Whoever would have thought that collectivisation would generate so much in terms of philosophy and theology? Volume 11 of Stalin’s Works is of course the great collectivisation volume, when attention turns from the ‘Opposition’ (Trotsky et al) to the apparently mundane issue of grain procurement. Some of the best theoretical material appears in ‘Plenum of the C.C’, from July 1928.
To begin with, Stalin points out that the need for collectivisation arises from the internal contradictions of soviet economic reconstruction. The industrialisation under way at the time differs from industrialisation in capitalist countries, since capitalist industrialisation relies on external appropriation. He writes:
In the capitalist countries industrialisation was usually effected, in the main, by robbing other countries, by robbing colonies or defeated countries, or with the help of substantial and more or less enslaving loans from abroad.
He gives the examples of the British Empire and Germany, both of which industrialised by means of external plunder.
One respect in which our country differs from the capitalist countries is that it cannot and must not engage in colonial robbery, or the plundering of other countries in general. That way, therefore, is closed to us. Neither, however, does our country have or want to have enslaving loans from abroad. Consequently, that way, too, is closed to us (Works, vol. 11, pp. 165-66).
What approach was left? Internal appropriation. Funds for railways and industries can only come from inside the Soviet Union. But this created a structural tension. Industrialisation had been proceeding at a massive pace (with growth figures that outstripped even China until recently), but agriculture had not been keeping up. True, more grain was being produced than before, but it was by no means sufficient for supplying the needs of a growing work force. This tension was exacerbated by another: agricultural goods were sold relatively cheaply, while manufactured goods were relatively expensive. Farmers received relatively less for their produce while paying more for the products of industrialisation. In short, farmers were subsidising industrial expansion, providing the immediate source of internal accumulation needed. At the same time, this tension could not continue, so collectivisation was the solution. It was seen as the socialist solution to improving agricultural efficiency, since agribusiness and landlordism were out of the question.
Theoretically, then, collectivisation was the dialectical effort to deal with the tensions between industry and agriculture, generated through the mechanisms of internal accumulation. But how is this implicitly theological? This is where the kulaks come in. Kulaks were, of course, richer peasants who employed others, traditionally dominated village life, and – crucially – stockpiled grain to force up prices. Stalin deploys at least two strategies in relation to the kulaks.
First, the speculative practices of the kulaks were generated out of the specific circumstances of socialist reconstruction. That is, the Bolsheviks and their policies were responsible for producing the problem of the kulacs – rather than some evil nature among the kulaks as a class. That responsibility took the specific form of the New Economic Program and the tensions generated by internal accumulation.
Second, the emergence of kulak speculation was interpreted in terms of one of Stalin’s favoured modes of dialectical argument: the closer you come to the goal, the greater are the forces opposing you. This is worth an extended quotation:
The more we advance, the greater will be the resistance of the capitalist elements and the sharper the class struggle, while the Soviet Government, whose strength will steadily increase, will pursue a policy of isolating these elements, a policy of demoralising the enemies of the working class, a policy, lastly, of crushing the resistance of the exploiters, thereby creating a basis for the further advance of the working class and the main mass of the peasantry.
It must not be imagined that the socialist forms will develop, squeezing out the enemies of the working class, while our enemies retreat in silence and make way for our advance, that then we shall again advance and they will again retreat until “unexpectedly” all the social groups without exception, both kulaks and poor peasants, both workers and capitalists, find themselves “suddenly” and “imperceptibly,” without struggle or commotion, in the lap of a socialist society. Such fairy-tales do not and cannot happen in general, and in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.
It never has been and never will be the case that a dying class surrenders its positions voluntarily without attempting to organise resistance. It never has been and never will be the case that the working class could advance towards socialism in a class society without struggle or commotion. On the contrary, the advance towards socialism cannot but cause the exploiting elements to resist the advance, and the resistance of the exploiters cannot but lead to the inevitable sharpening of the class struggle (Works, vol. 11, pp. 179-80).
Theologically: the more grace becomes apparent, the greater do the forces of evil strive to overcome grace. But their frantic efforts are signs that grace is triumphing. I guess you might also call this the theology of class struggle after the revolution. Stalin would use the same type of argument in relation to the Red Terror.
As for images, I can’t avoid the wonderful propaganda film on collectivisation, ‘Tractor Drivers’, from 1939. Full film here. It even has a Stalinets tractor:
One of the drivers in question is of course a hard-working woman, a topic which led to Arkady Plastov’s marvellous painting, also called ‘Tractor Drivers’: