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.