Yeltsin Abolishes Collective Farming : Russia: He also authorizes private buying and selling of land. The move to encourage a return to individual farms is an effort to feed an increasingly hungry nation.


Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, pressing ahead with his program for radical economic reforms, on Saturday ordered the breakup of the country’s system of state-owned and collective farms and authorized the first private purchase and sale of land in more than 60 years.

The move is intended to bring to an end the collectivized agriculture that was an essential element of Soviet socialism and, in an effort to feed an increasingly hungry nation, to encourage a return to individual farming.

The order effectively repeals a 1918 decree by the Bolshevik revolutionaries declaring, “All private ownership of land, mines, waters, forests and natural resources within the boundaries of the Russian Federated Soviet Republic is abolished forever.”

Yeltsin, at the same time, is seeking to reverse the forced collectivization of agriculture carried out from 1929-1933 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and to stimulate the regeneration of Russia’s strong rural roots.


Under Yeltsin’s decree, collective and state farms will have to reorganize themselves next year, incorporating as commercial enterprises whose shares are owned by the farmers or becoming privately owned ventures. How much of their land they retain will depend on the size of these new enterprises.

Those families wanting to break away and farm for themselves will be given a share of the collective or state farm’s land, according to the decree.

Unused land will be taken from the reorganized farms, from state enterprises and from local governments and added to the land available for sale or free redistribution. This land will also be made available to urban residents for gardening and cottages.

To give the decree teeth, Yeltsin ordered that officials who fail to provide farmers with individual plots within a month of their request will be fined three months’ pay. In addition, land reform commissions were authorized to overturn any local government regulations blocking land redistribution.


The decrees, for the first time under recent land reform laws, also permit individuals to buy and sell land, letting farmers increase the size of their holdings and benefit from the improvements they make on it.

Yeltsin, moreover, authorized Russian banks to lend money to buy farmland and to grant mortgages to farmers wanting to raise working capital.

Whether foreigners will be able to buy land under the decrees was unclear, but officials of Yeltsin’s government have spoken repeatedly of its intention to allow foreign investors to compete equally with Russian enterprises.

Former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev often talked about such a sweeping land reform but always balked at this degree of privatization, believing that most of the nation would rebel against such a fundamental change.


Stalin’s four-year drive to collectivize agriculture changed an entire way of life. Not only was the way that peasants had worked for centuries changed, but millions of families were uprooted in a vast effort at social engineering.

The campaign, which came to characterize Soviet socialism, was carried out with a ruthlessness that turned into terror through deportation, exile and execution on a scale never known in Russian history. More than 10 million people are thought to have died in the campaign and the famine that followed.

With about a fifth of Russia’s labor force now engaged in farming and a fifth of its gross domestic product coming from agriculture, Yeltsin’s decree also has potentially historic and social as well as economic consequences in attempting to reconstitute the nation’s rural life.

Although Russia has had a land reform law for more than a year, local officials have blocked its implementation, either refusing to parcel out the collectively owned land or giving would-be private farmers barren or undeveloped plots.


The biggest hindrance in breaking up the collectivized agriculture, however, has been the reluctance of individual farmers to strike out on their own, given the assured pay, benefits and easier life they have enjoyed on state-run farms.

Russians, moreover, had a tradition of collectivized agriculture even before the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.

To force the farmers into greater efficiency, Yeltsin’s decree will effectively halt the subsidies the unprofitable farms have received from the state; in the future, their incomes will depend on the quantity and quality of their produce.

In August, throughout the Soviet Union, there were 50,000 private farmers, a vast increase over the previous two years, but they farmed only 15 million acres, about 1% of the country’s total agricultural land.


Private farmers have faced formidable barriers even after getting their land--the lack of bank credits to finance their operations, difficulty in buying seeds, chemicals and equipment, the lack of technical assistance and trouble getting their produce to market.

The decree provides for land to pass to private hands before the critical spring planting season.

Russia also announced plans to buy farmers’ produce on the basis of negotiated contracts next year, scrapping the old system under which they were required to deliver certain amounts of produce in payment for seeds, chemicals and agricultural equipment.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, appears resolute in another basic reform--an end to state subsidies for consumer goods and a consequent increase in prices this week.


Although his critics warn of violent unrest and widespread hardship as prices triple on average, Yeltsin believes the move will propel Russia into a market economy.

Other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which groups 11 of the Soviet Union’s former republics, have asked Yeltsin to delay the price reforms until mid-January to give them time to adjust their own economies, but so far he has refused.

His top aides on Saturday told members of the Russian Parliament of Yeltsin’s intention to proceed. “Our credo is the irreversibility of reform, and we will work to a victorious conclusion,” Gennady E. Burbulis, the first deputy prime minister, said.

Opposition deputies, however, called for the Cabinet to resign and for Yeltsin to form a new government. “Stop this experiment against the people,” deputy Vladimir Isakov said.


Yegor T. Gaidar, the deputy prime minister in charge of economic reforms, said he expects prices to rise no more than 150% in January and that the financial system should stabilize in the spring despite the inflation.

“If we fail to switch over to market mechanisms, (the economy) will just come to a halt,” he said.

Hungry shoppers in St. Petersburg, who have been issued ration coupons for basic foodstuffs, blocked the city’s central avenue Friday to protest that their coupons were not being honored when they took them to empty state shops. Gaidar said Russia plans to release its own small state food reserves and foreign aid.

Yeltsin met Saturday with his vice president, Maj. Gen. Alexander Rutskoi, who has openly opposed the economic reforms. The independent Interfax news agency, quoting unidentified sources close to Rutskoi, said his differences with Yeltsin had now been resolved, but it did not explain how.