Shanin, Chayanov and peasant studies of Russia and beyond

Bernstein H. Shanin, Chayanov and peasant studies of Russia and beyond // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2020. V.5. №4. P. 32-38.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2020-5-4-32-38


This text is based on the presentation at the roundtable in memory of Teodor Shanin (Moscow, 23 October 2020) and on the recent author’s paper in press, which surveys Shanin’s work of the 1970s and 1980s. The author provides a guide to tracing Shanin’s main themes and issues. First, the family farm is usually if not invariably featured first in Shanin’s characterizations of peasants as a general or generic type. Second, Shanin sought explanations of peasant household reproduction in his model of ‘multidirectional and cyclical mobility’ against the ‘biological determinism’ linked to the organization-production school and against the ‘economic determinism’ of Marxists. Third, Shanin emphasized “life of a small community within which most of the peasant needs of social living and social reproduction can be met”, but he aimed to avoid a romantic view of the mir. Fourth, Shanin believed that “the definitions of peasantry, which view it as representing an aspect of the past surviving in the modern world, seem, on the whole, valid”, and that rural society can be understood in terms of labour and capital flows which are broader than agriculture. Fifth, Shanin wrote that the triple origins of Marx’s analytical thought suggested by Engels—German philosophy, French socialism and British political economy—should be supplemented by the Russian revolutionary populism. Sixth, Shanin argued that the concept of ‘peasant mode of production’ had too many heuristic limitations to be sustained. Finally, Shanin’s vision of an alternative to both capitalist development and the projects of Soviet style was firmly rooted in the legacy of Chayanov.


Shanin, Chayanov, peasant economy, organization-production school, populist, peasantry, peasant mode of production

About the author

Bernstein Henry, Professor Emeritus, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK; Adjunct Professor, School of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University, Beijing.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


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