Specific Soviet organizational forms in the economy and agriculture emerged in the inter-war period. They drew on the preceding Russification of western European concepts of industrialization and the modernization of agriculture, as well as Marxist concepts of the organization of the economy under socialism. Through a form of Sovietization, this economic model was transferred to eastern European states that had come under Soviet influence after the Second World War.
The Soviet model was characterized by a particularly high level of state control and, in this way, claimed to be able to achieve a fast pace of development in industrialization and the modernization of agriculture. It contrasted with western models through a fundamental transformation of property ownership achieved by the nationalization of the means of production without compensating the previous owners. It claimed to have overcome the "anarchy of the market" by transitioning to the planned management of economic and social processes. In the early 1930s, this gave rise to the "administrative-command economy". The model of collective agriculture was developed to achieve modernization in the agricultural sector. Inherent in this "socialist" concept of the economy was the belief that it was superior to the capitalist free-market economy.
This article investigates the implementation of the administrative-command economy and of collective agriculture. In particular, it is interested in their functioning mechanisms in reality. It becomes clear that these deviated considerably from the official description of the system. The total control of the economy that was portrayed to the outside world never existed in practice. In order not to endanger the legitimacy of the system of rule on which these new forms were established, correction mechanisms had to be tolerated in all areas of the economy. It was these mechanisms that ultimately gave the regime sustainability. To date, the standard narrative has scarcely dealt with this. Instead, this narrative largely follows the affirmative self-description of the regime and portrays Sovietization in a one-sided way as a Soviet dictate. The external institutional changes are described, while emphasizing the poor functioning of the economic system. By contrast, this article is interested in the actual functioning mechanisms, in order to understand how the administrative-command economy and collective agriculture were able to endure in practice in spite of their obvious weaknesses. From this perspective, the dysfunctionalities referred to appear more like an integral component of the regime. Economic processes could not be based solely on terror and repression. This makes it necessary, when examining cultural transfer, to pay more attention to the actors in the economy. The indispensable correction measures can be described as "corrupt practices". This term reflects the fact that it did not constitute corruption because there were no actual injured parties. It was only because of these practices that the regime was able to function, and, consequently, everyone ultimately benefitted from them.1 The correction mechanism could not be talked about openly because the legitimacy of the regime would otherwise have been called into question. Who could have gained confidence in a government that admitted that it could not do without corrupt practices? After Stalin's (1878–1953) death, the population was able to adapt to the conditions by employing the corrupt practices – which the government claimed to be combatting – in pursuit of their own interests.
The Russian Legacy
In the middle of the 19th century, Russia was considerably behind western and central Europe in the development of its economy and agriculture. This was also perceived to be the case by Russia's comparatively small urban population, and it dominated the public discourse. After Russia's defeat in the Crimean War (1856), its position as a Great Power of Europe was perceived to be under threat. This gave the problem of the country's backwardness such a sense of urgency that the state (through the finance minister and the tsar) became proactive in the modernization of the country. In this process, they relied heavily on western examples, which underwent Russification during the transfer process, were enriched with homegrown solutions, and were adapted to Russia's specific economic culture. Subsequently, these solutions also heavily influenced the Soviet model. The state had to substitute for those things that were needed to stimulate industrialization but were absent in Russia: buoyant demand, capital for investment in infrastructure and industrial plants, and entrepreneurial talent. To generate capital, a policy of "enforced saving" was adopted, with the state heavily taxing the consumption of the population in spite of its poverty. In the development of infrastructure, the focus was placed on the railway with the state playing a dominant role. To encourage heavy industry to set up in the country, protective tariffs were introduced. These protected new industries from global competition and enabled them to recover their costs, which were initially much higher than those of competitors in other countries, through higher prices. Economic policy was aimed at generating confidence in the currency, in order to attract foreign capital for the development of the country. The targeted promotion of the export of agricultural produce kept the balance of trade positive. Compared with western Europe, Russia's large industries remained heavily dependent on state demand. Free market strategies scarcely played a role. Only the sewing machine producer Singer expanded its sales in Russia by lowering its prices.2
The state succeeded in stimulating processes of industrialization. From the 1880s, Russia achieved levels of growth in industrial production that were exceptional for the time. In the mid-1880s, the growth became self-sustaining. In the second boom phase after 1907, the role of the state as an engine of industrial growth reduced due to increasing demand from the local economy and the agricultural sector. But the economy had not fully cast away its "crutches" by 1914. The state failed to reduce the protective tariffs that insulated Russian producers from the global economy. Heavy industry remained focused on the secure income from state demand and began to establish syndicates to fix prices and production quantities. State revenues were based unusually heavily on taxing mass consumption. The standard of living of the Russian population nonetheless gradually rose, as it did in the case of all capitalist industrialization processes. The First World War ultimately spared Russian industry from having to face open market competition and independent efficiency controls.3
There were also differences in the agricultural sector, which over the long run prevented attitudes and practices in that sector from converging with patterns in western Europe and which influenced state policy beyond the October Revolution. An almost Europe-wide process of agricultural reform occurred in the early 19th century, which not only gave the agrarian population personal freedom and property rights, but also appreciably increased agricultural productivity and production by dividing up land previously held in common and transitioning to livestock being housed indoors over the summer. But these changes were only introduced in a very limited way in Russia. Here, the option of expanding the area of land under extensive cultivation had not yet been exhausted. By emancipating the serfs in 1861, the state was neither pursuing the aim of increasing agricultural yields nor the aim of freeing up rural labour for industrialization. The separated farmsteads were thought of as subsistence farms, even though at that point they were already making an important contribution to the commercial supply of agricultural produce. The sole aim of the reform was to establish the separate landownership of estate owners and their former peasants by social contract. The liberties granted to the former peasants did not include freedom of movement, as the state did not want to introduce into Russia the social unrest that had occurred in western Europe due to the migration of the agrarian population to the cities. As the Revolution of 1905 demonstrated that the state had failed in this, the agrarian reform implemented by Petr Stolypin (1862–1911) in 1906 sought to introduce the changes that had stimulated economic growth in western Europe almost a century earlier: the division of land held in common, the consolidation of holdings and the awarding of property rights. However, this reform did not have a transformative effect on attitudes among the agrarian population. They accepted the consolidation of holdings, but they were suspicious of property rights. They viewed the land as "God's land", which belonged to those who cultivated it. They wanted to drive the aristocratic estate owners from the land and therefore did not respect their property rights. The redistributive village commune had only become compulsory under the law in 1861, but it offered the agrarian population social protection, and they saw in it an institution that enabled them to pursue their own interests in relation to the state.4
In 1914, nobody would have viewed the way Russia organized its economy and agriculture as a model for other parts of Europe to follow. On the contrary, its peculiarities seemed more like a temporary crutch for a country that had come to modernity comparatively late and was making its own way on the path of industrialization with the help of that crutch.5 An acceptance of the market and of private property was indeed developing, but it would have taken a number of decades for these to become fully established in the attitudes of the broad masses of the population.
