William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History


"OH, thou great All-Russian Sphinx. It is not easy to be thy Edipus." It was thus that Ivan Turgeniev, most poetic of Russian prose writers, apostrophized the Russian peasant. And a sphinx the peasant has been, ever since the educated classes of the Russian cities began to take an interest in his welfare.

The Slavophiles of the last century saw in the peasant, with his strong village community organization, the mir, and his supposed loyalty to the Tsar and the Orthodox Church, the Russian primitive Christian. The romantic revolutionaries of two generations ago, and the Social Revolutionists, who took over many of their ideas, hailed the peasant as the natural communist, who needed only to be freed from the oppression of Tsar and landlord to set an example to the whole world in spontaneous cooperative farming. The Bolsheviks regarded the peasant as a small producer, who must be conciliated during the period of active revolution but who ultimately must some-how be fitted into a Marxian collectivist order of things.

Sixteen years of war, revolution, civil war, and post-revolutionary reconstruction have demolished some familiar mistaken conceptions about the peasant and revealed him more as a normal human being than as a mysterious idol in a sheepskin coat. First of all, the idea of the peasant as a devoted son of "Holy Russia," imbued with heartfelt devotion to Tsar and Church, has been smashed beyond any conceivable reconstruction. Despite the fact that they made every possible appeal to nationalist and religious traditions in their propaganda, the White anti-Soviet movements never enjoyed popular support among the masses of the peasantry and crumbled away under the pressure of numerous peasant uprisings. Hatred for the pomyeschik, for the big landed proprietor whose broad acres contrasted with his own poor small holding, was far stronger in the heart of the Russian peasant than fealty to the Tsar.

A second exploded fallacy about the peasants is the belief that they are naturally inclined to communism. They were thoroughgoing revolutionaries so long as it was a question of sacking the large estates and dividing up the land among them-selves. Once this process was completed they became, for the most part, zealous upholders of the rights of individualist private property; and after twelve years of mingled economic pressure and economic persuasion from the side of the Soviet authorities less than 5 per cent of the peasants were induced to try their fortunes in collective farms. If more and more peasant families are being converted to the practice of communal farming it is only as the result of a stupendous exertion of will and energy on the part of the ruling Communist Party. The instinctive sentiment of the Russian or Ukrainian peas-ant in favor of "his own" farm, so far as I can judge from personal observation, is at least as strong as that of the German or French peasant or the American farmer.

Agrarian policy always has been a pivotal problem for the Soviet Government; and this is especially true to-day, when the inadequate supply of agricultural products threatens the development of such important branches of economic life as industry and foreign trade. In tens of thousands of log-cabin village Soviet headquarters the familiar bewhiskered portrait of Karl Marx stares down at bearded peasants, the living members of Turgeniev's collective Peasant-Sphinx. And the village Soviet officials, few of whom probably have heard of Turgeniev, must sometimes feel that the peasant nature offers some sphinx-like riddle to which Marx has not furnished the answer.

Russian peasants often say of themselves, "We are a dark people." And the Russian village is dark with the shades of poverty, neglect, and technical backwardness. One cannot generalize too sweepingly about such a huge country; the peasant in some parts of Russia enjoys a higher living standard than in others. The Cossack in his fertile ancestral wheatlands of the Don and the Kuban, the pioneer settler in Siberia, the German colonist in south Russia, lives better, as a rule, than the peasant who must eke out a living in the congested regions of central Russia or the swamp-lands of White Russia. But some idea of the prevalent poverty may be obtained if one considers that the average yearly income of an adult peasant is officially estimated at 217 rubles,(1) that approximately three peasant households in ten have no working cattle, while only about one in five possesses more than one working animal,(2) and that the countryside as a whole is split up into twenty-five million little holdings, of an average size of little more than ten acres. These holdings are obviously too small for profitable extensive farming, and very few Russian peasants are occupied with those forms of farming which can give a high yield from a small area.

The peasant in the wooded north of Russia usually lives in a log cabin; clay is the favored building material in treeless stretches of the south and southeast. Frame houses and tin roofs denote an unusual prosperity. Weddings and big church holidays are occasions for gorging and heavy drinking in the villages; but in general the peasant's food is coarse, simple, and far from plentiful. Meat, except in soup, is rarely eaten; the staple articles of diet are heavy rye bread, kasha (a cereal preparation from grits), and various sour-milk dishes. The wooden plough is a more familiar sight in the village than a tractor or threshing machine; there is probably not a peasant in the whole Soviet Union who possesses a telephone or an auto-mobile. Russia's 40 per cent of illiteracy exists mostly in the peasant districts. In time of childbirth, peasant women, partly from ignorance, partly for lack of proper medical service, are apt to call in the doubtful aid of the local old crone with a gift for soothsaying and casting spells.

Yet with all this background of material poverty, inherited, of course, from the past, and intensified in some cases by the ravages of civil war, the Russian village, by general testimony, has experienced a genuine awakening since pre-revolutionary times. There is a difference even in the tone in which the peasants pronounce the old axiom, "We are a dark people." Formerly it was an expression of fatalistic resignation. Now it is said bitterly, resentfully, as if in response to a condition which ought to be and could be changed.

The War was a primary factor in changing the psychology of the Russian peasant. Two million Russian soldiers, most of them peasants who had previously seen little outside their native villages, were captured in the great German offensives against the Russian front and worked in Germany as farm laborers or in other capacities. Here they were able to contrast German farming methods and the living standards of the German peasants with their own; and the effect was very marked. In traveling through the Russian villages I have often noticed that the returned war prisoner is the most staunch advocate of new ideas and new practices. The few hundred Russian officers who came into contact with revolutionary ideas in France at the time of the Napoleonic Wars later launched the uprising of the Dekabristi. It is quite possible that the two million Russian former war prisoners may help very much to bring about a less spectacular but more permanent revolution in the daily life and habits of the Russian peasantry.

