The “Ryazan Miracle”

The “Ryazan Miracle”. Yes, communism really was that stupid. And worse.

Alexei Larionov, the first secretary of the Ryazan Obkom (the effective head of the region in the Soviet system), announced a very ambitious goal of tripling the amount of meat produced in the region within the next year. The promise, in spite of being unrealistic, was confirmed at the regional party conference. On October 12, 1958 Larionov delivered the promise to Khrushchev in person, who became excited by the initiative.[2] On January 9, 1959 the promise was published in Pravda, the official party newspaper at the time. The publication was rushed by Khrushchev in spite of objections from the Agricultural Department of the Central Committee. The challenge was met by several other regions including Stavropol and Krasnodar. Even before starting its ambitious programme, the Ryazan region received several awards. In February 1959 the region was awarded with the Order of Lenin.[1]

In order to meet the promise, the region had to slaughter all the bovine herd of 1959, as well as a considerable part of its dairy stock. In addition, all cattle reared by kolkhoz farmers in their private households was appropriated “temporarily”. As the collected amount was still not enough to meet the target, obkom had to buy meat in neighbouring regions by relocating funds from other sources, such as the purchase of agricultural tools and construction. On December 16, 1959, Ryazan obkom was able to announce that the region delivered 150,000 tons of meat to the state, which was three times the amount delivered the previous year. On top of this, the regional authorities promised to deliver 180,000 in the next year.[3]

On December 27, 1959 the success was announced by Khruschev himself at the CPSU Plenum “On further development of agricultural production” (О дальнейшем развитии сельскохозяйственного производства). Also in December, Larionov was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour.[2]

However, in 1960 production of meat in Ryazan oblast plummeted to 30,000 tons, since mass slaughter had reduced the amount of cattle by 65% in comparison to the level of 1958. To make matters worse, kolkhoz farmers whose private cattle were “temporarily” appropriated the year before refused to process kolkhoz land. This halved the amount of grain produced in Ryazan oblast. By the fall of 1960, it became impossible to hide the affair. In September 1960 Larionov was dismissed from his post, stripped of the title of Hero of Labour. On October 10, 1960, he committed suicide.