Russia’s Agricultural Experiment

Translated by Captain Ahab


Ahmed Dahshan

In this relatively small region (Gaginsky), where my tour of the Russian countryside began, there used to be about 50 large farms during the Soviet era, in addition to that there were pastures that the local population shared where each family had a single cow as a minimum, plus whatever sheep or pigs they owned that would graze the land along with a dairy factory. Families that did not leave the countryside had a stable and decent life style.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the socialist system, it was replaced by a neoliberal capitalist system with strong relations with the West under President Boris Yeltsin’s auspices. A new approach was adopted by the Russian government that ridiculed the profession of agriculture and the idea of state sponsorship. The population was encouraged to go into the service-providing business and banks, the Yeltsin government also initiated the process of privatization of factories and to rely on imports. They were able to pull this off by convincing the people that they no longer have any reason to be hostile to the West, nor the West with Russia as the Soviet Union has been dissolved and socialism is over – we are integrating with the free world, into the capitalist system, and so all our agricultural needs could be imported from abroad.

This speech is similar to the speech given by the late President Mohamed Anwar Sadat, where he ridiculed the agricultural industry undertaken during the early days of the July Revolution.The necessity of privatizing all factories and importing from abroad became the slogan of the new era, apparently because Egypt had made peace with Israel and abandoned the slogan of Arab nationalism and socialism. Sadat said that Western finance, investments, and aid was going to come to Egypt, and that Egypt didn’t need the Arabs but the Arabs are the ones who were in need of it. The result is clear for all to see, after three decades neither industry nor agriculture flourished in Egypt.

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The new slogan convinced broad sectors of the Russian public, as had happened with the Egyptian public, and what was the result?

The majority of the privatized factories turned into abandoned areas, where workers were laid off, as Yeltsin had promised, and were not replaced by newer more modern factories, that alongside the control of Jews associated with America and Israel of the strategic heavy industries in the country. As a result Russia imported about 85% of its agricultural products, now Russia exported natural resources such as gas and oil like any other Gulf state.

The renaissance of Russia and her re-resurgence in the era of President Putin, it became apparent just how disastrous the economic policies had been, it also had restricted Russia’s freedom to act on the international scene. It became apparent that whenever Russia acted to protect her interests sanctions were applied by the West to those produces that Russia imports, and so Russia had to either submit to Western demands or seek its own independence.

The Russian state finally realized the seriousness of the situation and sought to revive the Russian agricultural sector by converting the land and older farms that had turned desolate where plants grow randomly. Russia eased the bureaucratic trappings in order to facilitate private sector investments, but it has been 10 years and there were no major investments either by local or foreign business men.

As a result the state took upon itself the burden of revitalizing the agricultural sector by itself and started by establishing five large farms in this region, which is a model for the rest of Russia’s villages as well as the current expansion towards the Far East and the attempts to lure foreign investors.

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The greatest crime that can be committed by a developing country or one that is seeking national independence is to let the private sector draw their own economic policy because the businessman seeks only and exclusively his own interests. This is not something that should be condemned, it is the natural course of things. What is unnatural is for a state not to enact a policy that would ensure independence, based upon thorough studies of the social and economic realities and needs of the country.

No one is demanding the adoption of an economic system outside the system we have today, regardless of our objections to some of its manifestations, nor the establishment of an economic system based on outdated central planning or the abandonment of important and profitable economic activities and sectors such as banks and tourism, but all this can be done by taking into account the more important sectors of the economy in order to ensure the country’s main needs of products and employment are met, especially if it has a large population, which if left unattended to may cause increased unemployment. If such matters are left in the hands of businessmen only or the institutions above the state and society it will inevitably lead to utter and complete failure or the complete reliance on an external entity’s charity.

Russia cannot achieve its dreams and its strategic objectives and become a super power with only a nuclear arsenal and its sheer size. It must address issues such as agriculture and to attain self sufficiency in that field. All of Russia’s attempts at becoming a major player in the international scene are doomed to fail if these shortcomings are not addressed and if after Putin comes a President that will say to the country that we must be “realistic” after years of sanctions and external pressure, at which point Russia will be opened up again for foreign looters. The question remains can Russia succeed or will the Putin led renaissance flail the minute he leaves office…?

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