Russia - The crisis of post-Soviet agriculture is aggravated by "reforms" and Western "food relief"

From Lutte de Classe #41 (published in Class Struggle #26 - Britain)
March 1999

The ten year long crisis in Russia has brought back to some areas the fear, and sometimes the reality, of food shortages. Last summer's monetary crash made the situation worse. The devaluation of the ruble reduced even further the already limited purchasing power of the population. As a result the import of Western goods, which had become a major source of supplies for the cities, was effectively halted for lack of a market. So these goods had to be replaced, otherwise hunger would have spread. But replaced with the produce from which food industry and which agriculture? In the Soviet Union, this economic sector had been huge. But what was left of it now, after a decades of "reforms" aimed at privatising it?

Attempted privatisation of the land

In late 1998, the Russian government tabled in the Duma (the Russian parliament) a plan to change the property system for farming land. This was rejected by a vast majority - yet again - for it was not the first such attempt by the central authorities. Until now, all these attempts have failed and there is still no real estate code regulating the sale of land and guaranteeing its private ownership across the Russian Federation.

Yeltsin had tried this for the first time just after being elected to the head of what was still the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic. By making privatisation the main plank of his policy, Yeltsin hoped to retain the backing of those who had supported him against Gorbachev. On 3 December 1990 - "a great day in the history of Russia" claimed the headlines of the pro-Yeltsin newspapers - the Federation's MPs adopted two decrees which paved the way for the creation of private farms. These decrees allowed rural soviets to sell land to farmers, put abandoned villages up for auction and sell woodlands for exploitation.

By granting private ownership rights to those of the 38 million Russian peasants who wished to set up their own private businesses, Yeltsin hoped to win the support of the rural population in the struggle which was taking place in the top spheres of the state. The promoters of these decrees, however, did not openly state that they wanted to dismantle collective agriculture. Yet if there had been a real longing for private property in the rural population, the Russian Federation's 25,500 kolkhozes (collective farms) and sovkhozes (state farms) would have been broken up.

The question was whether Yeltsin's two decrees were going to trigger a movement among the peasants, similar - only in the opposite direction this time - to the powerful mass movement generated by the Bolsheviks' first decree of 26 October 1917, which had given the land to those who toiled it.

The authorities had expected to be flooded with applications. But apparently, the peasants' desire for privatisation fell far short of such expectations. By Spring 1991, there were 13,600 private farms covering only 0.25% of arable land in the Russian Federation. Moreover, amongst those counted as private farmers were some rural newcomers - refugees fleeing inter-ethnic violence in Ukraine and Byelorussia (some were even put up in abandoned villages around Chernobyl), city-dwellers seeking housing that they could not find in the towns, officers returning from Central European garrisons, etc..

Faced with what promised to be another failure, the government promulgated a new law on how land should be allocated. This law included sanctions against local authorities that did not hurry to sell land to buyers. The press compared this to a second abolition of serfdom (the first and real one dates back to March 1861) designed to "free the living forces of the countryside".

The 1991 harvest, which would have been poor anyway, turned into a disaster, due to the power struggles at the top and the general disorganisation this caused. Starvation threatened in the cities because of reduced agricultural deliveries. There was talk of a "peasants' strike". The press and the authorities violently accused the presidents of the kolkhozes and sovkhozes of sabotaging the "reforms".

By the end of December 1991, the USSR had gone to pieces. Gorbachev, who had argued that the transformation of collective Soviet estates into ten million private farms would be a move backwards, had been forced to resign. So Yeltsin felt freer to act. On December 29, he issued a decree on "urgent measures to implement the agrarian reform in the Russian Federation". The aim was no longer to rely on the spontaneous mushrooming of private farms (there were still only 31,488, covering O.5% of the surface of collective farming land) but to dismantle forcibly and swiftly the entire collective agricultural system.