Revolution and civil war also shook the Russian village to its depths. True, the peasant did not take the initiative in formulating the issues of the civil war; he was rather an object to be propagandized and mobilized, conscripted and subjected to requisition, by Reds and Whites. Yet this competing propaganda inevitably had some effect on his mind; and there were times when, by obeying or resisting a mobilization, he gave his crude and elemental answer to the political problem as to whether the Whites with their returning landlords or the Communists with their grain levies represented the greater evil for him.

Now every young peasant who is called up for service in the Red Army gets a Communist course in citizenship along with his military training. How many of these officially inculcated ideas he retains when he goes back to his home and turns again from a soldier into a peasant is another question. But this army educational work is a factor, along with the rural reading room and the occasional radio installed in some of the larger villages, tending to make the peasant begin to think about problems which were almost outside his, sphere before the Revolution.

Several years ago Moscow established a DomKrestyanin, or Peasants' Home, which combined the functions of a boarding-house, club, and free legal aid society and was designed for the accommodation of peasants who had been sent as delegates from their communities with petitions regarding land or taxes or some other subject. Here the peasant visitors were provided with wholesome meals and clean rooms at slight cost, while lawyers attempted to guide their steps through the labyrinthine intricacies of the Soviet bureaucracy. The Peasants' Home contains a library and reading room, besides halls for lectures on agricultural and other subjects and entertainments. This Moscow innovation has been generally imitated, so that now every large city and town has its Peasants' Home.

The white-columned palace of the Tsar at Livadia, on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, now houses three hundred peasant patients who suffer from tuberculosis and kindred ailments. Admission to this unique health resort is eagerly sought, and care is taken to ensure a fair geographical distribution of the places, so that one can find peasants from the most varied parts of the Soviet Union wandering in the cypress groves and playing handball in the courtyards of the palace.

Inasmuch as less than two thousand persons can be accommodated at Livadia in the course of the whole year, it is obvious that very few of the peasants can actually enjoy its imperial splendors; but the very existence of such a health resort doubtless has its propagandist value, and there is some tendency to set aside places in other sanatoria for the peasants.

An important link between the government and the peasants is the Krestyanskaya Gazeta, or "Peasants' Gazette," a little paper which appears twice a week and is entirely addressed to a peasant audience. Its circulation fluctuates with the season, but has been as high as a million. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this paper is the number of letters which it receives from its readers. They pour in at the rate of 1500 or 2000 a day, written on leaves torn out of school notebooks, on bits of wrapping paper, often scrawled and misspelled, but giving convincing proof that the peasant has awakened to a point where he has ideas and wishes to express them.

Running through a few dozen of these letters one obtains a fairly composite idea of what the more articulate part of the peasantry is thinking. From a village in the northern province of Vologda a serious girl writes to the effect that the local branch of the Union of Communist Youth consists of two girls and four boys. The girls want to read and study; but the boys are more wayward; they prefer to dance and play and drink. From another place in this same province a peasant complains that his son can go to school only four years, so that he will remain all his life "a half-dark man." He calls for more and better schools. From the village Grishevsk, in Voronezh Province, someone asks where he can obtain a radio, which he heard for the first time in the city of Voronezh and liked very much.

Letters of criticism are far from infrequent. So Citizen Nazar Misik, from the Slavgorod region of Siberia, offers the following economic calculations: "Before the War we got three arshines (a measure equal to 2.4 feet) of cloth for a pood (thirty-six pounds) of wheat, and now we get only one. Moreover, we have to pay three times as much for iron." Vladimir Tsokhativ, from Leningrad Province, objects to the amnesty which was proclaimed on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, on the ground that it will permit too many murderers and thieves to return to their villages after serving a short time in prison. He also attacks the introduction of the seven-hour working day in industry, complaining that the peasants already work sixteen or seventeen hours a day.

Some of these letters come from casual writers; others are sent in by the fifteen thousand syelkors, or village correspondents, whom the newspaper has at its disposal. These village correspondents, of whom there are several hundred thousand in the whole country, constitute a valuable intelligence service for the Soviet Government in the country districts. Their occupation is far from safe, because the syelkor who exposes the embezzlements of the local officials or becomes unpopular with his fellow villagers by accusing them of holding back their proper share of taxes is apt to be found in a remote spot with a bullet or knife wound in his body. As a rule they hide their identity behind numbers which are signed to their letters; and in some cases their communications are not printed, but simply used as a source of confidential information for the higher authorities.

Krestyanskaya Gazeta boasts that in about one year it caused the removal of a thousand corrupt or tyrannical officials on the basis of letters from its syelkors and peasant readers. Like the Peasants' Home, the Krestyanskaya Gazeta maintains a legal-aid department, where eight regularly employed lawyers and I so occasional legal counselors help to straighten out the habitual difficulties of peasant petitioners with land and taxes.

Peasant health resorts, Peasant Homes, and peasant news-papers are all very well in their way; they help especially to meet the demand of the younger peasants for new interests and activities. But the mind of the usual head of a peasant house-hold is more occupied with other questions: how much will he have to pay in taxes, how much will he receive for his wheat and rye and oats, whether he can get manufactured goods at reasonable prices. What are the outstanding factors which dominate the relations between the Soviet Government, with its ultimate goal of communism, and the Russian peasants, whose ambition, in the vast majority of cases, is certainly the acquisition of as much private property as possible ?