Walt Whitman Rostow's (1916–2003)6 theory of the stages of economic growth and development underlines that Russia was still in an early phase of modernization. Russia had only left the stage of traditional society in the 1860s and had begun to create the institutional framework that is necessary for the capitalist means of production to become established. Of particular significance in this context was the establishment of local self-administration in rural and urban areas based on the Prussian model, the establishment of a state financial administration and a system of banks and credit, as well as the development of the country's infrastructure. These state responsibilities expanded as the country entered the "take off" stage in the mid-1880s. Russia only entered the subsequent stage of "developing into maturity" around the turn of the century. While the country passed through these stages, the state had to develop the public education system to support the societal transformation that accompanied industrialization and to provide qualified workers. It also had to create the basis for state social provision.7
The industrialization process was hampered above all by the shortage of skilled workers. Russia's historical low level of urbanization and underdevelopment of urban crafts deprived it of the opportunity of sourcing entrepreneurs, capital and skilled workers from the craft sector, as had happened in the industrialized countries of western Europe. The focus on large factories when examining Russia's industrialization obscures the country's actual structural weakness, which manifested itself in the near total absence of small and medium-sized enterprises. Apart from the small number of modern largescale enterprises, production was still dominated by rural cottage industry, which was comparatively backward and, in the process of specialization, still had not fully separated out from agriculture. The Bolsheviks only exacerbated this problem by designating trade and many other services as parasitical and thus not worth promoting.
The Project of a Socialist Modernization of the Economy
In his theory of imperialism, Lenin (1870–1924) viewed Russia as the weakest link in the chain of imperialist states. Consequently, he expected cultural transfer to occur from west to east, not the other way round. He expected Russia to modernize through international cooperation, assisted primarily by the German working class. The Bolsheviks took their concepts of the economy of the future from Karl Marx (1818–1883). The "anarchy of the market" would be overcome by a transition to the planned management of the economy and society, and the exploitation of people by other people would be ended by the abolition of private ownership of the means of production. They expected that the new socialist economic order would unleash productive forces that were supposedly constrained by capitalism. The superiority of the new order would immediately manifest itself in a considerable increase in labour productivity, and the resulting abundance of material things would make possible a more socially just order and give the entire population a considerably higher standard of living.8 This utopian expectation, which was not based on any concrete facts, was primarily responsible for the catastrophic shock sustained by the Soviet economy during the "revolution from above" in the early 1930s.9
However, the initial economic measures taken after the October Revolution were intended to secure power and to legitimize Bolshevik rule, not to implement their economic policy aims. The Bolsheviks therefore tolerated the often-spontaneous dispossession of estate owners and the distribution of their land among the rural households, even though their economic plans had envisaged the estates being converted directly into state-owned model enterprises. The toleration of land redistribution proved to be a decisive political move that enabled the Bolsheviks to prevail against the Whites in the Civil War. The nationalization of the banks, the repudiation of sovereign debt whether it was held domestically or abroad, and the nationalization without compensation of large industry followed during the winter of 1917/1918. With the establishment of the Supreme Economic Council, the rapid development of a comprehensive state economic bureaucracy began. In April 1918, this transformation was completed with the establishment of the state monopoly in foreign trade. During the economic decline of the Civil War, the nationalization of industry continued and in 1920 it even included small enterprises. Referred to as "state capitalism", this model went beyond the concept of the interventionist state, which had been common throughout Europe during the First World War, and attempted to steer the economy directly through the state. In the winter of 1920/1921, even small-scale agricultural production started to be brought under state control.10
The economic policy of "war communism" (also known as the "proletarian natural economy") that was developed in 1920 was to be of decisive importance for the subsequent Soviet economic model. This initial attempt to establish a communist economy was based on the principles described by Marx. It shaped the understanding and concrete actions of the Bolsheviks through the eras of Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971). It was on the basis of this experience that the establishment of communism was pursued by militaristic methods and with the use of militaristic language. It was a peculiar product of revolutionary impatience that the economic disintegration, the inflationary devaluation of the currency and the extreme privations of the population were viewed as signs that equality between people, which was the aim of a communist society, and the abolition of money were approaching. By contrast, Marx had predicted that communism would emerge after capitalism had developed to its fullest potential.11
This programme of the "proletarian natural economy" in no way described the actual economic reality in the year 1920. It merely shows the extent to which the wishful thinking of the Bolsheviks had clouded their perception of reality. This pattern can be observed again in official descriptions of the command economy and collective agriculture under Stalin. The inability to describe the actual way that the regime functioned was to give rise to particular problems in the context of the transfer of the economic system. The extent to which the official description and the actual functioning of the economy diverged is demonstrated by the fact that the official economy was in no position to fulfil the tasks assigned to it, particularly as regards the exchange of goods between the associations of workers and peasants. In order to survive, the whole population had to resort to the illegal black market.
The Establishment of the Command Economy around 1930
The state planning commission set up in early 1921 set about establishing the planned management of the economy in a very determined fashion. Lenin viewed the German war economy as a model. In an initial step, data was collated for the purpose of projection planning, in order to gradually exert influence over future economic development. In this context, there was close cooperation in the 1920s with the newly established Konjunkturinstitut (institute for economic research) in Berlin.12
The state planning commission's work culminated in the drafting of the first proposals for five-year plans. The commission focused on the intensive use of capital rather than the intensive use of labour, advocating the use of the most modern technology. The fact that Vladimir Groman (1874–1932) and his colleagues were not lauded for the successes they had achieved in the name of the party, but instead were arrested and condemned as spies and saboteurs, was due to the logic adopted to establish Stalin's dictatorship. The planning commission with its expert knowledge threatened to restrict the leeway that the party had to shape economic policy. To prevent the party from becoming subordinate to the planners, Stalin put enormous pressure on the latter, "decapitated" the leadership and downgraded the state planning commission to a compliant committee that had to implement the orders of the dictator.13 The economist Stanislav Strumilin (1877–1974) said that his colleagues had preferred "to commit" to a high pace of development rather than "be committed [to prison]" for a low pace of development.14
The resolution adopted at the Fifteenth Communist Party Conference in April 1929 to enact the unrealistic "optimal variant" of the First Five-Year Plan marked a break with the previous economic concept. The Marxist concept of influencing economic development through planning was now no longer pursued. It was replaced instead by the fundamentally different concept of the command economy. The slogan that was coined at the same time of fulfilling the Five-Year Plan in four years illustrates how radical the break was. If the plan was providing for the optimal distribution of resources, then over-fulfilling the plan was just as harmful as under-fulfilling it. Moshe Lewin (1921–2010) refers to the "disappearance of planning with the plan".15 In this way, Stalin laid the foundation in late 1929 for the real socialist economy to become an "economy of scarcity", which through the wasteful use of the available resources was playing fast and loose with the wealth of the nation. The plan – which was now no more than a dictate to produce – had to be fulfilled at all costs, because "the product was needed above all else, not the added value".16 The wasteful use of all the factors of production (capital, labour, raw materials) was due to the inherent principles of the administrative-command economy. This waste therefore cannot be attributed to the failings of individual managers, as the official version of history claims. The failure of the command economy is particularly apparent in the factor of labour productivity. It was in this criterion in particular – which according to Marx would be their advantage over capitalism – that all command economies proved to be catastrophically behind the West, and the gap continued to grow.17 The official description of the regime continued to use the term "planned economy" for reasons of legitimacy, even though the administrative-command economy established to prop up Stalin's dictatorship was the opposite of planned management.
