Stalin’s Peasants, by Sheila Fitzpatrick (Chapter 2, Part 1)

What a handsome tyrant!

Just like I did with Working Stiff Manifesto I’ll divide particularly long or involved chapters into parts. This is not only so I can make digesting them a bit easier for both me and you, the reader. But also because I don’t want all of my articles on books to be 3000 words or more, believe it or not.

So with that in mind, let’s tackle a little less than half of chapter two (or around 15 pages).

We start in January of 1930 when Stalinization is getting into full swing. It’s a regular college party what with ridding Russia of the kulaks, collectivizing the villages, threatening peasants with compliance or Siberia!

…You mean you didn’t have those sorts of parties when you were in college?

Weirdos.

Anyways, Stalin’s having a grand old time threatening thousands upon thousands of people through his collectivizing agencies and peasants largely just had to bare it “fatalistically” as Fitzpatrick puts it. They didn’t like the new system of collective farms but at least it resembled their old forms of serfdom. They had a sort of “devil you know” situation where they didn’t like their oppression but they knew how to deal with it to some extent.

Many peasants also bore it in such a manner because, if they didn’t, they risked being deported, sent to Siberia, threatened with violence or various other sorts of costs. The costs were never consistent because Stalin and any of his underlings never gave any sort of clear conceptual framework for anyone to look at. There was no central policy on how to collectivize and rid the Soviet state of the “kulak menace” or whatever nightmares Stalin was having.

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick claims this was a strategy of the Soviet state.

Sure, less concrete details for the people who are implementing collectivization means messier practices of the policy. But it also meant that individuals and groups would default to overdoing the policy implementation than under-doing it. As an example, many people who came into the village (who were usually outsiders) to help collectivization under Stalin’s orders did as much as they saw fit.

In some situations it was simply a matter of whether people’s houses would be left to the peasants or not. But in many other cases peasants previously owned individualized fields of land, their livestock and other things they personally used were put in the position of the state’s collective farms. Whether the peasants actually liked that or not usually didn’t matter to the collectivizers.

But here’s where things get interesting: Some peasants did resist.

Now, we’re not (usually) talking about active resistance. But, for example, during the collectivization meetings Fitzpatrick recalls via anecdotes of those at the meetings that villagers would use all sorts of tactics to at least slow down the process of collectivization.

Fitzpatrick writes:

.Peasants showed their mastery of evasive tactics in these meetings.

There are reports of a wide variety of ploys to break up collectivization meetings before signatures were demanded. Old women would interrupt the meeting at crucial moments by singing “Christ Has Risen.” Stoves were made to smoke. Someone would come running in with the news that houses in a nearby village were on fire. Or, for variety, “children run in shouting ‘Uncle, uncle, they have stolen your horse’ just before the vote is taken. As if on command, all present run out onto the street. The meeting is broken up.”6

At times, the evasion clearly shaded over into mockery of the collectivizers. Peasants would sometime seem to be quite happy to sign up to join the kolkhoz, then back off at the last minute.

In one village, a brigade of urban workers come to hold a collectivization meeting was gratified when the village policeman “brought in an organized group of twenty-five peasants, who came in singing revolutionary songs. But at the meeting they all spoke against collectivization. …”7

There were many similar examples of mockery of officials, particularly outsiders from the towns, by peasants. In one village in Leningrad oblast, a village skhod passed a series of collectivization resolutions in impeccable Soviet form—except that each statement was negative instead of positive.

In the Tagnrof region, a meeting of poor and middle peasants voted for the following resolutions: “We will not join the kokoz, we will not give seed funds, since the grain procurements have crushed us, but we welcome the decision about total collectivization.”8 (p. 51)

Unfortunately for the peasants their resistance was often met swiftly and not lightly.

Those who were aiding in the collectivization process would often torture peasants if they refused, they might humiliate them or objectify them through some sort of display of nudity (particularly the women). Some meetings would consist of collectivizers waving around revolvers to threaten the use of violence. And in certain cases peasants were arrested on the spot if they didn’t comply with signing the papers that say they officially support collectivization.

As you might imagine these “official” signatures made under coercion, much duress, violence, threats, etc. were still considered quite legitimate by Soviet powers. And so collectivization was eventually called a “dizzying” success by Stalin himself, despite the fact that many of those dekulaked communities were done through coercion and violence.

Of course, “dekulakization” wasn’t just targeting the kulaks themselves. Anyone who lived with them and sometimes those who didn’t who were mistakenly identified as a kulak were targeted. People who were “troublemakers” for the collectivizers were put on lists and often deported. And in other cases (particularly in Western oblast) collectivizers merely have some sort of personal spite with someone could get someone deported.

There were official decrees in early 1930 that as many as 10,000 kulaks should be forcible driven from their homes. This number was actually increased to 15,000 (Fitzpatrick, p. 55). The situation became so bad that in one area of Bashkiria there was a group that went around almost indistinguishable from hoodlums but were actually collectivizers.

They called themselves “The Red Fascists“.

There was still some resistance to all of the efforts. Some peasants felt that the kulaks got what they deserved and others were indifferent. But Fitzpatrick tells us of at least a few different communities that took active resistance against the deportation of kulaks which includes angry protests while the deportation went on.

Most of the angry protesting however, came from the unofficial movement against religion.

League of the Militant Godless (that should be a death metal band) were at first exhilarated that priests and churches weren’t being as respected as much as they used to be. But because the movement was largely unofficial it quickly became out of the LMG’s control. These actions included burning of religious iconography, the forceful closing of churches, threats and harassment of priests, etc.

Although not officially condemning it, the LMG did eventually distance themselves slightly.

Even so, public outcry was often much worse than when faced with collectivization. Once again, “Christ is Risen” would be chanted to ward off people who tried to take priests away. These displays were not only a form of resistance but also of religious solidarity, showing the Soviet state that the peasants wouldn’t so easily have their gods taken away.

One of the most relevant parts to anti-work thus far are the ways that the peasants engaged in various forms of slow-downs. I’m not sure how applicable they are within a modern store setting but it’s great to see that such tactics are timeless and can happen in almost any context, no matter how oppressive the regime.

We’ll come back to the rest of the chapter in the next day or so!


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