In Corn Crusade: Khrushchev’s Farming Revolution in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union (Oxford University Press, 2018), Aaron Hale-Dorrell re-evaluates Khrushchev’s corn campaign as the cornerstone of his reformation programs. Corn was key to Khrushchev’s promises of providing everyone with the abundance required for achieving communism, which included the introduction of a varied diet rich in meat and dairy (which would be corn fed) following decades of austerity during collectivization and WWII. Khrushchev touted corn as crucial to building a society equal to the US in material abundance. Hale-Dorrell discusses Khrushchev’s plan to implement industrial farming in the collective and state farm system through increased mechanization, adoption of American techniques, a rejection of Lysenkoism, and mass mobilization of the Komsomol and other youth. But still the corn crusade failed to achieve the transformation that Khrushchev promised.
Unlike other historians who have focused on Khrushchev being at fault for this failure, Hale-Dorrell examines the bureaucratic attitudes, lack of resources, and the widespread Soviet campaign mentality frustrated the implementation of Khrushchev’s policies. Regional and local officials interpreted central directives to suit their own needs. Their policies took on a life of their own and a local flavor that often resulted in policies substantially different from and less transformative than Khrushchev had intended. In some places, local and regional officials relied on outright fraud or deception to meet quotas or avoid planting corn. What emerges through all this is a portrait of the Soviet Union that is chaotic, progressive if only slowly and deeply interconnected with other countries through the exchange of trade goods and scientific knowledge, all of which flies in the face of the traditional view of the USSR as isolated, backwards and governed by top down, command style party and state bureaucracy. Listen in!
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book, Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.
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