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Collective farming

Related subjects: Agriculture; Environment

Background Information

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Collective farming and communal farming are types of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise. This type of collective is essentially an agricultural production cooperative in which member-owners engage jointly in farming activities.

Typical examples of collective farms are the kolkhozy that dominated Soviet agriculture between 1930 and 1991 and the Israeli kibbutzim. Both are collective farms based on common ownership of resources and on pooling of labor and income in accordance with the theoretical principles of cooperative organizations. They are radically different, however, in the application of the cooperative principles of freedom of choice and democratic rule.

The creation of kolkhozy in the Soviet Union during the country-wide collectivization campaign of 1928-1933 was an example of forced collectivization, whereas the kibbutzim in Israel were traditionally created through voluntary collectivization and were governed as democratic entities. The element of forced or state-sponsored collectivization that was present in many countries during the 20th century led to the impression that collective farms operate under the supervision of the state, but this is not universally true, as shown by the counter-example of the Israeli kibbutz.

Communist collectivization

The Soviet Union introduced collective farming in its constituent republics between 1927 and 1933. The Baltic states and most of the Central and East European countries (except Poland) adopted collective farming after World War II, with the accession of communist regimes to power. In Asia (People's Republic of China, North Korea, Vietnam) the adoption of collective farming was also driven by communist government policies. In all communist countries, the transition to collective farming involved an element of compulsion, and the collective farms in these countries, lacking the principle of voluntary membership, can be regarded at best as pseudo-cooperatives.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, collectivization was introduced by Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s as a way, according to the theories of socialist leaders, to boost agricultural production through the organization of land and labor into large-scale collective farms ( kolkhozy). At the same time, Stalin argued that collectivization would free poor peasants from economic servitude under the kulaks.

Stalin resorted to destruction of the plan by mass murder and wholesale deportation of farmers to Siberia. Millions who remained also lived and did not die of starvation, and the centuries-old system of farming was destroyed in a region so fertile it was once called "the breadbasket of Europe". The immediate effects of forced collectivization were reduced grain output and almost halved livestock numbers, thus producing major famines in 1932 and 1933. In 1932-1933, an estimated 11 million people, 7 million in Ukraine alone, died from famine after Stalin forced the peasants into collectives (Ukrainians call this famine Holodomor). Most modern historians believe that this famine was caused by the sudden disruption of production brought on by collective farming policies and mass seizure of property (the proceeds of which were used, according to Aleksandr Bushkov, to accelerate industrial development). These policies were implemented by the government of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was then a part. Some believe that, due to unreasonably high government quotas, farmers often received far less for their labor than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work; others retaliated by destroying their crops. It was not until 1940 that agricultural production finally surpassed its pre-collectivization levels.

It has generally been agreed that Soviet agricultural policies failed. However, an observer - Joseph. E. Medley, denies the failure of collectivized agriculture which was acknowledged not only by capitalist critics but even by Soviet leadership.

He argues that "failure" is a term which indicates nothing about the magnitude of goals set and results achieved. For instance, the meat target set in the 1982-1990 Soviet Food Program was an average annual output of 20.25 million tons. The Food Program target was not met, though production in 1990 hit 20 million tons. Hence, the plan failed. However, focusing exclusively on the failure of the meat target overlooks the important facts that in 1990 meat output was up some 30% over that in 1981 (20 million vs. 15.2 million tons) and that 1990s per capita meat consumption (67 kg) was up some 18% over that of 1981. Thus, he argues that important progress with respect to the goal of increasing meat production and consumption was obtained through the socialist agricultural system even if the plan officially "failed".

Though between 1956 and 1970 the Soviet Union was a net exporter of grain, exporting (net) c. 3.5 million tons per year, from 1970 onward it became an importer. Import of net grain increased from c. 9.88 million tons per year between 1970 and 1974 to 20.52 million in the 1975-1979 period, to 30.88 in 1980-1984 and to 32.1 million tons in the four-year period 1985 1988 (USDA 1989:49). Before 1970, net meat imports of the USSR were small but by 1990 they were approaching the levels of the United States. These increases in imports of grain and meat were actually not triggered from declining production. Grain output increased from c. 181.6 million tons between 1971 and 1975 to an average 206.9 million in the period 1986-89. Moreover, meat production rose from 14.0 million tons in 1971-75 to 19.2 million tons in 1986-89, id est, a 37% increase. The imports were triggered by the increasing demand for meat which accompanied rather sharp increases in income. In fact, In the inception of 1965, when the average wage was 96.5 rubles per month, meat was an expensive item for the family. In the setting of the late 1980s when the average wage had risen to 257 rubles per month, it was relatively much cheaper and therefore people have purchased much more meat. Increased shortages have grown hand in hand with increased consumption because meat is so cheap.

Baltic states


In Romania, land collectivization began in 1948 and continued over more than a decade until its virtual completion in 1962.


Collectivization throughout Moldova was not aggressively pursued until the early 1960s because of the Soviet leadership's focus on a policy of Russification of Moldavians into the Russian way of life. Much of the collectivization in Moldova had undergone in Transnistria, in Chişinău, the present-day capital city of Moldova. Most of the directors who regulated and conducted the process of collectivization were placed by officials from Moscow.


