OCTOBER 11, 1957
NEW YORK—Agriculture is basic to the life of nearly all great countries, but in the Soviet Union it is very important indeed because so many people have to be fed. So, the Soviets decided to do away with agriculture run on a private basis.
This was not very difficult to put across with the employees of large estates. They were serfs accustomed to doing what they were told to do and quite willing to continue along these lines. But there were peasants who had risen to owning their own land and some difficulty was experienced with these people.
The first effort was to establish collective farms and now the second experiment is in state farms.
My first excursion into an agricultural area was to see a state farm 28 kilometers outside of Moscow. It is called Lesnie Poljana, which means Prairie Among the Forest. Two thousand acres are under cultivation and the farm produces milk and milk cows for breeding purposes. The name of the breed is Holmogor, and the farm has 550 pedigreed cattle in all, 226 of which are milking. All feed for the cattle is raised right on the farm and only a concentrate is bought from outside. Two hundred and thirty people work on the farm all year round and about 20 extras are hired in summertime. The milk is shipped in cans to institutions only.
Women work in the cow barns and much of the milking is done by hand, although they also have machines. The beef cattle do not look to me as well fattened as ours look and certainly meat in the Soviet Union is not as tender as ours, probably because they don't hang their meat as long. Whether this is because the old type of refrigeration is not adequate, I cannot tell. But even chickens are usually freshly killed and, therefore, are not as tender as ours. One rarely has a roast chicken. It is always boiled or minced in croquettes or used in soup in some way.
On the state farm I asked if I might go into one of the worker's homes and I was told that at the lunch hour it would be possible. So they took me to one of the newly built homes right across the street from some of the old ones. I tried to get over to get a look into the latter and was promptly told they were not as good because the families did not have separate entrances. I realized that several families probably lived in the same room, for there seemed to be a good many people pouring out of these houses.
The new house had a good-sized plot of ground around it, which was surrounded by a fence. The house consisted of a little entry which held for the most part winter shoes and winter coats hanging on nails along the wall. Then down a little corridor on the left there was a small kitchen. This not only had the traditional wood stove, but there was a one-plate electric burner.
Our hostess, who was one of the workers with the dairy cattle, took us into the one other room of the cottage. A dining table stood in the middle of it, with some chairs around it. There were two beds on opposite walls and one sofa bed on the third. There also was a TV set and a radio and one or two extra chairs. The room was horribly overcrowded, as you can imagine, and it evidently was used for sleeping, eating and living.
I asked the woman whether she had running water in the house and was told "no," but she did not have to carry it from too far away. By another year, she hoped, they would have it piped into the house. The house was immaculately clean but they still had an outside toilet. This woman earned 800 rubles ($80) a month and her husband, who works in a factory nearby, made about 1,000 rubles ($100) a month. On the whole, they seemed fairly well off.
A state farm differs from a collective farm in that all the employees on a state farm are paid a salary by the state. They are given a house and a small plot of land, which they cultivate on their own. The manager of a state farm is appointed by the state. Of course, a state farmhand does not take the risk that a collective farmer does if the year is a poor one, but a collective farmer, as you will see when I describe a collective farm, in a good year can raise his income considerably.
When we went down to Tashkent we visited a collective farm, and there in Central Asia cotton was the main crop. The collective farm was called the Uzbeckistan Farm, and the financial organization was as follows: seven percent of the total made on the farm goes to the government in payment of taxes; seven percent is taken from the collective and is divided between capital reserve, hospital and welfare services, amortization and the individual incomes that go to the members of the collective.
This particular farm, while it had cotton as its main crop, also had cattle for meat and for milk. It had 1,160 houses and 1,700 able people for work. Twelve different nationalities were represented in these families. We were shown one of the old houses on the farm as well as one of the new ones. There was still no running water in the houses but there was electricity.
The new house was shown with pride, and the woman of the house had collected, or made, innumerable quilts, which seem to be a mark of wealth. Each farmer annually received 30 pounds of meat, a certain amount of grain, and 150 pounds of potatoes. And he is allowed to plant and own the products from 0.15 hectars of land, and he can have one cow. He can sell on the free market whatever he does not need for his family. The cow's food comes from the collective.
The manager of the collective farm is chosen by a board of directors. He acts as chairman and after a year he reports on his work. If it is satisfactory, he is allowed to continue. The board of directors is selected by the members of the collective and its size depends on the size of the farm.
One little item may be of interest to those Americans who know a brand of cow called Santa Gertrud, which comes from the King ranch in Texas. Some of these cows were sent to the Soviet Union a few years ago and I was told they had disappeared and nobody knew what had happened to them. When I asked about them at the Ministry of Agriculture, I discovered that they were living and thriving in the southern part of the Ukraine and that the minister himself took a special interest in them. They assured me that the cows had had plenty of "little babies."
I think we have to realize that just as we ourselves would show the best we have to foreigners, these two farms were probably better than the average, perhaps even pilot projects. But the mere fact that they exist means that more and more will develop along the same lines. When things do well, it is safe to assume that they are going to be duplicated as quickly and as often as possible in the U.S.S.R.