The Socialist Large Production Unit in Agriculture
The decision to make the large-scale enterprise the socialist form of the future in agriculture can also be traced back to Marx. Though he did not provide a convincing theoretical justification for this view, and it had been disproved by actual developments by the end of the 19th century,18 it remained part of Marxism. It gave rise to the problematic assumption that farmers would willingly join together in large-scale farms out of the realisation that their individual small farms were inevitably destined to disappear. As the concept of the large-scale enterprise emphasized the mechanization of agricultural production in a one-sided manner and, at the beginning of the 1930s, equated mechanization with the introduction of tractors, there was a narrowing of perspective. For example, there was no appreciation in the early 1930s that the large-scale enterprise could offer advantages in animal production also.19
The academic discourse on the rationalization of agricultural production had a different basis. It was either engaged in complex considerations of the optimal farm size, which in particular also took into consideration road costs,20 or it aimed to reach the optimal combination of the supply of equipment, production, food processing and the sale of agricultural produce, as had begun to happen on some landed estates and in the agricultural cooperative movement. In the late 1920s, this resulted in the planning of agricultural-industrial complexes, in which western experience was also taken into account. This vision of agri-cities employed the ideas of Marx specifically regarding the balancing of living conditions between rural and urban areas.21 Like optimal planning, these agricultural-industrial complexes remained utopian ideals for decades. The concept was not taken up again until the 1970s.22
Stalin's collective agriculture had nothing in common with concepts of modern large-scale agricultural production. Its only purpose was to provide the state with a stable supply of plant-based agricultural produce, without the state having to pay the full cost of that production. The collective farms or kolkhozi (kolkhoz in the singular) that emerged were not rationally organized large enterprises. They concentrated on cereal production and the production of industrial crops, which kolkhoz members were also prohibited from cultivating on their private plots. The kolkhozi did not play a significant role in other areas of agricultural production under Stalin. The partially mechanized production of cereals and – in Central Asia – cotton on kolkhozi occurred in parallel to primitive production on private plots that was based entirely on manual labour. In the case of the latter, the focus was on animal produce and vegetables. Almost everyone had to grow potatoes by order of the state. The collective farms did not receive any modern equipment. These machines remained in state ownership in the form of the "machine-tractor stations" (MTS) and were primarily used as leverage against the collective farms. The combine harvester made it possible to bring the harvest directly from the fields of the collective farms into state storage. In the mid-1930s, the collective farms were forbidden to produce non-agricultural products. As they were not paid for the cereals they produced, they would otherwise have ceased agricultural production and turned to other lucrative trades (building, crafts) or to services. The prohibition on combining agricultural production and food processing excluded what should actually have been the advantage of large-scale agricultural production.23
By introducing enforced collectivization in a context where there was an enormous surplus of labour in the countryside, the state tolerated the death through starvation of "superfluous mouths". Agricultural specialists had warned of this problem in the party newspaper Pravda in the context of the debate about the "peasant state farm (sovkhoz)" in mid-1928. The transfer of production from individual farms to the collective farm would itself have reduced the demand for labour. Mechanization freed up even more labour. The use of force exacerbated the situation even further. It was to blame for the destruction of almost half of livestock, thereby reducing further the demand for labour throughout the year.24
At the end of 1932, the establishment of the "kolkhoz system" was the official response to the famine, which everyone was forbidden to refer to, and to the realization that industrialization would fail without a radical change in agricultural policy.25 It brought an end to the arbitrary confiscation of grain, which in many cases had left peasants in regions that had previously produced a surplus without enough to survive. From 1933, the new system of the compulsory delivery of grain to the state was like a tax in kind because the prices paid for the produce by the state only covered a fraction of the production costs. The collective farms were obliged to deliver to the state a fixed quantity of grain per hectare, and the individual members of the collective farms were obliged to deliver potatoes, meat and milk to the state. To prevent them from ending up without any grain for themselves, from 1933 between 10 and 15 percent of the threshed grain was returned to the members of the kolkhoz as an "advance payment" on their portion of the "kolkhoz profit". It was distributed among them on the basis of the number of “labour days” (used as accounting unit). Apart from this small amount of grain, work on the kolkhoz was practically unpaid. It merely gave members the right to cultivate their own plot independently. On that plot, the kolkhoz members not only had to produce all of the non-cereal produce that they needed for their own use. They also had to sell a portion of the produce from their own plots to be able to pay the state taxes. By refusing to issue internal passports, which were introduced in 1932, the state restricted the mobility of the kolkhoz members. They were not permitted to leave the kolkhoz without the express permission of the authorities. Bound to the land in this way, their legal status was reminiscent of that of a serf.26
The kolkhoz served the regime as an administrative authority. It neutralized the farmers politically and forced them into a regime of work that included enforced labour in their place of origin. The kolkhoz was de facto a state enterprise. The state alone made decisions regarding production and the distribution of the harvest, and also dictated to the kolkhozi on all other matters. The construct of "collective property" was thus merely used to justify not paying the kolkhoz members a monthly wage by supposedly making them "joint owners". Instead of wages, they were only entitled to their share of the "profit" at the end of the year. This profit was manipulated through the compulsory delivery of produce to the state and the arbitrarily low prices paid for that produce by the state, so that the kolkhozi usually did not make any profit. Additionally, the kolkhoz members were excluded from state social welfare.27
The Functioning of the Command Economy
New institutional economics offers an approach to understanding the internal logic of the administrative-command economy through its dictator model of the "stationary bandit". To consolidate his power as dictator, Stalin had to produce economic successes and also make himself indispensable. Any predictability in his decisions would have made him replaceable and therefore superfluous. Stalin adopted the role of referee between competing economic interests as a public display of his importance as the regulator of the economy. In order to be able to point to the successes of his actions, he needed his plans to be fulfilled. Additionally, the exposure of "enemies of the people" served as proof of his vigilance and indispensability.28 Stalin was therefore dependent on capable factory managers to implement the orders of his plans. In the event that they were successful in this, these managers could be fairly certain that they would not be asked to explain how they had carried out the orders. In view of the deficiencies of the plans, it was not possible to implement them without the use of corrupt practices.