The district authorities were given one month to work out the surface of arable land that each peasant would be given as private property, whether he wanted to farm it or not. Before March 1st 1992, all kolkhozes and sovkhozes would have to decide whether, once the redistribution of land was completed, they wanted to remain divided into private farms or to turn themselves into private cooperatives. Every individual plot was to be marked in some visible way in the fields. Everyone was to have his own share of the buildings, machinery, stored goods, etc.. As soon as the peasants received their property deeds, they had the right to lease, sell and mortgage their new land. Any delay on the part of the authorities in implementing the law was to be punished by heavy fines. On paper, decollectivisation was largely on the way, if not totally accomplished. But in practice, many obstacles - material, social and political - cropped up.

Firstly, how was it possible to share out fields which were covered in snow due to the winter weather so quickly? All the more so as there was no reliable land survey available - and there is still none to date. Furthermore, as with so many other issues, regional authorities did not want to let the central government dictate its law in their districts. Thus, for instance, the Tatar and Bashkir parliaments ordered that the law be disregarded on their territory. Elsewhere, a vast majority of the peasants just refused to share out the lands and to abolish collective farming.

The peasants' refusal was based on good reasoning. Kolkhozes and sovkhozes were conceived to operate on a collective basis - from the work in the fields and the running of stables, to the storage and delivery of goods to the consumers. Much of the agricultural machinery was adapted to gigantic stretches, not to small private plots. These private plots would necessarily have been too far away from the existing villages and social lodgings belonging to the kolkhozes and sovkhozes, as well as from their economic and social infrastructure (kindergartens, shops, schools, medical and veterinary centres, silos, garages, workshops, even factories). Besides, in most cases, collective farms were involved in many different long-standing cooperative ties with state-run industrial complexes, which would have been broken by privatisation.

The last serious attempt at land privatisation dates back to 1992- 1993. At the time, confronted with the peasants' resistance, Yeltsin tried the use of force. He ordered the banks to freeze the accounts of indebted kolkhozes and sovkhozes (15% of the total) and announced that more than half would be put up for auction if their members did not want to share out their assets between themselves. According to official government sources, the immediate result was that 600,000 cattle, 3.5 million pigs, 4.5 million goats and 18 million chickens were slaughtered in January 1992 alone, to allow collective farms to pay their debts. Threatened with bankruptcy, many stopped buying from the factories which normally supplied them, so much so that by March 1992, half of these factories had to close down.

Decollectivisation was a double failure. Not only did it not succeed in transforming the status of land property in the direction wished by the authorities, but it threatened the country with a major catastrophe. Yeltsin had to back down urgently. He ordered his ministries to give away (rather than sell) the tractors, lorries, combine harvesters, etc.. required by kolkhozes and sovkhozes, as well as fertilisers and the spare parts for their farm machinery. As in the days of the USSR, soldiers, students and factory workers were drafted in great numbers for four months and the army had to lend 50,000 lorries to help with the harvest in collective farms. At the same time, the government repealed the obligation for collective farms to reorganise themselves - which the Duma had refused anyway.

In 1993, when the Kremlin tried again to change the status of collective farms, almost all of them opted for ownership of the undivided land. Often they did not even bother to change their names and carried on calling themselves "kolkhoz" or "sovkhoz". Since then, they have shared the fate of all enterprises in the country: they just try to survive.

Strength and contradictions of Soviet agriculture.

Before October 1917, individual farming of the land was almost unknown to the Russian peasantry. The peasants, who were serfs on the estates of the aristocracy, had won their freedom thanks to many rural uprisings. On average there were 80 such uprisings in every year from 1855 to 1861, when abolition of serfdom freed 20 million of them. But freedom did not result in the emergence of a large layer of individual farmers. Estates were only shared in part and peasants had to buy the land from their former masters. Their plots were too small and they only managed to survive thanks to the traditional communal way of toiling the land in villages. It was only after the October revolution that peasants really took over control of the land. The first decree of the Bolsheviks stated that "the right to ownership of the land is abolished for ever (and the land) becomes a national property which is entrusted to those who toil it."

