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Shaping peasant political discourse during the new economic policy: the newspaper krest'ianskaia gazeta and the case of "vladimir ia".

"V nachale bylo Slovo" (In the beginning was the word)--few religious expressions would have such an impact on revolutionary movements as this. Russian political culture was wrapped around the ideas of orthodoxy, and central to this was extreme reverence for the written word. For the Bolsheviks in exile, the power of the word was conceptualized as the power of the newspaper. The struggle to gain dominance within the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party was carried out in part through a war to control the illegal Marxist press. (1) Thus with the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks laying claim to "power," they naturally turned their attention to matters of the press, including the problem of a peasant press. (2) Liquidating the "counterrevolutionary" press was first on the agenda. (3) But whereas it had proven relatively easy to suppress and nationalize, the problem of the character and function of a "peasant" newspaper bedeviled the Bolsheviks no less than it had their tsarist predecessors. (4)

The journalistic initial effort came with the Central Committee's creation of Bednota ("The Poor"), whose first issue emerged on March 27, 1918. Bednota immediately became a weapon in the campaign by Committees of the Poor to establish Bolshevik control in the countryside, serving to "awaken consciousness in the village." (5) Despite claims that the newspaper was successfully agitating the village, the Central Committee Commission on Work in the Village proceeded in the fall of 1923 to move forward with creating a new peasant newspaper, Kresr'ianskaia gazeta (The Peasant Gazette), that would be aimed not solely at the "more politically aware" village elements, but at the "broad peasant masses." (6)

The question of how to communicate with the peasantry remained at issue; the Department of Agitation and Propaganda admitted that to this point the broad masses of the peasants had not been won over by the press, and avowed that the new paper had to strictly take into consideration the cultural level, degree of literacy, and "concrete character" of the peasantry in order to address its real interests and desires, keeping in mind that the peasants' language "has its own specific peculiarities that correspond to special forms of primitive thought." (7) The leading role in illuminating all sides of the way of life and activities of the peasantry, especially as these were being transformed, was to be assumed by the village correspondents (sel'skie korrespondenty [sel'kory]), who, it was averred, understood their audience. (8) Unable to actually penetrate the village--the total press run for Bednota in April 1923 was only 149,000 copies--the party thus determined to create local peasant journalistic/political agen ts writing letters and brief articles who would establish the necessary contact with the villages and set the boundaries of discourse. In April 1926 the question of those boundaries exploded in a series of angry exchanges between a sel'kor, "Vladimir Ia.", and no less a personage than Mikhail I. Kalinin, nominal Head of State as Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets of the RSFSR, and often viewed as a "peasant" spokesman within the leadership.

According to the party's plans for peasant-party dialogue, questions regarding village life were to receive special attention: matters of taxes, prices, money, and the struggle against NEPmen, kulak, and priest influence on the village, as well as deficiencies in the activities of local organs of power and abuses by local officials. (9) The Central Committee took a number of steps to assess whether the new paper would be well received by the peasantry. A notice (only 35,000 copies) was sent out informing the peasantry of the plan for the new paper and asking for comments on its tasks and proposed content. In November, 1923, two trial runs of the paper, in tiny editions of 1000 and 300 copies, were distributed gratis. Several public readings among peasants and soldiers were also carried out. Kalinin argued in the second trial edition that the paper was to reflect the life of the peasantry, and to provide the peasants with practical assistance so that they could understand political, economic, land, and legal i ssues. Special attention was to be given to the battle against official crimes and all the "dark sides" of village life. Finally, the paper would "enlighten the peasantry to the full meaning of ongoing world events and their close connection to the life of our republic.

What emerged from peasant responses to the trial runs was a clear preference for agricultural and economic information in a newspaper that the party saw as a means to bring "cultural-political influence on the broad multimillion mass of the peasantry."" According to the editor of the Nizhnegorod newspaper, Krest'ianskaia gazeta, it was practical advice that the peasants valued most. Quoting from a peasant letter, he wrote:

Reading our own Krest'ianskaia gazeta, we learn how to till our mother land, how to fertilize it and restore its strength without manure through sowing grasses and edible roots, and plowing under winter tillage. Perhaps the kulak already knew this, but the poor peasant receives this news with great pleasure, for it is as useful as air is for life. (12)

Thus at the time of the first issue of Krest'ianskaia gazeta, the function and language of the newspaper remained somewhat clouded--Was it to be essentially utilitarian, playing the role of an "encyclopedic reference book" for the peasants, or was it to be a cultural/political transformer? Would it speak a language "understandable even by a child," or would it use Kalinin's "normal" language? But this much was clear, at least to those sitting in Moscow, its driving force would be the sel'kory.

