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When Stalin Came to Casa Grande – Part I

One of the pillars of Stalinism was the attack on private farms and private property and the forced introduction of collective farming. Stalin himself never came to Casa Grande in Arizona, but that was certainly his idea.

These ideas came to Arizona primarily through university professors and President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Founded the largest farming collective in the United States as an experiment to test socialist theories of both agriculture and human nature.

Collectives have a long history in the U.S. and other countries, but all have failed.. The Soviet model recognized this failure, so collectivization required force, fear, and starvation to “persuade” people to function properly in a collective environment. But even massive brutal force and the full weight of the state were ultimately unable to bring the idea to fruition. Most of the food production came from a small amount of private land, about 3% of the cultivated land.

Kibbutzim in Israel were driven by similar socialist ideals, with a touch of religious and ethnic unity, but without coercion. Still, most failed, people were allowed to leave, and few members stayed long-term. And state subsidies were still needed to make the model work. They “worked” within the broader capitalist economy.

America's earliest settlement, The Pilgrims tried collective farming, which brought them to the brink of extinction.. Departing from this model, Governor William Bradford saved the colonies.

But let's look back at Arizona in the 1930s. A brief background is required to understand.

In 1900, about 40% of the population lived on farms, and about 60% of the total population lived in rural areas, primarily supporting the farm population.

Several huge trends have caused a crisis in agriculture. The introduction of gas- and diesel-powered machinery accelerated the downward trend of existing trends in mule-drawn mechanization and brought about better methods of crop rotation and fertilization. Rapid increase in farm production. This tends to result in more supply than demand. Failures were common among small farms that had reached their limits, causing prices to fall. The economic and social processes that led to the closure of farms and migration to industrial cities were shocking.

This has brought a lot of pain, but it has also created a lot of opportunity. Many people who would otherwise be farming have learned to pursue other endeavors and the broader opportunities that it means.

This kind of megatrend change in the way people work and live is always a difficult process, even in an authoritarian country like modern China.

World War I took much of Europe's production offline and forced American farmers into record production, record expansion, and record debt. When the war ended and European farmers began producing again, crop prices plummeted and a painful recession began in the 1920s, causing more than 5,000 local banks to fail. By the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, domestic agriculture was in crisis.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and launched the New Deal, which changed the country forever. Agricultural policy was an essential part of this national transformation.

Adding to the challenge was climate change, which caused the Dust Bowl and forced more people from their land. You may have seen the movie or read the book, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

FDR hired a group of Columbia University professors led by Raymond Morley, which was called the “Brain Trust.”of Morley said the first person hired was Guy Tugwell from Rexford. Expert in agricultural economics.

The brilliant professor had long criticized private property. Expressing skepticism about free enterprise, Tugwell said: “I have personally been convinced for a long time that outright ownership of farms should be severely restricted.” “It should be possible to introduce planned flexibility into rigidity,” he added.

As Undersecretary of Agriculture, He was responsible for many experiments under the auspices of the Resettlement Administration. He had a vast bureaucracy of 13,000 people at his disposal and spent $250 million finding homes for displaced farmers. As a result, a significant number of “collectives” were organized by the federal government. Unlike civilian attempts at communal living, this took the socialist experiment to another level. At least in the United States, never before have so many programs been launched with national resources. However, unlike his Soviet counterpart, he did not have permission to kill or imprison those who might oppose him.

They had to convince officials and participants that collective ideas could be successfully implemented in a country that had long cherished private property and individual freedom. This rhetoric was all about “rational planning” where decisions were made by experts rather than the crude mechanisms of individual choice.

As with many New Deal programs, the government itself expanded the displacement of farmers. They therefore had to devise new plans to deal with the effects of their policies.

Casa Grande's large-scale collective farm experiment is just one of many costly ventures.

Mr. Tugwell's handsome features eventually attracted attention. time magazine The person on the cover, like many New Dealers, was a genteel political leftist. Many American scholars educated in Bismarck's Germany were fascinated by the idea of ​​central planning and the socialist model for organizing society, and embraced both fascism and communism. Like many other academics of his generation, he traveled to Soviet Russia and thought he saw the future, which confirmed his already highly progressive left-wing ideas.

The question was how to implement these ideas in a free country like the United States. The trauma of the Great Depression gave such visionaries the opportunity to test their ideas and persuade the country to move rapidly in the direction of socialism.

Part 1 of a two-part series


Image credit: Author's Collection, Library of Congress

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