interests to defend, it cannot be seen why they would resist the temptation to use the property rights that Khrushchev has just granted them. True, the Soviet peasantry no longer has today the predominant weight in society that it held at the end of the ’20s. The risks of Khrushchev’s reform are much less than they would have been at that period.

The fact remains that the transfer to the kolkhozes of the ownership of the tractors and farm machinery opens a first breach in the state monopoly of ownership of the large-scale means of production. Through this break, commodity relations will appear in the whole sector of the means of production. Gasoline and spare parts will also be put on the market. But means of production transformed into commodities are means of production subject to the laws of the market. If state production costs too dear, or if it progresses too fast, overproduction threatens to appear in this sector, forcing the state to lower its selling price to below its manufacturing cost (i.e., to subsidize agriculture at the expense of industry), unless it accepts to slow down the rhythm of mechanization and the growth of village production. [3] On the other hand, if the increase in the production of tractors remains less than the demand, those kolkhozes having abundant liquid funds at their disposal will be able to push the price up, buy back machines from the poorer kolkhozes (which will thus find supplementary income that will be welcome) and concentrate an excessive share of the means of production in their hands.

We repeat: the operation, which would have been extremely perilous two or three decades ago, is less so today because the state, become infinitely more powerful and rich from the economic point of view, can more easily manipulate the different levers of prices, salaries, and money, so as to limit the spontaneous tendencies of the kolkhoz “market” in the means of production.

But whoever says “market” says also “spontaneous” and “anarchic” “tendencies.” Willy-nilly, the Khrushchev reform reintroduces these tendencies in a sector whence they seemed to be forever banished. This strikes a mortal blow, be it said in passing, to the Stalinist theory of the completion of the construction of socialism in the USSR. But that also recalls to those who had forgotten it that, despite its immense economic progress, the USSR is still far from having surmounted all the contradictions of the period of transition, above all the contradictions between town and country, quite independently even of the specific contradictions produced by bureaucratic administration.

The Anti-Inflationary Aspect of the Reform

The money income of the kolkhozes rose from 42,000 million rubles in 1952 to 94,600 million in 1956. A supplementary purchasing power was thus distributed during those five years which can doubtless be estimated at some 150,000 million rubles. A considerable part of this purchasing power served for the purchase of industrial consumers’ goods and building materials. But a not negligible part remains available. One of the goals of the Khrushchev reform is to sponge up this inflationary purchasing power by offering it means of production in exchange.

In the theses for the Supreme Soviet, Khrushchev himself declared that the selling price of the tractors will be “a little higher” than their production cost. But this calculation, that so impresses a capitalist journalist, has no meaning for a kolkhoz peasant. He makes a quite different calculation. Up till now, he had to pay a certain sum per year for the use of a tractor; if the useful life of this tractor is, let us say, ten years, and if the buying price is less than ten times the sum of the annual payment made up till now, he will have the impression that he has got a bargain, and he will not be wrong.

Khrushchev affirms, however, that after his reform the state will have to obtain a quantity of wheat greater, not lesser, than what it is now obtaining as payment for the hire of the MTS services. How does he expect to reach this goal? He explained in his Minsk speech that, thanks to the transfer of the tractors to the kolkhozes, the cost price of wheat will go down, and as a result the state will obtain these products cheaper. He forgot to add that up until now the state received the wheat as payment in kind in exchange for the MTS services. The tractors, on the other hand, will be sold for money. The state and the cites yesterday profited directly from any increase in output by the kolkhozes, for the MTS were paid in fixed percentages of the kolkhoz production. But if the tractors are sold to the kolkhozes, the state and the cities will profit only indirectly from any increase in agricultural productivity by the intermediary of the more abundant exchanges and drops in prices which it is supposed that this will bring about. Thus the whole Khrushchevian reform is in fact a speculation on an increase in agricultural production, an increase sufficiently rapid to enable the state to lower the wheat prices given to the kolkhozes without having this price-drop bring about a stagnation of production and a new dangerous shortage of food.

