[OPE-L:7288] The Peasant Question from Marx to Lenin

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu May 30 2002 - 13:27:28 EDT

This analysis includes a very controversial rethinking of 
collectivization in light of contemporary Russian agriculture 
(excerpt below). rb

The Peasant Question from Marx to Lenin by Nirmal Kumar Chandra
                                                      The Russian Experience
                                What is a class? Do peasants 
constitute a single class? What is the peasant question from the 
Marxists' revolutionary perspective? These issues are raised in this 
paper, based on the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin, above all. 
The empirical part, mainly on the Russian
  agrarian scene from the 1890s to 1930, explores if the peasants 
constituted a cohesive   social force free from internal 
contradictions. There is also a brief discussion on the post-Soviet 


Coming to forced collectivisation in the late 1920s, there is an 
abundance of materials on the horrors of collectivisation, and many 
more are coming out of the archives. But several questions remain. 
First, did the whole peasantry oppose the new policy? The following 
Table gives for the USSR the number of peasant families who were 
kolkhoz members and their percentage in all peasant families on the 
first day of the relevant month, reproduced from Davies (1980:441-42).

      There was no compulsion on peasants to join the kolkhoz before 
autumn, 1929 when the    Party decided to hasten the pace. One can 
see that membership jumped from 1.0 to 14.6       million between 
June 1, 1929 and March 1, 1930, and reached nearly 15 million on 
March 10.   On March 2, Pravda published Stalin's famous article, 
'Dizzy with Success: Problems of the Kolkhoz Movement', in which he 
berated the party cadres for compelling, in violation of the party 
directive, middle peasants by force to join the kolkhoz. (It was 
ironical as two years earlier

                Stalin had lauded the Ural-Siberian method of forced 
collection of grain against stiff opposition    from Bukharin and 
others!) Shortly thereafter, the party decided that peasants could 
leave the   kolkhoz if they so wished. By April 1, nearly one-third 
left, and the percentage of those  remaining shrank to just above 
one-fifth on September 1, from nearly three-fifths in March; it 
crawled up slowly in the next few months.

           Now, if all peasants rejected the kolkhoz, at least those 
who were forced to join from the   autumn of 1929 should have left by 
April or September 1930. But one-fifth, a far from  negligible 
fraction, of all families decided to stay on, signifying a 
divergence in peasants'  attitude toward collectivisation. At the 
same time one must admit that the vast majority in 1930  were at 
least sceptical of the advantages of joining the kolkhozy as the 
figures above show.

          Over the next few years, kolkhoz membership became almost 
universal. In view of the  prevailing terror throughout the rest of 
the Stalin era one cannot assume that peasants joined voluntarily. 
However, sometime during the next few decades, though one does not 
know  when, there was a sea change in peasants' attitude. The 
majority of western experts, though with many notable exceptions, 
have been asserting over the decades that socialised agriculture was 
grossly inefficient from its inception right up to the moment of the 
Soviet collapse. The private plots of the collective farmers, for 
instance, yielded much higher income   (per day of work) than what 
they obtained from the kolkhoz. Given a free choice, they would 
leave such units in droves and set up private farms.

     They got this freedom in post-Soviet Russia. Western loans were 
poured into certain regions     like the Nizhnyi Novgorod to create 
model private farms, encouraging other regions to emulate 
[Shirokalova 1997]. The results so far have been quite disappointing. 
In 1998 out of 91.7   million hectares of land under crops in the 
whole of Russia, 5.9 million hectares were cultivated   by new 
farmers, the 'citizen's garden plots' accounted for another 4.6 
million hectares, and the  rest was with 'agricultural enterprises' 
of the Soviet era. In the value of total agricultural output   in 
Russia, the share of farmers stagnated at a paltry 2 per cent during 
1994-98 [Goskomstat 1999, tables 15.3 and 15.9]. Thus 
de-collectivisation has not made much headway in    contemporary 
Russia despite official and foreign patronage. That should lead to a 
  on the role of socialised agriculture in the USSR, the peasants' 
perception of it, and its contemporary relevance.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Jun 02 2002 - 00:00:08 EDT