Women in the Kharkiv Countryside, 1950s-1960s


Oksana Zhukova




After the defeat of the Ukrainian National Liberation Revolution in Ukraine in 1920, the Soviet power of the Russian model was established. Desperate attempt of the Ukrainian people to break out from under Russian oppression failed in the course of the open Russian communist aggression of 1917-1920 against Ukraine. The Ukrainian people again found themselves under the Russian imperial power of the communist Russian form of statehood, headed by the so-called Bolsheviks. Bolshevism was brought to Ukraine from Russia. After the creation of the USSR in 1922, a political, socio-economic, cultural and spiritual experiment on the construction of a communist society, unprecedented in scale and tragedy, began.

The collectivization of the village conceived and carried out by the Bolsheviks is one of the most tragic pages in the history of Ukraine. Collective farms occupy a special place in the economic practice of socialism. This is the most convenient form of pumping out village resources into the state budget. Furthermore, a peasant deprived of land ceased to be a master and became completely depended on the state. The authorities assumed that the peasants’ grain could be bought at low state prices, which would enable them to feed labor in the cities and finance industrialization through the export of grain. However, since state grain prices were 8 times lower than market prices, peasants everywhere refused to sell bread to the state.

Solid collectivization was officially announced in November 1929. Next year in January, the terms of collectivization for different regions of the USSR were determined. Ukraine was included into the second group of regions, where collectivization was planned to be completed in the autumn of 1931 or in the spring of 1932. Since the overwhelming majority of the peasants did not want to part with their property, they were forced into collective farms.

At first everything was socialized – land, inventory, livestock, poultry and so on. Deprived of all the rights, the collective farmers worked for the so-called “workdays”. A flagrant violation of the constitutional rights of Ukrainian peasants was the so-called passportization of the population. It fixed the isolation of the collective-farm peasantry, once again emphasizing their actual serf position. An active struggle against “kulaks” and “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” began. In practice, this meant the physical destruction of wealthy peasants. During the years of collectivization in Ukraine, about 200 thousand peasant farms were destroyed. Together with family members, it amounted to approximately 1,500,000 people. The vast majority of them were deported to the Far North and Siberia, where many died. Forced collectivization with the socialization of almost all property, repression, arbitrariness, and “dekulakization”, which affected the interests and fate of all the peasants (not only the well-to-do ones), caused discontent and mass actions in the Ukrainian village. According to some reports, in the villages of Ukraine in 1930 there were more than 40,000 uprisings and riots.

By the mid-1930’s collectivization in Ukraine was completed. Almost 28,000 Ukrainian collective farms included 93% of peasant farms, which owned 98% of the acreage. According to the communist theory, the land and implements of the collective farms belonged to peasants. In practice, collective farms were obliged to strictly fulfill state orders for agricultural products and were completely controlled by government officials. The last, relatively independent class – the peasantry – was liquidated. A totalitarian communist system in Ukraine was established.

The agriculture of Ukraine fell into decay due to the destruction of the well-to-do peasantry. Gross harvest of grain in Ukraine decreased: in 1932 it was 78.6% compared to 1923, the number of horses – 66.7% (compared to 1928), cattle – 58.2%, pigs – 37.7 %.

The direct result of forced collectivization was the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-1933, which is genocide of the Ukrainian people. The main cause of the 1932-1933 Holodomor was a purposeful criminal policy of the Bolshevik authorities. The famine, which spread in Ukraine during 1932, increased significantly in early 1933. According to researchers, in Ukraine 25 thousand people starved to death every day, 1 thousand people died every hour, 17 people died every minute.

During the Second World War, the Germans, with their inherent pedantry and scrupulousness, carried out the robbery of Ukraine, taking out industrial equipment, cultural values, livestock, grain, foodstuffs and even chernozem, as well as dug out fruit trees.

The economic oppression carried out by the fascists was reminiscent of the Communists’ methods of economic management. In particular, the collective farm system was kept together with workdays and administrative staff.

In this way, the Soviet collective and state farms were recognized by Nazi occupiers as an effective way of extracting bread and food from the local population. In the mid-1950s, the situation in the country’s agriculture was complicated. The consequences of collectivization and war affected the situation. In fact, the collective farms did not have any rights. The losses were covered by state loans and subsidies. At the same time, state procurement prices for grain and other types of agricultural products were low.

In 1959-1965 the volume of gross agricultural production grew in Ukraine only by 11%, instead of 70% according to the plan. The production of livestock products even decreased to 92% compared to 1958. The winter wheat crop was reduced from 7,500,000 hectares in 1958 to 5,200,000 in 1965. Wheat crops were cut by 31%. The culture of farming remained low. During the 1970s, Ukraine experienced a slowdown in economic development, which turned into a qualitative decline in the early 1980s.

Despite the introduction of large-scale agricultural programs for mechanization, chemicalization and land reclamation, significant financing (during the 1970s, 27% of all investments in the Ukrainian economy were directed to the industry), the results were meager. So, mechanization was actually reduced to supply of low-quality equipment to the collective and state farms, the chemicalization caused a considerable increase in the pollution of land and agricultural products with chemicals, and reclamation led to the ruin of fertile lands and a violation of the ecological balance.

In addition, the agriculture experienced the extremely low efficiency of the use of human resources (as evidenced by the seasonal “mobilization” of workers from other sectors of the national economy, education and science for harvesting) and the backward system of processing and storage of agricultural products, as a result of which the annual yield losses for individual species reached more than 30%.

The consequence of this economic management was the systematic non-fulfillment of plans in the agrarian sector of the Soviet Ukraine. The average annual growth rate of production was constantly decreasing (in 1960-1970 it was 4.5%, in 1981-1985 – 3.9%) and the increase in agricultural production (from 1.5% in the second half of the 1970s, up to 0.5% in the first half of the 1980s). The country, which had the world’s best chernozem, became the leader of grain purchases abroad. While in all developed countries grain production grew steadily, in the USSR it declined from 737 kg per capita in 1966 to 694 kg in 1985.

There was an absurd situation, which resembled an injection in the prosthesis: the investment grew, but the return from it decreased. The main reason for this was the obvious non-efficiency of the collective-farm system, which led to the alienation of producers from the results of their labor.

Under such conditions, thousands of rural residents, especially young people, left for the city. During the 60’s – the first half of the 80’s the proportion of rural residents in the total population of the Ukrainian SSR fell by more than 16%. During this period, 4,600,000 people left the Ukrainian village. The crisis of the collective-farm system was obvious.

With the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence and the elimination of inefficient forms of economic management in the countryside, a qualitatively new stage in the development of the Ukrainian village began.

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