The economic plans represented production commands to the factories similar to duties in the revolutionary struggle, and the manager was personally responsible for fulfilling these. If the plan was not fulfilled, the manager was liable to be replaced and punished as an enemy of the people and saboteur. The dilemma lay in the fact that the manager could not depend on the supplies detailed in the plans being delivered to the factory either in their entirety or on time. In practice, it was pointless to complain about supplies that had not been delivered. Complaining also risked gaining the manager the reputation of being a grumbler, which might result in punishment. The alternative strategy of resorting to corrupt practices in order to be able to report that the production command had been fulfilled was more appealing. The risk of an external audit, which almost always ended with the manager being replaced, was low if the managers fulfilled the production commands. In this, they were helped by the fact that the measurement used to determine whether the plan had been fulfilled or not was the value of overall production. This meant that over-fulfilment in one area could compensate for under-fulfilment in another.29 The threat of punishment by the dictator also bound the plant managers and government ministries tightly together right up to the level of the minister. As ministers were also liable to be punished in the event that the production commands issued to them were not fulfilled, they were eager to protect successful managers in the event of internal audits.30
The factory managers applied corrupt practices for the public good because the primary purpose of these practices was to secure the resources necessary for production, to negotiate realistic ("soft") plans, and to be in a position to suggest that the plan had been fulfilled when reporting the production figures. Among the strategies for fulfilling plans in spite of glaring deficiencies in those plans was the hoarding of supplies and workers, in order to be able to bridge temporary gaps in supply. Another strategy was using the black market: black marketeers were tasked with sourcing particular raw materials and functioning machines. They were rewarded with bribes taken from the wages fund, from cashing allocated loans, or from income gained by selling part of one's own production on the black market. The third strategy lay in negotiating the plans with those at the ministries responsible for overseeing their implementation. The informal networks that formed in this context constituted the backbone of the central command economy up to the end of the Soviet Union. The managers who worked under these conditions were culturally conditioned with these modes of behaviour. The ability to negotiate "soft" plans through one's network was decisive for the success of a manager. His monopoly on information regarding actual conditions in his factory enabled him to manipulate reporting regarding fulfilment of the plan.31 The benefit to potential customers was fundamentally irrelevant. Only a small leadership group were initiated into the actual functioning of the command economy.
While to the outside world it was suggested that Stalin was directing production through his orders, the command economy was in fact not remotely suited to the setting of priorities. The central rules for the allocation of resources had very little in common with reality. It was the distribution of resources through corrupt practices, which it was not possible to control from above, that determined which factories got necessary resources and when they got them, and whether the machines delivered actually worked. Sought-after resources went to the most capable organizers, and not necessarily to the factories that should have had priority. The fact that factories in the areas of heavy industry and armaments were more successful under this form of horizontal distribution than those in light industry and food processing was due to the drastic differences in wages between these sectors. The most capable and daring managers were drawn to managerial positions in heavy industry and the armaments industry by high wages. Additionally, their particularly generous wages fund gave them an advantage when it came to oiling the wheels of the black market.32 Thus, even the command economy was dependent on daring entrepreneurs, but the latter had to achieve their aims through informal networks rather than through competing in the market.
In the early 1930s, the establishment of the command economy was not without its crises. The dictator had to learn not to set his production commands so high that they lost all effectiveness. "Intoxicated" production goals in 1929 and 1930 were the cause of a dramatic decline in economic growth, which almost reached zero in 1932.33 However, against the backdrop of the crisis of capitalism, which manifested itself in the global economic crisis, it was possible to hide this from the global public, especially because plans were subject to ongoing change and several new large factories were being built from nothing at this time. In 1931, there was a pragmatic adjustment, which created rules of play that those involved were able to orientate themselves by from that point on.34 Indeed, already in the 1930s the general population began to use corrupt practices in their struggle for survival. In spite of all of the sanctions threatened, gaining access to the goods necessary for living through blat-networks ("circles of friends") was indispensable. Things that could not be acquired in any other way "walked" out of the factories.35
The Functioning of the Kolkhoz System under Stalin
Collective agriculture enabled Stalin to create the impression to the outside world that everything was under his control. The kolkhozi had to adhere to the state plans for crop cultivation and animal production. The delivery of produce was governed by the provisions of the plan, not the actual quantities of crops sown. Forcing the farmers into kolkhozi did not raise agricultural production, but it made it easier for the state to take its share. In reality, however, collective agriculture preserved backwardness. The forced "market share" of collective agriculture was high, but the state did not provide any incentives to increase production. The stagnation of agricultural production under Stalin was also due to the fact that increasing production when the prices received for produce did not cover production costs would only have increased the losses of the kolkhozi.
Official descriptions of the kolkhoz system were a mockery of reality. In 1931, Stalin spoke of how the kolkhozi had made the farmers affluent and how the kolkhoz members were not pursuing any aim other than supplying the country with food. Individual malicious saboteurs were the only disrupting factor, he claimed.36 In reality, there was dire poverty in the kolkhozi, and there was not a sufficient supply of food. Each year, the state mobilized its apparatus of repression to bring in the harvest and to collect the taxes. The main duty of the chairman of the kolkhoz was to control the kolkhoz members and kolkhoz production. He also performed a "scapegoat function". Both the kolkhoz members and the state attributed the blame to him for any mistakes that occurred.37
Similar to the command economy, the kolkhoz system made corrupt practices necessary. Otherwise, the survival of the agricultural producers and, therefore, the continuation of agricultural production was in doubt. Although the law for the "protection of socialist property" – referring to the fruits of the labour of the kolkhoz members – permitted the death penalty for the theft of food, the necessity of survival nonetheless forced the kolkhoz members to steal food from the fields and to avoid work in the kolkhoz as often as possible. The seemingly high numbers of people severely punished for this activity must be set against the fact that practically all kolkhoz members stole from the fields. As it prevented certain starvation, the risk of being punished for this activity was not a deterrent. Morally, also, the kolkhoz members felt they had a right to a portion of the produce of their kolkhoz because the state was scarcely paying them at all.38
It was only state coercion than enabled collective agriculture to continue to exist. It "neutralized" the farmers in their struggle for survival, the rules of which were established by the state. There was hardly any unrest after the kolkhoz system was established, in spite of the dire living conditions of the kolkhoz members. A decisive factor was that state repression was not applied continuous but only occurred temporarily during the procurement of the agricultural produce. The frequency with which people in authority were replaced shook the apparatus of rule.
Sovietization after the Second World War: What Did the Soviet Union Have to Offer?
How was it possible that two forms of production that were so unsuitable for promoting economic efficiency and for providing incentives to increase production and improve quality – the administrative-command economy and collective agriculture – were not only exported to the countries of eastern Europe in the late 1940s, but endured there and in the Soviet Union itself until the late 1980s? This cannot be explained by coercion alone. We also have to ask what Sovietization was able to offer the broad masses of the population through its ordering of the economy and society.
