MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE



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The character of the Russian peasant

Here was the problem that the Bolshevik Party had to confront.

The countryside was still essentially controlled by the privileged classes and by Tsarist and Orthodox ideology. The peasant masses remained in their state of backwardness and continued to work mostly with wooden tools. Often the kulaks would seize power in the co-operatives, credit pools and even rural Soviets. Under Stolypin,  bourgeois agricultural specialists had set themselves up in the countryside. They continued to have great influence as proponents of modern private agricultural production. Ninety per cent of the land continued to be run according to the traditional communal village system, in which the rich peasants predominated.

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Viola,  op. cit. , pp. 19, 22.

The extreme poverty and extreme ignorance that characterized the peasant masses were among the worst `enemies' of the Bolsheviks. It was relatively simple to defeat the Tsar and the landowners. But how could barbarism, mental exhaustion and superstition be defeated? The Civil War had completely disrupted the countryside; ten years of socialist régime had introduced the first elements of mass culture and a minimal Communist leadership. But the traditional characteristics of the peasantry were still there, as influential as ever.

Dr. Émile Joseph Dillon  lived in Russia from 1877 to 1914. Professor at several Russian universities, he was also the chief editor of a Russian newspaper. He had traveled to all areas of the empire. He knew the ministers, the nobility, the bureaucrats and the successive generations of revolutionaries. His testimony about the Russian peasantry warrants a few thoughts.

He first described the material misery in which the majority of the peasantry lived:

`(T)he Russian peasant ... goes to bed at six and even five o'clock in the winter, because he cannot afford money to buy petroleum enough for artificial light. He has no meat, no eggs, no butter, no milk, often no cabbage, and lives mainly on black bread and potatoes. Lives? He starves on an insufficient quantity of them.'

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Émile Joseph Dillon,  quoted in Webb,   op. cit. , p. 809.

Then Dillon  wrote about the cultural and political backwardnesss in which the peasants were held:

`(T)he agricultural population ... was mediaeval in its institutions, Asiatic in its strivings and prehistoric in its conceptions of life. The peasants believed that the Japanese had won the Manchurian campaign by assuming the form of microbes, getting into the boots of the Russian soldiers, biting their legs, and bringing about their death. When there was an epidemic in a district they often killed the doctors `for poisoning the wells and spreading the disease'. They still burn witches with delight, disinter the dead to lay a ghost, strip unfaithful wives stark naked, tie them to carts and whip them through the village .... And when the only restraints that keep such a multitude in order are suddenly removed the consequences to the community are bound to be catastrophic .... Between the people and anarchism for generations there stood the frail partition formed by its primitive ideas of God and the Tsar; and since the Manchurian campaign these were rapidly melting away.'

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Ibid. , pp. 808--809.



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Next: New class differentiation Up: From rebuilding production Previous: Weakness of the



Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995