Merl S. Was Chayanov’s concept of peasant agriculture under the Soviet rule realistic? The emerging of the kulturniki in answer to the Litsom k derevne policy // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2022. V.7. №2. P. 6-37.
Litsom k derevne (‘turning to the village’) was a short and unjustly neglected episode of the Soviet history. This program of development combined socialist construction and industrialization with the further growth of peasant agriculture. It was adopted by the Party’s CC-Plenum in April 1925 (although only for a short time), and designed by such agricultural experts as Chelintsev, Kondratiev and Makarov, i.e., it was close to Chayanov’s vision. Some peasants reacted positively to this program: following the call of the Party, a group of kulturniki started to improve and rationalize farming ‘in a cultural way’ — with the agricultural research knowledge. The article aims to question the feasibility of the Litsom k derevne program in regard to two decisive changes in 1925–1927: the nearly total stop of the state financial support for agriculture, and the Party’s return to the ‘class war’ in the countryside — against the imagined kulaks. The argument on the political alternatives mentions Chayanov’s and his colleagues’ statements to Molotov in October 1927. The author describes the state’s first attention to agriculture and its basic problems in the early 1920s; how and why the New Economic Policy led to a different program of agricultural development — Litsom k derevne — which strongly revised the Bolsheviks’ previous positions. The author identifies reasons for the failure of this program, and how changes in the industrialization strategy affected the political action in the countryside. For the feasibility of the Litsom k derevne program, the peasants active participation was decisive. The article considers the state measures for agricultural development, the desperate fight of the kulturniki against their discrimination, and the position of Chayanov and his school on this program and the chances of the ‘working peasants’. In the conclusion, the author presents his findings: 1) The agricultural program Litsom k derevne did not have any alternatives after the political decision to support primarily industrialization; only the kulturniki as rather well-to-do peasants could increase agricultural production in such conditions due to their higher profitability and lower costs. Only political discrimination and the threat of expropriation could stop their efforts to dynamically develop their farms. Thus, there was no way to combine the Party’s return to the ‘class war’ against the well-to-do peasants as ‘kulaks’ with the Litsom k derevne program. The Party’s internal fight for power had disastrous consequences not only for the kulturniki but also for the agricultural production and exports. 2) The author suggests to stop the fruitless debates on the ‘class differentiation’ of the peasantry and to focus on the real mid-1920s controversy: whether the growth of agricultural production and efficiency required agricultural expertise (by capable peasants and researchers) and the state financial support (for the needed institutions like cooperatives). Both points were the basic requests of Chayanov to Molotov in 1927. The Party leaders from Stalin to Brezhnev never understood that not only industry but also agriculture could be successful only with expertise and not just by command.
Chayanov, peasant agriculture, Soviet agriculture, agricultural experts, Soviet rule, kulturniki, Litsom k derevne.
About the author
Merl Stephan, DSc (History), Professor, Bielefeld University, Universitätsstr., 25, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany.