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collective farm

collective farm, an agricultural production unit including a number of farm households or villages working together under state control. The description of the collective farm has varied with time and place.

In the Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union a policy of gradual and voluntary collectivization of agriculture was adopted in 1927 to encourage food production while freeing labor and capital for industrial development. In 1929, with only 4% of farms in collectives, Stalin ordered the confiscation of peasants' land, tools, and animals; the kolkhoz [Rus.,=collective farm] replaced the family farm. The state would decide how much of what crops were to be produced, how much would be paid to the peasants for their work, and how much would go to the state at what price. Farmers who resisted were persecuted, exiled, even killed.

By 1931, more than half of all farms had been collectivized. Low productivity and inordinate government diversion of farm production contributed to a devastating rural famine in 1932–33. Under the Collective Farm Charter (1935), individual farmers were permitted to keep small garden plots and a few animals for domestic use, and to sell surplus production in local free markets.

Collectivization in the Soviet Union was almost complete by 1938. Successive reforms reflected the persistence of problems associated with centrally planned economies. In 1950 the government began amalgamating collective farms. The number of kolkhozy, which had peaked at 254,000, was reduced to 32,300 by 1972, while the average size of collective farms roughly tripled to approximately 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares), and the average number of households per kolkhozy increased from 75 before World War II to 340 in 1960.

In 1958 new laws abolished the government's power to requisition farm products and substituted direct state purchases at higher prices. In 1969 the Collective Farmers' Congress increased the size of private plots and instituted income guarantees and social insurance. In the 1970s, as an incentive to increase production, collective farmers were assured profits on various commodities. By this time about half of the cultivated land in the Soviet Union was in collectives; most of the rest was in state farms. As the Soviet Union and its bloc of Eastern European satellites disintegrated in the early 1990s, the collective farm faced a difficult and uncertain transition to new forms of ownership and management. In 1992, 7,000 farms chose to remain state-owned, while 9,000 chose to privatize, registering themselves as companies. Through the 1990s, Russia was forced to increase state subsidies to its collective farms, due to high inflation and price increases in supplies and equipment. In 2003, with the passage of laws permitting the sale of farmland, the foundations were laid for further changes in Russian agriculture.

In China

The commune of China is more strictly organized than the Soviet collective farm, including a wider range of activities, putting greater emphasis on communal living and including nonagricultural workers. Collectivization of agriculture in China began in 1955; by 1956, 96% of all farming households were included in cooperatives. The system failed to free the labor and capital needed for industrial expansion, and in 1958 the commune system was established.

Twenty to thirty cooperatives comprising over 20,000 members and 40 to 100 villages were merged into each commune. The land and equipment of the former cooperatives and any property and cash still held by the peasants became the property of the commune. In each commune an economic and administrative unit controlled the labor force and all means of production, providing central management of industry, commerce, education, agriculture, and military affairs. Living communally, workers performed both industrial and agricultural tasks and supported a military unit. They used communal nurseries, bathing facilities, barbershops, and similar facilities. Wages and perquisites were controlled by the state, and all products were marketed through state agencies.

By 1959 virtually all Chinese farm workers were members of communes. The inefficiency and management problems of large collectives, coupled with natural disasters and government errors, led to reforms. In the early 1960s communes were decentralized; some were divided into private farms. In the late 1970s, after the death of Mao Zedong, individual households were granted long-term leases on their farms, paying a fixed amount of their production to the state and consuming or selling the rest. For the first time the farm household was also allowed to sublet land, recover capital investments, hire labor, own machinery, and make agricultural decisions.

In Israel

In Israel, collective farms pay nominal rents to the Jewish National Fund, which holds all land in the name of the people. Israeli collectives are based on three models. The kibbutz, the best known and most important economically, was inaugurated in 1909 as a purely agricultural collective. Light industry was added in the 1920s, and other types of businesses and tourism are now also important economically. In a traditional kibbutz, all property except specified personal possessions is collectively owned, planning and work are collective, and communal living is the rule. Work is assigned on the basis of ability; foremen are elected; and goods are distributed according to need. A town meeting governs; elected officials implement policy and administer economic and social affairs. Israel's couple hundred kibbutzim represent a wide range of political and social beliefs. Although only a small percentage of Israel's population have ever been members, the kibbutzim have wielded considerable political influence. Since the early 1980s, when the debt of kibbutzim soared, many have implemented some privatization measures, have hired rather than elected their managers, and have reduced other collective and communal elements of kibbutz life.

In the moshav ovdim, first established in 1921, each family owns its own house and leases and works its own land, retaining any income it earns. Hired labor is prohibited. Buying and selling are done collectively. In the moshav shitufi, a collective model developed in 1936, property is held communally and work is done collectively. Wealth and housing are private. Many moshav dwellers now hold nonfarming jobs in projects developed on the moshav or outside the village.

In North America

Communal farming has not been markedly popular in North America, although numerous attempts have been made (see communistic settlements). An exception is the agricultural communities of Hutterites (see Hutterian Brethren), who, as a result of persecution in central Europe, emigrated to South Dakota in 1874. They have increased in population and economic prominence to include (1999) some 36,000 members, living in over 430 colonies, mainly in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Washington, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

See also ejido.


See R. W. Davies, The Soviet Collective Farm (1980); W. Hinton, The Great Reversal (1989); A. Etzioni et al., ed., The Organizational Structure of the Kibbutz (1980).

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Collective Farm


The collective farm (kolkhoz) was introduced in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s by Josef Stalin, who was implementing the controversial process

of collectivization. The collective farm, along with the state farm (sovkhoz) and the private subsidiary sector, were the basic organizational arrangements for Soviet agricultural production, and survived, albeit with changes, through the end of the Soviet era.

The concept of a collective or cooperative model for the organization of production did not originate in the Soviet Union. However, during the 1920s there was discussion of and experimentation with varying approaches to cooperative farming differing largely in the nature of membership, the form of organization, and the internal rules governing production and distribution.

In theory, the collective farm was a cooperative (the kolkhoz charter was introduced in 1935) based upon what was termed "kolkhozcooperative" property, ideologically inferior to state property used in the sovkhoz. Entry into and exit from a kolkhoz was theoretically voluntary, though in fact the process of collectivization was forcible, and departure all but impossible. Decision making (notably election of the chair) was to be conducted through participation of the collective farm members. Participants (peasants) were to be rewarded with a residual share of net income rather than a contractual wage. In practice, the collective farm differed significantly from these principles. The dominant framework for decision making was a party-approved chair, and discussion in collective farm meetings was perfunctory. Party control was sustained by the local party organization through the nomenklatura (appointment) system and also through the discipline of the Machine Tractors Stations (MTS). Payment to peasants on the collective farm was made according to the labor day unit (trudoden ), which was divided into the residual after the state extracted compulsory deliveries of product at low fixed prices. As collective farm members were not entitled to internal passports, their geographical mobility was limited. Unlike the sovkhoz, the kolkhoz was not a budget-financed organization. Accordingly, the state exercised significant power over living levels in the countryside by requiring compulsory deliveries of product. Peasants on collective farms were entitled to hold a limited number of animals and cultivate a small plot of land.

By the early 1940s there were roughly 235,000 collective farms in existence averaging 3,500 acres per farm, accounting for some 80 percent of total sown area in agriculture. After World War II a program of amalgamation and also of conversion to state farms was implemented along with a continuing program of agroindustrial integration. As a result, the number of collective farms declined to approximately 27,000 by 1988, with an average size of 22,000 acres, together accounting for 44 percent of sown area. By the end of the 1980s, the differences between kolkhozes and sovkhozes were minimal.

During the transition era of the 1990s, change in Russian agriculture has been very slow. Collective farms have for the most part been converted to a corporate structure, but operational changes have been few, and a significant land market remains to be achieved.

See also: agriculture; collectivization of agriculture; peasant economy; sovkhoz


Davies, R. W. (1980). The Soviet Collective Farm, 1929-1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stuart, R. C. (1972). The Collective Farm in Soviet Agriculture. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.

Robert C. Stuart

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"Collective Farm." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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