Is this speculation sheer madness? We dare not say so. Given the degree of mechanization of Soviet agriculture, which has at its disposal 1.7 million tractors and 450,000 combines, there are enormous reserves for a rapid increase of productivity. These reserves, however, will be mobilized only if the peasant finds sufficient stimuli to increase his effort. It is a question of the sales price of semi-durable and durable consumers’ goods (and building materials). Paradoxically, the success of Khrushchev’s speculation depends at least as much on industry as on agriculture itself. This whole policy of increasing commercialization of agricultural production will succeed only if, in exchange for an increased flow of wheat toward the cities, an increased stream of industrial consumers’ goods pours toward the villages. If this latter current dries up or remains insufficient, the only way out for bringing pressure on farm prices would be their arbitrary manipulation by the state, as in the period of Stalin. But let us not forget Wenger’s nice phrase: “The peasant knows how to figure.” The price paid for such a manipulation would be stagnation of agricultural production, i.e., a scarcity of good-quality food in the cities.

It is significant, moreover, that Khrushchev in his theses takes into account the kolkhozes’ desire for commodities (whatever may be the desire of the kolkhoz members of the kholkhoz bureaucracy). He proposes to form, in each sector (in each region), commissions which will have to discuss the purchasing price of farm machinery from the MTS, and to leave also to commissions of this sort the concern of settling the rhythm of sales of these machines. Here it is a question of concession to demands for an increase in power which are coming from the peasantry and the kolkhoz bureaucracy. The importance of the demands for autonomy and self-administration of the kolkhozes, raised during the discussion preceding the meeting of the Supreme Soviet, cannot be exaggerated. They tend in the direction of the social differentiation of political life by social layers (a tendency stressed by the theses Rise and Decline of Stalinism and Decline and Fall of Stalinism) .

It can be seen, therefore, how wrong are those who believe that the (more or less “terrorist”) power of the state is enough to remove the risks of Khrushchev’s reform. For the first time since the suppression of the NEP, the Kremlin is faced by the peasant problem in its purest, i e, commercial, form. The reform will succeed only if the relative evolution of agricultural prices and industrial prices does not work out to the disadvantage of the peasant and does not destroy his desire to produce, as it did in the period of Stalin.

Cooperative Property and State Property

The ease with which Khrushchev disregarded the “theoretical warnings” contained in Stalin’s last work has disconcerted not only Western observers. The first secretary himself has recognized in his “theses” prepared for the Supreme Soviet that “certain comrades” maintain their opposition to any sale of means of production to the kolkhozes. His reply is close to a form of “dialectic” that was Stalin’s own: precisely because [!] nationalized property is a superior form of socialist property, compared to cooperative property, it is necessary first to strengthen [!] the latter before fusing it with statified property:

The general property of the people [more exactly: nationalized property (EG)] is a superior form of socialization, whereas kolkhozian property represents a less high form of socialization. It is therefore a question of gradually raising the level of socialization of kolkhozian property, in order to lead it to the level of the general property of the people. That can be carried out only by the strengthening [!] and the gradual general development both [!] of statified property and of kolkhozian property. (Theses for Khrushchev’s Report to the Supreme Soviet)

From the point of view of logic, both formal and dialectic, this “thesis” contains as many errors as it does words. Nationalized property is not the superior form but the most primitive form of social property. Kolkhozian property is not at all a form of social property, but a transitional form between individual property and social property. The ultimate form under which property will wither away in a communist society will not be nationalized property “with which kolkhozian property will have fused,” but precisely cooperative property in the historical meaning of the term, the property of “free communes of producers and consumers” of which Engels speaks.

Certain “theoreticians,” even more daring than their master, have not hesitated to assimilate this “commune” of tomorrow to the kolkhozes of today: thus K. Orlovski in the already quoted article in the review Oktjabr (No. 12, 1957). This comparison is ridiculous. The “commune” of which Engels is speaking will not be an “agrarian” commune, but a commune of a society in which the difference between town and country will have disappeared, and in which the division between manual labor and intellectual labor will be in the process of withering away. To compare with this communist ideal of tomorrow even the richest kolkhoz in the USSR, where they are only planning to build the first theatres, is to discredit communism in the eyes of the Soviet people.