The pomyeschiks, or Russian country squires, have been literally swept off the face of the countryside by the impact of the most thoroughgoing agrarian upheaval in history. One could travel from one end of the Soviet Union to another with-out finding, except by the rarest accident, a manor house still owned by a private family. Gone forever are the "noblemen's nests," the low-built country residences where Turgeniev's heroines learned French and music and read the verses of Push-kin and Lermontov. Not a few of the Russian manor houses were burned or razed to the ground in the course of the Revolution; the others have been transformed into rest homes, schools, or public buildings. The few pomyeschiks who some-how managed to go on living on their native estates through the period of civil war were forced to depart under the terms of a Soviet decree which was issued several years ago, since it was feared that their influence on the peasants might be harmful, from the standpoint of the new social order.

The Soviet Land Law, which is surely a unique piece of agrarian legislation and without a parallel, to the best of my knowledge, either in Europe or in Asia, vests the title to land in the state but permits anyone to use it, on condition that he farms it with his own labor. The amount of land allotted to any peasant is determined by the size of his family and the amount of land in the possession of the village community. (A point that should be emphasized here is that the individual home-stead system is very little practised in Russia, although it is sometimes found in Ukraina. Instead of having a separate farm, in American or West European fashion, the Russian peasant lives in a village, which may be a tiny hamlet of a dozen houses or a large settlement with several thousand inhabitants, and goes out every day to work on his share of the village land.) If, for instance, the amount of village land permits an allotment of one dessiatine (the usual Russian land measurement, equal to 2.7 acres), a family of seven, consisting of a father, mother, and four children, with an old grandmother, would be entitled to receive seven dessiatines, while a newly married couple would receive only two.

A person convicted of buying or selling land is liable to a sentence of three years in prison; but old habits disappear slowly, and surreptitious land sales sometimes take place. The peasant who leaves his native village in order to try his fortune as a pioneer settler in Siberia likes to get something for his piece of land, instead of turning it back, as he legally should, to the community land fund. And when he arrives in Siberia the older settlers are apt to raise obstacles about giving him a share of their community land, unless he pays some price for this privilege.

If farming ability could be parceled out as evenly as land, the Soviet system should ensure the maximum of equality among the peasants. But experience has shown that it cannot be, and in every village one finds more or less clearly defined classes of kulaks (literally "fists"), or rich peasants, seredniaks, or middle-class peasants, and, finally, byedniaks, or poor. This division into classes was natural and inevitable after the New Economic Policy gave the peasants a certain amount of freedom in disposing of their products. Those peasants who emerged from the civil war with more cattle and machinery, those who were better farmers and traders, began to forge ahead of their less fortunate or less capable brethren in the acquisition of this world's goods. The emergence of a new class of rich peasants on the ruins of the old pomyeschik system of large landed estates was hampered and checked but not altogether prevented by the workings of the Soviet Land Law. Its more rigid application, under which the village Lazarus, with a big family and no working animals, might find himself in legal possession of a large tract of land which he could not till, while his next-door neighbor, Dives, owner of three horses and some machinery but entitled only to a tiny holding because of his small family, would be unable to benefit by his superior equipment, has yielded to the pressure of necessity. While land cannot legally be bought or sold, it can be leased over a period of several years from one peasant to another. It is estimated that between 6 and 7 per cent of the arable land is held on a leasehold basis, and, contrary to the general practice elsewhere, in Russia it is the rich who must rent land from the poor. A familiar arrangement is for the poor peasant who cannot till his own holding to lease it to a richer neighbor, with the understanding that the crop shall be shared equally.

Who is a kulak ? This is one of the most difficult and delicate questions of Soviet political economy. Communists who take a more indulgent attitude toward the peasant as an individualist producer are inclined to list among kulaks only persons who definitely exploit their neighbors by lending money and machinery on usurious terms or who hire labor throughout the year. But a stricter view, and one which is quite often applied by village officials, especially since the Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party, which declared for an offensive against the kulak, is that any peasant who has raised himself above his fellows in wealth is a kulak and must be subjected to heavy taxation and various forms of administrative discrimination. This stricter view finds expression in the discussion of the case of a certain Komarov, a farmer of the Northern Don region, in Pravda for August 14, 1928. Komarov, it seems, was a former merchant who before the War owned a large farm of several hundred acres. He was expropriated, of course, during the Revolution, but since the New Economic Policy he had succeeded in building up a new farm of some eighty or ninety acres, which he made profitable by concentrating on the production of meat and cheese. He owned eighteen cows, two bulls, and four horses, took prizes at local agricultural exhibitions, and contributed letters on agricultural subjects to the press. But the writer who discussed his case in Pravda sternly condemned him as "a new and cunning type of kulak."

Estimates of the number of "kulak" farms in the Soviet Union vary with the definitions of the term, but they probably do not exceed five per cent of the total number. At the other extreme are the very poor peasant households, which as a rule constitute about a third in every village. Thirty-eight per cent of the peasants are freed from the agricultural tax on the ground of extreme poverty. In between the "kulaks" and "byedniaks," or very poor, come the mass of the Russian peasants, who fall under the heading "seredniaks."

In the heat of the civil war Lenin laid down as the guiding rule of Communist policy in the village: "Reach an agreement with the seredniak, leaning firmly only on the byedniak, and never for one moment stopping the struggle with the kulak." This maxim, applied with variations of emphasis at different times, has on the whole guided the agrarian policy of the Soviet Government.

