Academic journal article Kritika

Khoziaistvo and Khoziaeva: The Properties and Proprietors of the Red Army, 1941-45

Academic journal article Kritika

Khoziaistvo and Khoziaeva: The Properties and Proprietors of the Red Army, 1941-45

Article excerpt

In his epic novel about the Great Patriotic War, Zhivye i mertvye (The Living and the Dead), the war correspondent Konstantin Simonov reflected on the paradoxical rise of a previously civilian concept with dubious connections to socialism in the ranks of the Red Army. Simonov found the word khoziaistvo had come into vogue, and yet this was a slippery term, ranging from a colloquial expression for male genitalia to the national economy (inarodnoe khoziaistvo). (1) Often translated as economy, housekeeping, or farm, khoziaistvo, which in some contexts sounded natural in a socialist state, has close ties with khoziain (master, proprietor, boss; plural khoziaeva), a much more problematic understanding for Marxists. (2) Before and during the revolution, Lenin had called on the toiling masses to overthrow their masters (khoziaeva), yet in a total war to save the Soviet Union, Red Army soldiers used the word khoziain to describe their own commanders. Somehow, a markedly un-Marxist understanding of khoziaistvo and khoziain had come to sound natural in the army defending the socialist state: (3)

   Khoziaistvo is not a military word, more of a rustic peasant
   [muzhitskoe] phrase, and before the war it was not part of the
   military way, but during the war it somehow quietly took root.
   First it came about as a means of camouflage--so as not to give
   away the number of a regiment or a division or army--someone's
   khoziaistvo ... by the name [of the commander], and that's that:
   khoziaistvo and khoziaistvo.... And later it gradually became the
   most martial, necessary word. It struck at the heart of the matter.

      Really, what else would you call everything that you have on hand
   to wage war, whether you are a big fish or a small fry? Everything
   that you need not just for war but for people at war--you have it
   all on you. What you fight with and travel on and dig in the earth
   with, and what you feed people, give them to drink, wash them with,
   and bind wounds with--you should have it all with you in your
   khoziaistvo. Everything. From the complement of ammunition to the
   soldier's individual bandage in his overcoat.

      And if you don't have something or don't have enough of something,
   that means you are a bad khoziain. (4)

The entrenchment of a peasant concept tied to property in the Red Army is both unsurprising and quite jolting. On the one hand, the majority of people serving in the army, including its commanders, were of peasant origin. On the other hand, the state had expropriated individual farms and essentially destroyed the traditional peasant way of life in the decade prior to the war. The Bolsheviks ended independent farming, forcing peasants onto kolkhozes (kollektivnoe khoziaistvo), taxing them heavily, and taking away their ability to act as the masters of the land.

Yet when war began and people drawn from all walks of Soviet society--including millions of peasants--gave their lives to defend the country, soldiers were increasingly encouraged to see their commanders, and even themselves, as khoziaeva. (5) Military leadership embraced this rhetoric heartily. Units were often personified as their commander when describing movements in battle ("Zhukov is advancing"), and soldiers were simply identified by their commanders last name (e.g., Panfilovtsy--"Panfilovs men"). By the middle of the war, khoziain was a common address for commanders, one that had taken on an unmistakably old regime feel. (6) How do we explain the emergence of khoziaeva in the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army? How could a socialist state abide by the return of a concept of property so similar to that of the peasantry that it had recently subjugated and the lords it had dispossessed? The answer to these questions can be found in the convergence of prewar practices and rhetoric with the expansion of the number of people in leadership positions during the war.

The war would prove to be the Bolsheviks' greatest test, and the victory that came from it supplanted the revolution as the foundation of the Soviet systems legitimacy. …

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