A year ago, the Lenin Collective Farm was on the brink of bankruptcy. It faced huge debts, had no rubles to pay its workers, and lost money on every gallon of milk it sold.

Today, the 9,100-acre farm belongs to a private Russian company based in Moscow, 250 miles to the east. It is debt-free, has a fleet of new tractors and is raising the pay of its employees.

Why, then, do workers mope around the dusty barns?

"We belong to a baron in Moscow. We consider ourselves slaves," said Mikhail Filchagin, a 20-year-old tractor driver who leaned against a barn wall, a greasy wrench dangling idly in his hand.

His "baron" is not an aristocrat, but an entrepreneur - Alexei Filonov, a physicist turned computer dealer whose company, Noos Ltd., bought the Lenin Collective Farm from its 432 workers last fall.

Regional officials say it is the first Russian collective sold to a private company. The sale made use of loopholes in laws that do not allow private ownership of land.

Land reform has barely begun in most of Russia. Fewer than 5 percent of its 25,500 state-owned and collective farms have been reorganized in the past year, according to Alexei Ulukayev, economics adviser to President Boris Yeltsin.

As of March, only 370 collectives had dissolved and shared out their land, Mr. Ulukayev says.

Some farmers are eager for the return of capitalism after 70 years of Communist central planning. But many, like Filchagin, fear unemployment, are angered by growing inequality, and resent private owners.

Reformers say Russia must convert the huge, inefficient collectives into private farms if it is to have any hope of feeding its people. But the experience of the Lenin Collective Farm indicates the process will be slow and painful, with large financial, legal, and psychological obstacles.

Stalin used terror and famine to force peasants onto collective farms in 1929-1936, at the cost of an estimated 11 million lives. Now, the grandchildren of many of those peasants no longer want family farms.

Last year, private farms produced only 1 percent of Russia's food. In 1992, the figure is expected to be 3 to 4 percent, Ulukayev said.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.