After the death of Stalin in March 1953, Nikita Khrushchev succeeded as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Georgii Malenkov (Council of Ministers) and Lavrentii Beria (leader of the KGB) joined Khrushchev as formed a collective leadership. This collective leadership quickly derailed, as Khrushchev and Malenkov conspired against Beria. Beria was accused of anti-party and anti-state activities and was executed in 1953. Malenkov resigned as prime minister in 1955. This led to Khrushchev ended up winning complete power and control over Soviet military and government. Khrushchev didn’t take any time to use his platform to denounce Stalinism. During Khrushchev’s reign, he transformed the Soviet Union during this critical time in history. One way Khrushchev tried to produce a solution for the food shortages that arose from Stalin’s regime was through the Virgin Lands Campaign.
Virgin Lands Campaign
Khrushchev came up with a plan to boost the Soviet Union’s agricultural production, known as the Virgin Lands Campaign. The Virgin Lands campaign’s purpose was to open up tens of millions of hectares of land so people could cultivate the land. The area of cultivation were in northern Kazakhstan and the Altai region.
Over 300,000 people volunteered to settle on and cultivate the area. After an unsuccessful year in 1955, the Soviet Union saw the largest harvest in its history in 1956 with about 60 million grain produced coming from the virgin lands. Within the span of six years (1954 to 1960), the area of land sown increased by 46 million hectares. The Virgin Lands Campaign was successful in mitigating short-term food shortages in the Soviet Union. However, the Virgin Lands Campaign was perceived by many as ineffective. (http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/virgin-lands-campaign/) Crop yields from virgin lands were inconsistent each year.
The Virgin Lands Campaign was initiated. The area plowed up was no less than 19 million hectares. (http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/virgin-lands-campaign. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/virgin-lands-campaign/
The total output of grain was 14,793,000 tons (65% higher than the average grain yield for 1949-195) (Durgin). The amount of crops planted was larger than anticipated, resulting in a significantly higher amount of grain produced than harvested (McCauley)
An additional 14 million hectares were plowed. However, the 1955 harvest was a huge disappointment due to droughts, specifically in Kazakhstan. The harvest went down 35% from 1954’s harvest (McCauley).
The largest harvest in Soviet history. Grain input increased by 180%. Crop cultivation nearly equaled the combined production of the previous two years (McCauley).
Another failure due to drought. Grain output decreased 40% from 1956’s harvest (Durgin).
A relatively successful harvest. Only 8% below the 1956 harvest (Durgin).
Another relatively successful harvest. Only 6% below the 1958 harvest. The crop cultivation was down due to an early winter, which killed a lot of the crops (McCauley)
Harvests were never as successful as the 1965 harvest and were on a steady decline afterwards.
Durgin, Jr., Frank A. (1962). “The Virgin Lands Programme 1954-1960”. Soviet Studies.
Martin McCauley, Khrushchev and the Development of Soviet Agriculture: The Virgin Lands Program 1953-1964 Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., New York, 1976.