What Khrushchev means in reality – and in this matter he is right – is that before chattering on about the “withering away of the kolkhozes,” it is preferable to guarantee the provisions of bread, milk, and meat for the Soviet workers. If it is necessary, for this purpose, to sell the tractors to the kolkhozes, it is no doubt an unavoidable concession. But in order to formulate his thesis in this form, he would have had to admit that, far from “building communism,” we are still a long way from the “disappearance of classes” and from the completed socialist society.

It is true that Orlovski speaks of a dual strengthening of kolkhozian property: both at the expense of the MTS (i.e., of the state) and at the expense of the private property of the kolkhoz members. And in the Minsk speech there are traces of the same reasoning, presented however in a more prudent form. There are manv signs of a strengthening of the pressure against the private plots of land, and Khrushchev as well as Orlovski raises the question of the “voluntary giving up” of their private livestock by the peasants. Quoting the example of his native village, Kalinovka. Khrushchev explains that the peasant woman wants the milk and not the cow; if the kolkhoz guarantees her more milk with less work, why will she refuse to give up her cow? Orlovski even sketches out a picture of communist distribution, the kolkhoz saying to its members, “Do you want food, vegetables, fruit? Go to it, take what you want.”

The pictures are well chosen and show in fact the psychological road of the disappearance of private property (and of the mentality of private property) in the countryside: what is needed is to experience it, to have the habit of abundance and a communist method of distribution, in order to guarantee their peaceful disappearance.

But these pictures are completely out of place when one tries to integrate them into Khrushchev’s reform. This is not a step forward toward communist distribution; it is a step backward toward the more generalized commercialization of village life. To believe that one can at the same time commercialize the relationships between the state and the kolkhozes, and reduce if not indeed suppress the desire for private enrichment within the kolkhozes, is to defy all economic laws. The rule of “to each according to his

needs” cannot be applied in the kolkhoz if it sells its wheat to the state at competitive prices (the new Khrushchevian ideal). It is clear that in this case each peasant has an interest in creating a little private commercial channel toward the city, still thirsting for milk and meat. And so the Khrushchevian dialectic which tends to cover up the character of retreat in the reform is all the more dangerous in that it does not explain how it is necessary to be armed against the risks that this retreat implies.

We doubt that the Soviet proletariat will be frightened by Khrushchev’s concessions to the kolkhozes: like the first secretary himself, it is more concerned about bread, butter, and meat, than about the historical dialectic of the transition toward socialism (not to mention communism). But the theoretical problems raised by this concession will not leave young communists indifferent. The new wave of discussion that it will start rolling will contribute in its own way to the renascence of a political life, half semi-official, half underground, in the vanguard of the working class. From the transfer of the tractors to the question of the Plan, from the “transition toward communism” to workers’ administration of the factories – all questions raised by the Soviet reality of today will emphasize the impasse in which the bureaucracy has got itself. To explain the failure of Stalinist agricultural policy; to explain the need of a new worker-peasant alliance on a higher level; to explain the need of a reorganization of the Plan starting from the consumption needs of the city and the country – there is the road that the consciousness of that vanguard will take, which will lead it to the ineluctable conclusion: it is necessary to re-establish soviet democracy, by a political revolution, in order that the Soviet economy may finally be able wholly to fulfill its promises, on every level!

20 March 1958


1. One metric ton equals 2,205 pounds; for approximation in tons, add a tenth. [Ed.]

2. One hectare equals 2.47 acres; for approximation, multiply by 2½. [Ed.]

3. In his theses, Khrushchev implicitly recognizes this fact by writing: “Many plants are producing badly built machines of which agriculture cannot make good use, which lie around [in the MTS (EG)] for years without being used, and must then be converted into scrap metal. Under new conditions, these plants may experience a difficult situation. The kolkhozes will not buy their products, and the plants will have immediately to improve their production of farm machinery.”

Last updated on 4 August 2015