In the early part of 1925, to be sure, there was an apparent relaxation of the struggle against the richer peasants. With a view to conciliating the masses of the peasants and increasing agricultural productivity, the burden of the agricultural tax was lightened; restrictions on leasing land were relaxed; and the process of hiring agricultural laborers was made simpler and easier.

But this moderate agrarian policy was of comparatively short duration. The opposition in the Communist Party, headed by Trotzky and Zinoviev, raised the cry that the conquests of the Revolution were being surrendered to the kulaks. And curiously enough the dominant group in the Communist Party leadership, while suppressing and outlawing the opposition, took over and began to apply many of its critical suggestions in regard to agrarian policy. So the law excluding the kulaks from participation in Soviet elections was enforced more rigorously; the agricultural tax was distributed in such a way that its main burden fell on the richer peasants, while larger and larger percentages of the poor were exempted from taxation; more strenuous efforts were made to organize the poor peasants against the rich and to recruit more Communists from the ranks of the agricultural laborers and poorer villagers generally.

Some observers have interpreted this gradual reversal of the moderate agrarian policy of 1925 as a tactical political manceuvre, designed to disarm the opposition by carrying into practice some of the measures which they advocated. But the fundamental reasons for the shift go deeper than this. A class of rich peasants, of independent individualist producers, is a political and economic anomaly in the Soviet state. Not only is it a challenge to Marxist principles to see the rich peasant rising on the shoulders of his poorer neighbors, but the whole Soviet economic system, which depends very much on centralized planning and price adjustments, is menaced if the wealthier peasants concentrate in their hands the grain reserves of the country and hold them back for higher prices than the Soviet state organs feel able to pay.

A genuine and severe economic tug-of-war between the Soviet Government and the more prosperous peasants occurred during the winter of 1927 and the spring of 1928, and seems likely to go on indefinitely, perhaps in milder forms. As early as the fall of 1927 it became evident that the peasants were holding back their grain to a degree which not only destroyed any possibility of exporting it but even seriously menaced the bread supply of the cities. How did this "grain strike" come about ? It is very hard to answer this question. There is certainly no widespread secret organization among the peasants which could coordinate their activity or instruct them all to do the same thing at the same time. And yet they sometimes display an uncanny faculty for apparently unconscious spontaneous action, as when they deserted from all parts of the front and swarmed on the landlords' estates in 1917.

Something of this faculty must have come into play in the autumn of 1927, when in Siberia and Ukraina, in Central Russia and the North Caucasus, the same phenomenon of peasant unwillingness to part with grain made itself felt. Of course, there were reasons for this action. There had been a certain amount of loose talk about the danger of war, which frightened the peasants and made them inclined to hoard their food stores. Then the price relation between agricultural products, especially wheat and rye, and manufactured goods is and has been decidedly unfavorable for the peasant. This is sufficiently evident from the following table of comparative prices, which was supplied to the writer by the Commissariat for Trade. The effect of this table, which shows a depreciation of the purchasing power of all peasant products, except flax, in relation to all the industrial goods which are chiefly used by the peasantry, except kerosene, is heightened if one considers that there is an acute shortage of manufactured goods, so that the peasant is often completely deprived of their use or else is forced to pay high speculative prices for the small quantities which trickle through.

The table is as follows: -

Purchasing power of one tsentner (about 218 pounds) of the following agricultural products in

RYE Pre-war 23.7 14.6 1.83 0.41 16.2 24.4
Oct. 1927 . . . . 12.6 7.3 1.27 0.42 9.3 16.1
Oct. 1928 . . . . 15.4 8.8 1.53 0.49 11.2 19.0
WHEAT Pre-war 30.2 18.6 2.33 0.53 20.6 31.0
Oct. 1927 . . . . 18.0 10.5 1.82 0.60 13.4 23.1
Oct. 1928 . . 21.9 I2.5 2.18 0.70 15.9 27.0
FLAX Pre-war 147.3 99.6 11.9 2.39 102.4 159
Oct. 1927 . . . . 122.0 71.8 11.0 3.95 99.4 150
Oct. 1928 . . 176.7 90.0 13.2 4.58 105.6 183
Cotton Pre-war 111.1 66.8 6.0 1.97
Oct. 1927 . . . 86.5 47.2 4.5 2.49
Oct. 1928 . . . 86.5 47.2 5.2 2.55
SUGAR BEETS Pre-war 4.8 3.0 0.38 0.09 3.3 4.9
Oct. 1927 . . . . 3.6 2.1 0.34 0.10 2.2 4.2
Oct. 1928 . . . . 3.7 2.1 0.38 0.10 2.2 4.2

Faced with a severe crisis of grain supply, the Soviet Government introduced a series of "extraordinary measures," which were at least mildly reminiscent of the period of military communism which preceded the New Economic Policy. Maintaining its fixed prices unchanged, it instructed the local Soviet officials in the countryside to get the recalcitrant peasants' grain at any cost. A number of richer peasants and private traders who were offering prices above the fixed rates were punished with exile and imprisonment. The masses of peasants were placed under strong pressure to give up their surplus grain. In many cases the free markets in towns and villages were closed.

