Why the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev failed with the complex mechanization of agriculture: Internal aspects (1953–1986)

Merl S. Why the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev failed with the complex mechanization of agriculture: Internal aspects (1953–1986) // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2021. V.6. №1. P. 26-70.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2021-6-1-26-70


The author focuses on internal aspects to answer the question why the complex mechanization of agriculture under Khrushchev and Brezhnev failed. The author argues that the command economy did not solve the basic task of ensuring animal production by large farms, because the high-quality equipment to reduce labor input and costs was not provided. Behind the facade of impressing reforms – from the virgin-land program and liquidation of the machine-tractor stations (MTS) to Brezhnev’s 1966 promise to speed up mechanization and the Non-Black-Earth program of 1974 – nothing really changed. The basic deficiencies named in 1955 still existed in 1969 and after the establishment of the Gosagroprom in 1986: nearly all Soviet machinery was not reliable and was badly done. Thus, the increase in the production of such machinery under Brezhnev was only a waste of resources. Less than 10% of Soviet machines met the world standards. Instead of increasing labor productivity, this machinery caused the farms (and the state) enormous losses. Due to the gaps in mechanization (primarily in transportation and collecting feed) the majority of the agricultural workforce (70% in 1982) was still engaged in manual work. In the late 1960s, the Ministry of Agriculture made alarming reports on the state of the USSR’s agriculture to the CC and CM and demanded – again in vain – urgent action and investment to modernize the agricultural machinery industry in order to ensure the world-standard inputs by 1975. The article considers challenges of developing animal husbandry, consequences of such campaigns as the virgin-land program, conversion of collective farms into state farms and liquidation of the MTS, successes and failures of the mass production of highly efficient machinery, proposed alternatives of organizing agricultural work and payment, and the state of agriculture in 1955, 1969 and 1986.


Agricultural modernization, complex mechanization, agricultural machinery industry, efficiency of agrarian production, agricultural labor productivity, socialist competition, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Khudenko.

About the author

Merl Stephan, Dsc (History), Professor, Bielefeld University. Universitätsstr., 25, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Read 767 times Last modified on Mar 19 2023

Russian Peasant Studies. Scientific journal

Center for Agrarian studies of the Russian Presidental Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA)

Hard copies of the journal can be purchased at the Delo e-store or by subscription in the "Press of Russia" Agency (subscription index - Т81017).

Friends and Partners

Rosa Luxemburg foundation
was a partner of Russian Peasant Studies before it was removed from list of approved foundation in 2022


Here you can make free subscription to mailing list of our Journal.
Subscription allows to receive letters with links to download latest Volume and articles in PDF.