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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Festivity in North Caucasus Collective Farm

Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in French: “F. PRESSE-CLICHÉ No. 64420. Caucase Septentrional. Une fête dans une kolkhoz” [Purple stamp] “Copyright PRESS CLICHE – Photo Bureau – Moscow, Pokrovka, [1]” – [“North Caucasus. A celebration in a kolkhoz”]. The banner on the right reads in Russian: “Да здравствует 5 февраля, день завершения сплошной коллективизации”  – [“Long live the 5 February, the day of completion of total collectivization”]. Black and white photograph; 17 x 22.5 cm.

1In 1931 collective farms (kolkhozy) were still new institutions to which peasants were adjusting. Only two years earlier in 1929 such farms had enrolled a mere 57,000 homesteads comprising less than four percent of the total and only about five percent of all sown area. Even in 1930 after Soviet authorities had launched full-scale collectivization, more than three-quarters of all peasant households remained outside of collective farms as did two-thirds of the sown area. But 1931 proved a breakthrough year, for by year’s end, more than half of all peasant households resided in collective farms, cultivating some two-thirds of all sown territory.

2We know that most peasants experienced collectivization as a catastrophe. Loss of decision-making over the allocation of whatever resources they had possessed, the crushing burden of the unequal exchange with procurement authorities, and the imposition of a new system of accounting (“labor days”) created bitter antipathy to the institution, leading to much artful dodging and other weapons of the weak. Yet, although historians have paid much less attention to it, evidence of making do, of eking out moments of entertainment and enjoyment, and, in the long term, making lives within collective farm society abounds.

3This photograph seeks to testify to the fact that peasants continued to celebrate much as they had before collectivization. Participants of both sexes and all ages, wrapped in winter clothing - it is 5 February, after all, as the banner on the right proclaims - appear to be waiting for the festivity to begin, perhaps with handouts of food and drink. The numerous banners would suggest that they had just concluded the formal part of the ceremony that would have included speeches and perhaps a march. Soon, the fun would begin. Women were to dance with men and with each other to music provided by the accordion. In this manner, the sense of community that had survived the deportation of kulaks (peasants identified as exploitative and therefore ineligible for membership in collective farms) was reinforced. And though succeeding decades saw considerable rural depopulation, the institution remained dominant in the countryside until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Bibliographie

Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization, New York: Norton, 1968.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization, London: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in French: “F. PRESSE-CLICHÉ No. 64420. Caucase Septentrional. Une fête dans une kolkhoz” [Purple stamp] “Copyright PRESS CLICHE – Photo Bureau – Moscow, Pokrovka, [1]” – [“North Caucasus. A celebration in a kolkhoz”]. The banner on the right reads in Russian: “Да здравствует 5 февраля, день завершения сплошной коллективизации”  – [“Long live the 5 February, the day of completion of total collectivization”]. Black and white photograph; 17 x 22.5 cm.
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