Collective Agriculture Essay

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Collective agriculture is the practice of several farm households or villages working together in a food production system, often under state control. Collective agriculture is often associated with Communist economies-such as the former economies of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the former Soviet Union-in which collectivization was historically compulsory and imposed. The theory behind agricultural collectivization in the former Soviet Union was to replace small, unmechanized, inefficient farms with larger-scale, mechanized farms that would produce food more efficiently, and to free poor peasant workers from oppression by wealthy farmers. After the lukewarm response to voluntary participation in collectives in the late 1920s, Stalin imposed collectivization during the 1930s by seizing millions of acres of privately owned land and setting up a system of state-controlled agricultural collectives called kolkhozes (collective farms) and sovkhozes (state farms). The Soviet government controlled wages and dividends, production output, and distribution to ensure compulsory deliveries first and foremost to the state. Combined with major droughts in the early 1930s, tight government controls on production and distribution initially led to severe famine, especially in the Ukraine. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than half of all collective farms have been privatized and registered as companies; however, for complex political and economic reasons, many agricultural households and communities have resisted decollectivization.

Compulsory agricultural collectivization in the People’s Republic of China began under Mao Zedong in 1955, in theory to free up labor and capital needed to expand the industrial sector of the communist economy. Agricultural collectives in China were broader reaching than those in the Soviet Union, as they embodied industrial and social infrastructures as well as agricultural production. Production and management inefficiencies, natural disasters, and heavy state diversion of output led to widespread crop loss and famine, and ultimately to subsequent reforms. These reforms decentralized management of the commune system, and in the late 1970s-after the death of Mao Zedong individual households were granted more freedoms to make independent management decisions about their production decisions.

Collectivization in other countries has been voluntary and relatively successful, although not widespread. For example, in Israel collectivization has taken the form of various collective socio-agricultural economies such as the kibbutz, which has been the most economically important collective model in the country. In a kibbutz, all property except select personal items is collectively owned, planning and work are collective, living is communal, work is distributed based on ability, and goods are distributed based on need. Currently about 3 percent of Israeli citizens are members of a kibbutz.

Collective agriculture has not been popular in North America; however, a number of voluntary communities were established in the 19th century by both secular and religious groups including the Shakers, Mormons, Mennonites, Hutterites, and Fourierists. These communities were oriented to different degrees around shared food production, and were often broadly communal in their social, educational, and industrial infrastructures. The Hutterites have established the most successful and long-lasting collective in North America; this agricultural Christian group immigrated with Mennonite groups to South Dakota in 1874 to escape persecution in central Europe. Today, approximately 35,000 Hutterites live communally in over 430 colonies throughout North America, primarily in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Washington, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.


  1. Columbia University, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (Columbia University Press, 2006);
  2. Robert William Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2004);
  3. Mieke Meurs, Many Shades of Red: State Policy and Collective Agriculture (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999).

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