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Reforms to End Soviet Farm Collectivization

August 27, 1988|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Soviet farmers, in a dramatic reversal of more than half a century of collectivized agriculture, will now be able to rent land from the state in a full-scale return to family farming, the official news agency Tass reported Friday.

New regulations, approved by the State Agro-Industrial Committee, also will allow private farmers to buy tractors, trucks and other equipment previously considered to be the "means of production" and thus available only to state enterprises.

In a further break with past Soviet policy, which has allowed self-employment and cooperative ventures but not the employment of others, private farmers now will be permitted to hire workers so long as their pay is not below that paid by state enterprises.

Although the regulations were outlined by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev at a special Communist Party conference two months ago, they go further than expected in promoting private farming as an essential part of the country's overall political, economic and social reform.

The new regulations, which Tass described as "approved recommendations" although they still require formal government promulgation, will effectively end the collectivization of Soviet agriculture, begun under dictator Josef Stalin in the late 1920s. The policy transformed the country as it was implemented through the 1930s.

'Entire Way of Life' Changed

"Collectivization changed an entire way of life," the emigre historian and scientist Zhores A. Medvedev commented in a recent assessment of Soviet agriculture. "It was not only the way in which peasants had worked for centuries that was changed. More than a million peasant families were displaced, and the process was enforced by a campaign of terror, deportation, exile and execution on a scale hitherto unknown in Russian history."

The new measures seem designed to break into small units the collective and state farms, which Medvedev described as the result of a savage campaign of terror "directed against the grass roots of the population" in an effort to establish Soviet power down into the smallest, most remote hamlet.

With his new rural policies, Gorbachev has declared candidly that he is seeking far-reaching change--in the increased supply of food, in the revitalization of the broad economy and in the rediscovery of the country's rural roots and traditional values.

According to Soviet economists, the leasing system already has shown itself experimentally to be highly efficient, increasing productivity by a third or more in a year.

In a passionate defense of the ordinary Soviet peasant against meddling bureaucrats, Gorbachev told the party conference: "A man has to be given the chance to work on the soil as he sees fit. And he knows better than you or I how that should be done."

'The Food Problem'

Ending the country's severe food shortage--"the food problem," as Soviet officials now put it--depends "on how broadly we enlist the farmers in this process and make them the true masters of the farm," Gorbachev declared.

As outlined recently by Soviet economists and political commentators, the country's new rural policies illustrate the direction in which Gorbachev wants to take the nation as he redefines the theory and practice of socialism here.

Although the state will retain nominal ownership of the basic means of production, in this case farm land, it will rent these to individuals, families and cooperatives for up to 50 years, allowing them to operate as if they were the owners.

Equally important, both ideologically and practically, is the agreement to permit private entrepreneurs to hire outside workers without fear of contravening longstanding socialist injunctions against profiting directly from the labor of others.

In political as well as economic terms, the new regulations will put into effect Gorbachev's pledge of a "mixed socialist economy." Under this, cooperatives and private businessmen and farmers would compete directly with state enterprises in producing a broad spectrum of goods and services and state planning and regulation gradually would be reduced to the minimum required to achieve national goals.

A special law on leasing is expected to be enacted in November to ensure the right of all workers, not only farmers, to rent the means of production.

Noting that about a fifth of the country's 50,000 collective and state farms have begun leasing their land and equipment to individuals, families and small cooperatives on an experimental basis in the past two years, Tass on Friday forecast "a new wave of the mass transfer of land and other means of production to leaseholders in the autumn and winter period of preparations for the new agricultural season."

The theoretical justification for the move came Friday in an important and lengthy analysis on the front page of Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, of the history of collectivization.

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