The phenomenon of protest in peasant culture

Gordon A.V. The phenomenon of protest in peasant culture // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2023. V.8. №3. P. 6-26.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2023-8-3-6-26


The article considers peasant protests as a form of the peasantry’s life activity in pre-capitalist class societies, which is not adequately interpreted in popular approaches that emphasize the antagonistic nature of such societies, ignore the possibilities of non-antagonistic interaction of social subjects, absolutize the factor of cruel exploitation of peasants, ignoring the certain success of their resistance. Features of peasant protest are determined by the nature of the peasantry as a social community both autonomous and dependent on macro-social environment (‘part-society, part-culture’, according to A. Kreber, R. Redfield). The combination of autonomy and dependence developed in ancient times as a part of the worldview of primitive agricultural societies. Anthropologists consider the so-called gift-exchange relations of such societies with powerful external forces, whose favor was achieved in exchange for a certain part of peasant produce. The mythologeme of a peculiar balance of services according to the ancient principle of do ut des was preserved by the so-called patriarchal worldview in class societies, while the balance was maintained by the everyday peasant resistance to the excessive seizure of their produce and to the gross personal oppression. Such resistance, conceptualized by J. Scott as ‘weapons of the weak’, implied sabotage of landlords’ orders, their untimely or improper execution, theft or damage of masters’ property. An open fight or rebellion meant the exhaustion of the potential for nonviolent resistance. Protesters sought to restore what they considered to be a just order with extreme forms of disobedience: from plowing masters’ land and cutting down forests to direct vandalism and looting, including plundering masters’ property, setting fire to homesteads, mocking or even killing masters and those representing for peasants the order they hated. The highest form of traditional social protest — peasant wars — led to devastation of entire regions and numerous casualties. However, given the power of their traditional worldview, peasants wanted to replace the ruler who had lost legitimacy but not to destroy social hierarchy — in order to restore the autonomy of the communal order and the rights to manage land. Peasant revolutionary ideas were the result of the destruction of the traditional worldview which was undermined by the introduction of egalitarian, socialist, and anarchist ideologemes ‘from outside’.


Peasant movement, peasant culture, peasant war, social protest, nonviolent resistance, rebellion, revolution in Russia, V. I. Lenin.

About the author

Gordon Alexander V., DSc (History), Chief Researcher, Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Nakhimovsky prosp., 51/21, Moscow, 117418, Russia.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



Read 228 times Last modified on Nov 16 2023

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