AGWEEK EXCLUSIVE: Russia timeline

Russian ag history: a tale of oppression What makes Russian agriculture so different from United States agriculture? The answer is that U.S. history is based on democracy, personal property and the rule of law. Russian culture is more than 1,000 ...

Russian ag history: a tale of oppression

What makes Russian agriculture so different from United States agriculture?

The answer is that U.S. history is based on democracy, personal property and the rule of law. Russian culture is more than 1,000 years old, and in the past 250 years, those who work on the land have been dominated by one oppressive culture after another.

Here is a chronology of some of the amazing and cruel turning points that have had an influence on Russian agriculture over 250 years. Many items are from Robert Service's book, "A History of Modern Russia." Items pertaining specifically to agriculture and "Germans from Russia" immigrants are in bold-face.

- 1762: Catherine the Great (Catherine II) adopts "enlightenment principles" and expands boundaries to the Caspian Sea. Catherine, of Germanic descent, invites Germans into Russia to farm.


- 1812: Napoleon invades from France, reaches Moscow, but armies retreat because of winter.

- 1853-1856: Crimean war: the Russian Empire fights with the French Empire and allies over control of the Ottoman Empire - the Turkish Empire that started in Constantinople.

- 1861: Alexander II frees Russian peasants previously "bonded" to noble land owners. Now they'll pay taxes to village communes rather than to particular households or individuals. Affluent peasants become known as "kulaki," or fists.

- 1872: Germans from Russia, conscripted to the military and losing privileges, start migrating to the U.S. Lured by the Homestead Act, the bulk come from 1890 to 1910, with those in North Dakota and South Dakota coming largely from the Black Sea areas near Odessa. Some North Dakota counties are 80 percent Russian-born by 1910.

- 1905: First Russian revolution attempts to take out Romanov dynasty. "Bloody Sunday" is put down by the Emperor.

- 1907: Democratic Labor Party dissolves into Marxist factions - the Bolsheviks (Majoritarians) led by Vladimir Lenin, want the party to lead the working class, disciplined and centralized, anticipates terror to establish dictatorship. Rival Mensheviks (Minoritarians) want a "bourgeouis" revolution and a development of a capitalist economy before shifting to socialism.

- 1913: Many Russian regions adopt western farming techniques. Wheat, potato and sugar beet production increases by 2 percent per year. Village land communes periodically redistribute land within members. Peasant "khodoki" travel for seasonal work in central and northern Russia.

- 1914: Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand is killed by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, triggering World War I. Germany supports Austria. Russia supports Serbia. Mensheviks and Bolsheviks are arrested for opposing war. State starts regulating grain trade. Lenin publishes "April Theses," urging an overthrow of the government.


n 1916: Russian Imperial Army has conscripted 14 million men, mostly peasants. Farms in west-bank Ukraine average 15 acres.

- 1917: Bolshevik revolution starts, under the slogan, "Peace, bread; power to the Soviets; workers control; land to the peasants, national self-determination." Peasants in "elective land committees" allowed to take over land that had been idled in wartime. Lenin's "Decree on Land" allows them to expropriate estates without paying. Land is an "all-people's legacy." (In wartime, North Dakota outlaws teaching German language in high schools. Hutterites are jailed in South Dakota, so some move to Canada. South Dakota prohibits German speech in "all public conversations" except for 15-minute summaries in worship services.)

- 1918: World War I ends, followed by Civil War. Tsar Nicholas II is murdered. Lenin gives peasants permission to grab gentry's homes, farm equipment. Some 3 million gentry flee. Young men, women get a larger say in communal affairs. Soviet territory is divided into provinces, each with grain procurement quotas. Peasants households starve. Bolsheviks invade Ukraine.

- 1920: In the face of food shortages, Lenin urges in vain that richer peasants should be rewarded for productivity gains rather than persecuted as "kulaks." The Eighth Congress rejects this idea.

- 1921: Lenin replaces grain requisitioning with a "tax in kind." A "New Economic Policy." NEP allows peasants to trade commodities elsewhere in the country.

- 1922: Civil war ends with defeat of Whites (Cossacks and other tsarist supporters) by Reds (Boshevik socialists). Lenin executes bishops for refusing to sell treasures to fund famine relief. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic is established. Lenin, the Party Congress, allow peasant to hire labor and rent land. Lenin suffers a stroke and is succeeded by Stalin, "The Man of Steel," as general director.

- 1924: Lenin dies. Universal literacy becomes government goal. Farms diversify from cereals into sugar beets, potatoes and cotton and get horse-drawn equipment. State cuts produce prices by 6 percent, grain prices by 20 percent. Peasants refuse to deliver grain, creating a food shortage.

- 1928 to '33: Stalin assumes supreme power. He initiates first "Five-Year Plan," for economics, collectivizes agriculture and destroys the "kulak" class of entrepreneurs. Stalin orders peasants to deliver grain stocks and creates "collective farms." He initiates a "Machine and Tractor Station" system for sharing tractors and combines among collective farms. The centers must be paid "in-kind" with products, which exerts state control. The state imports U.S. and German machinery, as Bolsheviks shift to large, collective units. The state delivers half of the 100,000 tractors promised. Stalin sends 10,000 communists from Moscow to confiscate grain and punish farmers for feeding themselves instead of sending food to cities. Kulaks are assaulted, disbarred from collectives, shot or sent to labor camps, leaving "poor and middling peasants" to lead collectives. The state idealizes a large collective farm - the "sovkhoz." Workers (kolkhonzniki) initially are paid wages, but later are paid only by results: if the farm doesn't meet quotas the workers aren't paid.


- 1933: Kolkhozniki are allowed to cultivate a garden allotment. Famine kills an estimated 5 million to 12 million.

- 1937 to '38: Stalin's "Great Terror" purges millions, sending some to the gulag and some to execution. The Politburo assigns "arrest quotas" in territorial units. In 1937 and 1938, 681,692 are executed, including ex-kulaks. Stalin liquidates "practically the entire high command" in the armed forces. Russian Orthodox Churches are persecuted, with priests declining from 60,000 to less than 6,000 by 1941. Kokhozes and sovkhozes in the Vologda province beg for crusts of bread from convoys of prisoners.

- 1939: Stalin and Hitler secretly sign Non-Aggression pact, paving the way for World War II. Stalin orders seizure of land under illegal private cultivation.

- 1941: Hitler invades Soviet Union. World War II is dubbed "Great Patriotic War" by Soviets. June invasion in Ukraine causes massive agricultural losses. After the U.S. enters the war, the secret police makes it an offense to praise American technology. Authorities quietly drop a May 1939 restriction on the size of private plots on kolkhozes. Peasants are allowed to trade produce illicitly on street corners. The state provides food to the armed forces, but urban civilians have a small range of products, mainly bread.

The German occupation kills about 11 million Soviet citizens. Ukrainian peasants initially offer bread and salt to the invaders in the hopes that Hitler will break up collective farms and abolish state quotas. Instead, the invaders refused to denationalize the collective farms and transferred the occupied land into the Third Reich. They discovered they were to be executed, deported, or starved. The Germans raised the quotas for the kolkhozes.

- 1942: Germans reach Stalingrad and lay siege. U.S. ships sugar and compressed meat product "spam" to Russia. Manual workers receive 2,914 calories a day, below their 3,500 subsistence level. Countryside labor is largely "old women and men judged unfit for military conscription." The technical core of collective farms has "imploded" and whole areas collapsed to less than subsistence levels.

- 1943: German tanks are stopped at Kursk. German forces retreat from Stalingrad.

- 1945: World War II ends, Cold War begins. Soviets occupy Eastern Europe, including divided Berlin and Vienna. Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian party leader, suggests kolkhoz farms are too small.

n 1953: Stalin dies. Khrushchev heads Communist party, renamed from the Bolsheviks. Khrushchev promotes plowing virgin lands in Kazakhstan as a cheap, fast way to increase food output. In three years, 89 million acres are added and put under the plow, a "staggering expansion," and equal to the cultivated acreage in Canada.

- 1954: Pay for a kolkhoznik is one-sixth of a factory worker. Famine in Ukraine and Moldavia is such that there is cannibalism.

- 1956: Nikita Khrushchev repudiates Stalin's "personality cult," labeling him a blunderer and killer, even though Khrushchev participated in purges.

- 1957: Soviets send up first "sputnick" space craft, triggering the space race with America.

- 1958: Tractor Service Stations are phased out, and the equipment transferred to farms. Cuba aligns itself with the USSR the next year.

n 1959: Khrushchev allows a "model kitchen" in an exhibition of the American way of life in Moscow. He visits the U.S. in September, tells westerners in the United Nations "We will bury you." He sees Iowa corn and - upon his return to Russia - instructs all kolkohzes to grow it, even though agronomists tell him it's not suited everywhere. Fudging figures becomes a standard in industrial, agricultural reporting. Theft from farms becomes normal.

- 1960: Wheat output rises 50 percent from 1950 to 1960. Milk and meat output rose 69 percent and 87 percent respectively. Food was consumed in the greatest quantity in the country's history. Soviets become grain exporters. The state institutes minimum monthly payments for collective farms. Prices paid are below the cost of production.

- 1962: Over-plowed "virgin lands" in Kazakhstan become a dust bowl.

- 1964: Khrushchev is ousted. Denouncers say his industry intrusions were bad, his policies in agriculture "even worse." Leonid Brezhnev, who had played a major part in the virgin lands campaign, becomes Soviet leader. Agriculture begins an average of 3 percent rise in annual output through 1970.

- 1965: Siberia produces first oil. Brezhnev says chemical fertilizers and mechanical equipment as the "main solution" to increased grain needs.

- 1970s: Brezhnev reinstitutes central controls on collective farms and directs 27 percent of state investments into collective farms, plus funds channeled into farm equipment, chemicals and fertilizers. Russia gains when Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries increases the price of oil. Russian grain purchases make history. Brezhnev increases the expansion of private plots to 1.2 acres. Private plots are 4 percent of the land but produce 30 percent of the production. Poor roads and paying workers for quantity not quality help wreck rural culture.

- 1980: There are 25,800 collective farms averaging 16,300 acres and averaging 515 employees, governed by a chairman and board of directors. There are 21,000 "corporate" state farms averaging 42,730 acres and 550 employees, with the state supplying capital and workers receiving wages. The USSR farms 555 million acres - 40 percent more than the U.S. and five times Canada's ag lands.

- 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader, following brief stints by Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. Gorbachev, born in 1931, was from a Russian/Ukrainian family of peasants, some of whom had been persecuted in mass agricultural collectivization. During and after World War II, Gorbachev initiates "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (reconstruction). He creates a "super-ministry" of cultivation and food processing.

- 1988: Agriculture is deemed so inefficient that 40 percent of imports are agriculture.

- 1989: Berlin Wall falls. Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslavakia, Romania, Bulgarian regimes become independent.

- 1991: Boris Yeltsin becomes Russian president. Soviet Union is dissolved, replaced by Russian Federation, with independent states: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia. Gorbachev steps down from nonfunctional role.

- 1999: Yeltsin appoints Vladimir Putin prime minister of Russian Federation. Yeltsin resigns presidency.

- 2000: Putin becomes president, and re-elected in 2004. A shift to wealthy Russians and westerners investing in agriculture increases.

- 2008: Putin steps down as president May 7. Dmitry Medvedev, becomes president, makes Putin prime minister, a less important role. Medvedev, a professor and author of a civil law textbook, had been a legal affairs director and shareholder in a timber company in the early 1990s and was head of Putin's presidential staff. Medvedev later was first deputy prime minister, in charge of agriculture, among other things. Putin had appointed him chairman of Gazprom's board of directors and made him lead negotiator with Ukraine and Belarus in gas disputes.

- 2009: Russia's Black Sea region represents 8 percent of world grain production but 19 percent of world production growth as farmers adopt western technology. The region has increased from 5 percent of world wheat exports to 25 percent, and is a world low-cost producer.

- 2010: Russian government imposes grain export embargo because of drought.

- 2011: Putin announces he'll consider running for president, with elections set for April 2012.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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