The Soviet State: A Study of Bolshevik Rule

By Bertram W. Maxwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
RURAL GOVERNMENT

THE VILLAGE

The tragedy of the Russian peasant, his struggles and suffering, was touched upon elsewhere. It is well, however, to remember that the underlying causes for the miseries of the Russian agricultural population were the lack of land, heavy taxation, and the utter neglect on the part of the autocracy to remedy these evils. In addition, the cultural level of the peasant was even lower than that of the urban masses, since the government provided almost no facilities for education and cultural development. Whatever intellectual forces existed were under the control of the Orthodox church, led by an extremely ignorant and superstituous clergy, who resented any attempt at enlightenment of the peasant. As a result nearly 85 per cent of the Russian peasantry before the Revolution was illiterate and was probably the most backward agricultural class in the Western world. From time to time idealistic young men and women of the intelligentsia "went to the people", as they called it, and preached to them, "freedom and land." This propaganda and the extreme misery in which the peasant lived frequently resulted in periodic brutal outbreaks of the peasantry against their masters, which in turn were suppressed in a bloody manner by punitive expeditions led by the universally hated and feared Cossacks. The coming of the Revolution in March 1917 gave the peasant an opportunity not only to avenge century-long wrongs but also to take over the estates of the noble landowners. The peasants, having driven out or murdered the landowners, proceeded to divide the land among themselves. In this struggle not only the poor peasant but also the well-to-do element, commonly called kulaks, took part. These latter frequently became the dominant class in the village.

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