KHRUSHCHEV’S BELOVED CORN:
Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev was born in 1894 in a Ukrainian village. “Unlike Lenin and most other Soviet leaders, who generally had middle-class backgrounds, Khrushchev was the son of a coal miner”.1 (Indeed, that is why many of the peasants later came to regard him as one of them). Khrushchev went on to join the Russian Communist Party in 1918. By 1953 he had become first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and later, after replacing Bulganin, he also became premier of the Soviet Union in 1958. He remained in power until his removal in 1964.
“The fall of Khrushchev in October, 1964, brought to an end an era of unparalleled personal influence and impact on Russian agriculture”.2 In fact, even before his rise to power after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev had already established himself as an influential expert on Soviet agriculture. His peasant background undoubtedly further contributed to his expertise. However, due to his rashness and lack of scientific experience, it soon became apparent that most of his agricultural policies did more bad than good. What’s more, “the reluctance or inability of Soviet scientists and specialists to criticize freely a position that Khrushchev had adopted or to which he appeared to be veering, made the possibility of wrong decisions and falling for nostrums much easier”.3
It is no secret that Soviet agriculture has had a problematic history. What’s more, to say that Stalin’s regime neglected agriculture is an understatement. In fact, after the devastation of World War II, the agricultural sector of the economy was mostly ignored in favor of the heavy and war industries.4 Khrushchev certainly had his work cut out for him once he rose to the top.
Khrushchev replaced Malenkov as head of Agriculture in 1953. When it came to agriculture, he was always in a competitive race with US (a country that by all means had a superior agricultural sector). He often said that: “If we catch up with the United States in per-capita production of meat, butter and milk, we will fire the most powerful torpedo against the foundations of capitalism”.5
On the other hand, it must be pointed out that Khrushchev was actually genuinely interested in agriculture. Moreover, he “took every opportunity to increase his first-hand knowledge by visiting farms and research institutions during numerous trips in the USSR and abroad”.6 Unfortunately however, he was not as concerned with - or rather - he chose to disregard scientific facts! One of his most glaring agricultural mistakes is undoubtedly his infamous corn crusade. indeed, his notoriously outrageous corn policies went on to earn him the nickname of “kukuruzchik”, (the corn enthusiast).7
Khrushchev’s corn campaign really took off in 1955. Basically, it entailed that corn was to be grown anywhere and everywhere possible throughout the lands! Khrushchev’s simple line of reasoning was that corn was essential for replenishing the fodder shortage, which was needed to feed the livestock, and in turn would provide meat and milk for consumption for the masses. Indeed, it is true that, if grown in optimal conditions, “corn is a highly productive and nourishing field crop”.8 More importantly —at least in Khrushchev’s line of thinking, - was the fact that the Americans have had such success in growing corn.
However, “the favorable climatic conditions in the American corn belt combined with an abundance of cheap fertilizers, high-yielding hybrid varieties, adequate mechanization all lacking in the USSR — made for a vastly different situation in the United States”.9 Besides, it was a known fact that maize is not an optimal crop to grow in all regions of the Soviet Union. It is neither suitable climatically nor is it suitable to most of the Soviet terrain.
Nevertheless, Khrushchev was neither fazed nor detained by any of these facts. He adamantly pushed for corn to be grown (many times at the expense of other crops “more suitable to the climatic and soil conditions of Soviet regions”.10 “Maize was planted for silage and green fodder in practically every part of the country, from north western Russia and the Baltic republics to central Asia”.11 Farmer “volunteers” were even sent to these obscure regions for the sole purpose of fulfilling Khrushchev’s corn-growing obsession. It is also funny to note that, not being used to it, many of the peasants did not even like corn, let alone want to grow it!
As a result of the corn “fiasco” and Khrushchev’s other failed policies, by 1963 the Soviet Union with all its vast land (and a huge exporter of grain no less) had to actually start importing grain! The overproduction of corn and the fact that most of it was “unusable” for fodder or other consumption contributed to the agricultural demise. This was a definite blow to communism in the eyes of the rest of the world.
There is no doubt that Khrushchev “made many serious and inexcusable mistakes in the realm of cropping patterns”.12 That is not to say however, that all Khrushchev’s agricultural efforts were useless. Many of his campaigns did enjoy considerable, if short-lived, success (especially when compared to the sad state of agriculture during Stalin’s regime). Indeed, thanks to Khrushchev, there was considerable improvement to report once Brezhnev came to power.
One thing we can conclude however, is that “the length to which Khrushchev’s corn campaign was pushed and the excesses which it produced are apt illustrations of the pathology of a ruling bureaucracy”.13 Khrushchev’s relentless speeches on the importance of corn and his personal backing of this grain are just another page in the book of Soviet propaganda. Looking back, it is safe to say that corn might have been the "queen of fields" in Khrushchev 's eyes, but to the rest of us, it was nothing more than a political grain, if ever one existed!
1 http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/7/O%2C57 16%2C46407+ 1 %2C00,html
2 .Jerzy Karc z, Soviet and East European Agriculture (University of California Press, 1967), p. 1
3 Jerzy Karcz, p. 4
4 Jerzy Karcz, p. 5
5 Jerzy Karcz, p. 6
6 Jerzy Karcz, p. 3
7 http://mars.acnet. wnec.edu/—grempel/courses/world/Iectures/khmshchev. html
8 Jerzy Karcz. p. 14
9 JerzyKarcz, p. 14
10Jerzy Karcz, p. 14
11 Erich Strauss, Soviet Agriculture in Perspective(Praeger Inc. Publishers, 1969), p. 176
12 Stephen Osofskv, Soviet Agricultural Policy(Praeger Publishers, 1974), p. 3
13 Strauss. p. 176