The Bolsheviks had nationalised the land to redistribute it to the peasants. This allowed the proletarian dictatorship to win over the support of the peasantry, both politically and in practical terms. But as a result, the number of individual plots increased from 16 to 25 million. This further atomization of an already poor agriculture was one of the many disadvantages faced by the soviets which had come to power in one of Europe's most backward countries.

Lenin, Trotsky and their companions knew that they had to make do with this legacy as long as the forces of society as a whole, and first of all the industrial forces, were not able to pull the countryside out of its backwardness. In order to do this, they counted first and foremost on the help of the proletarian revolution which seemed to be imminent, at the time, in Europe's most advanced and industrialised country, Germany. They also knew that, for the socialisation of agriculture to take on its full meaning, the peasants had to convince themselves that it was better for them to join forces together instead of operating as individuals. In spite of the civil war and the poverty it brought, the workers' state began to supply the peasants with the first tools for this cooperation in the form of collective storage and delivery facilities as well as low-cost co-operative shops and purchasing organisations.

Once the civil war was won, the Soviet government concentrated on "Lenin's plan for cooperation in the countryside" and other aspects of the economic reconstruction of the country. But by that time the revolutionary wave had receded everywhere. In an isolated USSR, this allowed the layer of administrators and "leaders" to take over, while the working class and the poor peasants, exhausted by their efforts during the revolution and the civil war, found themselves unable to oppose their eviction from power by the state bureaucracy. In its fight for power, the bureaucracy was helped by layers which had an interest in depriving the proletariat and peasantry of political power. In the villages, the bureaucracy won the support of the rich peasants, the "kulaks", by promising them, as early as 1925, the private ownership of their land for 40 years, and by going as far as contemplating total denationalisation.

This policy was fought from the start by the Left Opposition, who denounced it and warned of the dangers it involved for the workers' state. They were soon proved right. The rural bourgeoisie had firmly taken over the countryside by plundering the poorest peasants. Soon it felt strong enough to refuse to deliver "its" wheat to the cities, thereby threatening to starve the country. Another civil war ensued. The working class had to resort to the armed requisition of grain in each village. But it was the bureaucracy which led this class war against the re- emergence of the bourgeoisie.

During the 1920's, revolutionaries had counterposed another policy to that directed by Stalin and his supporters at the kulaks (embodied in the slogan "Get Rich!"). Trotsky argued that "after the expropriation of the large estates and the extreme atomization of agricultural plots, the reunification of these into larger units had become a question of life and death for peasants, for agriculture and for the whole of society". For years, the Stalinists had fought Trotsky, who advocated putting industry at the service of the collectivisation of agriculture. Suddenly the panic-stricken bureaucracy changed its mind in the face of the kulaks' rebellion, by reacting with utmost brutality, not just against their former allies, the kulaks, but against all the peasants who did not comply with their U-turn fast enough. In November 1929, Stalin announced the end of small-plot agriculture - all peasants were to work in kolkhozes.

The way collectivisation was carried out by Stalinism ended in disaster. Noted Trotsky: "collectivisation meant for the peasant, first of all, a complete expropriation (...) The destructive consequences of this adventure soon became felt and they were to last for years. (...) Never before had death been such a threat on the territory taken over by the October Revolution as in the years of complete collectivisation. (...) This led, in addition to the destruction of more than half of the country's livestock, to an even more serious consequence - the total indifference of kolkhoz workers towards the socialised future and their own work". Frightened by these consequences, Stalin had to authorise "the peasants to own chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, privately. They were given plots close to their houses". It was a "ransom" paid by the government "to the individualistic tendency of the peasant". And Trotsky remarked on how "this 'compromise' (...) highlights on the one hand the barbaric waste of the strength of dozens of millions of men, and even more of women and children in minute undertakings (the individual plots), and on the other hand the very low productivity of labour in the kolkhozes".