On February 6, 1924, the Central Committee issued its "The Chief Immediate Tasks of the Party in the Area of the Press" in which it declared that peasant newspapers should give priority to "questions of the economic and political position of the republic from the point of view of strengthening the union of the working class and the peasantry together with elucidating problems of cooperatives and the propaganda of agronomic methods." (13) Also in February the First All-Union Conference of Sel'kory for bednota convened, with Kalinin delivering the keynote address, "On the Tasks of Village Correspondents." (14) The concentration on the sel'kory continued at the Thirteenth Party Congress in May, which passed a special resolution "On the Press" focusing on the role of the sel'kory as the primary means for strengthening the connection between the press and the peasantry. Much of what was praised regarding the activities of the sel'kory was actually quite traditional within peasant society. This was especially true concerning the public reading of newspapers. The party noted, however, the creation of "Friends of the Newspaper" as further evidence of the success of the sel'kory in validating the newspaper, and Soviet power, within the village. The head of the Central Committee's Press Section, IosifVareikis, took pride in the expansion of peasant newspapers from 51 in 1923 with a total circulation of 148,030 copies a day to 134 papers in 1925 with 1,500,000 copies, (15) although he admitted that the quality of many of these papers was low.

But an ominous note was sounded in October by the plenum of the Party Central Committee in its resolution "On the Foremost Tasks of Work in the Village." It stated that in order to aid the sel'kory, the party "must decisively take under the protection of Soviet laws and Soviet organs those [sel'kory] whose unmasking work can call forth threats of violence from the counter-revolutionary and kulak elements in the village." (16) One sel'kor from Voronezh province, speaking at the March (1925) All-Union Congress of Sel'kory from Bednota and Krest'ianskaia gazeta, revealed more than he intended when he commented that "The masses yesterday still looked upon the sel'kor as something foreign to them, [but] today they already understand that the sel'kor is their friend and defender." (17) Perhaps yesterday had passed for this particular correspondent, but S. B. Uritskii wrote in the May 24, 1926 issue of Krest'ianskaia gazeta that the persecution of sel'kory had not ceased, but taken new forms:

The kulak, bandit, moonshining element of the village as before hates the sel'kor. But it no longer has resolved on murder. Murders and assaults, although they continue to occur, nonetheless in general, have certainly fallen off. The persecution of sel'kory takes a new, more concealed, adroit, imperceptible form--provocations, defilements, slander, sowing of family discord, having the goal of ousting the sel'kor from the village, etc. (18)

Despite the risks involved, writing to the newspaper continued, as it had been under the old regime, to be a popular activity. At the beginning of 1924, the editors of Krest'ianskaia gazeta reported that 1,617 peasants were contributing letters or short pieces. The number for 1925 had risen to 5,000, whereas by 1926 some 30,000 peasants were participating, and of that number 6,000 were "activists" or true sel'kory. In 1926, the newspaper provided a breakdown of the latter; 65% of them were peasants, 6% village teachers ["intelligentsia"], 13% day laborers, and 15% employees; 7% were members of the party, and 20% of the Komsomol; 12% had secondary education, 83% primary, and 5% were self educated; 42% were veterans of the Red Army. (19)

The connection with the veterans is central to understanding the work of the sel'kory. The paper later reported that the vast majority of the sel'kory were between the ages of 20 and 30, with 96% being men. (20) Thus a large percentage of the sel'kory were young peasant men in their twenties who had served in the Red Army, having received a primary education either before service or in the army and abundant political indoctrination while in service. They had returned to a village that in many ways remained under the sway of elders and relatively well-to-do peasants who regarded these veterans as "youths" unready for participation in the traditional institution of village power, the mir. (21) Denied a place in the village hierarchy of male family heads (bol'shaki) and often occupying the lowest rungs of village society as either the youngest sons of bol'shaki or as hired farm laborers (batraki), the veterans turned to the role of sel'kor to contest authority within the village. The struggle between the old hie rarchy and the sel'kory, especially as carried out in the denunciations made by the correspondents, thus continued a struggle for status within the village that had marked the previous century. (22)