This strenuous policy produced both good and bad results. It fulfilled its immediate purpose of obtaining the grain. But it left an unmistakable spirit of smouldering bitterness not only among the kulaks but among any peasants who had any surplus grain to lose. They had other grievances besides the forced grain levies. Practically all the peasants with whom I talked in the course of a trip through Ukraina and the Don region in the summer of 1928 complained that they had been compelled to buy bonds of a Peasant Loan and to pay, in the guise of so-called self-taxation, which, however, had no voluntary character, a sum equal to about 25 per cent of the regular agricultural tax. The government used these supplementary imposts as a further means of bringing economic pressure on the peasants to part with their grain.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party, meeting in plenary session in July 1928, decided that, while the "extraordinary measures" had served their purpose of overcoming a crisis of grain supply, it would be inadvisable to erect them into a permanent system. So it was agreed that future grain purchases should be voluntary, that there should be no more compulsion to subscribe to state loans, and that the peasants, as a further stimulus, should receive a 15 per cent increase in prices paid for their grain. At the same time it was declared that the offensive against the kulaks must go on and that more attention must be paid to stimulating socialist and collectivist forms of agriculture, in the form of sovhozes (state farms) and kolhozes, or farms organized by cooperative groups of peasants. The following plenary session of the Central Committee, which took place in November, did not reflect any very substantial change from the position of July; its long resolution on agriculture advocated the policy of simultaneously encouraging collective and individualist forms of farming.

One idea that is beginning to dominate Soviet thinking on the agrarian question is the extraordinary backwardness of the farm production of the country. According to figures which are to be found in the resolution of the November session of the Party Central Committee, the Soviet Union in 1928 had only 90 per cent of the pre-war area under grain cultivation, 80 per cent of the pre-war grain production, and 56 per cent of the pre-war amount of marketable grain. And this with a population which is already more than 10 per cent greater than in pre-war times and which is growing rapidly, especially in the cities. In the light of these figures it is easy to realize why white bread has vanished from the Russian cities and why the huge building in Moscow which displays the sign "State Grain-Exporting Company" somehow conveys an ironical suggestion.

The situation with the so-called "technical cultures," flax, hemp, cotton, tobacco, sugar beets, etc., is somewhat better, but still far from satisfactory. The area under cultivation is estimated at 58.5 per cent higher than the pre-war figure, but the yield per acre has declined, as compared with the pre-war level, in the following substantial proportions: cotton, 25 per cent; flax, 32 per cent; hemp, 15 per cent; sugar beets, 10 per cent. (See Rabochaia Gazeta for November 3, 1928.)

This same decline in yield is noticeable in the field of grain, where 90 per cent of the pre-war acreage yields only 80 per cent of the pre-war crop. This fact is all the more ominous because, while there are large belts of rich black-earth soil in various parts of the Soviet Union, Russian peasant agriculture has always been notoriously backward.

What are the causes for the marked decline in Russian agriculture ? The change in the system of land ownership is undoubtedly an important factor in diminishing the supply of grain available for sale and export. Before the War the big estates of the pomyeschiks and the large farms of the kulaks produced about three quarters of the marketable grain. The middle-class and poor peasants between them produced little more than was needed for their own consumption. The effect of the agrarian revolution has been to annihilate the big land-lords and to reduce substantially the wealth and productive capacity of the kulaks. Whereas it is estimated that the land-lords before the War supplied to the market over four and a half million tons of grain and the kulaks almost eleven million, the Soviet state farms in the year 1926-1927 produced only about six hundred thousand tons of marketable grain and the kulaks about two million.

The surplus production of the poor and middle-class peasants has increased somewhat, but not nearly enough to compensate for the sweeping reduction in the number of large-scale farms which were formerly the chief providers of grain for the market. The marked tendency of Russian farms to split up into smaller and smaller units is another unfavorable element in the situation, because experience has proven that the larger farms are able to supply more marketable produce. There are now from twenty-five to twenty-seven million homesteads in the Soviet Union, as against sixteen million before the Revolution. This is attributable partly to increased population, partly to the unwillingness of younger peasant families to go on living with their parents, and partly to escape taxation, which falls more heavily on larger and richer homesteads.

The Soviet "class policy" of crushing the rich and favoring the poor peasants is not the least of the factors which account for the decline in grain production and the lowered yield per acre. The Soviet land system keeps far more land in the hands of incapable farmers than would be the case if free trade in land were permitted and no artificial restrictions were placed in the way of the growth of the kulak. I had a practical illustration of the effect of this class policy on agricultural production when I visited a Cossack village near the River Don last summer. Talking with one of the Cossacks, a hale, philosophically-minded old man who in general showed no particular bitterness or prejudice against the new order, I asked him how present-day crops compared with those of pre-war days.

"Of course, they 're much smaller," he replied.

"Why ?" I inquired.

"First of all, we lost a good deal of man power and many animals in the civil war. Many of our farms are carried on by women now, and we have n't nearly as many horses and bullocks as we need. But, besides that, there is the question of the distribution of the land. According to the rules our poorest peasants must get the best land, and the land nearest the village. The richest get the worst land, and land that 's far away. The result is that our best land is poorly cultivated, because the poor lack horses and machinery, and are some-times bad farmers anyway, while the better equipment of the rich is partly wasted because they have inferior land."

The official statistics seem to bear out this simple Cossack's view of the situation. Mr. Y. A. Yakovlev, Vice-Commissar for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection and editor of the Peasants' Gazette, has published in his little book, Za Kolhozi("For Collective Farms"), a series of charts and diagrams illustrating the productivity and cost of production in various types of peas-ant homesteads. Here (see pages 9-11) one finds that the poor peasant in Pskov Province averages 8.2 poods (a pood is equal to 36 pounds avoirdupois) of flax to a dessiatine, while his richer neighbor, working on the same soil, gets 15.2. The poor peasant in Kiev gets 26 poods of rye to the kulak's 50.9. The poor farm in the Kuban realizes 50 poods of wheat to a dessiatine, as against the rich farm's 74. Constant harrying of the kulak may be good politics, good Communist ethics, or good Marxism; but the figures show that it is not good agricultural production.

