Ygael Gluckstein

Stalin’s Satellites in Europe

Part One
The economy of the Russian satellites

Chapter I
Changes in property: the land reform



A DESCRIPTION of the economic condition of Stalin’s satellites must begin with a consideration of the changes brought about in property relations after the overthrow of the rule of Hitler and his vassals in the countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. As most of the population in these countries earn their living in agriculture [1] it is convenient to begin with an examination of the changes in land ownership.

There is a widely held belief that the feudal system, with the characteristic feature of the large latifundia, continued to prevail east of the Elbe until the arrival of the Soviet army. The prevalence of this idea is due partly to ignorance, but also to the propaganda spread since the war by the governments of this region, who try to paint as black a picture as possible of the property relations which previously prevailed there in order to magnify the importance of the land reforms they have carried out. This view is incorrect, since before World War II, and in some areas even before World War I, a series of land reforms had already to a large extent changed the system of landholding in the countryside. On the other hand it would not be correct to minimise the extent of the land reforms carried out since the war.

To arrive at a balanced estimate of the extent of land reforms each country will have to be dealt with separately, even though for lack of space only a brief statement of the facts can be given. The countries will be dealt with in order, beginning with those in which the changes in the ownership of land after World War II were the least, and ending with those in which the changes were the greatest. This order illustrates the course of historical development, since the countries in which the changes were very small after World War II were those in which the greatest changes had been wrought in the past, and those where big changes took place had known but few before.




The national uprising of the Bulgarians in 1878 destroyed feudalism. The Turkish beys fled for their lives and left the Bulgarian serfs in full and free ownership of the land they tilled. The few feudal remnants that were not eliminated in 1878 were swept away by the Agrarian Union Government of Alexander Stamboliisky (1920-23). This government fixed a maximum of 30 hectares of land for any one household (i.e., an area smaller than that fixed as a maximum by the land reforms in any country except Bulgaria herself after World War II). The political instability of this government, ending in its overthrow by a military coup d’etat and the murder of its leader as well as of tens of thousands of peasants and workers, resulted in the law of the maximum not being fully applied, so that a certain concentration of ownership took place after 1923. Nevertheless, Bulgaria remained a country with very few “estates” of more than 30 hectares, a country of small peasant ownership par excellence:

Land ownership in Bulgaria before the 1944 reform
(in percentages)


Below 5 ha. [2]

5-10 ha.

10-30 ha.

30-50 h.a.

50 ha. and over

Number of owners












(L. Bojkoff, Bulgaria is not the Land of Roses Only, Sofia, 1946, p.69.)

Wilbert E. Moore, in Economic Demography of Eastern and Southern Europe (League of Nations, Geneva, 1945), gives an even lower percentage for the big properties: in 1934 only 2.7 per cent of the land was in the hands of people owning more than 30 hectares each (p.251).

There were very few tenants in Bulgaria. According to an official report of 31st December, 1926, the cultivated rented land comprised only 1 per cent of all privately owned land. (O.S. Morgan, editor, Agricultural Systems of Middle Europe. A Symposium, New York, 1933, p.50). The number of agricultural workers was also negligible.

After World War II the Communist government fixed a new maximum of 20 ha. for all parts of the country except Dobrudja, where the maximum fixed by Stamboliisky was in force. But although the government hoped to increase its influence among the peasants, the real results of this land reform were not considerable. In his Report to the Second Fatherland Front Congress (Feb. 2-3, 1948) Premier Georgi Dimitrov said that “127,000 families received 1,258,000 decares of land (1 decare = 1/10 hectare – Y.G.) in compliance with the agrarian reform, while 7,863 families were housed and given about 12,000 decares of land. 71,000 decares of land were distributed among 381 State farms, establishments and institutions”. (Second Fatherland Front Congress, Sofia, 1948, p.42). Thus altogether 1,341,000 decares, or 134,100 hectares, were distributed. Since the total arable land in 1947 was 7.8 million hectares, the redistribution was relatively small. The land reform affected only about three per cent of the agricultural land.