At the end of the Second World War, the whole of Europe was faced with the challenge of catching up with the USA in terms of technological development and of modernizing existing structures in the economy and agriculture. But in the immediate post-war period there was uncertainty about the best way to structure the economic order. After the experiences of the global economic crisis, confidence in capitalism and the unrestricted operation of market forces was shaken. The rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union, which had been proven through its victory in the Second World War, seemed to contrast with the volatility of other economies.39 The fact that the buoyant economy of the Soviet Union – like that of National Socialist Germany previously – was purely based on armaments production was ignored.
After 1945, Sovietization was affected by individual experiences. The Second World War had provided each side with the opportunity to examine the economic performance of the other regime. Many soldiers had seen the desolation of Soviet agriculture with their own eyes. Conversely, millions of Soviet citizens had – as forced labour, prisoners of war or Red Army soldiers who had advanced to Berlin – experienced economic conditions to the west of the Soviet Union.40 Little is known about the extent to which this shook their Soviet worldview. Their experiences were not welcome under Stalin. With renewed terror and calls for more sacrifices, he snuffed out all hopes of a liberalization. An approximate knowledge of the actual condition of collective agriculture in the Soviet Union contributed to the lasting rejection of this form of enterprise by broad sections of the population in eastern Europe.41 In many eastern European states, left-wing parties and trade unions called for the nationalization of heavy industry and sympathized with the idea of the planned management of the economy. They were in favour of the state taking a more active role in the economic process.42
The transfer of the model of the command economy and collective agriculture to eastern Europe was not preceded by an analysis of its actual functioning or of its achievements to date. Soviet propaganda emphasized the progressiveness of these organizational forms. The credibility of the official descriptions suffered through comparisons with the actual reality: the obvious scarcity in the Soviet Union compared with the abundance in the USA; the propagation of large-scale mechanized agricultural production in spite of the dire shortage of agricultural machinery.
The Phases of Sovietization from 1945
In the initial years after the war, there was a difference in policy with regard to the territories that had belonged to the Soviet Union before 1939, the territories that had been incorporated into Soviet territory since 1939, and the eastern European territories that had come under Soviet influence in 1945. During the war, the kolkhoz system had been loosened to ensure the regime retained power. However, the prospect of a liberalization of agricultural policy, rumours of which had been spread during the war, came to nothing. Throughout the entire territory that had belonged to the Soviet Union in 1939, the kolkhozi were re-established directly after the end of the war and the land cultivated by the kolkhoz members independently was reduced again. In the annexed regions, collectivization was implemented in late 1947 in line with the Soviet model, including the deportation of the more prosperous farmers, the "kulaks".43 In the eastern European countries, by contrast, a definitive Sovietization of the economy and agriculture did not begin until 1948/1949, and in the GDR it only began in 1952 because the "German question" remained open.
The first phase of Soviet policy in eastern Europe up to 1948 was thus not aimed at Sovietization. In all of the eastern European countries, the Soviet Union concentrated initially on securing political power. During this period, the course was set for the seizure of power by communists by covert terror and discrediting existing politicians. In this way, the governments of all the eastern European countries came to consist of people who unreservedly supported the Soviet model.44 The strategy of securing power also included wooing the population. To legitimize the rule of the new governments, only a few elements of the Soviet schedule of reforms were implemented in this phase: land redistribution in agriculture and a nationalization of heavy industry that was in most cases limited in its extent. The confiscation of property was mainly directed against collaborators and war criminals so as to enhance the legitimacy of the new regime. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were exceptions to this, as the confiscation of property occurred there as part of a "self-Sovietization".45 The fact that land redistribution was imposed even in areas where all the large estates had already been abolished by previous land reforms points to a dogmatization of the Soviet model.46
During the transfer of the Soviet schedule of reforms to the countries of eastern Europe, there were only small modifications. For example, land redistribution did not include the "nationalization" of land in any eastern European country. This reflected the very different attitude of eastern European farmers to private property. The redistribution of land was intended primarily to increase the popularity of Soviet power and not to force through a break with tradition. Legitimizing power was absolutely the main priority at this stage. Even redistributed land was usually registered as the personal property of the new owners.47 The constitutions of the Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaften (agricultural production cooperatives) or LPGs, which were drafted later, did not remove the private ownership of land either. However, by the time collectivization had been completed, this legal title had lost all meaning because the owners no longer controlled the land that had been brought together in the LPGs.48
In economic policy, the status quo was initially retained. Measures for overcoming the crisis in the supply of food and goods, and for re-establishing pre-war production took precedence. At this point, the political fate of eastern Europe was still an open question to an extent. The new regimes worked with the existing economic system, which had similarities with a centrally administered economy. For example, the compulsory delivery of agricultural produce to the state in the GDR was based on the Erfassungssystem of the war economy, and prescribed the delivery to the state of specified quantities of produce per hectare.49 In spite of this, it was not possible initially to meet even the basic needs for the survival of the population. A state apparatus for directing the economy, as well as authorities to centrally administer the economy, coordinated rebuilding measures. In most countries, the confiscation of property continued in the most important sectors of the economy, but small and medium-sized businesses and the skilled trades escaped in most cases at this stage. In the summer of 1947, the invitation extended to the eastern European countries to participate in the Marshall Plan conference put pressure on Moscow to act. Countries that had accepted the invitation to the conference had to withdraw their acceptance. The so-called "Molotov Plan" and the establishment of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance was the Soviet response to the Marshall Plan. The inactivity of this institution up to the death of Stalin was indicative of the lack of a plan and of the resources required to help the countries of the Eastern Bloc to get back on their feet in the way that the USA did in western Europe. Stalin's focus was on autarky. He did not have a concept of how to use trade within the bloc to achieve economic growth.50
Sovietization was not only forced on the countries of eastern Europe from outside. It was also advocated by the communists who had come to power in the individual countries. They pushed for the emulation of the Soviet model, though they were more in favour of adopting the command economy than the collectivization of farming. Many communists were also aware that it would not be easy to convince the farmers of the benefits of collective agriculture.51 In the first phase, Stalin put the brakes on the communists in eastern Europe and forbade them to initiate direct Sovietization measures or even to speak openly of the intention to collectivize agriculture. Southeastern Europe was an exception. Tito (1892–1980) pursued a concept of "self-Sovietization" from the beginning, and collectivization thus began in Yugoslavia in 1945/1946, as it did in Bulgaria and Albania. Tito's propensity to act independently subsequently led to a break with Moscow in 1948. There is no evidence that this policy of delay in eastern Europe was an expression of national communism, i.e., the search for a path into communism that was tailored to the economic culture of the individual countries. Even when the countries of eastern Europe were allowed greater independence of decision-making, the course towards a de facto Sovietization was never in doubt. The impression that national communism was involved arose later. From 1948/1949 onward, Stalin combined the beginning of Sovietization with an ideological intensification, not least to sow distrust. In this process, precisely those communist leaders who – like the Polish party leader Władysław Gomułka (1905–1982) – had implemented Stalin's policy of flexibility with a feigned distancing from the Soviet model now entered the line of fire.52
The transition to the second phase of policy, which ran from 1948/1949 to Stalin's death in 1953, seemed like an abrupt turnaround. The fact that all eastern European countries with the exception of the GDR now implemented the same political measures based on the Soviet model reinforced the impression of a "Sovietization" dictated by Moscow. Soviet political messaging and the Soviet model of progression were formally transferred to these countries. All the countries now started to establish administrative-command economies and to copy the Soviet model of forced industrialization in five-year plans. The latter commenced in the early 1950s. The conversion to a socialist economy was supposed to be completed as quickly as possible. To achieve this, the countries quickly completed the nationalization of the economy in 1948/1949, including small and medium-sized enterprises – though the threshold varied from country to country: 10 employees in Hungary, 50 in Poland. All of the countries pursued the aim of achieving economic autarky. In this process, a definite precedence was given to heavy industry and the extraction of raw materials over the consumer goods industry. The accumulation of capital was achieved by low consumption, which was enforced by the state, and trade was designated a parasitical activity.53
The most conspicuous aspect of this phase was the orientation towards the dogmatic transfer of a supposedly Soviet model of progression. There were, however, enormous differences between the starting positions of the individual eastern European countries, for example, the degree of industrialization, the skills of the workforce, and the distribution of the workforce across the various sectors of the economy. But the instructions lacked any flexibility. There was no learning from past experience, as even policy elements – such as the collectivization of agriculture – that had already resulted in the devastating destruction of resources were not omitted.
While the transfer of the administrative-command economy largely occurred out of sight of the population, the population was nonetheless immediately affected by aspects of policy in fundamental ways. The high levels of industrial growth almost exclusively benefitted heavy industry and the extraction of raw materials. While the policy pursued in the immediate post-war years had improved the supply of food and goods to the population in all of the countries and enabled these countries to get close to the levels of production of the pre-war period, the process of recovery now suddenly came to an abrupt end. The change in policy manifested itself in a dramatic fall in consumption and a palpable fall in the standard of living. In 1952/1953, there were shortages in many of the countries.54
In late 1948, the countries were also compelled to begin the collectivization of agriculture. In this too, they followed the Soviet model of progression. First, the "class struggle" in the countryside had to be intensified, after which – in a second step – there was to be a wave of farmers joining the LPGs. The "class struggle" was based on judicial terror. Farmers were punished in large numbers for not fulfilling the crop delivery quotas assigned to them. In this process, there was a deliberate effort to ruin large farmers by fixing the prices paid by the state below the cost of production. Arrests and the confiscation of property were common. This was met with bitter resistance from the rural population even in regions where collectivization had already begun in 1945, such as southeastern Europe. The fact that forced collectivization did not result in the same level of destruction of resources in eastern Europe as it had in the Soviet Union was due to the fact that the process was more drawn-out in eastern Europe. Outside of Soviet territory, it was not possible to deport large farmers. The resistance of small and medium-sized farmers, who were less affected by judicial terror, could not be broken in many countries in spite of the terror. They were very slow to join the LPGs, and in some cases – like Poland – hardly any of them joined.55
The condition of Soviet agriculture at the end of the 1940s does not explain why Stalin forced the eastern European countries to adopt the model of collective agriculture. In the late 1940s, the economic culture of eastern Europe had none of the prerequisites for the adoption of this model. The eastern European farmers viewed the land as private property. Forcing them to revert back to a legal status reminiscent of serfdom, like the one that Soviet farmers had to endure as a result of the continuing enforced organization by the state of the redistributive commune, was inconceivable. The farmers of eastern Europe would not voluntarily join the LPGs if the LPGs only offered them unpaid forced labour. For this reason, the way the Soviet kolkhoz functioned was not transferred, but only the Soviet system of the compulsory delivery of produce to the state as it existed after the Second World War.56 However, the judicial terror employed against large farmers from 1949 onward caused nutritional conditions to deteriorate and thus endangered the capacity of the communists to exercise power. Farmers threatened with bankruptcy and arrest fled from the GDR to the West.
The constitutions of all LPGs in eastern Europe guaranteed the members the right to cultivate some land for themselves in addition to their duties as members of the LPG. This provision had not existed during collectivization in the Soviet Union. It was introduced there in early 1930 as a concession to the Soviet farmers' wives, who had protested on the issue. Cultivation for personal supply was promoted by the state from late 1932 in response to famine conditions as the kolkhoz system was being established. In 1935, detailed provisions for it were written into the constitutions of the kolkhozi. The fact that from the start all LPG constitutions allowed members to have land for personal use, on which they could grow food for themselves or earn additional income by supplying the market, was an admission that collectivization had failed in the Soviet Union. It was an indirect admission that the kolkhoz system was not able to provide a secure, sufficient supply of food without the help of privately farmed land. LPGs were therefore not initially designed as large agricultural enterprises that would cover all sectors of food production.57
Already in 1952, the shortage of labour forced the GDR to adopt a position in its incomes policy that was diametrically opposed to the Soviet model. LPG members were guaranteed a permanent minimum fee for their work that roughly corresponded to the wages of an industrial worker. Additionally, they were brought into the state social welfare system.58 Consequently, the LPG members in the GDR did not experience the full brunt of what it meant to be a kolkhoznik. They did not experience the social discrimination and the diminution of their rights compared with industrial workers.
This deviation from Soviet policy cannot be explained by economic constraints alone. A number of economists and communists in the GDR believed themselves to be better qualified to solve the challenges of establishing communism than the Russians. This feeling of superiority is unmistakable in the design of the LPG system in the GDR. Those in charge were aware of the paltry state of the kolkhozi. Already in 1952, they had constructed the basis of an alternative model that not only took account of the specific needs of the GDR but also brought an end to Stalin's exploitation of the farmers there.
The death of Stalin directly called into question the Sovietization policy of dogmatically transferring the Soviet model of progression. The new Soviet leadership dictated a "New Course" to the GDR and Hungary, which brought an abrupt end to the policy pursued up to that point. The communist leaderships of both countries were summoned to Moscow in early June 1953 because they had recently written to Stalin pleading for deliveries of food from the Soviet Union. The conversations that occurred demonstrate the degree to which the new leaders in Moscow were moving away from the concept of Sovietization as it had applied up to that point. Speaking to the perplexed communists from Berlin and Budapest, they openly criticized Stalin's policy of autarky and the forced development of heavy industry and raw materials extraction at the expense of consumption. They strongly condemned the mass judicial terror employed against the rural population to force them to join the LPGs. The head of the secret service Lavrenti Beriia (1899–1953) even called into question the collectivization of agriculture in general.59
The other eastern European countries were spared such dictates to change their policy. But in these countries also there was a relaxation of the atmosphere. From this point on, collectivization was pursued with less urgency and began to stall. There was a correction in economic planning, which at least weakened the primacy of heavy industry. The Moscow leadership was acting on the basis of reports of the secret police. In many eastern European countries, Stalin's course of Sovietization had resulted in considerable unrest among the population, to the extent that Moscow feared losing power. Paradoxically, it was the liberalization introduced that resulted on 17 June 1953 in an uprising in the GDR because Walter Ulbricht (1893–1973) retained the increase in work quotas. The uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956 that followed Khrushchev's Secret Speech were a reaction to the Stalinist course, which continued without interruption in Poland and was continued by Mátyás Rákosi (1892–1971) in Hungary after Georgii Malenkov (1902–1988) fell from power in the Soviet Union.
Stalin's death led to a transition to a third phase of Sovietization policy. While up to 1953 there was no appreciable change in the behaviour of the population, the continuation of Sovietization with considerably less force and terror now affected the behaviour and attitudes of the population in a much deeper way. The population now began to get used to the new conditions and to adapt to them.60 Sovietization was no longer one-way traffic in the form of dictates from Moscow. There was increasingly an exchange between like-minded governments and specialists who were pursuing similar aims. The shared fundamental convictions of the communist leaders and their ideologically-coloured perception of reality meant that there was no fundamental correction in the policy of Sovietization. In spite of the obvious weaknesses, the party leaders adhered undeterred to the administrative-command economy and collective agriculture. The new political leeway was hardly used at all. This was reflected in agricultural policy, where the transfer of the Soviet model to the countries of eastern Europe had not been completed under Stalin. The bringing together of farmers in LPGs had only progressed to an advanced stage in Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. In Poland, Hungary and the GDR, by contrast, only a small portion of the farmers of longstanding had joined LPGs in spite of the terror. In spite of this, no country except Yugoslavia moved away from the model of collective agriculture.61 By contrast, the Soviet Union departed from the kolkhoz system directly after Stalin's death. Already in the autumn of 1953, the producer prices for agricultural produce there were trebled on average in order to end the social discrimination of the kolkhoz members and to give them an economic incentive to increase production.62
Sovietization in the Economy
Under the broader conditions that existed in Europe in the 1950s, the systematic transfer of the Soviet concept of industrialization could have caused the collapse of communism in eastern European countries. It was only Stalin's death and the subsequent policy correction towards a greater focus on consumption that saved the regimes. Even after 1953, however, economic policy remained uniform across the states of eastern Europe to the extent that it must still be described as Sovietization. The modified policy content was still prescribed to an extent by Moscow, but it was now based to a greater extent on joint decision-making. It was only the oil crisis of the 1970s that affected broader conditions in the eastern European states differently to those in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was able to support increased consumption by exporting oil. This was not taken into account in the eastern European states, which due to unbalanced trade accumulated levels of debt that endangered the system, ultimately leading to the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, beginning with Poland.63
The decisive element of Sovietization was the transfer of the administrative-command economy. There have been hardly any studies to date on how this functioned in the individual countries. However, in all countries the plan commands exhibited the same serious deficiencies. In particular, they did not secure the full and timely delivery of the resources required for production. To fulfil their plan commands, factory managers in eastern Europe also had to resort to corrupt practices. They learned quickly that specifications regarding quality were generally more "soft" (less important) than those regarding quantity. The excessive use of materials worked in one's favour when fulfilling the plan and meant that one did not have to fulfil the cumbersome plans for spare parts, which hardly added to the "value" indicator for gross production. All administrative-command economies were characterized by the wasteful use of scarce resources. Labour productivity was correspondingly low. From this, it can be deduced that very similar networks emerged as in the Soviet Union, with the ministries protecting their favourite factory managers. The industrial management had no difficulty in getting used to the command economy and negotiating economic success through corrupt practices, instead of facing the merciless judgement of the market.64
In all the states of eastern Europe, the discussions on the economic reforms of the 1960s had as their starting point the typical problems of the command economy.65 However, by this time Sovietization was no longer one-way traffic in economic policy either. There were debates among economists across country borders. They discussed the serious problems regarding efficiency and the imperfections of the command economy.66 However, the discussions referred only to the symptoms and not the systemic causes of the problems. There was no discussion of why corrupt practices emerged under the administrative-command economy and what would be necessary to overcome them. The transfer of more power to the factories ultimately made the use of corrupt practices easier. It was incorrectly assumed that the factory managers were motivated to increase efficiency, even though the rules of the command economy demanded the exact opposite of them.67 Even factories that operated in a very uneconomical way were not threatened with bankruptcy, and managers were easily able to mitigate any administrative sanctions imposed on them through their informal networks.
The fact that the GDR played a pioneering role by already beginning with the implementation of reforms in 1963 was an expression of an initially concealed, strong sense of superiority on the part of Ulbricht and some GDR economists. This sense of superiority became obvious in 1968 when Ulbricht issued the slogan "Überholen ohne einzuholen" (overtake without catching up). Through his technology and growth offensive, he continued to pursue the ambitious aim of Khrushchev of outflanking the West in a short period, even though this had no longer been discussed publicly in the Soviet Union since Khrushchev's removal in 1964. Erich Honecker (1912–1994) capitalized on Leonid Brezhnev's (1906–1982) resentment to finally bring down Ulbricht in 1971.68
After initial successes, the reform was abandoned in all states for political reasons. Apart from Czechoslovakia, the communist parties were not prepared to relinquish their right to intervene in the economy. In 1968, multiple eastern European states voted in favour of a military intervention to end the "Prague Spring". All of the command economies proved incapable of stimulating technological progress. They even failed at copying technology imported from the West. Compared with the damage done by the wasteful use of resources, the effect of the economic embargo of the Cold War was not a significant factor.69
The communist parties of eastern Europe were keen to retain the administrative-command economy because – like Stalin before them – they were keen to prove their importance and irreplaceability by intervening. The official line in all eastern European states pointed to the overcoming of "market anarchy" as a success. With great vigilance, the party leaders prevented any decisions about future direction being left to the market. They had to pay for this confidence-enhancing and system-stabilizing image by tolerating corrupt practices. However, an ever-increasing group of people were now involved in these practices. These people were more and more motivated by personal enrichment than by the functioning of the economic system.70
The administrative-command economy made it more difficult to exert pressure on workers, who were guaranteed a job with a subsistence wage, because unprofitable factories were not allowed to go bankrupt. This helped many workers to accept the regime. The conspicuously low work productivity was proof of the waste of resources, as was the extremely low work intensity. Modest prosperity in return for low work intensity was the reason why workers resisted reforms that threatened to upset their peace. In return, the population tolerated the fact that – contrary to constantly repeated promises – the quality of consumer goods did not improve, at least while the regime did not prevent them from acquiring some of the promised consumer goods by corrupt means.71
Sovietization in Agriculture
For a period after Stalin's death, the system of collective agriculture was called into question. In 1956, the head of the Institute for Agrarian Economy in the GDR, Kurt Vieweg (1911–1976), called for the subvention of the LPGs to be discontinued and for open competition between the LPGs and private farmers. In doing so, he was placing the goal of increasing production at an "optimal cost" to the state above restructuring agriculture.72 But ultimately no eastern European party leadership was prepared to depart from the concept of collective agriculture. However, the use of coercion was initially dispensed with in the continuation of collectivization. Instead, public relations measures were employed and perks were offered to encourage the farmers to join the LPGs. In this process, Hungary and the GDR diverged from the Soviet model in another point that had been of dogmatic importance under Stalin. In late 1954, they stopped excluding large farmers from the LPGs.73 When a large farmer was persuaded of the benefits of membership, this had the effect of convincing other farmers to join also. The success of the LPGs after 1960 was due in part to the fact that they benefitted from the expertise of the large farmers.