In Hungary, agricultural collectivization was attempted a number of times between 1948 and 1956 (with disastrous results), until it was finally successful in the early 1960s under János Kádár. The first serious attempt at collectivization based on Stalinist agricultural policy was undertaken in July 1948. Both economic and direct police pressure were used to coerce peasants to join cooperatives, but large numbers opted instead to leave their villages. In the early 1950s, only one-quarter of peasants had agreed to join cooperatives.

In the spring of 1955 the drive for collectivization was renewed, again using physical force to encourage membership, but this second wave also ended in dismal failure. After the events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Hungarian regime opted for a more gradual collectivization drive. The main wave of collectivization occurred between 1959 and 1961, and at the end of this period more than 95% of agricultural land in Hungary had become the property of collective farms. In February 1961, the Central Committee declared that collectivization had been completed.

This quick success should not be confused with enthusiastic adoption of collective idealism on the part of the peasants. Still, demoralized after two successive (and harsh) collectivization campaigns and the events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the peasants were less keen to resist. As membership levels increased, those who remained outside likely grew worried about being permanently left out.

Czechoslovakia (1948-90)

In Czechoslovakia, land reforms after World War I distributed most of the land to peasants and created large groups of relatively well-to-do farmers (though village poor still existed). These groups showed no support for communist ideals. In 1945, immediately after World War II, new land reform started. The first phase involved a confiscation of properties of Germans, Hungarians, and collaborators of the Nazi regime in accordance with the so-called Beneš decrees. The second phase, promulgated by so-called Ďuriš's laws (after the Communist Minister of Agriculture), in fact meant a complete revision of the pre-war land reform and tried to reduce maximal private property to 150 hectares (ha) of agricultural land and 250 ha of any land (forests, etc...).

The third and final phase forbade possession of land above 50 ha for one family. This phase was carried out in April 1948, two months after Communists took power by force. Farms started to be collectivized, mostly under the threat of sanctions. The most obstinate farmers were persecuted and imprisoned. The most common form of collectivization was agricultural cooperative (in Czech Jednotné zemědělské družstvo, JZD; in Slovak Jednotné roľnícke družstvo, JRD). The collectivization was implemented in three stages (1949–1952, 1953–1956, 1956–1969) and officially ended with implementation of the constitution establishing the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, which made private ownership illegal.

Many early cooperatives collapsed and were recreated again. Their productivity was low since they provided tiny salaries and no pensions, and they failed to create a sense of collective ownership; small-scale pilfering was common, and food became scarce. Seeing the massive outflow of people from agriculture into cities, the government started to massively subsidize the cooperatives in order to make the standard of living of farmers equal to that of city inhabitants; this was the long-term official policy of the government. Funds, machinery, and fertilizers were provided; young people from villages were forced to study agriculture; and students were regularly sent (involuntarily) to help in cooperatives.

Subsidies and constant pressure destroyed the remaining private farmers; only a handful of them remained after the 1960s. The lifestyle of villagers had eventually reached the level of cities, and village poverty was eliminated. Czechoslovakia was again able to produce enough food for its citizens. The price of this success was a huge waste of resources because the cooperatives had no incentive to improve efficiency. Every piece of land was cultivated regardless of the expense involved, and the soil became heavily polluted with chemicals. Also, the intensive use of heavy machinery damaged topsoil. Furthermore, the cooperatives were infamous for over-employment.

In the late 1980s, the economy of Czechoslovakia stagnated, and the state-owned companies were unable to deal with advent of modern technologies. A few agricultural companies (where the rules were less strict than in state companies) used this situation to start providing high-tech products. For example, the only way to buy a PC-compatible computer in the late 1980s was to get it (for an extremely high price) from one agricultural company acting as a reseller.

After the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia (1989) subsidies to agriculture were halted with devastating effect. Most of the cooperatives had problems competing with technologically advanced foreign competition and were unable to obtain investment to improve their situation. Quite a large percentage of them collapsed. The others that remained were typically insufficiently funded, lacking competent management, without new machinery and living from day to day. Employment in the agricultural sector dropped significantly (from approximately 25% of the population to approximately 1%).

SFR Yugoslavia

Collective farming was introduced in Yugoslavia in the first years after World War II, by taking away land from wealthy pre-war owners and limiting possessions in private ownership first to 25, and later to 10 hectares. The large, state-owned farms were known as "Agricultural cooperatives" ("Zemljoradničke zadruge" in Serbo-Croatian) and farmers working on them had to meet production quotas in order to satisfy the needs of the populace. The system was largely abolished in the 1950s. See: Law of 23 August 1945 with amendments until 1 December 1948.

People's Republic of China

North Korea

In the late 1990s, the collective farming system collapsed under a strain of droughts. Estimates of deaths due to starvation ranged into the millions, although the government did not allow outside observers to survey the extent of the famine. Aggravating the severity of the famine, the government was accused of diverting international relief supplies to its armed forces. Agriculture in North Korea has suffered tremendously from natural disasters, a lack of fertile land, and government mismanagement, causing the nation to rely on foreign aid as its primary source of food.