What were these peasant correspondents actually writing about within the "free criticism" (23) allegedly encouraged by the party and why did their reporting lead to threats and an occasional murder? One of their primary assignments was informing against fellow peasants, a practice that reached back into Russia's Muscovite past. (24) But the quality of their denunciations, at least in middle 1920s, a time when some concern still existed over accuracy, was not particularly high. (25) Nonetheless, in 1926, Krest,ianskaia gazeta, proudly declaring that "This is true freedom of the press," reported that 1685 persons during 1925 were "thrust into the stocks" as a result of denunciations to the paper. (26) Similarly, Krasnaia pechat' reported that for 1925, an investigation of the 2,343 letters that had been forwarded primarily from Krest'ianskaia gazeta to the investigative organs revealed that over half of the accusations had been confirmed; 1240 persons had been called to account, of whom 609 had been sent to tri al, 168 removed from their positions, and 444 punished in various ways. (27) In 1926, denunciations to Krest'ianskaia gazeta resulted in a significant increase in those removed from their positions--2,080 persons were dismissed and "brought to account." (28) Krest'ianskaia gazeta further reported in May 1926 that as a result of letters sent to it between January 1,1925 and May 1,1926,139 persons had been expelled from the party. (29) Thus, clearly well before collectivization, when Sheila Fitzpatrick notes the peasants' use of denunciations to newspapers as a weapon of the weak, (30) peasants had found a means to defend themselves through "acting Bolshevik," that is utilizing the call for "criticism" as a means of attacking those with power over them. The figures given by Krasnaia pechat' indicate a clear preference for those closest to the peasants and in a position to most oppress them--leaders of the village soviets and of volost executive committees, and militiamen. By participating in the sel'kor movemen t, peasants could both act Bolshevik and pursue their own aims.

Denunciations were not, however, the only activity with which sel'kory were involved. Krest'ianskaia gazeta used its claimed 50,000 letters per month (31) to address a number of issues that became the basis for letter writing campaigns from the villages. According to the responsible editor Iakov Iakovlev, this and all the other activities of the paper were to fulfill four requirements set forth by Lenin: to propagandize the emergence of socialism within the village while serving as the "engine for class consciousness in village life"; to criticize shortcomings and "fasten to the pillory all bribe takers, idlers, rascals, throughout the entire territory of the country"; to use the power of example to educate the peasantry; and not to spoil the Russian language in the press, "not adapting [language] for the peasants, but speaking in the common language, as all peasants speak." (32) These translated, in addition to the denunciation campaigns, into assisting in raising the peasants' economy, especially peasant co operatives; developing industry in the countryside; and "fighting for economizing and introducing into practice the new, the exemplary." (33) Reflecting the still dominant agricultural line set forth by Nikolai Bukharin, the editors' professed goal was to use the newspaper as a vehicle for instructing the peasants on how to produce more scientifically and profitably and to adjust agricultural production to the demands of the market. S. Uritskii wrote that

Today one of the most important tasks of our paper is agronomic and cultural leadership of the peasant masses ... Krest'ianskaia gazeta must teach the peasants to break free from their present unprofitable economy and move to a better and more cultured economy. Krest'ianskaia Gazeta must present itself as a culture tractor [kul'turnyi traktor], lifting up village culture and agricultural production. (34)

The newspaper should work so that "every peasant will farm with Krest'ianskaia gazeta in his hands."

But whereas Iakovlev appeared to have seen the lines of communication between party and peasant as operating smoothly, Uritskii repeated the observation that the peasants often lacked faith in the newspapers as the writers tended to gloss over problems that the peasants saw as central. Only when the papers dealt honestly with the conditions confronting the peasants would they believe anything written in them. Writing in Krasnaia pechat', Uritskii listed some of the more important issues that the sel'kory had brought to the fore: the privileged position in soviet government of the working class as compared to the peasantry; the superior life in the town in contrast to that in the countryside; the power of kulaks and wealthy peasants; the high prices and low quality of manufactured goods; the lack of genuine land reform. (35)

An analysis carried out by the Main Political Enlightenment Department (Glavpolitprosvet) of 87,195 letters sent to Krest'ianskaia gazeta during the last six months of 1924 revealed that the issues of most importance to the peasantry dealt, in rank order, with everyday life (19% of the letters); the newspaper itself (16%); legal problems (9%); taxes (8%); cooperatives, credit, insurance, and mutual aid (8%); local authority (7%); reallocation of land holdings (6%); agronomics (4.5%); artistic literature (4.5%); the Communist Party and the Komsomol (4%); the general condition of the peasantry (3%); forests (1%); and the Red Army (1%). (36) In 1926, Krest'ianskaia gazeta reported much the same, with the major exception that problems with the local authorities had moved significantly up the list: everyday life (13% of the letters received); local authority (10%); cooperatives, credit, and insurance (10%); the newspaper itself (10%); legal problems (9%); taxes (9%); reallocation of land holdings (7%); education ( 7%); economics (6%); agronomics (5%); the Communist Party (5%); forests (4%); artistic literature (3%); and the Red Army (2%). (37) The Communist Party and the Red Army, two fundamental institutions of the new order, were not revealed as central to the peasants' concerns.

