Stalin, Our Contemporary

Dr2586_thumb3Timothy Snyder in Project Syndicate:

Eighty years ago, in the autumn of 1930, Joseph Stalin enforced a policy that changed the course of history, and led to tens of millions of deaths across the decades and around the world. In a violent and massive campaign of “collectivization,” he brought Soviet agriculture under state control.

Stalin pursued collectivization despite the massive resistance that had followed when Soviet authorities first tried to introduce the policy the previous spring. The Soviet leadership had relied then upon shootings and deportations to the Gulag to preempt opposition. Yet Soviet citizens resisted in large numbers; Kazakh nomads fled to China, Ukrainian farmers to Poland.

In the autumn, the shootings and deportations resumed, complemented by economic coercion. Individual farmers were taxed until they entered the collective, and collective farms were allowed to seize individual farmers’ seed grain, used to plant the next year's harvest.

Once the agricultural sector of the USSR was collectivized, the hunger began. By depriving peasants of their land and making them de facto state employees, collective farming allowed Moscow to control people as well as their produce.

Yet control is not creation. It proved impossible to make Central Asian nomads into productive farmers in a single growing season. Beginning in 1930, some 1.3 million people starved in Kazakhstan as their meager crops were requisitioned according to central directives.

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