Stalin’s Peasants, by Sheila FitzPatrick (Chapter 7)

Uh…party on?

A mix of poor sleep and other mental health related issues pushed back the release of this article by a day. But that said, despite the increased length of the chapter relative to the last one (29 pages instead of 21) I actually have significantly less to talk about within the context of anti-work.

Largely because this chapter has a lot to do with Power and not the peasants themselves. It mostly goes over how Stalin’s Great Purge affected the officials, who the officials were to begin with and how they generally treated the collective farm members (poorly).

Still, I think we can get from all of this a better sense of why the collective farm members would refuse to work. For example, some of the officials would treat them so poorly they wouldn’t even acknowledge the peasants.

In response the peasants would complain early and often to the Soviet administrators of a given district. This was especially prominent during the Great Purges where officials were just as subject to the purges (if not more so) than ordinary peasants. Luckily for the peasants it was easy to scapegoat the leaders of a given collective farm for its failures.

Indeed, the peasants were not afraid to invoke such failures if it means they would get a new collective farm chairmen for their troubles. However, during the Purges the chairmen would sometimes zealously react to ensure that they not only kept their position but was not expelled from the collective farm, which may have meant certain death for some.

Ordinary peasants themselves were often expelled from the collective farm at worst and generally speaking the rural parts of the Soviet Union were not impacted as much as the towns were by the Purges. In fact, Fitzpatrick denotes that the famine and the dekulakizatinon (and particularly the latter) hit the peasants much harder than the Purges did.

Even before the Purges however the administration was often either completely inefficient or far too stringent with its conception of “efficiency”. Fitzpatrick notes that there was often just as much neglect as coercion coming from the officials within the collective farms (p. 174). This makes sense given that there were around 100 officials per 40,000 per population which would make any sort of dictatorial control nearly impossible to do consistently.

And this wasn’t helped given by the fact that communist officials came and went as if it was a seasonal job and only decreased in their rural roles as party membership decreased due to purge and no replacements. Fitzpatrick tells us that membership of the party itself plateaued in 1932 with 900,000 members and was below 400,000 by 1937. (p. 176)

As far as the raion (administrative agency) themselves were often assigned the tasks of electing the chairmen for a given collective farm and as such the process was non-democratic in this way which caused conflicts down the road. They were also in charge of the plants that were sowed for a given collective farm. This may have given them much power (and the peasants certainly thought of the raion as high up) but it also made them easy targets for upper officials to scapegoat them. Especially when peasants would complain about how the raion would enforce taxation so crudely and brutally.

One of the most ideologically amusing things to me is that even though the Soviet Union was supposedly all about communism, the officials of the collective farms sure knew the benefits of privately owning things. Whether it came to treating the collective farm itself as their own private resource pool or an individuals formerly private horse, etc. These sorts of struggles between peasants and rural officials only deepened the already-existing divides.

It didn’t help that the rural officials were often particularly arbitrary and sidestepped the legal processes that were (sometimes) encouraged by higher up for better treatment of peasants. But even in those cases the improved treatment of peasants was often encouraged in light of the higher ups not wanting them to become independents again. This was most relevant when collective farm officials tried to impose collective expropriation and liquidate the farms.

An especially amusing thing in this chapter is that Fitzpatrick keeps trying to position Stalin as some sort of feminist(?) relative to his compatriots. And wanting to free women from patriarchal family relations is certainly a good thing but isn’t how you actually try to accomplish that important as well? Congratulations to Stalin for being mildly progressive for his time and culture but I feel like all of the women who lost their husbands may not have felt so empowered.

Not to mention that in the long run, it didn’t actually matter.

In the long run there were huge gender disparities in terms of who went where and who did what. The official roles were heavily dominated by men largely due to resilient cultural traditions about who “should” and shouldn’t lead. But even if more gender parity had been accomplished it isn’t as if being oppressed equally by both genders is much better. As a cherry on top, even when women did have positions of (unjust) authority, they were often used as decorations.

A general style of leadership also encouraged resistance to work. The sort of “firm” leadership that became prominent among rural officials was often demarcated as a hostility to criticism, berating peasants, employing harassment and sometimes the threat of force or punishment. But even then these same officials could themselves be punished from those above if the peasants made enough noise and it reached the right ears. Ah, hierarchy!

Going back to the chairmen of the collective farms, they were often treated as some sort of in between with the peasants and the raion. Sometimes the peasants saw them as one of their own (since they usually elected the chairmen) but other times they would see them as the enemy because of their decisions.

This also depended on whether the chairmen were outsiders or locals and more often than not and especially as time went on, there were more and more locals. This goes back to the earlier points about communists not being especially prominent among the peasants because of reduced party membership.

Overall, thing weren’t that great for the collective farm chairmen either. They were easily made scapegoats as mentioned before and the turnover rate even when it was (relatively) peaceful and the Purges hadn’t happened yet, were quite high. Raion officials in particular loved removing officials they didn’t like because it showed them they had taken the “necessary steps” (my own quote) to fix a problem. Adding to all of that, the traits necessary to become a chairmen were heavily influenced by class-based biases (for example, folks born of a lower class were often denied on that basis alone).

One thing that worked in their favor was their pay. It reminded me of the differences between wage laborers and CEOs in modern day corporations, though not quite as drastic. I’ve mentioned this before but as a refresher, the chairmen (especially if they were outsiders) had a much better deal in terms of payment. Their labordays often counted nearly twice as much as the peasants and counted for the whole year (including days off).

With all of the strident abuse eventually peasants struck back, as best as they could.

Taking advantage of the Great Purge set up by Stalin in the late 30s to find “counter-revolutionary” individuals, peasants would engage in denunciation of officials to get ones that were especially cruel to them fired or worse. This process lead to some of the worst of the worst chairmen and others getting severe punishments, but not always. And in general the decisions of the raion where it concerned chairmen could often go against what the peasants very obviously wanted.

Lastly, I just want to mention that according to Fitzgerald (p. 202) Stalin ordered a secret decree that (during the period she was writing this) had only recently been discovered. It called for the execution of many folks who were considered socially undesirable for one reason or another. In numerical terms it called for 70,000 people to be executed without trial, over 185,000 people deported and of those executed 10,000 were already prisoners in gulags.

So yeah, fuck Stalin.

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…And if you don’t I shall purge! Purge!

But not really.




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