The Democratic Republic of Vietnam implemented collective farming although de jure private ownership existed. Starting in 1958 collective farming was pushed such that by 1960, 85% of farmers and 70% of farmlands were collectivized including those seized by force. Collectivization however was seen by the communist leadership as a half-measure when compared to full state ownership.

Following the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the South Vietnam briefly came under the authority of a Provisional Revolutionary Government, a puppet state under military occupation by North Vietnam, before being officially reunified with the North under Communist rule as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976. Upon taking control, the Vietnamese communists banned other political parties, arrested suspects believed to have collaborated with the United States and embarked on a mass campaign of collectivization of farms and factories. Private land ownership was "transformed" to subsume under State and collective ownership. Reconstruction of the war-ravaged country was slow and serious humanitarian and economic problems confronted the communist regime.

In a historic shift in 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam implemented free-market reforms known as Đổi Mới (Renovation). With the authority of the state remaining unchallenged, private enterprise, deregulation and foreign investment were encouraged. Land ownership nonetheless is the sole prerogative of the state. The economy of Vietnam has achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction and housing, exports and foreign investment. However, the power of the Communist Party of Vietnam over all organs of government remains firm.


In the first few years following the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, the new Cuban authorities experimented with agricultural production cooperatives. Between 1977 and 1983, farmers began to collectivize into CPAs — Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria (agricultural production cooperatives). Farmers were encouraged to sell their land to the state for the establishment of a cooperative farm, receiving payments for a period of 20 years while also sharing in the fruits of the CPA. Joining a CPA allowed individuals who were previously dispersed throughout the countryside to move to a centralized location with increased access to electricity, medical care, housing, and schools. Democratic practice tends to be limited to business decisions and is constrained by the centralized economic planning of the Cuban system.

Another type of agricultural production cooperative in Cuba is UBPC — Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa (basic unit of cooperative production in Spanish). The law authorizing the creation of UBPCs was passed on September 20, 1993. It has been used to transform many state farms into UBPCs, similarly to the transformation of Russian sovkhozes (state farms) into kolkhozes (collective farms) after 1992. The law granted indefinite usufruct to the workers of the UBPC in line with its goal to link the workers to the land, establish material incentives for increased production by tying workers' earnings to the overall production of the UBPC, and increase managerial autonomy and workers' participation in the management of the workplace.


The move to a collective farming method in Tanzania was based on the Soviet model for rural development. In 1967, President Nyerere issued "Socialism and Rural Development" which proposed the creation of Ujamaa Villages. Since the majority of the rural population was spread out, and agriculture was traditionally undertaken individually, the rural population had to be forced to move together, and convinced to farm communally. Following forced migration, incentive to participate in communal farming activities was encouraged by government recognition.

These incentives, in addition to encouraging a degree of participation, also lured those whose primary interests were not the common good to the Ujamaa villages. This, in addition to the Order of 1973 dictating that all people had to live in villages eroded the sustainability of communal projects. In order for the communal farms to be successful, each member of the village would have to contribute to the best of their ability. Due to lack of sufficient foreign exchange, mechanization of the labour would be impossible, therefore it was essential that every villager contributed to the manual labour.

Voluntary collective farming


In modern Europe collective farms are not common. There are intentional communities which practice collective agriculture. There is also a growing number of community supported agriculture initiatives, some which operate under consumer / worker governance, which could be considered collective farms.


In Indian villages a single field (normally of three to five acres) may be farmed collectively by the villagers, who each offer devotional labour, possibly for one or two days per cropping season. The resulting crop belongs to no one, and is used as an offering. The labour input is the offering of the peasant in their role as priests. The wealth generated by the sale of the produce belongs to the Gods and hence is Apaurusheya or impersonal. Shrambhakti (labour contributed as devotional offering) is the key instrument for generation of internal resources. The benefits of the harvest are redistributed in the village for common good as well as individual need - not as loan or charity, but as divine grace (prasad). The recipient is under no obligation to repay it and no interest need be paid on such gifts. Giving and receiving of these sums is done so discreetly and with such subtle grace that any sense of inferiority on the part of the recipients is obviated.


Collective farming was also implemented in kibbutzim in Israel, which began to be created in 1909 as a unique combination of Zionism and socialism. The concept has faced occasional criticism as economically inefficient and over-reliant on subsidized credit.

A less known type of collective farm in Israel is moshav shitufi (lit. collective moshav), where production and services are managed collectively, as in a kibbutz, whereas consumption decisions are left to individual households. In terms of cooperative organization, moshav shitufi is distinct from the much more common moshav (or moshav ovdim), which is essentially a village-level service cooperative, not a collective farm.

In 2006 there were 40 moshavim shitufiim in Israel, compared with 267 kibbutzim.

Collective farming in Israel differs from collectivism in communist states in that it is voluntary.


In Mexico the Ejido system provided poor farmers with collective use rights to agricultural land. The erosion of these rights under the 1994 NAFTA agreement directly led to the Chiapas conflict

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