The limited extent of the last land reform in Bulgaria is shown by the statistics of land ownership before and after it:


Cultivated land
(in percentage)





Small farms




Medium farms




Large farms




Professor Petko Spirkov, who cites this table, draws the obvioug conclusion from it: “... during the period 1926-1946 there are practically no changes in the distribution of land”. (Class Structure of Our Village, Free Bulgaria, Sofia, March 15, 1949).




Serbia achieved virtual national independence in 1830 and full sovereignty in 1877. Then the Turkish feudal lords fled from the country and as in Bulgaria the land remained the property of the former serfs, so that many years before World War I, Old Serbia was a country of small peasants with very few tenants or agricultural workers. A similar situation was created in Montenegro and Dalmatia by their union with Serbia (1918). Only in Croatia and Slovenia, which were torn from the Hungarian part of the Habsburg Empire and added to Yugoslavia in 1918, did there remain big estates to be divided in the inter-war years. There, as a result of the agrarian reform law of 1919 and a number of subsidiary laws which followed, 1,805,000 hectares were distributed among 497,000 peasant families. (O.S. Morgan, op. cit., p.361). This area made up about a quarter of the total area of Croatia and Slovenia, and about 12.5 per cent of the total agricultural area of Yugoslavia.

The agricultural area of Yugoslavia, prior to World War II, was distributed thus:


Up to 2 ha.

1-5 ha.

5-10 ha.

10-20 ha.

20-50 ha.

50 and over








A series of laws was passed by the Federated Republic oi Yugoslavia in August 1945 by which the maximum land allowed to any individual was 45 hectares, of which either 30-35 hectares were to be arable and 10-15 hectares forest, or 45 hectares arable. All the German settlers and quislings were expropriated and the land owned by the banks, joint stock companies and the Church [3] taken over by the state.

The final result of the reform was not very great. About 8~o thousand hectares changed hands, i.e., about 6 per cent. of the agricultural land of Yugoslavia (of which about half was the property of German peasants who were expelled although they had lived in Yugoslavia for hundreds of years).




In the Old Kingdom of Rumania as well as in the territories added to it as a result of the first World War (Transylvania, taken from Hungary, and Bessarabia from Russia), a land reform on a very large scale was carried out after the first World War. Altogether 20,976 large estates with an area of 6,008,098 hectares were expropriated and handed over to 1,368,978 peasants. The agricultural area was distributed thus:


Before the reform

After the reform


Less than 100 ha.

More than 100 ha.

Less than 100 ha.

More than 100 ha.

Ancient Kingdom

























in %





(O.S. Morgan, ibid., p. 323).

In the provinces annexed to Rumania after the first World War, social and national differences were largely identical, since the landlords were Hungarians and most of the peasant Rumanians. The peasants belonging to the national minorities were not excluded from the land distribution carried out by the Rumanian governments, even though these governments were far from internationalist in outlook. In Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bucovina 206,165 peasant families belonging to national minorities received land in the redistribution side by side with 532,700 Rumanians.

After the first world war a considerable amount of land again changed hands: the poor peasants lost a lot of their land to the rich peasants. But even so landownership was much less concentrated than before 1918.

The second World War resulted in the loss of Bessarabia and Bucovina to Russia. Within the new boundaries of Rumania, estates of more than 100 hectares (calculated from the table given above) comprised an area of 1,709,098 hectares, or 11.07 per cent of all the land. Properties of more than 50 hectares, (about 1,970,300 hectares in all) comprised 17,5 per cent of all the agricultural land. (Rumania, Ministère de l’Information, La Réforme Agraire en Roumanie, 1946, p.16).

The land reform law of 22 March, 1945, fixed the maximum land holding allowed at 50 hectares. People owning more than 50 hectares had to give up all land over this amount. Church property, state property and the royal estates were excluded, but the last-named, an area of 132,112 hectares, wag expropriated after the abdication of King Michael (December, 1947). All German owners (the German peasant colonies of Transylvania) were expropriated, as well as all “traitors and war criminals”.

Up to September 1947, land reform affected about 1.4 million hectares, and afterwards, with the distribution of the royal estates, etc., altogether 1.6 million hectares, i.e., about 10 per cent of the agricultural area of Rumania, or a third of the relative extent of the land reform after World War I.