The output of the individual peasant, who still produces more than nine tenths of the grain in the Soviet Union, unmistakably suffers for lack of an adequate economic stimulus. I recall another significant little incident from my visit to the Don Cossack village. A peasant was boiling with indignation because he had been listed as a kulak, which meant for him heavier taxation and all sorts. of civic and social disabilities.

"I worked over my own five dessiatines of land, and then, because I had a horse and machinery, I leased and worked six more dessiatines which belonged to some poor neighbors and which otherwise wouldn't have been cultivated at all," he shouted. "But I 've learned my lesson. Since the powers don't want us to be rich, I'll never do a bit of extra work to increase my land holding in the future."

Premier Rykov spoke out plainly on this subject at a meeting of Leningrad Communists. Protesting against the incorrect application of a special individual tax, which should be reserved for the wealthiest kulaks, he said: -

"We can't fight for culture in the village if we reckon as kulaks peasants who are using metal spoons instead of wooden ones, and there are such cases. If we consider the peasant who has a radio receiver a kulak, then for a sewing machine or a gramophone we could call him a pomyeschik. If the peasant works the soil well, without exploitation of others, they burden him with the individual tax. Then who will undertake to work the land well ? I don't think there will be any such idiots who will do this when they know that for this they will be subject to the individual tax, their children will be driven out of school, and they themselves will be deprived of electoral rights." (See Pravda for December 4, 1928.)

The Communists are really confronted with their most difficult dilemma when they face the problem of how to deal with the individual peasant producer, whose disappearance was predicted by Marx, but who is still here in Russia, twenty-five million homesteads strong. If the present policy, of merely cutting down the peasant who raises himself a little above his fellows, were to continue, the outlook for the future of Russian agriculture would be dark indeed. It would almost inevitably remain on a low level, with little surplus production; and both the foreign trade and the industrial development of the country would correspondingly and severely suffer.

But the Communists are determined that things shall not remain as they are. They see an outlet in the large-scale collectivization of agriculture through the agency of state and collective farms. They argue that giving the kulak a free hand in the village would not only destroy the prospect of building up in Russia a genuine socialist state, but would also be disadvantageous to the masses of the peasantry, because for every strong farmer who would emerge under a laissez faireagrarian policy several poor and middle-class peasants would go completely to the wall. The importance which is attached to agriculture on a collectivist basis is evident from the following excerpt from a speech which Stalin delivered before the November session of the Party Central Committee: -

"We must not for too long a period of time base the Soviet power and the socialist structure on two different foundations, on the foundation of the largest and most unified socialist industry and on the foundation of the most divided and backward little peasant farming. It is necessary gradually, but systematically and stubbornly, to remake agriculture on a new technical basis, on the basis of big production, pulling it up to the socialist industry. Either we solve this problem, and then final victory is guaranteed, or we retreat from it without solving it, and then the return to capitalism may become an unavoidable development." (See Pravda, November 24, 1928. )

The Communist with an eye to faith sees the present Russian peasant villages, with their tiny holdings, divided into uneconomic strips and patches of land, their primitive implements and their backward farming methods transformed into big state or cooperative productive units, equipped with tractors and the best modern machinery and turning out harvests comparable with those of Western Europe and America.

Until 1928 the state and collective farms (sovhozes and kolhozes) had been mere islands in the sea of individual peasant homesteads. Early in 1928, according to figures furnished to me by the Soviet Central Statistical Department, there were 4794 state farms, with 126,076 workers and employees and 1.27 per cent of the total planted area, and 32,000 collective farms, with 375,377 families and 1.15 per cent of the planted area.

The sovhoz is managed, in principle, like a state factory. It is a fairly large tract of land, usually a former landlord's estate, which the government succeeded in salvaging in the midst of the orgy of peasant land seizures. Its employees receive wages, like factory workers, and the profits of the enterprise, if there are any, belong to the state organization which manages the farm. The sovhoz is supposed to be a model farm and often operates some small factories for the working over of its own produce and that of the surrounding villages. Sometimes an agricultural experimental station is operated on the territory of the sovhoz. Financially these state farms were not very successful, their total losses up to January 1, 1928, being estimated at 8,000,000 rubles.(See article by K. Kindeev in Pravda for September 29, 1928.) Frequent changes of personnel and lack of experienced managers are cited as reasons for their sometimes unsatisfactory functioning. However, their advocates contend that their book losses are partly due to the fact that they furnish the neigh-boring peasants with valuable agricultural aid at low prices.

Confronted with the crisis of grain supply in 1928, the Communist Party turned to the state farm as a means of salvation. A programme of creating a large number of new state farms on unused land in the potentially fertile steppes of southern and southeastern Russia was drawn up, and a definite goal was set: the production of between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 tons of marketable grain by 1933. It is difficult to obtain precise figures regarding a process which is actively going on; but Trade Commissar Mikoyan declared in the summer of 1929 that this goal would be reached much earlier than 1933, since it had been found possible to inaugurate more new farms with a larger planted area than had seemed possible at first. A feature of the new state farms is their size, which often runs to tens of thousands of acres. While in 1928 grain was the principal objective of the state farms, by 1929 it was considered desirable to extend the system to the production of other articles in which a shortage was felt, such as meat, milk, dairy products, flax, etc. The marketable output of a state farm, which operates over large tracts of land and is well supplied with modern machinery, including tractors, is usually much greater than would be possible on the same area, if divided among individual peasants.

