Police-Peasant Relations during the Formative Years of the New Economic Policy

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ABSTRACT:

This study investigates the police reports on the peasants during the early years of the New Economic Policy as the new Soviet state attempted to establish a working relationship with rural Russia through a variety of organizations, chief among these the police. As the government sought to determine the meaning of the NEP, the police in rural Russia attempted to provide the central authorities with accurate information on economic, social, and political conditions in the countryside and to establish a positive relationship with the peasantry. In the process, the police came to understand the peasantry well and demonstrated a complex appreciation of the realities of rural Russia rather than a simple proto-Stalinist worldview. Utilizing the data from the police, the Bolshevik regime in the period to Lenin's death also demonstrated some willingness to accept a deal with the peasantry and moderate its approach-a flexibility reflected in its change from confiscation to razverstka, and again from razverstka to a single tax, and then even to modify the tax levy to reflect peasant constructs of what was "right" to pay. This flexibility emerged in large measure because the police were returning to an earlier view of the peasants as rational beings, rather than incorrigible irrational enemies.

Was the Bolshevik regime locked in an inexorable death struggle with the Russian peasantry? This study investigates the police reports on the peasants during the early years of the New Economic Policy (NEP) as the new Soviet state attempted to establish a working relationship with rural Russia through a variety of organizations. Chief among these was the police. Contrary to the image of the Stalinist police thug, this study demonstrates that as the government sought to determine the meaning of the NEP, the police in rural Russia attempted to provide the central authorities with accurate information on economic, social, and political conditions in the countryside and to establish a positive relationship with the peasantry. In the process, the police came to understand the peasantry well and demonstrated a complex appreciation of the realities of rural Russia rather than a simple proto-Stalinist worldview. These labours at joining state and society through policing, as we know, ultimately failed. The police effort at bridging this gap, however, is worthy of our appreciation.

It was not so much that the police were champions of the peasantry. Rather, the reports from rural Russia reveal an organization that at this moment championed information. And that information indicated that the peasants were not simple inveterate enemies of Bolshevism. The peasants, the police came to argue, were logical beings whose cooperation, just as their antagonism, could be won. Police reports on the reactions to news of Lenin's death offer us a starting point for perceiving aspects of state-peasant interaction. The death of Lenin would permit a gradual reopening of the "peasant question" and thus the period surrounding that event represents a crucial turning point in the history of Sovietpeasant relations.

According to top-secret police reports to the party leadership,1 Lenin's passing produced serious anxiety among peasants. One peasant outside a teahouse in the town of Nizhniy Novgorod was overheard ominously stating: "If Trotsky takes Lenin's place, life as we know it will not continue."2 Almost immediately rumours circulated amongst the peasants of the Moscow region of a schism within the party leadership. Leon Trotsky figured prominently in these rumours that included claims that he had been shot by Leningrad party boss Grigory Zinoviev, that he had been arrested, and that he and Mikhail Kalinin, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets (in other rumours, he and Civil War hero General Semyon Budennyi), were in conflict. Soon, it was whispered, there would be a coup d'état. In one of the odder rumours, it was claimed that Lenin had actually been dead for the last six months and had been frozen! …