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well-researched and richly detailed ... It adds a great deal of new information on rural conditions and attitudes in the 1930s. No other work comes close to it in recounting the tragedy of collectivization from the peasant's point of view. (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Sheila Fitzpatrick is Bernadotte E. Schmitt Professor of History at the University of Chicago. She is the author or editor of numerous books including The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (1992).

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In the winter of 1929-30, the Soviet regime launched a drive for all-out collectivization of peasant agriculture. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Excellent social history of rural Soviet life in the '30's 29 July 2003
By Virgil - Published on
Format: Paperback
Stalin's Peasants is the pre-cursor to Fitzgerald's "Everyday Stalinism". While the focus of the later is soviet urban life the focus here falls squarely on the agrarian Soviet Union in the 1930's.
This is an eye-opening look at the effect of collectivization at the village level. The famine of the early '30's- not the main focus- is shown to have been more the case of poor planning, beauracratic ineptitude and peasant reactions against collectivization rather than a diabolical program of systematic starvation.
Post Soviet studies into the Stalinist era confirm the fact that non-party and non-technocratic wrokers who were not Kulaks were much safer from the pograms raging around them. The effect of this was that Kholhozes were constantly replacing managers and technicians caught up in the latest round up of wreckers, this in turn led to confusion and declining morale among the peasants.
The peasants are contrasted with the urban vanguards who flooded the rural kholhoz's who were filled with communist fervor. These vanguards were resented and looked down upon as interlopers and outsiders by the local farm workers. Fitzgerald does great work showing how peasants retained their religious beliefs in the face of communist pressure and their passive resistance to constant pressures from the central government to accomodate the latest decrees.
Just as in Everyday Stalinism, Fitzgerald's work here is excellent. This isn't for the novice reader but a great resource for those who are already knowledgeable on the Soviet Union in the 1930's.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Life as it really was - interesting lesson 25 May 2001
By Shane B. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Fitzpatrick presents a view of Soviet collective farms that many of us may have guessed at, but never really knew or understood. As an amateur researcher of the former Soviet Union and now Russia, particularly the rural and agricultural sectors, I found the book to be very intriguing. It lays out the precursors to and development of the collective system. Provides insight and commentary on political decisions affecting and resulting from the same. And throughout, manages to allow a glimpse into what really happened from the vantage point of the people on the farms themselves - how they managed to survive despite living under a system so flawed as to almost be designed to see them fail.
If you don't mind a long history and political science lesson, I highly recommend this book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Peasants into Soviets? 26 July 2005
By Gregory Canellis - Published on
Format: Paperback
Sheila Fitzpatrick's study begins with the advent of collectivization in 1929 and covers the decade of the 1930's to the German invasion of June 1941. Fitzpatrick argues the peasants reacted to Stalin's brutal policy, what they regarded as "a second serfdom" (p. 4), with varying degrees of passive resistance. The author concludes that by the end of the decade, peasants, justifiable embittered and angered over the policy, did not approve or conform to collectivization as the states had intended it to be, but rather, "modified the kolkhoz (collective farm) so that it fit their own purposes as well as the state's" (p. 4). According to Fitzpatrick, by the end of the 1930's, "similar cultural patterns of resistance and adaptation" had spread throughout rural Russia despite well-entrenched ethnic and cultural ways of life. Fitzpatrick clearly shows why, in the summer of 1941, many peasants consequently regarded the invading Germans as liberators to the repressive Stalin regime. The author also explains how the initial decade of collectivization differentiated from the "kolkhoz amalgamations" of the post war period.                 