Friday, February 14, 2020

Russia Needs Peasants and Collective Farms Not Agro-Businesses and ‘Farmers,’ Vershinin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 8 – When soviet and collective farms were disbanded, Russia faced a serious problem: these institutions had almost completely destroyed the peasants who had dominated Russia up to the 1920s but not replaced them with independent farmers who could function in the way farmers do in other countries.

            Some, including Vasily Vershinin, an agricultural manager, urged as early as 1983 that Moscowagee to the formation of single-family peasant farms.  Unfortunately, he now says, in the 1990s, they now foundered and agro-business latifundias based on hired labor now dominate rural Russia (

            Even Vladimir Putin understands and supports this, the peasant advocate says. In his message to the Federal Assembly a month ago, the Kremlin leader said that “we must support family enterprises and farmers and develop agricultural cooperatives thus creating the foundation for the growth of incomes of rural residents.”

            Following Putin’s words, the Russian government announced a 37 billion ruble (600 million US dollar) program to do just that. But as valuable as this step is, Vershinin says, it doesn’t go far enough because it is still trapped in a Western model based on the foreign word “farmer” rather than being based on the Russian word for “peasant.”

            As long as Russian officials remain attached to the concept of “farmer,” they will never be able to defeat the agro-business giants. “Farmers,” he says, won’t come together to form cooperatives. Their entire raison d'être is to be self-standing. But peasants, on the other hand, will cooperate because that is very much part of the culture.

            Russia’s current reliance on agro-business will destroy agriculture and that means Russia as well, he continues.  But they cannot be countered by farmers or even by independent peasants. “No more than five to seven percent” of the adult population is capable of acting as independent producers.

            That means that more than 90 percent of the rural population consists of people who either have to be reduced to wage slavery in the agro-business sector, something that will do nothing to boost their incomes or general well-being, or be encouraged to join agricultural collectives of various kinds, including some that will resemble collective farms.

            There is nothing wrong with having a diversity of organizational forms in the countryside, Vershinin argues.  There can and should be independent peasant farmers, peasant cooperatives and collective farms (kholkozy). Only if all these exist can agro-business be countered and limited.

            As Russian officials appear to have forgotten, collective farms are “the most democratic form of conducting agricultural production, places where members of the kholkoz are simultaneously its owners, its workers and its masters and each of which has a voice” in decision-making.

            Putin’s program for saving small “farmers” will only work, Vershinin suggests, if these additional forms of peasant organization are restored and encouraged.

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