I hope that everyone is staying safe and well! Last time I ended on kind of a hopeful note from with a quote from Freeze about why the Soviet people fought in WWII, which stated, “Revulsion from the barbarism of the Nazis was certainly one motivation. On a deeper level, however, there was a sense that the war was a national struggle. For millions of people the war was for the survival of Russia…most of those who waged war did so not because they wanted to preserve the Soviet Union as it was, but in the hope that it would soon evolve into something better” (391-392). Today, we’re going to jump right off from that quote, and look at some of the promises and perils of post-Stalin reforms, specifically the Virgin Lands program.
Stalin was notorious for putting his focus on industrialization, therefore, in an effort to de-Stalinize, Khrushchev attempted to reform the agricultural system of the Soviet Union. “Agriculture, the unloved stepchild of Stalinist economics, became a focus of development. The policy yielded immediate results, as output increased 35.5 per cent (1954-8); the ‘Virgin Lands’ programme opened up an additional 41.8 million hectares of arable land, which produced high yields and a spectacular bumper crop in 1958. Altogether, the average annual output between 1949-53 and 1959-63 increased by 43.8 million tons (28.9 million tons of which came from the virgin lands)” (Freeze 424). Interestingly enough though, Khrushchev decided to cut back on agriculture after this success, “Encouraged by this success, Khrushchev cut back on the investment in agriculture (its share of investment falling from 12.8 percent in 1958 to 2.4 per cent in 1960), on the assumption that the virgin lands would sustain large harvests” (Freeze 424).
Not surprisingly, the program wasn’t as successful as it was hoped to be. “Nor did his panacea – the Virgin Lands programme – work the expected miracle. As a result of drought, erosion, and weed infestation, the output from the virgin lands fell far short of plan expectations. After the first bumper harvests, output steadily declined in the late 1950s, partly for want of grass covers and fertilizers to renew the soil. Worse still was the irreversible damage caused by feckless cultivation of areas unsuited for grain production: in 1960-5 wind erosion ruined twelve million hectares of land (four million in Kazakhstan alone) – roughly half of the Virgin Lands” (Freeze 431). You can’t cut the majority of funding from your program and expect the output to still be as high as it initially was, and it’s also unfair to your people to make claims of focusing on agriculture, and then cut the funding, especially when a lot of your citizens are in the agriculture industry. But, it doesn’t seem that Khrushchev was letting the Soviet people in on how badly the Virgin Lands program was going.
Interestingly enough, Khrushchev attended a conference of leading agricultural workers of the Virgin Land Territory in 1961, boasting of the Virgin Land programs success. He even said during a speech, “The Virgin Land Territory is a territory with the richest potentialities, a territory with a great future…Your territory already possesses a total sown area of 18,400,000 hectares. To get a better picture of the Virgin Land Territory’s important role in grain production, it suffices to compare the data on wheat production in your territory and in the United States. In the United States wheat production has averaged 2,189,000,000 poods over the past three years. The Virgin Land Territory has produced 2,234,000,000 poods of wheat in three years. That is, the annual wheat production in your territory is already one-third the annual wheat production of the United States.” Of course, saying these things would make the Virgin Lands program seem promising to the Soviet people, and this program seemed as if it would be very successful, especially because of these numbers given. Knowing that there was a drought and irreversible damage, there is no way that the territory had the “richest potentialities”, and I’m sure that the farmers were aware of that. It seems like the speech was a way to give the Soviet people a false sense of hope, a way for Khrushchev to continue making the peasants believe he would fulfill his promise.
Khrushchev has good ideas, and I applaud him for attempting to make actual change in the Soviet system. I believe that policies like these were meant for the good of the people, but the execution just wasn’t there. You can’t just put a lot of time and effort into a policy or reform, see that it does well, cut it most of its funding, and then expect it to sustain its original output. Which brings me back to my question, did the Soviet system evolve into something better for its people? It depends on how you look at it. The policies and reforms definitely did not achieve their aims, but an actual effort was made to make it better for them. So, what it really comes down to is, was it worth it to just see the effort, or did it even matter because real change wasn’t really enacted?
Спасибо за всё,
“THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE VIRGIN LAND IS A GREAT VICTORY OF THE PARTY’S LENINIST POLICY.-Speech by Comrade N. S. Khrushchev at Conference of Leading Agricultural Workers of Virgin Land Territory March 14, 1961” Current Digest of the Russian Press, The , 12 Apr. 1961, https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13792518.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
18 Replies to “A New Hope…Может Быть?”
Your conclusion is intriguing because of how it challenges the Soviet ideals at the time, it questions their motives in their actions. Even though real change wasn’t reacted the effort was there and maybe a positive outcome could be achieved.
Hey Lauren! I also really like your conclusion because it really makes me think about what makes a policy successful or a failure, to label a policy as either is really subjective. As you said, although the Virgin Lands was successful at the start of the program, Khrushchev’s action to decrease funding obviously affected national agriculture. Regarding the questions you put at the end, I don’t think that real change was enacted and the program didn’t really help its people. I feel like the rural people of the Soviet Union were just always seen as expendable and as robots to serve the regime, the state didn’t really care about their well being.
Hi Paul! Thanks for commenting. I wrote the comment because what I wrestled with while writing this was if what they did was enough – to which my conclusion was no. I mean, it was nice to see an effort to actually change things for the people in agriculture, but at that point I think they needed for things to actually be different more so than just hope and words.
Hi Joy! Thank you for commenting! I agree with you that real change wasn’t enacted and that the program didn’t really help it’s people. The Soviet people, especially the peasants, deserved actual change instead of more empty words and promises, especially considering what happened during World War II. I think that if Khrushchev wouldn’t have cut the funding so quickly it would have been a different story, but the people were just kind of let down once again.
Lauren, great analysis of Khrushchev’s work. I am sure that he did want to improved the daily lives of his people. I do wonder why he cut the funding for the Virgin Lands when it was doing so well? What were the other priorities that he had to consider that seemed to be more important than the Virgin Lands? Did Khrushchev regret the loss of productivity compared to those other priorities?
Hey Lauren, I really liked your post analyzing the economic reforms Nikita Khrushchev enacted in Soviet Agriculture in the late 1950s. This line really stood out to me the most: “Agriculture, the unloved stepchild of Stalinist economics, became a focus of development. ” considering how true it was given how much emphasis Stalin gave on industry rather than agriculture. It was promising for Khrushchev to attempt to implement reforms at all sectors of Soviet society, but as you pointed out before, empty words and promises mean nothing when they cant be backed up by action.
What a wonderful post, Lauren! I love the segue from last week’s post. Keeping our focus on the question, “did the Soviet union evolve to something better for its people” prompts a series of other questions and clarifications about what we mean by “better”? I think there’s widespread consensus that Khrushchev’s reforms, especially the Virgin lands, but also the reforms in housing and access to higher education, were “failures” in that they fell short of or thwarted people’s expectations about what should be happening in these areas. On the other hand, the standard of living does go up, significantly so — in this time period. More people move to the city, more people have access to goods and services that conformed to the emerging consensus of what “modern” life should be like, and more people ate meat more often. As I tried to point out on the handout, one of the great ironies of Khrushchev’s tenure is that he is ultimately brought down by the convergence of popular opinion and disaffection in the realm of high politics. He had made “job performance” matter in the Soviet Union — that was the essence of his reforms directed at the party and the educational system. And ultimately he fell short of the standards and expectations he had cultivated.
Hi Tom! Thank you so much! According to the Freeze text, Khrushchev cut the funding because he assumed that the Virgin Lands would continue to sustain such large harvests, which was unfortunately incorrect. I can’t find anything that specifically points to where the cut funds went, but if I would say that they went to things like the Space program and ICBM programs that Kendall talked about in her blog, or perhaps his expenditures on social services, because they did rise by 8% between 1956-65. I would say that there is a hand off when you look at both sides. For example with the expenditures on social services, housing stock doubled, and it was a serious response to the housing shortage being faced (even if the conditions of the new houses weren’t great). On the other hand, with agriculture Khrushchev severely underestimated the demand of grain and overestimated the output, which caused the Soviet Union to have to import grain from abroad. I’m sure that he did regret the loss of productivity, because if you can’t feed your people that definitely hurts your productivity in other areas, and that it hurt his pride (especially after he had recently boasted of taking over America right before they had to import the bread, haha).
Hi Chris! Thanks for commenting! I agree, it was promising for Khrushchev to attempt to implement reforms at all sectors of Soviet society, but empty promises and words mean nothing when they can’t be backed up. I really do appreciate the way that Khrushchev tried to make the system better for his people, but I think that he might’ve been too ambitious. I think that trying to reform so many programs at one time led to poor planning, and that it would have been easier and more likely to have worked if it had been done over a longer period of time.
Hi Professor Nelson! Thank you!! What I found really interesting about the Freeze chapter was how it talked about all of these reforms that Khrushchev put into place and how great they would be for the Soviet people, and then at the end it talked about the factors that led to their downfall. I think that Khrushchev had good ideas and that he did want it to be better for his people, which I really appreciated while reading, but to me it seemed like he took on too much too fast. I am glad you pointed out how the standard of living went up significantly and that more people had access to goods and services, because I didn’t realize that! It definitely makes me glad that things did get better in certain ways, because after everything the Soviet people had been through they definitely deserved it.
Hi Lauren! Like everyone else, I loved your post! The conclusion that you present is really something to think about, and I love Joy’s response to those final questions. The decreases in funding really adversely affected the Soviet people, and like you said, I don’t understand how Khrushchev could’ve expected anything different. As for whether or not his changes were meaningful, I think that depends on how you view it. Abrupt change like that can be incredibly difficult to see through, but the mere action to seek change can have a strong positive effect on so many people. As for whether or not it was worth it, I think any departure from the actions Stalin was taking is worth the risk.
Hey Lauren, great post! I just wanted to say that you did a great job analyzing Khrushchev’s attempts at reform and you pose very interesting questions such as did the Soviet system evolve for the betterment of its people? After reading your post I would say that it did not evolve very much, however, I do believe Khrushchev genuinely wanted to improve the lives of the Soviet people compared to their rule under Stalin.
This was an interesting read. Do you think the Soviet Union would have fared better if there were more leaders such as Khrushchev? It seems that he cared more for the common man rather than the elites. It was weird how he cut funding towards agriculture when it was doing well. Where did he move the funding towards instead of agriculture? I agree with you that Khruschev’s idea was a move in the right direction, it was just the execution and planning that needed to be improved.
Hi Kendall! Thank you!! I formed my conclusion the way that I did because I wanted it to start a discussion, because I mean really you can look at this many different ways. Like I said before, I think it would have been more successful had Khrushchev tried to fix the system in small increments, because overhauling the whole thing at once just doesn’t seem feasible. I appreciate your opinion, I understand completely where you’re coming from, I just wish that it would’ve worked out better for the peasants!
Hi Isaiah! Thank you! I really appreciate your opinion, and I agree! It does seem like Khrushchev genuinely did want to improve the country for the people, I just don’t think that the execution was there.
Hi Matt! Thank you! I think it depends on the time period that you look at. Post-World War II, definitely. I think this because, to me, it seems like Khrushchev genuinely wanted the Soviet Union to be better for its citizens. I think the problem with Khrushchev was that he tried to achieve too much too quickly, and initially people were still hanging on to Stalin. Like I replied to Tom, I’m not really sure where the funding actually went after it was cut – and he cut the funding because he assumed that it would keep doing well after the initial large harvests. I’ve tried looking into it but my search has been futile; my guess would be that it went to other programs like the Space program or the Housing program, but I’m really not sure.
Good post, Lauren! I think it’s very interesting how Khrushchev wanted to promote agriculture in a time when competition with the US for power would’ve prompted more industry. I do believe Khrushchev cared more about the Soviet people than Stalin did for sure. If he had focused solely on the people he may have accomplished more.
Great post, it was almost like they were trying to do the opposite of Stalin and it was failing at every aspect even with the speeches and the Space Race there really was nothing to be hyped about at all as post-Stalin Soviet Union seemed to be even worse.