1950s – Collectivisation of Agriculture

The process of collectivisation is a specific form of the Stalinist modernisation in rural areas. On the basis of these ideological doctrines, the traditional social structures of the Czechoslovak countryside were destroyed. Its essence was the demise of private family management and the creation of agricultural cooperatives and state farms, which in the Soviet Union were called collective farms (kolkhoz) and state farms (sovkhoz). In addition to changes in class structure and ownership structure in the country, it was meant to support the overall modernisation of society and the rationalisation of agricultural production in order to move as much production as possible to the industrial sector (see Girl on a Tractor).

Collectivisation was launched in the Eastern Bloc countries after the communist parties seized power as part of the transformation of the economic structure. With several exceptions (Yugoslavia, Poland) it was conducted in a very similar way, on the basis of the ideological notions applied by Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. In an effort to increase agricultural production in the Soviet Union, Stalin initiated collectivisation as a ruthless fight against the class of wealthy farmers (kulaks), who, according to Stalinist ideology, exploited poor farmers and prevented the building of collective ownership in the country. The killing and deportation of hundreds of thousands of kulaks immediately resulted in a significant decline in agricultural production.

The extinction of private family farming and the emergence of large collective agricultural areas that were easier to cultivate can be compared with the transformation of rural areas in the rest of Europe. In Western Europe (e.g. France), agricultural land was united through the gradual buying up of land. In the Eastern bloc, however, the governing authorities used various forms of repression and coercion tactics in order to establish collective agricultural cooperatives and state farms, and in many places forcibly transformed social relations in the villages.

After the takeover in Czechoslovakia in 1948, the first agricultural policy of the Communist Party guaranteed private land ownership. The wealthier farmers expressed little support for the idea of setting up collective farms based on the Soviet model; this class had benefited from the previous land reforms (in 1920 and 1946). Conversely, quite a few poor farmers supported this radical transformation of the countryside, seeing in it an opportunity for their own social advancement.

Entry into cooperatives, therefore, was formally established on a voluntary basis, but in fact the local communists put pressure on the peasants. In the first phase of collectivisation, farmers who resisted faced economic pressure and threats. Private farmers had to hand over a large part of what they produced or face fines and imprisonment followed by state confiscation of their machinery. The state authorities even resettled some 4,000 peasant families and confiscated their property, which became the foundation for the emerging unified agricultural cooperatives (see Forced Eviction). After a period of relative calm from 1953 – 1956, when some cooperatives even collapsed, the authorities launched a second wave of collectivisation, which officially culminated in a new socialist constitution in 1960. While in Poland, for example, three quarters of agricultural land remained privately owned, in Czechoslovakia the vast majority of agricultural land was run by cooperatives and state farms. In comparison with other states, Czechoslovakia in this respect literally constituted a model state.

While private fields were united into large areas, many cooperatives struggled with persistent economic problems, low productivity, poor wages and farmers leaving to the cities in search of better earnings. The situation stabilised only with large state investments from the mid-1960s, which were intended to raise the standard of living of the cooperatives to that of rural towns. State subsidies, the massive use of chemical fertilisers and sprays, and the requirement of students to take temporary work there became a regular feature of the functioning of the cooperatives until the fall of the regime in 1989.

The cooperatives in the 70s and 80s became an important part of the Czechoslovak countryside. In addition to providing jobs and satisfying the cultural needs of the villagers, they ensured a relatively high standard of living. The political changes in 1989 had devastating consequences for a number of cooperatives. Many enterprises went bankrupt as a direct result of the cessation of government subsidies and an inability to compete with technologically advanced producers from abroad. Moreover, the restitution of agricultural land complicated the financial circumstances of the cooperatives’ successors. Therefore, many contemporaries today remember the socialist countryside with nostalgia (see Back to the Past).

Back to the past
Class cleansing
Forced eviction
Girl on a tractor

Recommended literature: