The pre-1941 local administration in the Soviet countryside: How effectively it worked, and what rules of political communication followed to prevent peasant rebellions

Merl S. The pre-1941 local administration in the Soviet countryside: How effectively it worked, and what rules of political communication followed to prevent peasant rebellions // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2017. V.2. №2. P. 53-76.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2017-2-2-53-76


When it comes to the local administration in the Soviet countryside, we see a surprisingly uniform picture in the historical research—the so-called “rural undergovernment”. In the article, the author questions this perception and shows how strongly it was influenced by the official discourse, i.e. of the 1930s Stalin’s interpretation. The author believes that rural administration, on the contrary, functioned as it was designed to, and that its obvious incompetence was the most important part of Stalin’s strategy of governance. To understand the functioning of rural administration on the eve of the German occupation, we have to consider the decisive changes in the local management that took place under the collectivization in the 1930s, and the real aims of the state, i.e. Stalin’s dictatorship. The local administration was not limited to purely bureaucratic tasks but had to solve specific economic and political problems to keep up political stability. To evaluate the efficiency of rural administration we have to consider first the political priorities of the regime for even economic inefficiency and the abuse of office could be inevitable by-products of a highly efficient system of keeping up the regime. After the German occupation, it became evident that rural administration was not suitable to deliver what the new rulers expected: to deliver just grain. The author starts with a chronology focusing on the significant ruptures affecting the local rural administration between the mid-1920s and the German occupation in 1941. The second part of the article discusses what the state under Stalin really wanted the local administration to achieve. The third part of the article considers the bases of the rural management in the second half of the 1930s to reveal the intersection of the Party, the state and state security apparatus interests in the countryside. In the conclusion, the author presents his general findings, pointing out as well why the German Occupational Regime failed to take as much grain as Stalin’s administration before.


local administration, Soviet countryside, incompetence, “rural undergovernment”, German occupation, Stalin’s dictatorship, political and economic aims, efficiency

About the author

Merl Stephan, DSc (History), Professor, Bielefeld University. 25 Universitätsstr., 33615, Bielefeld, Germany.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Read 1285 times Last modified on Mar 17 2023

Russian Peasant Studies. Scientific journal

The Russian Peasant Studies is published by the Center for Agrarian studies of the Russian Presidental Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) since 2016. ISSN 2500-1809. Frequency - four issues per year. The Russian registration number is PI FS77-65824 27-May-2016. Open access: All volumes and articles can be downloaded for free in the PDF format. Russian Peasant Studies included to Russian Science Citation Index, Russian Science Citation Index Core, List of Journals approved by Russian Hihger Attestation committee (Ministry for Sciende and Education) and  Scopus database. The publisher: Delo Publishing House of the RANEPA. Hard copies of the journal can be purchased at the Delo e-store or by subscription in the "Press of Russia" Agency (subscription index - Т81017). Full list of the RANEPA Journlas


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