Even more spectacular and significant than the growth of the state farms was the development of kolhozes. The passive peasant resistance to the idea of cooperative farming was visibly broken through during 1928 and 1929. Here again it is difficult to cite figures which will not soon be outdated because of the rapid development of the movement. Mr. G. N. Kaminsky, writing in Pravda for September 12, 1929, summarizes the growth of the collective farms in the following manner: In 1928 2.1 per cent of peasant homesteads were drawn into some form of collectivist agriculture. This proportion increased to 4 per cent by July 1, 1929; and in 1930 it is expected that 10 per cent of the homesteads will be organized in this way.

Mr. Kaminsky's figure of 10 per cent has already been surpassed in some districts where especially strong efforts were made to promote the growth of the collective farms and where natural conditions favor this development. In the Armavir district of the North Caucasus, which I visited in August, 1929, 18 per cent of the peasant homesteads had already abandoned individualist for collectivist farming. In the summer of 1929 there were about 50,000 collective farms in the Soviet Union, the members with their families numbering about 4,000,000.

Communal farms in the Soviet Union are of three types: communes, where the members live together and share the proceeds of their labor equally; artels, where they live together but are paid according to labor, and the looser tovarischestvos, or cooperative groups, in which the members band together to work the land, but usually retain their own homes. This loosest form of association is the most common of the three.

From the productive standpoint the capacities of a dozen or more peasants who have pooled land and working animals in a collective farm are greater than those of the same families, when they hold the same amount of land in divided individual farms, especially under the Russian plan, where the individual peasant, instead of holding his land in one piece is usually given strips of good, bad, and indifferent land, scattered about in different localities.

The obstacles which delay any general adoption of the collective system are largely psychological. Again and again I have heard peasants express the fear that in a collective farm, where all will live together and eat together, they will become involved in constant family quarrels and will have no guaranty that the lazier members of the group will not attempt to shirk and live on the labor of others. Still more potent, perhaps, is the feeling of the individual peasant that he loses something of his independence when he enters a collective organization. An Armavir peasant who, like many of his fellows, was wavering as to whether he should join a collective farm or not, summed up the question as follows:

"Of course, the tractor makes the harvesting and planting easier in the commune, and there 's a nursery where you can put the children. But the worst thing about the commune is that you 're not your own master. You have to work as the management directs and not as you want to do yourself. You have to eat what everyone else eats, whether you like it or not, whether it' s good or bad. Still, I think I '11 have to join: there 's nothing else for a peasant to do in these days."

I heard this same expression from a number of middle-class peasants; and its wide circulation helps to explain the phenomenally rapid growth of socialized farming which began in 1928. There are, of course, other factors which are pushing the peasants into the collectivist movement.

In the first place, the state lavishes advantages of every kind on the communal farms. They receive the best land; and peasants who do not wish to join receive inferior tracts if their patch happens to lie in an area which has been earmarked for a commune. Tractors and large agricultural machines are sold primarily and, indeed, almost exclusively to collective groups, not to individual peasants. Taxes are lower for members of collective farms, and these organizations receive preference in the supply of seeds and credit.

Another powerful influence is the so-called machine-tractor station - a base for a group of state-owned tractors, which plough and harvest the land of surrounding villages in exchange for a quarter of the crop and on condition that the peasants who are served in this way will organize their holdings on a collectivist basis. This idea originated in Southern Ukraina, but it has now extended to all parts of the country, and in 1930 a hundred machine-tractor stations will be functioning in various regions, mostly in the level steppe country, which is most favorable for tractor farming.

Side by side with this intensive encouragement of the collective groups has gone a war of extermination of the kulak; and any individual peasant who rises a little above the general level of poverty is likely to incur that unpleasant characterization. The kulak is subjected to ruinous special taxes; if .he refuses to sell his grain to the state at fixed prices he may be fined five times the amount of the withheld grain or even exiled or imprisoned; one almost never finds a peasant to-day who owns a tractor, a threshing machine, a mill, or any subsidiary enterprise. The tax collectors, guided by their class principle, have done their work too well. So the middle-class peasant realizes that, if he should improve his well-being by hard labor, he will soon run the risk of incurring the name which is most dreaded, and with good reason, in peasant villages, that of kulak. Perhaps he would prefer to carry on with his individual farm; but with such strong economic pressure against him he is very apt to go off and join the nearest collective group.

If the collectivist movement continues to grow at the present rate it is quite possible that within another decade, or perhaps even sooner, the individual peasants will constitute a dwindling minority of the Soviet agricultural population. Such a socialization of agriculture, measured by the number of people affected and the magnitude of the changes in their psychology and working habits, would represent probably the greatest of all the changes which the Communists have brought about. It would be comparable in significance with the substitution of the factory for the hand artisan's workshop in industrial production. And the pangs of regret which many Russian peasants feel to-day at being forced off their farms into the collective farms may in retrospect seem similar to the dissatisfaction which many artisans felt when the industrial revolution drove them into the new and forbidding factories.

If the Communist agrarian programme succeeds, Turgeniev's Peasant-Sphinx will be transformed into a disciplined member of the new Soviet social order. Each state and collective farm will have its production plan, worked out for years in advance, just like the factories and mines at the present time. The peasant will be won over from an individualist to a collectivist outlook on life and labor.

It may be noted that the peasant does not always lose his individualist psychology, even when he joins a collective farm. Especially in the looser forms of association, in the tovarischestvos, the richer peasants sometimes capture the leadership and contrive to enrich themselves behind the communal mask. Bitter struggles go on in many of the collective farms between the poor peasants who, with nothing to lose themselves, wish to make all the working animals and machinery the sole property of the farm, and the more prosperous members, who try to keep a hold on as much of their former property as they can. Cases are even reported when the collective farm members show as little inclination as the individual peasants to sell their grain to the state, although they are legally bound to do so, in return for the credits and other aid which they receive.

