The Virgin Lands Program

V.P. Seleznev: Come With Us to the New Lands (1954)


After Stalin’s death, a period of reforms and changes began to take hold in the USSR. Among many changes and initiatives that took place, Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands Program was significant. The Virgin Lands Program was an “…ambitious scheme to convert huge tracts of pastureland in southern Siberia and Kazakhstan to arable land” (Freeze, p. 411). The program saw a return to an emphasis on agriculture, something that Stalin had severely neglected. Something interesting I found when researching the Virgin Lands Program, was that Nikita Khrushchev’s first wife died of starvation during the famine of 1921. Perhaps Khrushchev’s emphasis on agriculture had something to do with his wife’s early death.

The program sought to shift grain and wheat production to other lands so that Ukraine could be used to produce more corn to increase meat and milk production. In the first year that the program was enacted, approximately 19 million hectares or 47 million acres were plowed. 14 million additional hectares were plowed the following year. Starting in the 1960s, reliance on single-crop cultivation had damaged the fertility of the soil, and much of the soil simply blew away with the wind.

The Virgin Lands Program introduced a special demographic element to society. Many young males of differing ethnicities, including Chechens, Volga Germans, Kazakhs, and Ingush, were recruited to provide labor for the program. The concentration of these individuals in competition for “economic and cultural resources” (Seventeen Moments) led to ethnic friction and even pogroms. This was an interesting dynamic that characterized Khrushchev’s program.


“Russia: A History” Gregory L. Freeze


9 thoughts on “The Virgin Lands Program

  1. I think Khrushchev’s intentions for the Virgin Lands Program were very noble. It was a good way to boost the agricultural sector as well as the economy, and I doubt he foresaw pogroms stemming from the Program. I love the comment about the possibility of Khrushchev implementing this Program because of his wife’s death, it’s an interesting analysis! I am also a bit surprised that the pogroms actually occurred. I assumed the USSR left those actions behind with previous leaders.

  2. Khrushchev’s directives after Stalin’s death were attempts to eradicate the failures and wrongdoing of Stalinism like prison camps, famine, and the like. That is very interesting about his wife, and I think his proactivity in this period had to do with his complicity in past policy.

  3. Very interesting that Khrushchev lost his first wife to starvation during the famine of 1921. You have to believe that the event had some sort of impact on Khrushchev’s emphasis on agriculture, as you stated! Great post!

  4. This is certainly an important program because it rejects Stalin’s past negligence and proposes a new future for soviet citizens. It also hints at a better planned society, where there is an inclusion of many aspects of agriculture and an actual plan to increase productivity. It would be interesting to learn about the public opinion of this program because it seems to at least have a positive goal, even if it was not entirely successful.

  5. In addition to his wife’s death by famine in 1921, Khrushchev’s tenure as Party boss in Ukraine in the forties was probably very significant in terms of how he regarded agriculture and the connection between economic development, political control and collectivization.

  6. While researching my post, I read a little about the Virgin Lands Program. Its interesting to see how an agricultural policy can have hallmarks of De-Stalinization. Really cool to see how this policy also engaged many different groups within Soviet society. Great job!

  7. I think that the Virgin Land programs can also be seen as an effort to disperse non-Russians away from the European Russia and into places in the middle of no where so that they couldn’t threaten the state. I also think that it was an effort to dramatically increase the economic output of the USSR following the devastation of WWII.

  8. It was cool how you connected Khrushchev’s personal history with his tenure as Party chair. It also makes sense that he would focus so much on agriculture, since famine and problems with collectivization were such big themes during the Stalinist era.

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