Although the peasants might use letters as a means to discuss problems of everyday life, denunciations, nonetheless, were the most valued contribution of the sel'kory, which Kalinin championed as evidence that the peasantry had taken on an active political role in the construction of the Soviet state. (38) But despite encouraging words, including some from Stalin, (39) peasants had to be careful about how they used the "right" to criticize, and especially whom or what they denounced. The newspaper launched its most vigorous campaign prior to collectivization in April 1926, when it used the case of "Vladimir Ia." to establish the limits of criticism and to clarify to the peasantry exactly what the revolution had brought to them and what they could expect from "their" government. The campaign came in the midst of fierce debate within the party and among nonparty economists over the appropriate speed and means of industrial growth, and represented a significant aspect of this controversy. Whatever policy might b e established regarding industrialization, the relationship of the party to the peasantry was recognized as key to its implementation. Over a five-month period, Vladimir Ia. became the symbol of the relationship between party and peasant.

On April 13, 1926, Krest'ianskaia gazeta published a letter from Vladimir Ia., a peasant from the village of Dobraia Klinitsa, Odessa Province, addressed to Kalinin, entitled "Where Are My Revolutionary Desserts?" (40) Vladimir Ia. began by invoking the party's discourse on the heroic actions of the Bolshevik past, establishing himself as a veteran of the Red Army who had helped create Soviet power. Despite that, Vladimir Ia. declared, the Soviet government had not afforded him the necessary conditions to provide for his family, and had left him attempting to survive as a farm laborer on mere kopecks a day. He had sacrificed his youth for the Soviet state, had served as a soldier and as the founder of a reading hut in his village, earning thereby the esteem of his fellows. Now, he proclaimed, the state owed him a reward. Instead, the government simply looked upon him and the other poor as "grey greatcoats"; if a new war broke out, he lamented, "We will be cannon fodder."

What change had the revolution brought? What was the Soviet state giving to the workers and peasants other than that offered by tsarism? "We were slaves and will continue to be." There was no equality in the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ia. continued, for while Kalinin, Rykov, Zinoviev and the other "highly educated and intelligent" party leaders lived well, were provided with Romanov palaces and wondrous salaries such as those that had existed under Nicholas II, "and went from rich circumstances to the richest," he and thousands of other poor and unemployed peasant were tormented by life and vegetated in poverty: "As we were, dark, illiterates so we remain."

Kalinin's response, "On Inflated Merits and Broad Claims for Reward," was carried in the same edition, and opened the door to a fierce campaign against Vladimir Ia. and other "objective counterrevolutionaries." (41) Having labeled Vladimir Ia.'s letter, "clearly counterrevolutionary," Kalinin declared that it demonstrated how sometimes people who were not themselves actual couterrevolutionaries, and even considered themselves to be completely loyal Soviet citizens, on issues of personal, practical everyday life slipped into counterrevolutionary points of view.

Kalinin inquired as to what rewards revolutionaries had received under tsarism. He then described his personal "reward" of Siberian exile, and added that at the time he had four children. Youth, indeed, was a terrible thing to lose, but he could not return that to Vladimir Ia. It was also true that the country was still poor and that the life of a peasant was hard. But the government could not guarantee everything in equal measure. Kalinin compared himself to a horse that a peasant prepares for a journey by providing it with a rich diet of oats. Yes, he had oats, and a good suit of clothes, but simply in order to receive foreign dignitaries and preserve the honor of the Soviet government. As for Vladimir Ia.'s family, presently the Soviet state could not guarantee the full maintenance of a family, but "everyone who starts a family must seriously contemplate whether he can protect it from hunger and misery." Kalinin wondered at Vladimir Ia.'s logic: "I myself marry, and the state cannot involve itself in this, but the state must guarantee the maintenance of my family." For Kalinin, the major issue was the unmasking of Vladimir Ia.'s petty-bourgeois pessimism and lack of revolutionary faith.

