16 MARCH 1962, Page 4

The Reluctant Apparatchiks

C OVIET agriculture is not faced with any new A./crisis. So far Mr. Khrushchev is right. It is simply in the same critical state that has afflicted it since 1930. There have been ups and downs in its long-drawn-out fever, but never any sign of serious recovery. In 1953, the peasantry, ration- alised and equipped with a fair amount of modern machinery, was producing no more than the backward rnoujik had on his little plot in 1914. The grain output per head of the population (as Mr. Khrushchev stated in his reports of 1953 and 1954) had not improved since then, while the number of cattle had even decreased absolutely.

There has since been some improvement. But not only is the yield per acre and per animal catastrophically lower than in America or else- where in the West, but, perhaps even more important, four or five times as much manpower is needed to produce it. And the increases since 1953 have barely kept pace with the increase in population.

The conclusion is obvious enough. Collectivisa- tion does not work. Even now about half of the milk and meat production of the country comes from the tiny private sector which the peasants won from the Party in the rural civil war of 1929-30. In Poland and Yugoslavia, and to some extent in Hungary, the lesson has been learnt and the collective farm has largely been allowed to disintegrate, with immense benefit to agricultural production. If Khrushchev, or some successor, is really to produce a Russia which has done some radical rethinking about the Stalinist dogmas, collectivisation is one of the nettles he will have to grasp. But assurance that collectivisation was right is one of the main ways in which the Party membership has, over the years, justified to itself its conduct against the population. Precisely because this is so irrational, it has become a fetish to which the apparatchiks cling with particular fervour.

There have indeed been a few slight signs 'So that's agreed then, we'll drop the sex angle and play up the death wish.'

that a tentative rethinking is starting here and there. Some provinces have introduced small-scat collective groupings which, by happy coincidence are about family size. Ideological journals hay hinted that the Gomulka solution is at least theoretically valid. But to break through the barrier of dogma would be as difficult as for a renaissance Platonic cardinal to have actually urged the reopening of the Pantheon for pagan. worship. The new plans announced last week are almost entirely worthless. They are, in fact, the usual Soviet solution to an economic problem reorganisation of the bureaucratic machinery But when all the files have been shifted„ and the executives are settled down in their new offices, the peasantry and the crop have always ended up in much the same confusion as before. The Soviet Plan to catch up America in food production in the forthcoming decade and a half was vague and exhortatory compared With the industrial projects No foreign opinion credited them ,even at the time. Now, they can be disMissed as ludicrous unless a basic change is made meanwhile. The rest of us can watch for such a change as a sign that .Stalinism is really ending, quite apart from the fact that a well-fed Russia is likely to be more peaceable. But at present there is not much ground for optimism.