It is still too soon to speak with certainty about the productive results of the new agricultural methods which are being pushed with such vigor, but 1929 may be considered the first year when large scale farming, in the shape of state and collective farms, took a definite stride forward. The grain situation was eased during 1929, due to a somewhat better harvest and to an extension of the planted area variously estimated at from 4 per cent to 6 per cent. But a new agrarian difficulty made itself felt during that summer and autumn in the acute shortage of meat, eggs, and milk as has been described. The serious nature of the meat crisis was indicated in a statement by Mr. Pankratov, a member of the collegium of the Soviet Trade Commissariat, published in Izvestia for September 22, 1929. According to this statement the number of big cattle in the Soviet Union declined from 106,300,000 in 1926 to 96,600,000 in 1929; the number of pigs for the same period from 97,600,000 to 82,800,000, and the number of sheep from 107,800,000 to 100,400,000. There seem to have been two main causes for this decline: the Soviet policy of economically crushing the richer peasants, which made it unprofitable for the latter to keep large flocks and herds, and the extensive killing of stock during the autumn of 1928, when there was an acute shortage of fodder.(See Pravda, October 27, 1928.)

The struggle between old and new forms in the village is by no means peaceful. The "extraordinary measures" of grain requisition and the heavy taxation collected in the autumn of 1928 left their heritage of rankling bitterness, especially among the more prosperous peasants. Attacks upon Communists and active Soviet agents in the villages became increasingly frequent during the latter part of 1928; and from August 15 until October 15 there were forty-four murders of village officials and correspondents,(See Pravda, October 27, 1928.) besides thirty-three attempted murders and numerous burnings of houses of individuals and property of the newly formed cooperative farms, which are an object of special antipathy to the richer peasants. The Soviet authorities retaliated by treating these village murders and attacks as counter-revolutionary crimes and shooting a number of persons implicated in them.

The following list of items, taken from Izvestia of November II, 1928, indicates that the phrase, "sharpening of class war in the village," often used by Communist writers and speakers, has behind it a considerable element of reality: -

In the Cossack village Priblizhskaya, in the Terek district, a shot was fired through the window at a woman Communist, Sklarova.
In the village Baranovka, in Tula Province, the kulaks fired at the teacher and social worker, Raevsky.
In the village Komarikha, in the Perm region, the local kulak Antipev mortally wounded with a knife the only Communist in the village, Login.
In the village Gubanovo, in Eletz district, the president of the revision commission of the village Soviet, Anisimov, was killed during the night.
In the Jaroslavsky kolhoz, in Tula Province, the kulaks, from revenge for taking away the land, burned a quantity of hay.
In the village Novaya Kutaya, of Penza district, the home of the village correspondent, Ignati Zhirkov, was burned.
In the village Nikolaevka, in the Kansk district (of Siberia), the village correspondent Belkovzky was murdered by kulaks, brothers Pushechkin.
In Izdeshkovskaya township (Smolensk Province) ended a big trial of a group of kulaks, who savagely murdered the peasant Trofim Volkov, of the village Dimskoe.

Inasmuch as Soviet agrarian policy, especially since the Fifteenth Party Congress, is avowedly designed to repress the rich and to help the poor, one may wonder why its application has provoked so many murderous assaults in the country districts. There are few Russian villages where the poor peasants do not outnumber the rich ones by ten to one.

Perhaps in this connection it is worth while to recall one of the very few points in which was ever registered against the Soviet Foreign Commissar, Chicherin. Sometime in the course of the intervention and civil war, Sir Arthur Balfour, as he then was, observed in a controversial interchange with Chicherin that Bolshevism was an excellent means of making rich men poor but a questionable means of making poor men rich. And the agrarian experiments of the last ten years indicate that it is far easier to despoil and ruin a kulak than to set a poor peasant on his feet. Hence resentment among the richer classes of peasants is apparently a stronger sentiment than gratitude on the part of the poor.

Moreover, there are some points, notably the shortage and high prices of manufactured goods, in which all peasants have a sense of grievance against the cities. Then, in agitating against the state and collective farms, the kulak can appeal to the deep-rooted peasant sentiment in favor of individual farming.

How will it all end, this contact of Karl Marx with the Peasant-Sphinx, this daring attempt to turn the grandsons of serfs into practical communists, equipped with the most modern machinery, this agrarian class struggle, now being fought with every means, from taxes and credit policies to the bullet and knife of the desperate and embittered kulaks ? The issue depends on so many factors that one hesitates to venture a prophecy. It depends on the stubbornness with which the present agrarian policy is carried out, on the tenacity of the resistance of the more prosperous peasants, on the success of the still experimental state and collective forms of large-scale farming, on the ability of the cities and the industries to weather the internal blockade with supplies of food and raw material which the discontented part of the peasantry is consciously or unconsciously attempting to impose. But, whatever may be the issue, the effort to extend socialism from industry to agriculture, to end the chronic dualism of the collectivist city and the individualist countryside, is, in my opinion, the most absorbing and most important episode of the Russian revolutionary drama which is now being played out.

(1) See Control Figures of National Economic Life, pp. 494-495, published in Moscow in 1928 by the State Planning Commission.

(2) The following table of percentages showing the distribution of working animals among the peasants of Russia proper, without certain Asiatic and Caucasian regions, was supplied to the writer by the Commissariat for Agriculture.

1924 1925 1926

Without working cattle




With one head




With two head




With three head




With four and more




Later figures were unobtainable; but the process of change is obviously very slow.