Due to the shift to free will, farmers were very reluctant to join the LPGs. This created problems: the area of land cultivated by individual LPGs was constantly changing, making it impossible to manage the development of the LPG properly. In particular, the extended vacillation between private farming and collective agriculture in a context where there was a political preference for the LPGs inevitably had negative effects. Consequently, in early 1960 a number of states finally decided to complete collectivization in a few months by applying massive pressure, as per the motto "A horrible end is better than a horror without end".74
In the Soviet Occupation Zone/GDR, the farmers themselves played hardly any role in shaping the LPGs up to the completion of coerced collectivization. The land reform did not involve spontaneous action. They had no influence on the provisions in the LPG statute either, in contrast to the Soviet Union, where the farmers' wives had been successful in their campaign for a family plot. Instead, deviations from the Soviet model were introduced by the SED leadership itself in 1952. The East German farmers only began to speak up for their interests from the spring of 1960 onward. A "we're all in this together" mood now began to spread. They tried to make the best of a situation that they had not asked for. An important factor was that the LPGs still had manageable structures at this point. In most cases, the members had known each other for a long time. The chairmen came from the local farming community. On average, the LPG manager was better qualified than his counterparts in the Soviet Union. Difficult organizational questions were resolved together; state paternalism was not very excessive at this point. The consolidation of the LPGs was made easier by rising incomes and members being included in the social welfare system, as the state was spending considerable money on the subvention of agricultural production. The development potential of the LPGs in the GDR – like other eastern European states – was greater than that of the kolkhozi in the Soviet Union because the farmers in the GDR had never been mercilessly exploited.
When detailed interference and regulation by the party was removed, the model of collective agriculture was in many cases able to compete successfully with private farms. Indeed, we encounter a relatively broad range of approaches in the LPGs of eastern Europe. Institutions that appeared similar from the outside differed considerably in how they operated in practice. Poland clearly exhibited the most negative signs precisely because collectivization was never completed there. The Polish communists adhered undeterred to the goal of collectivization and neglected small private farms, which consequently operated on an extremely low level almost without any modern machinery. Hungary and the GDR, by contrast, demonstrated the possibilities that collective agriculture offered and achieved positive results with it in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Hungary capitalized on the latitude available in agricultural policy to demonstrate the advantages of this model. It proved that, with sensible prices and imported equipment, the LPGs could indeed be competitive.75 In the GDR, however, a renewed attempt to outdo the Soviet Union in collective agriculture in the 1970s resulted in a serious crisis with exploding costs and stagnant yields. The ideological concept of "industrial-style" agricultural production held by the secretary for agriculture, Gerhard Grüneberg (1921–1981), meant that the separation of animal production and plant cultivation were forced through for the sake of greater specialization. However, working on different tillage land from one year to the next meant that farmers could not see the results of their own labour, which promoted carelessness – the lack of personal responsibility (obezlichka) which had been condemned in the Soviet Union back in the 1930s.76 Multiple changes in the prescribed sizes of cowsheds only resulted in considerable additional costs without any increase in milk yields because the milk yield of a cow does not increase with the size of the cowshed.77
In all the countries of the Eastern Bloc, collective agriculture suffered from deficiencies that resulted from the administrative-command economy. At no point did the administrative-command economy provide the modern equipment needed by the LPGs. Poor quality machines that were often far too heavy and a chronic shortage of spare parts were a burden on collective agriculture. For many work tasks, no machines were provided at all. In addition to the poor quality of the agricultural equipment, there were the problems of disinterested producers and the paternalistic interference of the party in the running of collective farms, which in most states continued until the end of communism.
Conclusion: "Sovietization" from the Perspective of the History of Cultural Transfer
It was thus only the transfer of the command economy that gave rise to largely similar forms and modes of behaviour. It only affected small groups of functionaries who, at the mercy of the same deficiencies and exposed to the same pressures, formed comparable modes of behaviour. All of the eastern European economies became "shortage economies" (János Kornai) with the same deficiencies. However, the informal rules that ensured the functioning of collective agriculture were not capable of being transferred. In the area of agriculture, the Soviet Union did not have a viable model to offer. On the contrary, after Stalin's death a new concept had to be developed jointly by countries of the Eastern Bloc, and the foundations of this concept were based on the GDR model of 1952. This new model gradually gave kolkhoz members in the Soviet Union equality with industrial workers.78 All of the states transitioned to the subvention of agricultural production. The mechanisms by which collective agriculture functioned were at all times heavily influenced by the economic culture of the individual countries.
The fact that all states succeeded after Stalin's death in generating a degree of trust in the economic order is attributable, firstly, to the power of identification of the original Soviet modernization concept that was developed in the 1920s. The programme offered by that concept, which included the planned direction of the economy and social justice, had retained its attractiveness. The turn towards greater consumption that occurred in 1953 was able to build on this. Secondly, the toleration of corrupt practices that was necessary for the continued functioning of the administrative-command economy enabled people to get used to, and adjust to the conditions of the regime, including the shortages. They viewed their comparatively modest prosperity as a result of social progress and as now being theirs by right, and they had a vested interest in defending it.79
While Russification of the economy was understood as the adaptation of concepts and ideas from the West to Russian conditions, the concept of "Sovietization" forces one to distinguish between different levels of the transfer process. Sovietization involved a reverse transfer of concepts and ideas borrowed from West, but which had been transformed. This process was politically heavily regulated, though there was neither an "overall plan" nor an authority that reflected on the consequences of actions taken. The transfer process involved the following elements:
- the rapid, violent conquest of political power, which in all eastern European countries resulted in communists forming governments that voluntarily adopted Sovietization;
- the steps taken towards Sovietization under Stalin being rigidly aligned with a dogmatic Soviet model of progression that took almost no account of the specific conditions in individual countries and showed almost no capacity to learn from experience;
- the superficial transfer of Soviet structures, institutions and concepts, the official description of which was in stark contrast with their actual functioning, and which to this extent could mean something entirely different in the countries to which they were transferred;
- forms of political action that changed over time from specific Soviet instructions and specifications being dictated in a one-sided manner to a joint exploration and shaping of policy;
- the Sovietization of cultural practices: living under the system and becoming accustomed to its specific conditions caused similar modes of behaviour and attitudes to emerge in the populations of the various countries.