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The collectivization of the peasants in the USSR constituted a social upheaval of a totally unprecedented nature. It was one of the most remarkable events of the present century and it has a history as long as that of Soviet power itself. The idea of a collectivized agriculture, much favoured by the leadership after the revolution, had been left in abeyance during the NEPThe collectivization of the peasants in the USSR constituted a social upheaval of a totally unprecedented nature. It was one of the most remarkable events of the present century and it has a history as long as that of Soviet power itself. The idea of a collectivized agriculture, much favoured by the leadership after the revolution, had been left in abeyance during the NEP period. Interest in the idea, and in the collective movement, revived at the time of the ‘grain crisis’ at the beginning of 1928. It was during this crisis that collectivization of the peasantry and the creation of a powerful kolkhoz and sovkhoz sector began to be taken seriously as a means of solving, at one and the same time, both the formidable problem of grain and the whole ‘accursed problem’ of relations between the Soviet authorities and the peasants....

Title : Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization
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ISBN : 9780393007527
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 539 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization Reviews

  • Paul
    2019-03-18 20:24

    If nothing else, Moshe Lewin’s mammoth text Russian Peasants and Soviet Power is one of the most detailed and in-depth works concerning the pre-collectivization Russian peasantry and one of the most masterful interweavings of disparate sources in any field, a claim that becomes all the more impressive when one realizes that it was written over two and a half decades prior to the Soviet collapse and the opening of the archives. Despite the paucity of sources available to him, the author is able to construct a fantastic narrative out of a deliberately obscured history and uncovers the devastation wrought by the Soviets, and Stalin in particular, as they went to any length to mask the problems that lurked beneath the peasant-proletariat alliance that had founded their revolution. With the very survival of the regime at stake, the Soviets undertook mass and forced collectivization in order to demonstrate the superiority of socialism through the progress of converting the peasant from capitalist to communist.Lewin’s study begins with a detailed qualitative and quantitative description of the peasantry prior to 1928, which comprised 80% of the Soviet Union’s population. The batraks and the bednyaks were the two lowest strata of peasants, followed by the poor but sustainable serednyaks who made up the bulk of the peasantry. The kulaks were the best-off, but all of these groups were ill-defined both colloquially and officially, which would lead to problems for future policy decisions. The New Economic Program (NEP) had failed to bring significant levels of education and culture to this group and the early gains in the agricultural sector that had resulted from its enactment quickly levelled off. Many Party members were concerned that the NEP was doing nothing more than fostering capitalism and class stratification among the peasants. The author argues, however, that the kulaks were only quantitatively different from those peasants below them, not qualitatively, and thus probably did not constitute a separate class. The government also failed to engage the peasants in the selsovet governing structure due to numerous factors that included its bureaucratic nature, lack of resources, and nominal role in village life. Most villagers preferred the mir system of communal property, which overshadowed the selsovets to a great degree. Lewin then delves into the history of collectivism, which experienced a brief upsurge during war communism that dissipated soon thereafter and represented only 1-2% of households during the NEP era. The kolkhoz, or collective farm, was the counterpart to the sovkhoz, or state farm, and took three forms: komuny, arteli, and toz in order of highest degree of communal property to lowest and the lowest popularity within the Soviet system to the highest. The government, meanwhile, was concerned about the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry that had brought them into power and was now in danger of disintegrating. This was because these classes had benefitted from the 1917 Revolution in different ways and the latter did not have explicitly socialist aims. The Left believed that the NEP had become dangerous for Russia and that socialism would have to be fostered through increased agitation. Bukharin, Lewin’s representative for the right, argued that the alliance must be protected at all costs and that the NEP was a positive force because it existed at the intersection of the interests of the state and private peasants. The NEP, he thought, would eventually improve the lot of the peasants and lead to more collectivization and transform them into important members of the proletariat, all of which would work towards the elimination of class struggle. Socialism would prove its worth and potential in a market environment and the kolkhoz would only become an attractive option if the peasants were not forced into it but saw the benefits of collectivization arise organically. The Left countered that dragging out the process would leave them vulnerable to both external and internal pressures and that rapid industrialization and strengthening the proletariat aspect of the revolution was the best way forward. Nonetheless, even the Left agreed that private agriculture would remain an important factor for many years and had no interest