Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization

Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization

Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization

Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization

Synopsis

Drawing on newly-opened Soviet archives, especially the letters of complaint and petition with which peasants deluged the Soviet authorities in the 1930s, Stalin's Peasants analyzes peasants' strategies of resistance and survival in the new world of the collectivized village. Stalin's Peasants is a story of struggle between transformationally-minded Communists and traditionally-minded peasants over the terms of collectivization--a struggle of opposing practices, not a struggle in which either side clearly articulated its position. But it is also a story about the impact of collectivization on the internal social relations and culture of the village, exploring questions of authority and leadership, feuds, denunciations, rumors, and changes in religious observance. For the first time, it is possible to see the real people behind the facade of the "Potemkin village" created by Soviet propagandists. In the Potemkin village, happy peasants clustered around a kolkhoz (collective farm) tractor, praising Stalin and promising to produce more grain as a patriotic duty. In the real Russian village of the 1930s, as we learn from Soviet political police reports, sullen and hungry peasants described collectivization as a "second serfdom," cursed all Communists, and blamed Stalin personally for their plight. Sheila Fitzpatrick's work is truly a landmark in studies of the Stalinist period--a richly-documented social history told from the traumatic experiences of the long-suffering underclass of peasants. Anyone interested in Soviet and Russian history, peasant studies, or social history will appreciate this major contribution to our understanding of life in Stalin's Russia.

Excerpt

In the winter of 1929-30, the Soviet regime launched a drive for all-out collectivization of peasant agriculture. There was little support for this in the village (do peasants ever actively support programs of radical change advocated by the state?), but in any case the regime did not seem overly concerned about securing peasant support. The drive to collectivize came not from within the village, but from without. The state was the initiator of the collectivization drive, and the new collective farms were organized at village level by outsiders—Soviet rural officials, supplemented by tens of thousands of urban Communists, workers, and students whom the regime sent out into the countryside for the purpose.

In the spirit of the Cultural Revolution then in progress, many of these urban outsiders were imbued with a militant zeal for change and contempt for peasant backwardness. This led them to interpret their mission of socialist modernization in the most extreme terms, with the result that the establishment of a kolkhoz was often accompanied by forcible closing of the village church and public destruction of icons. But the violence involved in the collectivization drive was not only symbolic, and local executants were not its only initiators. The regime's own strategy for collectivization involved violence, namely the expropriation and deportation of hundreds of thousands of kulak (prosperous peasant) households. The policy of wholesale dekulakization was launched simultaneously with the collectivization drive in the winter of 1929-30. Although joining the kolkhoz was supposedly a voluntary act, it was clear from the beginning of the collectivization drive . . .

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