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 situation. http://epw.org.in/showArticles.php?root=2002&leaf=05&filename=4479&filetype=html 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 rethinking on the role of socialised agriculture in the USSR, the peasants' perception of it, and its contemporary relevance.
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