Utilizing a narrative approach, Fitzpatrick provides us with nearly every aspect of life within the peasant village while simultaneously presenting a balance of political imagery from the Soviet regime. This combination of predominately social and cultural history along with an easily flowing narrative is what makes Fitzpatrick a leading scholar of this genre. The focus on the peasant village itself is what sets this study apart from other similar works. From Fitzpatrick's pages, we learn that the peasant village was not as united an entity around an earthly neighborly bond as one would suspect. In fact, the typical village was deceivingly factious. These animosities based on class are deeply rooted in the Emancipation (1861) and Stolypin (1905) reforms and, are perhaps exhibited best in the long-standing resentments between the Bedniaks and Kulaks. Stalin's systematic dekulakization demonstrated the threat the latter posed to the state's exploitive machinations and, as Fitzpatrick clearly shows, undermined the egalitarian objectives of collectivization. Nor, were the majority of peasants typically uneducated. This aspect is revealed in the numerous letters of peasant grievances culled from various archival depositories and delightfully reproduced within the pages of Fitzpatrick's work. Moreover, the theme of education is further illustrated by what is perhaps the most positive reform to emerge from collectivization: the rapid growth of rural schools. Fitzpatrick succeeds in differentiating between the social and cultural realities of the peasant village and the regimes propagandist illusions of the regime's ideal kolkhoz (Potemkin village). These differentiations in status played a significant role in the form of resistance the members of the peasant village chose to incorporate.                 Fitzpatrick gleans from a rich deposit of archival and published sources. The former make up the bulk of her work, however, the book was published at a time when still more Soviet archives were being made available too western eyes. But Fitzpatrick is no stranger to Russian language material and even with more resources becoming available, it is doubtful whether it would have added substantially or fundamentally altered the scope of this book. As Fitzpatrick concludes, the purpose of collectivization "to incorporate the Russian village (culturally and politically) into the emerging Soviet nation-failed (p. 314). In a play on Eugen Weber's classic study (Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1815-1914 [1976]) collectivization did not turn "peasants into Soviets" (p. 314), at least not before World War II. Sheila Fitzpatrick is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in modern Russian history.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating Social History 8 April 2014
By Rocco - Published on
Format: Paperback
Sheila Fitzpatrick’s ironically titled tome Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization, delves deeply into the pre-collective and collective rural society of the Soviet Union under the rule of Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship of the 1930’s. Fitzpatrick’s array of anecdotes brings to life the peasant resistance to the kolkhoz system as well as the struggles of Soviet officials to implement Stalin’s commands. Stalin’s collectivization of the countryside was initially viewed by the peasantry as neo-serfdom. Over the course of the decade, however, peasants saw that the arbitrary collectivization was more of an attempt to eradicate peasant social identity and tradition. The kolkhoz was created to exploit peasant labor and commandeer agricultural resources. The peasantry paid the ultimate price, especially the kulak class (and anyone arbitrarily labeled as a kulak), with their lives. Although peasants traditionally identified with their own Mir rather than Russia, collectivization gave them the common bond of outright resistance. They worked to make the kolkhoz serve their purpose rather than that of the state.
“Stalin’s peasants” actually detested Stalin. Fitzpatrick’s discussion of the “Potemkin Village” illustrates the vast divide between the authorities and the peasantry. The idealized, utopian village of the Soviet establishment and the propaganda showing a peasant class that revered comrade Stalin was the “antithesis” of Soviet social reality. The common peasant saying “no food on the table, but Stalin on the wall,” was indicative of peasant struggles and frustration with the government, as well as their direct (and accurate) blame of Stalin for their ills. Show trials in which peasants vented true misfortunes and crimes, were used by the communists only as a propaganda tool rather than a remedy. Even Stalin’s “conciliatory” and “ingratiating gestures,” such as offering maternity leave for workers and his “warm public appearances,” were met with suspicion by peasants (p. 290-291). Peasants even rejoiced at Kirov’s murder, viewed by many as a moderate, simply because he was a member of the Communist Party.
Peasant opposition to collectivization evolved from one of active resistance to passive resistance. Subaltern strategies included “foot-dragging, failure to understand instructions, refusal to take the initiative and pilfering” (p. 5). The state’s ruthless oppression of uprisings prevented violent upheaval in the countryside. Over the course of the 1930’s, peasant resistance became one of “active accommodation,” in which the peasants could join the system rather than attempt to beat it. Fitzpatrick raises the question of whether or not this is “Sovietization” or the peasantry actually buying into the system. Peasants could fill the role of kolkhoz officeholder, machine operator for the local MTS, or work toward “Stakhanovism.” Of course, joining the system was a dangerous venture, despite the perks, as the central authority was known to use its officials as scapegoats should a collective fail to meet its quota. Moreover, Stakhanovism, in which a peasant works above and beyond what is expected, only raised expectations for the rest of the kolkhozniks. Often, this led to persecution of the stakhanovite (typically a woman) by the other villagers. As Fitzpatrick makes clear, the state initiated a forced collectivization that the peasantry never accepted.
Moreover, many peasants left the countryside for the cities. Over twelve million peasants left their villages in the early 1930’s to become wage earners, exacerbated by the first five year plan in 1929 (p. 80). Some left to find work on state farms rather than in the kolkhoz. This large loss of young males demoralized villages and thus made them less likely to physically protest collectivization. Most kulaks, whether they were deported or left of their own accord, ended up working in industries.
Rebellion or refusal to conform to the system was fraught with danger. The Bolsheviks feared the NEP would create “nascent capitalists” in the Mirs. This became the “fulcrum of their fears” (p. 33). During the dekulakization period (initiated by Stalin in December 1929), millions of peasants, whether they were classified as bedniaks (poor peasants), seredniaks (middle peasants), or kulaks, faced the danger of Siberian banishment. Although only three percent of Russian society was kulak by 1930, Soviet officials deported millions due to fears of capitalism permeating the Mirs. Kulak status was convoluted within the Mir. Kulaks were respected, yet envied for their perceived wealth. Dekulakization was frightening in its randomness, but peasants were indifferent overall, Fitzpatrick contends.
Collectivization officials were “outsiders” who knew little about farming according to peasants. The Politburo’s “gigantomania” in relation to collectivization left the concept in a state of oblivion. Although Stalin never specified what collectivization meant, the central government sent out quotas that were to be met in each raion, which then set down the quota in each kolkhoz. Officials had to meet quotas or face persecution. Moreover, meeting an annual quota often meant an increase in the next quota. The regime was purposefully nonspecific in its requests under collectivization, Fitzpatrick contends, in order to get “local cadres pushing for the absolute maximum” (p. 49). This often led to hysteria in the countryside as officials used any means necessary to acquire goods while committing numerous crimes against the kolkhozniks. In the early 1930’s, kolkhoz administrators got away with numerous crimes such as rape and theft. By the time of the Purges of 1937, however, officials were punished for violating the capricious “kolkhoz democracy” or the kolkhoz charter (p. 195).
Official drives to eliminate religion typically led to theological unification of the peasantry, Fitzpatrick contends (Fitzpatrick also makes clear, however, that collectivization caused “intense feuding” within the village communities). Komosol gangs stormed churches and vandalized church property. Priests were treated as kulaks. Returning Red Army soldiers proclaimed themselves atheist, while peasant marriages were increasingly carried out in civic institutions rather than in the Orthodox Church. Religious persecution, however, increased peasant resolve to resist collectivization. Resistance became religiously symbolic. Peasants carried out congregations in the homes of church members after priests were purged. “The distinction between Orthodox and Old Believers was losing its meaning in some places” (p. 205). Religious sects were increasing in the villages and peasants turned to “sectarian slogans” over Communist propaganda.
The 1930’s witnessed a countryside rife with hysteria. Peasant class tensions were exacerbated by the uncertainty of collectivization rules, the raiding Komosol thugs, incongruent government policies, and corrupt regional officials. Peasants were forced to choose whether or not they were for or “against Soviet power.” Officials continued with dekulakization, while peasants lynched Komosol and Soviet officials. Many peasants viewed collectivization as evil and the coming of the Apocalypse. “Why sow if the end of the world is coming soon?,” peasants often asked (p. 47). Peasants awaited a rumored German invasion, believing that the Germans would eliminate the collective system. Of course, German occupation bore a striking resemblance to Stalinism.
The Purges, which had their greatest impact on the urban population, hindered an already obfuscated system. Purged bosses purged subordinates. The number of registered party members by district decreased while “rural cadres were in a state of panic” (p. 198). Fitzpatrick indicates the level of turnover stating that by “the end of 1937,” nearly half of the “kolkhoz chairmen, brigade leaders, and heads of kolkhoz commercial farms had been on the job for less than a year” (p. 199). Show trials were used to show the “crimes” of officials and address real peasant grievances, but accomplished little in fixing the situation.
Fitzpatrick’s book exposes the clash between the onset of forced collectivization and the long-held traditions of peasant society. Stalin was indeed “Peasant Enemy No. 1” not only in the eyes of objective historians, but in the eyes of the peasants over which he ruled (p. 296). Peasants viewed collectivization as not only a rebirth of serfdom, but a renewed means of exploitation. They molded Kolkhoz collectivization to fit their needs (with the exception of state procurement of horses). They were able to maintain some semblance of village autonomy and identity despite Communist attempts to shatter peasant tradition and custom. The only real criticism of Fitzpatrick’s work, which she admits, is that many of her anecdotes come from limited sources. Still, this work is an encyclopedia of information on the struggles of collectivization in Stalinist Russia. Fitzpatrick’s work is a foundation for any study of Russian peasant society in the 1930’s.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Not the last word - 24 July 2012
By R. L. Huff - Published on
Format: Paperback
- on the collectivization period after the first Five Year Plan. To be sure, Ms. Fitzpatrick has done her job with a voluminous and often rewarding excursion into the "lost" back country of Russia. One example is the surprising pluralism tolerated in the early days of the 1936 "Stalin" Constitution: doubly ironic when considering the wave of administrative terror soon unleashed over the country as if said document did not exist. Others have argued that fear of the former generated the latter.

Yet the human horrors Ms. Fitzpatrick outlines did not prevent the lament of a Lithuanian peasant woman, cited on page 320: "We wept when they drove us into the kolkhoz in 1949, and now we will weep when they start driving us out. . . ." But it is quite unfair to call this a "serf mentality," any more than urban workers are "wage slaves" for demanding higher pay, protection of benefits, or protesting plant closings. She writes on the same page that the kolkhoz symbolized Soviet society as a whole, "whose members were for the most part contemptuous of any notion of public good, suspicious of energetic and successful neighbors, endlessly aggrieved at what [the bosses] were doing, but . . . immovable in their determination not to do anything themselves."

This is a rehash of the oldest peasant stereotype; and while it may have its requisite foundation, its half-truth is belied by the peasant revival and resistance of 1905, 1917, and the very examples she offers in her own book. Her statement is also challenged by the re-emergence of kulak and market behavior during perestroika, when some collective farmers began exploiting state resources for private profit as diligently as their oligarch counterparts.

On page 129 she offers this description of the unfree, "serf-like" labor on the kolkhoz, whose employees "worked poorly and unwillingly, going out to the fields late and sneaking away early whenever possible. . . [They] were likely to start work only when the brigade leader told them to and continue only as long as long as he watched them. They pilfered anything they could find [and] avoided direct confrontation with their masters but used cunning, deception, and assumed stupidity to avoid obeying instructions. They often displayed what baffled officials described as a 'dependent psychology' . . . working only when they were given explicit instructions and expecting the authorities to give them handouts when times were hard."

True enough, as far as it goes, and sounds like the complaints of a contemporaneous Mississippi cotton planter. But doesn't this Dilbert-land report read like many free workers in any office or factory you ever worked? It seems the Soviet collective farm did not transcend Marx' alienation of labor, probably the most damning critique of the entire system beyond the standard trope of noble peasants vs. oppressive regime. This blind tendentiousness is why I often despair for Western academia. Lynn Viola's "Peasant Rebels Under Stalin" is a more empathetic, and in my view, better take for those interested in the time and place.
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