Stalin’s Peasants, by Sheila Fitzpatrick (Chapter 9)


I’ve tried to be coy about my declining enthusiasm and interest with this book but it’s becoming harder and harder to do. It isn’t that the book isn’t well researched, written or composed, it’s just not exactly what I thought I was going to get.

My impression was that Fitzgerald would spend much of the book talking about the peasants and how they resisted the Soviets and especially in relation to not wanting to work. And while that’s certainly a notable part of the story Fitzpatrick is trying to tell, it’s by no means the only one. And that’s fine, of course. A book that was only about that subject might get tedious a lot faster and a lot less in depth historical work may be possible.

So there are trade-offs for both of these approaches and neither is likely sufficient.

Still, I’m at the point where I’m basically treating the book as a sort of chore and these reviews don’t feel better at this point. It isn’t that I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the site or the subject of anti-work in general. There’s still plenty of topics and ideas I want to write about on this site, Stalin’s Peasants just isn’t maintaining my interest given my expectations.

For what it’s worth, this chapter includes some discussion of bandits and their attempts to undermine Soviet power (though mostly for personal and not political gain). They would rob the collective farms and take grain from Soviet officials. Often they would use their excess drinking as an excuse of why they engaged in some of their behavior which also including disrupting important Soviet meetings and engaged in what the Soviets termed “hooliganism”.

The rates of hooliganism were most pronounced in the early 1930s but still persisted past this with some folks still lashing out against Soviet power. And who could blame them? Fitzpatrick has used the word “trauma” to describe the sort of event that the peasants went under during collectivization and she doesn’t seem wrong about that.

The process (if you could even call it that) of Stalinization for the peasants as we’ve seen was brutal, largely inefficient and whenever it actually increased goods for the peasants, they came at extreme costs. The Soviets justified the entire exercise based on clasism and out-group bias more generally on the peasants. They used their terrible class theory as a justification for massive amounts of expropriation from individuals and families, leaving many to die.

Given this there’s no wonder that bandits would eventually spring up. If you keep stealing from people then eventually they’re going to find themselves in situations where they have to steal just to survive. Meanwhile the original theft on the part of the powerful wasn’t due to survival but power and power begets the survival instinct.

As the anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre wrote, “The hells of capitalism create the desperate, the desperate act desperately!”

And while the Soviet union may not seem on the surface level as a capitalist enterprise I think Fitzpatrick has raised many important facts that at least make Stalin seem like a capitalist..

His favoritism of industry over agriculture, his approval of bossism, his authoritarian and micromanaging attitude towards the peasants and anyone around him. Stalin had many of the qualities that bosses love to wield and have over others in the workplace. It would be unfair to say that every boss is Stalin, but they all have a little bit of Stalin in them.

All of this, the micromanaging, the expropriation, the hell that the peasants had to go through didn’t unite the peasants against the Soviets. Instead, in this chapter Fitzpatrick shows us how a sort of “horizontal violence” (my term) emerged from the wreckage of Stalinization. There was an air of malice all around the peasants leading to family feuds, political battles of a bloody nature, constant accusations of being a “kulak” (a meaningless word at this point) and so on.

Interestingly there were a few stories about both how letters to the state could be used as a way to reinforce state power but also undermine it. Particularly when accusations against folks were made under the guise of someone being a “kulak” officials were almost obligated to investigate, lest they be suspected sympathetic to kulaks.

Another interesting part of this chapter was the fact that some (though not nearly as many as I’d think) children actually reported on their parents for various things. There was a particularly famous case of this where Pavliv Morozov informed on his father and ended up getting killed for it. From thereon Fitzpatrick says that children weren’t actually encouraged to start the initial reporting process but may have been encouraged in some instances to aid the process.

Of course, the whole story of Morozov may be fictional and other authors cited on the Wikipedia link I just used have claimed that children were encouraged to report on their parents. I’m not sure of the exact answer either way but in any case it isn’t hard to believe that the Soviet Union would encourage spying and reporting in some fashion.

Given I’m so late into the book I’ll likely keep going and finish it. But I wouldn’t expect any sort of full-length book review anytime soon if at all. This book has taken me far too long to write and while that’s mostly due to how many other articles I have on my list to write about, it’s by no means the only reason.

There’s only a few chapters and an afterword left, so let’s see what we have in store for ourselves.



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