Collectivized Farming and Herding

Mongolia Table of Contents

Mongolian agriculturalists, most of whom were actually herders of animals, worked either for state-owned farms or for herding cooperatives. State farm workers were on the state payroll, just as were those who worked in state factories or for the national railroad. Influenced by the Soviet Union, stateowned farms represented a more creative adaptation of Soviet models to the Mongolian environment than did factories or government offices. In practice, membership was compulsory, and the collectives owned the means of production in the form of both the livestock herds and the rights to use pastures and winter campsites. Member families carried on a modified form of traditional herding by dispersed small herding camps of several households. Households were permitted to own a limited number of private livestock--analogous to the private plot allocated to collective farmers--about 20 percent of the total herd. Households received much of their income in kind, and they earned a share of the collective's profit from the sale of animals and animal products to state purchasing agencies. Their total income, in kind and in cash, varied, from year to year and from collective to collective, along with the condition of the herds and the weather.

The average herding cooperative had about 300 households. The cooperative employed some people as administrators, truck drivers, and the like, but most work consisted of the traditional tasks of herding and milking animals, and of producing butter, cheese, and wool products. As in the past, herding was done by herding camps of two to six households. The herding cooperatives in most cases had the same boundaries as the somon, the third-level administrative units into which Mongolia's eighteen aymags were divided, and the administration of the somon and the herding cooperative appeared to be in the same hands.

Modernized Nomads

In contrast to the period before the collectivization of herding, which was carried out in the late 1950s, the work of individual herders in the late 1980s was more closely supervised by administrative authorities. Herders were responsible for a herd of collective animals that usually included some of their privately held stock as well, thus providing an incentive for careful management. Herders with a record of losing too many animals or failing to meet monthly or annual quotas were deprived of custody of the collective animals and were reassigned to other tasks. The moves of the herds and the herding camps were plotted on a map in the cooperative's headquarters, and officials of the cooperative--riding on motorcycles or jeeps, and on a more limited basis, airplanes--scouted for good pasture and then told the herding camps where to move next. Moves from one campsite to the next usually were made, using the cooperative's jeeps or trucks, and sometimes crossing the roadless steppes at night with uncanny accuracy. The cooperatives attempted, with mixed success, to grow hay and other fodder, which was stored at the winter campsites, some of which had barns and sheds to shelter animals. Herding camps were assigned to winter campsites, which often were provided with stocks of coal and sometimes with portable electric generators to provide power for lights and even television sets. Herders on the range used transistor radios to listen to weather reports and storm warnings.

The somon center became a miniature urban outpost, providing a meeting hall for regular assemblies of the cooperative, political rallies, plays, concerts, and films; for the administrative offices of the somon and the cooperative; for a clinic, or small hospital, and a veterinary clinic; for the motor pool and vehicle repair station; for shops, run by the state trading organization; for storage and processing facilities for food and wool; for a sports ground, and for a school with boarding facilities. The center kept in touch with the herding camps through radio telephones and motorcycle couriers, who, bearing messages, mail, and newspapers, usually visited the camps every three to five days. Like urban residents or state-sector employees, herders from cooperatives were eligible for annual vacations, often spent at the holiday camps or spas operated by aymag governments. The government and the party took care to recognize the value of the herders' work and devoted resources to improving their lives without demanding that they settle down in permanent dwellings. In this regard, Mongolian pastoralists were more fortunate than their counterparts in many countries in Asia and Africa. There, urbanbased governments attempted to force nomads to settle down and to abandon their migrations for what was thought of as a more modern and civilized way of life, but that usually proved detrimental to the livelihood of the nomads and to the national economy. The pastoral background of Mongolia's leaders and their understanding of the realities of the nomadic way of life produced policies designed to modernize, but not to destroy, an ancient and productive ecological system.

Work Collectives

For modern Mongolians, the primary social units were based on occupation rather than locality. Employers, such as state-owned factories or government departments, commonly provided housing, meals in unit cafeterias, day-care facilities for workers' children, and sports and recreational activities. Trade unions in enterprises offered group holidays or week-long stays at special resorts or spas. Much emphasis was placed on the mutual ties and family-like relations among members of the collective. In cities fellow workers were guests and providers of gifts at weddings, and older members of work collectives often were described as taking a paternal or maternal interest in the performance of newly hired young workers. The process by which workers secured, or were assigned to, jobs was not clearly spelled out in Mongolian sources, but it evidently combined administrative direction with some degree of personal choice. The general shortage of labor meant that individuals had no problems finding jobs. However, the jobs they obtained may not have been those they most wanted. Although it was possible to change jobs or to be reassigned by the government, such changes were not common, and individuals usually expected to spend many years, if not their entire working lives, in one enterprise and one housing collective.

The organization of work units reflected Soviet models, and if there was a distinctively Mongolian character to such units, it was not captured in official accounts. As in the Soviet Union, there was a strong emphasis on the solidarity of the collective and its priority in the lives of the workers, as well as on the use of such managerial techniques as the designation of heroes of labor, the use of socialist emulation and socialist competition to spur production, and the promotion of "shock battalions" and "shock days" to meet or surpass quotas. These techniques were attempts to motivate a work force through the use of non-material incentives and through manipulation of group pressures. Students of Soviet and Chinese industrial relations refer to a distinctive pattern of "clientalist bureaucracy" and "neo-traditionalist" forms of patronage and dependency in the factories of those countries. Both the force of the Soviet example and inherited traditional Mongolian attitudes, toward hierarchy and broadly defined relations of subordination and dependence, made such patterns likely in Mongolia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress