The Sovietization of Romanian Agriculture
As the Soviet armies marched across the territories of Eastern European countries, they brought with them more than just liberation from fascist subjugation. The Soviets also brought with them dictatorships laced with a centrally planned command economy which attempted to run the whole country like one corporation. In Romania, the changes began to be felt in 1945 after the Groza government came to power and after the Soviets refused offers by the United States and Britain to confer in order to assure the maintenance of democratic order in Soviet occupied territories. Land reform began to be carried out in local communities. Confiscation of properties was most common in areas where the Soviet armies were present in large numbers, or in areas where there had been a large minority of ethnically German people who fled with the German armies after their debacle in August, 1944. The fear of retaliatory persecution forced many families to leave everything behind and become refugees themselves. A large part of those came from western Romania near Timisoara. They abandoned their highly organized and efficient farms.
Some ways used to get farmers to switch from independently owned plots to cooperatively run ones were higher taxes on property and livestock. Also, the maximum amount allowed was 50 hectares (Ionescu, p.186). This turned out to be a very narrow minded and insufficiently debated decree as in hurt certain groups of farmers. Vineyards is just one example of a type of farm which was hurt by this policy. The farm should have operated as one unit, being sprayed, collected, etc, at the same time. By breaking it up into smaller individual units, the efficiency was lost.
Terror techniques were also employed in March 1949 when the expropriation of land brought with it not only a change in ownership, but also persecution for the owners who a lot of the times were genuine farmers and could not be criticized for being absentee landlords (Ionescu, p. 186). Among other ways in which peasants were tricked into giving up their land was something my grandmother told me happened in her village. Representatives of the local cooperative would walk from door to door trying to collect signatures from farmers that they agreed to give up their land. They would try to convince the farmer of the benefits of joining the cooperative and have a collective effort made on the entire land. In case the farmer refused, the representatives would leave and go to other houses. Usually, not everyone was enthusiastic about joining. The method of tricking farmers would then be used. Forged signatures would be made of one farmers neighbors. The farmer would then be confronted and pressured by appealing to his sense of not wanting to be an outcast in the village by not joining. Also, if he declined to join, there would be the potential for discrimination against him, or maybe some other form of harassment. He would sign the document, and the process would then be repeated only now one of the signatures was actually real. The cycle repeated itself until the results were satisfactory to the representatives. This was the method employed to strip my grandmothers family of the little land that they did own.
In 1956, in order to promote and speed up the transfer of land to cooperative farms, the government embarked on a program designed to make the income of farmers who had joined cooperative farms twice as high as those who had been reluctant. That year however, there was a bad crop and food had to be borrowed from the Soviets, who always lent their food with interest accumulated in kind. In order to alleviate the burdens on the farmers in the cooperatives, exemption from the quota were made on the small private plots and the little livestock that the farmers tended for themselves.
By 1959, the ministry of Agriculture was boasting that over 70% of total arable land was in the Socialist sector. This figure was a dramatic increase over the previous year's figure of 57% (Ionescu, p. 299). The sudden and sharp increase can be attributed to a renewed drive to confiscate arable land. Land reclamation brought in around 830,000 hectares in 1958, and in March 1959, a new law was passed expropriating all land not directly cultivated by the owner and his family, and prohibiting sharecropping, leasing of land and hiring labor (Ionescu, p.299). This was the final blow to the last of the middle peasants who had been prospering prior to the passing of the law. By the end of 1960, collectivized land accounted for 82% of agricultural area being used (Ionescu, p299).
By the beginning of 1962, 96% of the total arable land had been brought into the socialist sector (Ionescu, p335). Ionescu attributes a great deal of the success of collectivization to the state of mind of the Romanian farmers. Through this whole period of land reform, they had been hoping for some international event which would remove from their country, and especially from their village, a regime which they saw as alien. The population lost this hope when in 1958 peaceful coexistence became the norm in the international arena.
The process of bringing the whole Romanian economy in line with Soviet models took a further step with the replacing of the Ministry of Agriculture by the Higher Council of Agriculture and the setting up of regional and district councils under the supervision of people's councils. This seems to be a direct mold of the Soviet system, but the differences lie in the fact that in the Soviet Union the party was made responsible for agricultural production at all levels and so the regional party secretary also headed the regional agricultural council, etc. In Romania, the regional party secretary was only the vice-president of the regional agricultural council (Ionescu, p. 336). Now that Romania had this new organizational structure, the Party was able to try to solve the problem of collectivized agriculture. The Party looked at the level of output and growth of farms, and also at the balancing of their individual budgets. Because many of the collective farms had been hurriedly created in 1961, positive outcomes in these sectors was very rare.
Another problem that had to be dealt with was mechanization. Romania was the most important agricultural producer in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, its per hectare productivity was the lowest. This was due to Romania's lack of motorized farm machinery. Romania had only one tractor per 190 hectares compared with 79 for Czechoslovakia and 16 for Great Britain (Ionescu, p 336). The Party also had difficulty in finding bodies to fill all the positions of the new boom in agriculture. The new technicians and experts were very reluctant to return to the primitive village life from which they had hoped to be emancipated by joining along with this new system. Finally, Gheorghiu-Dej realized at the time that the happiness of the farmer was very important in the success of the collectivized farms, so great care was made to assure that all surpluses were allocated to meet the needs of the collective farm families. Gheorghiu-Dej was the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party who won the power struggle and political infighting in the Central Committee after World War 2. Gheorghiu-Dej led the country until his death in 1965. Ionescu sums it up very well in his statement "... the Romanian farmer is shown at his best only when he is allowed the supreme incentive for his work - private ownership of his land and his livestock "(Ionescu, p 337).
Farmers remained in a relatively low social position for the duration of the communist regime. Their lives did not improve significantly, and aside from the glimpses of modern luxuries, their lives have remainded pretty unchanged. They now have electricity and marginally better access to health care. Some peasants purchased their own cars, but for most of them, TV and the occasional telephone was the extent of the comforts brought on by communist advances. The one big advantage that peasants enjoyed over city dwellers was the fact that they had the possibility to raise some small yard animals. This meant that food shortages would not be felt as much
Farming, like many other institutions, had to undergo changes and adapt to a new system imposed by Soviet liberation forces and acquiesced by the western powers in a region which, unfortunately for the people living in the area, was close to the dominationist Soviet empire. Farmers, whom so many regimes have claimed as the backbone of the revolutionary movements, were in fact nothing more than a propaganda tool for the power hungry communists.
Ionescu, Ghita, "Communism in Romania", New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.
Fisher, Mary Ellen, "Nicolae Ceausescu", Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989.