By Gareth Jones
The Financial Times
Thursday, April 13, 1933
THE main result of the Five-Year Plan has been the ruin of
Russian agriculture, a fact which completely outbalances the achievements
of Soviet industry and is already gravely affecting the industrialisation of
the country. In the eyes of responsible foreign observers and of peasants,
the famine in Russia to-day is far worse than that of 1921.
In 1921 the famine was spread over wide areas, it is true,
but, in comparison with the general famine throughout the country which
exists to-day, it might be considered localised. In 1921 the towns were
short of food, but in most parts of the Ukraine and elsewhere there was
enough bread, and the peasants were able to live. To-day there is food
in the towns although in the provinces not enough whereas the countryside
has been stripped of bread.
Symptomatic of the collapse of Russian agriculture is the
shooting of thirty-five prominent workers in the Commissariat of Agriculture
and in the Commissariat of State Farms, including the Vice-Commissar of
Agriculture himself, and Mr. Wolff, whose name is well known to foreign
They were accused of smashing tractors, of burning tractor
stations and flax factories, of stealing grain reserves, of disorganising
the sowing campaign and of destroying cattle. "Pravda " (March 5)
stated that "the activities of the arrested men had as their aim the ruining
of agriculture and the creation of famine in the country." Surely a
formidable task for thirty-five men in a country which stretches 6,000
Sign of Panic
The shooting of thirty-five is a sign of the panic which has
come over the Soviet regime on account of the failure of collectivisation.
The writer has visited villages in the Moscow district, in the Black Earth
district, and in North Ukraine, parts, which are far from being the most
badly hit in Russia. He has collected evidence from peasants and foreign
observers and residents concerning the Ukraine, Crimea, North Caucasia,
Nijni-Novgorod district, West Siberia, Kazakstan, Tashkent area, the
German Volga and Ukrainian colonists, and all the evidence proves that
there is a general famine threatening the lives of millions of people.
The Soviet Government tries its best to conceal the situation,
but the grim facts will out. Under the conditions of censorship existing in
Moscow, foreign journalists have to tone down their messages and have
become masters at the art of understatement. The existence of the general
famine is none the less true, in spite of the fact that Moscow still has
What are the causes of the famine? The main reason for the
catastrophe in Russian agriculture is the Soviet policy of collectivisation.
The prophecy of Paul Scheffer in 1920-30 that collectivisation of
agriculture would be the nemesis of Communism has come absolutely true.
Except for drought in certain areas, climatic conditions have
blessed the Soviet Government in the last few years. Then why the
In the first place, the policy of creating large collective
farms, where the land was to be owned and cultivated in common, led
to the land being taken away from more than two-thirds of the peasantry,
and incentive to work disappeared. Moreover, last year nearly all the crops
were violently seized, and the peasant was left almost nothing for himself.
The passive resistance of the peasant has been a far more
important factor in Russian development than the ability to cook statistics.
In the second place, the massacre of cattle by peasants not
wishing to sacrifice their property for nothing to the collective farm, the
perishing of horses through lack of fodder, the death of innumerable
livestock through exposure, epidemics and hunger on those mad ventures, the
cattle factories, have so depleted the livestock of the Soviet Union that
not until 1945 could that livestock reach the level of 1928. And that is,
provided that all the plans for import of cattle succeed, provided there is
no disease, and provided there is fodder.
That date 1945 is given by one of the most reliable foreign
agricultural experts in Moscow. In all villages visited by the writer most
of the cattle and of the horses bad been slaughtered or died of lack of
fodder, while the remaining horses were scraggy and diseased.
In the third place, six or seven millions of the best workers
(the Kulaks) have been uprooted and deprived of their land. Apart from all
consideration of human feelings, the existence of many millions of good
producers is an immense capital value to any country, and to have destroyed
such capital value means an inestimable loss to the national wealth of
Although two years ago the Soviet authorities stated that they
had liquidated the Kulak as a class, the drive against the better peasants
was carried on with renewed violence last winter.
The final reason for the famine in the Soviet Union has been
the export of foodstuffs. For this it is not so much the Soviet Government
as the world crisis, which is to blame. The crash in world prices has been
an important factor in creating the grave situation in Russia. Prices have
dropped most in precisely those products, wheat, timber, oil, butter, & c.,
which the Soviet Union exports, and least in those products, such as
machinery, which the Soviet Union imports. The result has been that Russia
has had to export increased quantities at lower value.
What of the Future?
What of the future? In order to try and gauge the prospects
for the next harvest, the writer asked in March the following questions in
(1) Have you seed?
(2) What will the spring sowing be like?
(3) What were the winter sowing and the winter ploughing like?
(4) What do you think of the new tax?
On the question of seed, several villages were provided with
seed, but many lacked seed. Experts are confident that the Government has
far greater reserves of grain than in 1921, but evidence points to a lack of
seed in certain areas.
Peasants were emphatic in stating that the spring sowing would
he bad. They stated that they were too weak and swollen to sow, that there
would be little cattle fodder left for them to eat in a month's time, that
there were few horses left to plough, that the remaining horses were weak,
that the tractors, when they had any, stopped all the time, and, finally,
that weeds might destroy the crops.
Information received concerning the winter sowing and the
winter ploughing was black. There had been little winter sowing, which
accounts for about one-third of the total crops, and winter ploughing had
been bad. The winter sowing had been very late.
On the question of the Soviet Government's new agricultural
policy, peasants were also doubtful. The new tax, by which the collective
farms will pay so much grain (usually about 2 and half centners) per hectare
and be free to sell, the rest on the open market, is not likely to make much
difference to the situation, for the peasants have completely lost faith in
The outlook for the next harvest is, therefore, black. It is
dangerous to make any prophecy, for the miracle of perfect climatic
conditions can always make good a part of the 'unfavourable factors.
The chief fact remains, however, that in building up industry
the Soviet Government has destroyed its greatest source of wealth - its
This is the concluding article of a series of three; the first
appeared in our Issue of Tuesday and the second yesterday.
culture.htm. Our thanks to Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Colley. There
are more important articles by Gareth Jones on the Gareth Jones website. For
personal and academic use only