Collective farming is an organizational unit in agriculture in which peasants are not paid wages, but rather receive a share of the farm's net output.
The process of establishing collective farms is called collectivization. The Soviet Union undertook the world's first campaign of mass collectivization in 1929–1933. Soviet peasants in collective farms received a type of dividend after compulsory deliveries were made to the state. However, this was an example of forced collectivization, and should not be confused with voluntary collectivization, such as the one that takes place in a Kibbutz.
Main article: Collectivisation in the USSR.
In the Soviet Union, collectivization was introduced in the late 1920s as a scheme to boost agricultural production through the organization of land and labor into collectives called collective farms (kolkhozes) and state farms (sovkhozes). At the same time, it was argued that collectivization would free poor peasants from economic servitude under the kulaks. It was hoped that the goals of collectivization could be achieved voluntarily, but when the new farms failed to attract the number of peasants hoped, the government blamed the oppression of the kulaks and resorted to forceful implementation of the plan.
Due to unreasonably high government quotas, farmers often got far less for their labor than they did before collectivization, and some refused to work. In many cases, the immediate effect of collectivization was to reduce grain output and almost halve livestock, thus producing major famines in 1932–33.1 In one extreme episode, several million peasants, mainly in the Ukraine, died in a famine during the drought of 1932–1933 after Stalin forced the peasants into the collectives (this famine is known in Ukraine as Holodomor). It was not until 1940 that agricultural production finally surpassed its pre_collectivization levels.
Other communist countries
Collective farming has been implemented in nearly all communist states, with varying degrees of success.
In theory, economies of scale plus a hearty community spirit can result in much greater harvests than privately-owned farms. For example, in the first half of the 1980s, Hungary, with largely collectivised agriculture, exported more agricultural products than France from an agricultural area little more than a quarter of the French.2 But usually, such cases were the exception rather than the rule.
While Hungary arguably provides the best positive example of collective farming in a communist state, North Korea provides its negative counterpart. In the late 1990s, the collective farming system collapsed under the strain of droughts. Estimates of deaths due to starvation ranged into the millions, although the government did not allow outside observers to survey the extent of the famine. Aggravating the severity of the famine, the government diverted international relief supplies to its armed forces.
Collective farming (of the completely voluntary kind) was also implemented in Kibbutzim as a unique combination of Zionism and socialism.
1Eric Hobsbawm: Age of Extremes, 1994
2FAO production, 1986, FAO Trade vol. 40, 1986