Stalin’s Peasants, by Sheila Fitzpatrick (Chapter 8)

It probably wasn’t this colorful in the villages…

For anyone who has followed along with the series so far you may have noticed that some chapters are harder to relate to anti-work and a few of them I haven’t given much attempt at all. On chapter 8 which deals primarily with Culture I want to try to isolate those parts that I thnik relate to anti-work. This may make this post shorter but it’ll also keep it more focused which is a trade-off I consider worthwhile.

Most of the anti-work or work resistant actions in this chapter come from the religious elements in the rural villages. We’ve discussed before in previous chapters how the Soviet powers went directly after churches, priests and various forms of religious symbology and in this chapter Fitzpatrick spends ample time recounting what happened afterwards.

As mentioned before, after the initial brutal wave of repression from Soviet power and their communist lackeys, the pressure on churches and priests considerably lessened. Most forms of religious ceremonies were still discouraged and marriages as well as last burials were usually remarkably irreligious for their time and location.

Still, in the few censuses that were taken about religious people in 1936 there was still a surprising amount of people who had remained religious. Though it should be noted that most of those folks were older and those who were younger had been considerable influenced by the actions of the communists.

And of course when it came to work people were as religious as possible. Certain religious holidays meant that people could take the day off of from their grueling field work within the collective farm.

Peter’s Day in particular was used as an excuse to be merry (read: get drunk) and especially during the summer. Sometimes at festivals peasants would sing anti-communists songs or even kill much disliked soviets within the community. This was a much less common occurrence but it did happen from time to time. There were also various fights and sometimes even burning down of various things that funnily enough communists themselves would often join in.

It was humorous to read about the communists for all of their ridiculous classism towards the peasants to then inexplicably “lower” themselves to the peasants level. But whether you are a peasant or a communist, you probably took whatever chance you could so you didn’t have to participate in the field work.

Being an agnostic-atheist myself (I don’t believe in God but I don’t know if such things are really provable either way) it was encouraging to see religious people strike up against work. The fact that the resistance of work can appeal to many folks and from many different background is something that gives me a sense of hope.

Another way that religious folks resisted the state was the act of refusing to sign a census. This made it harder for communists to take better records of course and most likely was just an annoyance for the census takers.

Alcohol was one of the biggest impediment to work. Peasants often wished they had better access to it but when they had access to it and could create excuses to get away from work then they did. Religion and resistance to work went so far as to help peasants create folklore that would conveniently make it so they wouldn’t have to work on such and such times or days.

Particular festivals such as Epiphany were the source of much drunken revelry and thus also the sort of much work resistance on the parts of peasants. And interesting parallel is the way that many workers in the US during industrialization used alcohol as a way to get out of work early or not come in at all.

There’s never been an exhaustive treatment of alcohol and how it’s related to the slacker and as someone who is straighedge I won’t be carrying on the tradition myself. Still, it’d be interesting to see how much illicit substances have helped people throughout history avoid work or outright resist it in the form of excuse-making.

One of the other ways priests would use to get back at the state would be to interrupt classroom sessions in the schools by yelling their chants. This would disrupt the classes and make it hard for the teachers to teach, though as it happened the schools were one of the best ways out of the village, so perhaps this wasn’t the smartest form of resistance.

That was about all of the notes I took for the section which means at this point I’m running out of ideas and not going to meet my general goal of 1000 words.

I’ll try to have the next book be a bit more focused on work itself.


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