Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
In the early 1980s, at the close of the Brezhnev era, 26 million Soviet citizens worked in the agricultural sector, compared to about 6 million at the same time in the USA. Ambitious goals for grain production were a central part of every 5 Year Plan, but for example, the 1982 Plan's goal (238 MMT) fell short: only 200 MMT were produced. Thus, year after year, the USSR was forced to import grain from the capitalist West.
1975-76: 25.7 million metric tons
1976-77: 10.3 million metric tons
1977-78: 18.4 million metric tons
1978-79: 15.1 million metric tons
1979-80: 30.4 million metric tons
1980-81: 34.0 million metric tons
1981-82: 45.0 million metric tons
1982-83: 46.0 million metric tons
The Small Peasant Gardens: Experiments to increase productivity using socialist concepts had failed under Stalin and Khrushchev. To keep people fed, concessions to capitalism quietly were permitted, in the form of small privately tilled garden plots, tended by members of collective farms and state farms after their normal working hours had been spent elsewhere, on the main (i.e., collectivized) part of the government-run agricultural units. Peasant plots could be used to supplement foods on the peasant family's table, or could be sold, often at great distances from their site of origin by members of the same peasant family, a rather inefficient method of food distribution. Of the total value of foods produced in the USSR, throughout the Brezhnev era gardens supplied about one fourth of the total, e.g., in 1977 they produced: 29% of meat and milk (34% in 1973); 35% of eggs (47% in 1973); 27% of vegetables (32% in 1973); and 60% of potatoes (62% in 1973). Despite this importance in total food supply system, Party ideology had prevented real emphasis on private production, and gardens amounted to only 1.5 percent of the total land under cultivation!
The Ideologically Incorrect "Link System": During the First Secretaryship of Leonid Brezhnev (1964-81) another attempt at innovation in farm policy ultimately was sacrificed on the altar of ideological purity. In the early 1970s, an agronomist named Ivan Khudenko was given permission to experiment with incentives on his collective farm in Akshi, Kazakhstan, the perennial desert featured in Soviet dreams of a modern Eden. The Khudenko "link system" tied workers' earnings to the productivity of the large, commonly farmed areas of the collective. The goal appears to have been to tap the energies of the collectives' members in much the same way that the small plots channel productivity (even though they only are worked after hours and on weekends). Khudenko was able to reduce by 90% the number of workers needed to farm the collective's land; and was able to increase the gross grain yield of the farm by 300%. The common sensical (but capitalist) notion that persons work harder for themselves was being applied by Khudenko in order to solve the poor productivity problem of the collective farm. In 1972, Khudenko was charged with trying to obtain State funds on false pretenses (even though his experiment had earlier been approved by Party officials), and was sentenced to six years in prison. Two years into his sentence, he died in captivity at age 62.
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