in mass collectivization.In Lewin’s account, the rising threat of famine grew to be an overwhelming force that pushed aside theoretical concerns and forced the government to focus on its own survival. The procurements crisis of 1928 focused on acquiring grain from the kulaks but, since the true hoarders of grain were the serednyaks, most of the local efforts to meet the grain procurement quotas of the central government focused on this stratum. Due to the threat of being purged for failing to meet quota, the tactics employed by the local authorities (who had little clear guidance from above) were often brutal and they alienated the bulk of the peasantry. Although the central government officially reprimanded its local branches for such “excesses”, it continued to insist on “corrective” measures for “hostile” kulaks, which, as Lewin argues, effectively killed the NEP and its policy of trying to draw the peasantry into socialism organically. Stalin eventually grew to mistrust the peasantry and to consider it the last capitalist class in the Soviet Union, which led him further and further down the path towards mass collectivization. He began construct a cult of personality around himself in the hopes of dampening the uprisings that were certain to occur under policies of rapid industrialization and forced collectivization.Once Stalin rid himself of opposition from the Left, he soon found himself confronting a new split between the Right and the Center. New opposition formed around the use of strong-arm tactics against the peasantry and the impossibility of rapid industrialization but Stalin, ever the master tactician, was able to outmanoeuver and eventually defeat his enemies. The Politboro then adopted an unrealistic Five-Year Plan for industrial development that depended upon, among other things, a massive increase in the collectivization movement. The state decided on a collectivization model that placed the state’s needs over those of the peasantry and declared the kulaks as enemies, thus beginning a war against the private sector and the very lynchpins of the Five-Year Plan.The year between 1928 and 1929 was the crucial one in Lewin’s narrative, for the grain situation continued to deteriorate and thus the anti-kulak campaign ramped up with harsher measures against the peasantry and the rise of (mostly passive) anti-Soviet resistance from the countryside. Problems with the Five-Year Plan were blamed on the backwardness of agriculture rather than the issues engendered by the too-rapid rise of industrialization, thus further cementing the idea that repairing agriculture required dekulakization and collectivization. In June 1929 there was a radical reorganization of cooperatives to take control of the peasantry and the introduction of an administrative system that was “complex and cumbersome”. These changes led to a massive upsurge in successful kolkhozes between June and October, but this was accompanied by regional differentiation, pressure from the central government, violence, and forced collectivization. At this stage, grain procurements were not increasing noticeably, a war on the peasantry had been effectively declared, and the government was supporting Stalin mainly through blind devotion and obedience, which was enhanced by his fortification of the personality cult.By December the peasants had learned about the failings and dangers of the kolkhozes and were going to greater lengths to both avoid and leave such collectives. To counter this, Stalin announced an explicit plan for dekulakization and the end of the NEP and ended the debate on whether the kulaks could be rehabilitated under current policies. The kulaks, despite, as Lewin demonstrates, presenting no real danger to the regime, were divided into three categories based on their potential threat to the Soviets and the resultant harshness with which they could be dealt. The lack of clear definitions of a kulak, however, led to the local authorities interpreting the directive broadly and confiscating property for personal gain or to settle grudges. When even harsher measures were announced in February 1930, and the bednyaks took up a larger role in the process, many enacted dekulakization without regard to the actual objective of collectivization.Lewin’s conclusion is that the end result of mass collectivization was disastrous for the country and that, even though Stalin put a stop to things in March 1930, the nation’s agricultural sector never recovered from the damage. From a broader perspective, however, the importance of Lewin’s work is that it made him the first Soviet historian to look at this period and argue that the alleged class stratification was a myth, which altered the field’s historiography to a significant degree. Although the historical significance of this work may be less obvious to the modern specialist, and its dry style and significant length are likely to deter many readers, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power is a critical text in Soviet studies and remains unmatched in terms of its rich detail and its masterful blending of source material. Although the lack of significant signposting and recapitulation may make the book’s narrative a difficult trek, and its level of assumed knowledge means that it cannot be recommended to casual readers, scholars and specialists alike will come out of the experience with a strong understanding of the experiences of the peasantry during this era.

  • Lobstergirl
    2019-03-23 20:20

    This is comprehensively researched, but weirdly bloodless and almost anecdoteless until the final chapter on dekulakization. What were the experiences of peasants undergoing collectivization? What were the traumas? It's written from a top-down perspective, making it hard to say. If you're new to this period of Soviet history, read a less dry and academic book first.