As a result of the Battle of the White Mountain (1620) the Czech nobility was almost completely wiped out and replaced by German Catholic landlords. Thus, when the Czechoslovak Republic was established, there were German landlords and Czech peasants in the Czech areas, and in the Sudetenland – the Border area – mainly German peasants and German landlords. In Slovakia (taken from the Hungarian part of the Hapsburg Empire) there were Magyar landlords and Slovak peasants, and, in the region bordering on Hungary, Hungarian peasants and Hungarian landlords. So that here, the land question and the national question were one, as in other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire: Magyar landlords exploited Slovak, Rumanian, Croat and Ruthenian peasants; German landlords exploited Czech, Ruthenian, Slovene and Polish peasants.

In 1919 the Land Reform Act was passed. It provided for the dividing up of all large estates of more than 100 hectares. But this law was only partially and half-heartedly carried out. Yet, as a result of the land reform, 1.7 million hectares, or 12 per cent of the area of Czechoslovakia, were expropriated, and by 1 January, 1937, 1,272,934 hectares had been redistributed. At the same time in 1930, 13.8 per cent of the agricultural area still remained in properties of over 100 hectares. It was mainly Hungarian and German landlords who were expropriated, but the German and Hungarian peasants, tenants and agricultural workers not only were not excluded, but even benefited from the redistribution. As Miss L.E. Texter writes: “The German farmer received land even from a Czech landowner”. (Land Reform in Czechoslovakia, London, 1923, quoted by E. Wiskemann, Czechs and Germans, London, 1938, p.152).

In 1945 (as a result of the decrees of 19.5.45, 21.6.45, 20.7.45 and 3.9.45) an area of 2.6 million hectares was taken from Germans, landlords and peasants alike. Practically no land belonging to non-Germans was touched in Bohemia and Moravia. As a result of the agrarian reform in Slovakia, three hundred thousand hectares were expropriated, of which two-thirds belonged to Hungarians and Germans.

For two years the property of Czech and Slovak landowners was left untouched by the government. Land reform was identified with the national struggle of all the Slavs – Czechs and Slovaks alike – against all the Germans and Hungarians.

Later on it was necessary to reduce the maximum holding in order to pave the way for the total annihilation of the bourgeoisie in Czechoslovakia, and the integration of Czechoslovakia in the Russian Empire. On July 11, 1947, the maximum of 100 hectares fixed in 1919 was reduced to 50 hectares, and as a result another 919 thousand hectares were redistributed.

Thus until July, 1947, land redistribution was aimed at achieving an internal colonisation by the expropriation of “foreign” proprietors, and the extent of the second wave of land redistribution was only about a quarter of the first.




After the First World War, Polish governments carried out; if somewhat timidly, certain land reforms. A maximum holding of 180 hectares of arable land was fixed with two exceptions – in suburbs the area allowed to a household was 60 hectares and in the Eastern districts it was 300 hectares. The landlords in the Eastern districts were treated gently because their peasants belonged to the national minorities -Ukrainians and White Russians. The administration was empowered to decide annually what estates should be divided. In fact, Polish landlords were able, by pulling strings, to escape the land reform, and in general only the estates of Russian landlords in Eastern Poland were redistributed. Altogether between 1919 and 1938, 1654,000 hectares were divided up. (F. Zweig, Poland between Two Wars, London, 1944, p.133).

In spite of this measure of land reform, a not inconsiderable proportion of land remained in the hands of big landowners. In1931, about 4.6 million hectares, 8.0 per cent of all agricultural land, belonged to farms of more than 50 hectares. But as a single owner might own several farms, each of less than 50 hectares but totalling more than 50 hectares, the area comprised by properties over 50 hectares after the land reform was even greater than 4.6 million hectares. The lack of statistics on the subject (resulting from the Polish government’s attempt to gloss over the reactionary and half-hearted way in which the land distribution was carried out) makes it impossible to estimate more exactly what area was covered by properties of more than 50 hectares. It is, however, evident that the redistribution of land carried out between the two world wars affected 2.6 million hectares, and left about twice that area untouched.

The frontier alterations resulting from World War II fundamentally changed property relations. Eastern Poland, an area of big estates, was lost to Poland, and a new area was gained in the west which – after the expulsion of 8.5 million Germans – was only very sparsely populated.

By the decrees of 6 September, 1944, and 17 January, 1945, all Germans and traitors were expropriated, and 50 hectares of arable land was fixed as a maximum individual holding in Old Poland and 100 hectares in the “Regained Territories”. The Church land was not affected. Polish landlords who had more than 50 hectares received very little compensation for the area they ceded – the equivalent of one years’s yield of grain. According to the terms of these decrees, in Old Poland the area to be redistributed was more than 3 million hectares, of which agricultural land (excluding forests) made up 2,131,285 hectares. About 1,256,000 hectares of this belonged to Polish landlords, and 875,000 hectares belonged to Germans. In the Western Territories more than 3 million hectares of agricultural land was taken from Germans and either distributed to Polish peasants (4.5 million) or converted into state farms, agricultural schools, etc.

Thus internal colonization, or expropriation on a nationalist basis, is the key to the change in land ownership in Poland, even more than in Czechoslovakia.




Unlike her neighbours, Hungary did not undergo any land reform after World War I. The communist government of Béla Kun (1919) did not divide the large estates among the peasants – one of their serious mistakes which made the victory of the White Terror easier. If the land had been divided, it would have remained peasant property even after Béla Kun had been overthrown. No power on earth could have changed this. But by a paradox of history, the only country of Eastern and South Eastern Europe that had a Communist government at that period was the only one in which the feudal land structure remained intact.

The pattern of land distribution in Hungary is revealed by the following table:

Distribution of holdings according to area, 1930

Groups of holdings
according to area

Number of farms

Total area

Average area
of holdings


% of total

of yokes

% of total

Up to 1 yoke






1-2 yokes






2-5 yokes






5-10 yokes






10-20 yokes






20-100 yokes






100 and more yokes












(International Agrarian Institute, Six Years of the Agrarian Crisis, Moscow 1935, p.109)

Thus, on the one hand there were 1,143,000 lilliputian holdings (71.5 per cent of all the farms), each less than 5 yokes, making up 11.0 per cent of the total area, and on the other hand, 14,000 large estates (0.9 per cent of all the farms), making up 46.4 per cent of the area.

After World War II the time was overripe for the abolition of large estates oppressing the mass of agricultural workers and tenants.

On 17th March, 1945, the Hungarian government passed a law confiscating the land of gentry with estates of more than 50 hectares, as well as the estates of the Church bodies of more than 50 hectares, and of peasant land over 100 hectares. The maximum individual land holding was fixed at 100 hectares, except for those who distinguished themselves in the war against Germany, in which case the maximum was 150 hectares. The so-called “model farms”, that is, vineyards, orchards and other intensive cultures, were exempt from redistribution. As a result, an area of 5.7 million yokes [5], i.e., more than a third of all the cultivated land of Hungary, was distributed among 640,000 families. Thus in Hungary there was a real revolution in agricultural property relations.

To sum up the changes in land ownership brought about since the end of World War II: in Hungary the transformation of property relations in land by the elimination of large estates was tremendous, and a progressive step; the land reform in Rumania, which was the completion of a much wider land reform after World War I, was less extensive but of the same character; in Czechoslovakia and Poland the changes constituted in the main an act of internal colonisation and of the expropriation of millions of Germans and Hungarians; in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria the changes were very small indeed.




1. Of the total population those engaged in agriculture, fishing and forestry made up: in Bulgaria (1934) 80 per cent; Yugoslavia (1931) 79 per cent; Rumania (1930) 78 per cent; Poland (1931) 65 per cent; Hungary (1930) 53 per cent; Czechoslovakia (1930) 38 per cent.

2. ha. = hectare = 2.4711 acres.

3. Except that each congregation was allowed to keep 10 hectares.

4. yoke = 0.575 hectares = 1.422 acres

5. Of this area, only 456 thousand yokes were expropriated from Germans who were expelled from the country. The rest was the property of big Hungarian landlords.


Last updated on 16.6.2004