In the early 1930's, after two to three years of peasant resistance to this bureaucratic collectivisation, the Soviet countryside took on the shape it has mostly kept up until now, with its gigantic kolkhozes and sovkhozes flanked by tiny individual plots. This layout of Soviet agriculture was drawn in blood by the bureaucracy.

The yield of agriculture has remained low. This is a legacy from the past, from the backwardness, not only of the countryside but of the whole of the economy before the revolution. But it is also the consequence of the bureaucracy's choice to invest in heavy industry at the expense of sectors directly linked to consumers. As a result, Soviet agriculture did not progress at the same pace as industry during the reign of bureaucracy.

In the end, collectivised agriculture was even more deformed than industry by the bureaucracy. But it was also deformed by the concessions that the bureaucracy had granted to the peasantry, which it was closer to, be it only by its origin, than to the proletariat. If this collective agriculture had even more difficulties than industry to demonstrate what a workers' revolution can deliver, it is first of all because the collectivisation of the land was partly deprived of its content by the bureaucracy which implemented it.

Kolkhoz plots and nationalisation

The importance of the kolkhoz plots in peasants' income and in the supply of goods to the cities has varied with time. The Brezhnev era saw the rise of unregulated kolkhoz markets where peasants could sell their private production, thus improving their wages as well as the city-dwellers' diet. In 1974, 35% of cows were owned privately by peasants, and milk products from these cows represented an even higher proportion of the total. The same was (and still is) true for vegetable and fruit production. The advocates of private property in the USSR and elsewhere have long considered this as proof that private agriculture results in higher yields. In fact, it is rather a demonstration of the opposite.

Indeed, the peasants always used in their plots the machinery and fertiliser provided by the collective farms, and their private cows grazed in the large state-owned fields; they had free access to lorries and fuel in order to go and sell their products in the cities; and they could afford to leave their farms in order to hold market stalls, something which would have been problematic for small private farmers. Today the yields of these plots, which are still well below those of small plots in industrialised countries, would be even worse if they were not supported by the collective agricultural structure set up in the Soviet era. On the other hand, of course, the fact that collective farm workers spent a significant amount of their time selling the products from their private plots, and therefore did not turn up for work, did not help productivity in the collective farms.

That being said, with all its legacy from the past - a profusion of plots providing a third of agricultural production, and an unproductive peasantry, starved of investment and having to support a multitude of bureaucrats - the Soviet agricultural system managed to provide the world's largest country with relative self- sufficiency in food. This was first of all because this agriculture had the enormous advantage of not having to feed a class of landowners. The fact that the land belongs to the state and can be allocated freely for the peasantry to farm it, is still - despite Stalinism and its consequences - a victory of the October Revolution which the bureaucracy has not yet managed to liquidate.

Of course, this liquidation has been one of the aims of the bureaucracy since its first plans for the countryside in 1990-91. But as the failure of its different attempts has shown, this required more than just relying on the willingness of peasants to set up privately. It also required the destruction of the kolkhoz and sovkhoz infrastructure and the web of ties it has with the rest of the economy, as it was shaped by over 70 years of development since October 1917. And this meant confronting millions of peasants whose existence depends on a system where state ownership of land plays a vital part.

In addition to blaming the "backwardness" of the peasantry for the failure of their attempts, the advocates of land privatisation also blame what they call the "agricultural complex" - the administration of cooperatives and state farms, leaders of the agricultural industry (mostly still state- owned) as well as the authorities and representatives of rural areas.

This "lobby" is by nature heterogeneous, since even if it has in common the desire to plunder the labour of the peasantry, the top guns of agricultural and regional bodies can also compete between themselves, especially at the present time when each bureaucrat jealously protects "his" fiefdom. But whether a sizeable fraction of the agrarian bureaucracy will want to saw off the branch on which it sits, is quite another question. And this, in passing, is also another consequence of the fact that this agriculture was shaped to a large extent by a collective framework.

Certainly, in the vicinity of cities with their numerous potential buyers, or of ports allowing export of agricultural goods, private farms and agricultural industry have sprung up. But, this still seems to be a marginal, even exceptional, phenomenon. As for the heads of the central bureaucracy, even if they have just recently tried to introduce a real estate code that legalises private property of land and the income it can produce, they no longer talk of breaking up the kolkhoz and sovkhoz infrastructure, which, even if in bad shape, remains the backbone of agriculture.

A survival agriculture

According to official figures, 90% of the land is still exploited collectively. Private farms represent 5.8% of arable land, with an average size of just over 100 acres. Their machinery is minimal (one tractor at the most) and they usually limit themselves to non-perishable products (grain, sugar-beet, sunflowers) - the same products which have the highest yields in collective farms. Their number went from a few tens of thousands, eight years ago, to 280,000 today. This progression has stalled: statistics now record more farms closing down than starting up.

Next to these private farms, covering the same total area, there are the 39 million plots belonging to kolkhoz and sovkhoz workers, but also to city-dwellers. On average, the former are 0.9 of an acre while the latter are only 0.2 of an acre.

Private plots date back to the Stalin era. But the recent increase in their numbers, particularly those of city-dwellers, reflects the decay of the economy. These two categories of plots yield 88% of potato production, 67% of vegetable, 43% of meat, 39% of milk and 28% of egg production. These ratios have increased significantly since the Soviet era. Indeed, to compensate for food shortages in the cities, the authorities have granted plots to city- dwellers out of state land reserves, so that the total surface of these plots has doubled over the past five years - otherwise, millions of workers would literally risk starvation, as their salaries and pensions always arrive late, if at all. But the fact that millions of city-dwellers must leave their jobs and go to the countryside to farm their small plots is certainly not a reflection of progress - it is a considerable step backwards. Nor does it reflect the growth of a market economy. If there is such a thing as a "market" in Russia today, then it is certainly showing its inability to cater for the basic needs of the population and if not, then what we have here is merely a survival economy.

As for the kolkhoz plots, the introduction of a dose of market economy into the ruins of the USSR has definitely failed to give them any perspective of development. Caucasian and Central Asian peasants used to fly into Russia's Western towns to sell vegetables and fruit. This is no longer the case. First of all because some areas are now separated by state borders, but mostly because of the cost of transport, which used to be extremely cheap in the USSR, but is not any longer. In these conditions, how can one imagine that the kolkhoz market could be transformed into a free market, by encouraging small private agricultural production? It is even less possible since distribution is under the control of powerful mafias against which the peasants are powerless. The business groups that these mafias work for make too much profit by importing products and basic goods to leave even the smallest room for small national entrepreneurs, agricultural or otherwise.

Kolkhozes and "Potemkin privatisation"?

Even the promoters of land privatisation have become disillusioned with private agriculture. But on the other hand, one can read, as in the Izvestia of 17 December 1998, headlines such as "Starodubstev, governor of Tula, is building corn socialism". In this article, one learns how this important bureaucrat, acting like any Communist Party first regional secretary of the Brezhnev era, subsidises collective farms in his jurisdiction by giving to the Lenin Kolkhoz £36m worth of transgenic corn seeds and agricultural machinery adapted to this kind of crop, which he has bought from the USA using public funds.

This does not mean that in the ex-USSR the countryside has not changed over the past decade. But, even more so than in the rest of society, these changes have been largely cosmetic. More often than not they are primarily designed to conceal the fact that nothing significant has changed.

In a few areas, governors have allowed the selling of land. But even there, the situation is very different from one where agricultural trade is free because enterprises, be they private or public, are still under the supervision of the bureaucracy. A recent report described the example of the region of Krasnodar where "the enterprises that have not developed ties with administration officials have been forbidden to sell their products outside of the region". The same is true in Tatarstan and Bashkiry, apart from the fact that, in addition, land cannot be sold there.

In Saratov and Samara, on the rich lands of Southern Volga, local parliaments have recently decided that land can be put up for public auction, which is forbidden by Russian federal law. These decisions are still too recent for it to be known what they entail and what they could lead to.

The future will tell what importance these measures will have in the four regions (out of a total of 89) where they have been decided and whether they will be followed elsewhere. Or whether perhaps they are merely aimed at legalising the limited but profitable sale of the fertile land situated close to large cities or export centres, for the profit of Russian buyers, or even foreign companies (which is forbidden by law for the moment). Maybe what we are seeing now is a modern version of the "Potemkin villages" - those fake towns built by Catherine II's favourite, in order to show the Empress how well off the peasants were after the extension of serfdom! In that case, the representatives of the International Monetary Fund could be more or less consenting dupes since this body has set as a prerequisite to its loans that Russia carries on with what it calls "reforms"...

A catastrophic step backwards

Almost all Russian and Western experts agree that, as it was put in April last year by a journal sponsored by a Western government, "however one looks at it, post- communist agriculture in Russia offers a disastrous picture, (the causes of which) are to be found in the state of disorganisation that results from (the Gorbachev era). Planned economy was dismantled without any other system replacing it. As early as 1990, the exchange links that existed across the USSR collapsed: the system of planned deliveries was no longer respected, each region protected itself by keeping its products and the country was fragmenting into small units forced progressively into autarchy. From 1992, the Russian state was unable to regain control of regions which were each leading their own economic policy".

Whatever the reasons that the authors give to explain this phenomenon, it is a fact that the disappearance of planned economy had catastrophic consequences for the whole economy, including agriculture, where, according to the same journal, "after privatisation, collective property is still the norm (...) flanked by a system of micro-plots with ridiculously small means which can only be described as a 'DIY economy'".

This catastrophe is reflected in the figures: in ten years (1985- 1995) the production of tractors fell from 264,000 units to 21,200, that of combine-harvesters from 112,000 to 6,300. Furthermore, spare parts are no longer available, so that collective farms can hardly repair their machinery. While productivity was collapsing in all agricultural sectors to the point of "bringing the level of production several decades back to the past", according to the same journal, sovkhozes and kolkhozes had no choice but to resort to measures such as barter, for survival.

Already, by late 1991, the Russian minister of Agriculture had published "natural exchange norms": a container of nails was "worth" half-a-ton of potatoes, a Kamaz lorry was worth 600 tons of grain, etc... This supposedly "natural exchange", a result of the disintegration of economic and exchange ties, was not reflecting past price levels but actually endorsing the degradation of the terms of exchange between industry and agriculture; the value of agricultural goods was collapsing compared to those of industry.

Indeed, because of the lack of fertiliser, of veterinary products, of machinery and spare parts, agricultural productivity kept decreasing while industry, although affected by the economy's disorganisation, was not in such a sorry state. The latter could often maintain the previous prices, and indeed increase them for those who had access to the world market and who aligned themselves on international rates. As a result, in 1995, agriculture found itself without fertilisers, while factories producing them exported 90% of their production to earn foreign currencies.

From one "scissor crisis" to another

From 1990 to 1993, in a context of galloping inflation and economic collapse, the prices of industrial goods produced for agriculture were multiplied by 520, while those of agricultural goods were multiplied by only 120. This obviously did not encourage peasants to start private ventures. The situation became such that, in order to describe the growing gap between industrial and agricultural prices, an image and expression from a distant past was used once again. There was talk of a "scissor crisis", by analogy to the crisis which had threatened the young workers' state after the civil war, when the countryside stopped delivering goods to the cities because the peasants were rewarded so badly for their labour.

By the end of the 1920's, the leaders of a Soviet Union where the bureaucratic gangrene had already set in, had managed more or less to quell the crisis, at the price of a second civil war, this time against the countryside. In order to "close" the scissors, they boosted industry first, to lower its cost prices. But they were only able to do this because they could use decisive economic levers - in particular the collective ownership of the means of production, the planning of investments and the monopoly of foreign trade.

In present day Russia, the state has lost all of these levers. The bureaucracy remains the dominant and privileged social layer, but its parasitism of the economy has reached levels never seen before, without any concern for the resulting disruption. Any enterprise that finds buyers abroad tries to sell everything it can for hard currency, regardless of whether its products might be needed in Russia. Those that specialise in importing do not care if they destroy local production. This can be seen mainly in the food industry. And the state is powerless, especially since some of its own top figures have a direct interest in such matters.

The tendency to autarchy in the regions contributes to the same spiral of disorganisation, and even of artificial famine when it comes to agricultural products. When the ruble collapsed, last Summer, local bureaucrats acted, once again, as they did during the "parade of autonomies" - the period which marked the end of the Soviet Union. In some regions, they re-enforced or set up border controls, stopping local industrial and food products from being sold in other regions, arguing that this was a way to protect "their" population. But sometimes this autarchy is a fake - it is only an excuse for the regional bureaucrats to hijack these products and export them out of Russia.

Western "food relief"

Faced with the collapse of its agriculture, Russia turned to the west to obtain - this was the official reason - a minimum delivery of foodstuffs. This "arrangement" has become increasingly permanent since, in September 1991, for the first time since it had been plundered by German imperialism during World War II, the USSR asked for £9bn worth of western food aid.

After the devaluation of the ruble in August 1998 and the financial and economic collapse that followed, Russia again asked for urgent food aid. It was said that starvation was threatening. This was not surprising. Cities were no longer supplied in heating, electricity and goods. There were countless alarming reports from teachers and physicians on cases of under-nourishment among children, conscript soldiers and unpaid workers. This is to say nothing of the population of the Great North nor of the Siberian Far East that the USSR had brought out of prehistory, to where present day Russia is sending them back.

The Russian deputy Prime Minister in charge of agriculture recalled that just before the end of the USSR, 14% of meat was of foreign origin while in 1998, the ratio was close to 50%; over the same period annual meat consumption per head had fallen by one-third. If this shows anything, it is certainly the general fall of the population's living standards. As for the country's dependence on the outside world for food, apart from the fact that it reflects the disorganisation of the national agriculture, it also highlights another aspect of the impoverishment of the population. While it is true that the ruble has lost 3/4 of its value since last Summer, the volume of imports have followed the same downward trend, with an even larger drop of 85% from August to September in the food sector. In this bankrupt Russia, importers of Western goods are no longer finding the "Russian middle-class" which used to provide them with such comfortable profits in the previous period. As for what had been called, even in the most far flung provinces, "Bush's thighs" - the millions of pieces of poultry sent from the USA, to subsidise its own producers - these birds have flown from the shops. Even at discount prices, they had become too expensive for the local consumers, including the fragile "middle class" that the devaluation has blown away from the market.

As a consequence, the Russian products that foreign imports had replaced have now reappeared. The Primakov government presented this as a chance for the renewal of national production. This situation might not last, though: products from "aid" will start flooding in from the USA and Western Europe, with the imperialist states seeing the Russian crash as an opportunity for subsidising, under cover of "humanitarian" aid, their own pig, chicken, milk and grain producers.

The Russian population has not seen the last of the problems this "aid" brings - an increase of the country's external debt, since this "aid" does not come for free, and new blows to local enterprises (kolkhozes, sovkhozes, small producers) which cannot compete with Western giants, especially when these are subsidised by their own governments. As to what the population will actually receive from this "aid", after a great deal of it has been highjacked by the bureaucratic "mafias" as usual, is not hard to guess.