The newspaper used this exchange as the basis for a public denunciation of Vladimir Ia. Letters were published from peasants in a special section of the newspaper in June and July. In the lead editorial of June 7, responsible editor lakovlev set the stage by declaring that the overwhelming majority of the vast number of letters received regarding the Vladimir Ia.-Kalinin exchange considered Vladimir Ia.'s letter "mistaken." (42) With perfect Horatio Alger logic, Iakovlev maintained that these writers argued that Vladimir Ia. and all others like him could not raise themselves out of poverty "if they merely sit idle, and fail to take advantage of those opportunities to lift up their economy that have been given to the poor and middle peasantry by soviet power." The peasant respondents, Iakovlev stated, called on Vladimir Ia. and those like him to take up regular work and self help.

In the same issue, Sel'kor Khmara from Ukraine condemned Vladimir Ia. for having the audacity to compare himself with communists such as Lenin, Kalinin, and Rykov, rejected his claim that he had performed any true service for the revolution, and demanded that he learn to work. (43) The unskilled worker from the Moscow factory "Ikar," Vasilii L., followed in the same vein: serving in the Red Army and involving oneself in cultural development were simply obligations for any thinking peasant. As a result of the revolution, a huge number of various types of schools now existed in the country; therefore, he explained: "If anyone has a desire to learn, then by one means or another he will find his way." Further, Vasilii L. naively declared, Vladimir Ia. was simply wrong to claim that the government leaders received a salary of 500 rubles: "Perhaps comrade Vladimir doesn't know that for a party member the highest salary is set at 225 rubles, and it is impossible to go above this even if one occupies 10 positions." R ather than complaining that he received only 17 and a half kopecks a day from his farm labor, he should be asking himself what he had done to improve the condition of demobilized poor peasants. Poverty was not the fault of the government, but rather of the four years of imperialist war and the ensuing civil war which continued to impact the economy and had even led to famine. (44) The Cossack Palatkii inquired if Vladimir Ia. was not aware that were he to band together with other poor peasants in a workmen's cooperative association or a commune that the government would assist him in working his way out of poverty: "Is it possible that you do not know that through cooperative work, through organization, it is easier to put in order and improve life than by oneself....? (45)

However, not every writer so wholeheartedly condemned Vladimir Ia. and cavalierly dismissed his accusations. The peasant Golovlev argued that although Vladimir Ia. might have been too sharp in his condemnations, his voice reflected the frustration that peasants often felt when dealing with officials who treated them with contempt. Golovlev was quick to point out that such arrogant officials came not from the ranks of the Old Bolsheviks but from those who had joined the party after the revolution, and who now enjoyed decent salaries, and further knew many ways to supplement them. He set the number of these bureaucratic and "bourgeois influenced" party members in the countryside at 50%. When peasants, many of them "common, grey heroes who had endured all the burdens of tsarist slaughter and civil war," turned to Soviet institutions for assistance or advice, they frequently encountered merely a sneer and a shrug rather than sympathy. Golovlev criticized "the all-union elder" Kalinin for simply condemning Vladimi r Ia.'s wail as counter-revolutionary carping and offering only the advice to be patient and have faith in the socialism to come. It would be better, Golovlev suggested, for the party to direct all of its forces to eradicating from the state apparatus the social contagion responsible for bureaucratism and red tape. (46)

The theme of the insolent official reappeared in the next issue of the newspaper in a letter from veteran A. F. Rybalchenko, who had lost a leg in the civil war while serving in the Red Cavalry, but who, despite an official policy giving preference to wounded veterans, remained unemployed. Rybalchenko defended Vladimir Ia.'s letter as a cry of despair against the indifference, if not hostility, of local officials who often as not abused the peasantry and who subverted the laws and regulations coming from the capital. If the party did not decisively struggle against the illegal acts of such officials, he warned, then counterrevolutionary thoughts would multiply and the kulaks would seize upon these failings. (47)

But more common was the call from "N. K.," another former Red Armyman, that Vladimir Ia. be "isolated from society" for carrying out an openly, White-Guardist line. Why had not Vladimir Ia. organized a mutual aid association with other poor peasants and with the assistance of the party, N. K. inquired. He declared that Vladimir Ia.'s letter was full of sheer lies. N. K. refused to stand in the Red Army with someone like Vladimir Ia. (48) Others labeled him a failure who deceived himself about his worth and expected "manna from heaven." More often he was simply branded a "contra." Unless he were willing to make a public apology to Kalinin, the party, and the government, still others were ready to bring him to trial.

Many of the letters sang the praise of the "leaders," recalling their sacrifice for the revolution, and arguing that given the "darkness" of the peasantry, everything would be lost to the rapacious bourgeoisie without the guidance of the educated and experienced party leadership:

I trust them [party leaders] more than I trust myself. