Soviets to roll back Stalinist farm policies

Soviet authorities have taken the first step toward rolling back Stalin's harsh farm collectivization policies, which were put into practice 60 years ago at a cost of millions of lives. The Soviet agricultural ministry, known as Gosagroprom, published recommendations Saturday endorsing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's radical proposal for leasing farmland to individuals for up to 50 years. The recommendations said that small groups of people, ``or even families,'' could run the farms.

Mr. Gorbachev's proposal had been hotly debated in the press since his July 29 speech to the policy-making Central Committee, in which he suggested that farmland could be leased out for 25-30, even 50 years.

Given that Gosagroprom has now thrown its weight behind the Gorbachev proposal, saying that it ``stands for'' the 50-year upper limit, there is little doubt that the measures will be carried out.

Western diplomats, noting that the ruling Politburo had apparently not discussed the proposal, said that the Gosagroprom reaction was a sign that the authorities wanted to ``rush ahead'' with the reform.

In addition, an article in the Communist Party daily, Pravda, on Friday detailed for the first time the tragedy of the early years of collectivization.

Gorbachev's plan would dramatically reverse the collectivization policies carried out between 1928 and 1934, as Stalin forced the peasantry onto collective farms through deportation and repression.

The new plan's detractors fear that long-term leasing would mean a departure from communism. But Gorbachev stressed that there was ``nothing antisocialist'' in the move.

``No one should be bothered by the fact that the means of production will be left at the disposal of the farmer for a long time under a contract with the farm,'' the Soviet leader said.

According to the recommendations, farm machinery and even livestock would be rented to the farmers. But Gosagroprom made it clear that ``land is the property of the people and cannot be sold.''

The agricultural reforms will probably be incorporated into legislation, as Gorbachev suggested in his July 29 speech, although he actually proposed a ``law on lease'' which would include ``all branches of the economy.''

The ``privatization'' of agriculture accompanies other recent drastic measures to counter chronic shortages of consumer goods in the stores.

The pattern of Gorbachev's reforms aims to inject a large dose of free enterprise into the centrally-planned economic system.

He and his supporters have stressed that on the farms where short-term contract-leasing is already used, productivity has sharply improved.

According to Gosagroprom, on the 10,000 farms where leasing exists - one-fifth of all farms - productivity has increased by 36 percent.

But it remains to be seen whether the farmers themselves, recalling the 1930s, will enthusiastically follow the recommendations endorsed by the agricultural authorities.

And ideological resistance from such quarters as second-ranking Kremlin leader Yegor Ligachev, seen as the leader of the conservative faction in the Politburo, is certain to continue.

The landmark Pravda article, however, suggests support for the new policy. It accused Stalin of distorting official policy which had aimed to gradually transform Soviet agriculture while retaining market-oriented policies backed by Lenin.

The article spelled out the policy differences between Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, the now-rehabilitated party theorist who was expelled from the party leadership in Nov. 1929, and later executed, for opposing forced collectivization.

Stalin believed that the problems highlighted by the famine of 1927-1928 were caused ``by enemies,'' while Bukharin stressed the shortcomings of party officials and their mistakes.

``The alternative was the Stalin line with the stress on the struggle against enemies and forced command methods'' or Bukharin's plan for ``the perfecting of party and state work, and the development of the country's industry and of socialist cooperatives in agriculture,'' the article said.

The paper noted that Bukharin's tactics also provided for ``perfecting'' the mechanisms of the New Economic Policy set up under Lenin, which in the 1920s had allowed free enterprise to flourish in the Soviet Union.

The Pravda message was clear: that the country took a wrong turn by choosing Stalin's methods rather than Bukharin's, a choice which Mr. Gorbachev is apparently trying to reverse today.

But the paper fell short of criticizing collectivization itself, attacking only the methods employed by Stalin, which ``did nothing but harm.''

Pravda also failed to provide figures on how many people died during the forced collectivization and repressions.

Soviet academician Roald Sagdeyev in June condemned the ``genocide against our own people that killed millions and did untold damage to our agriculture.'' -30-{et

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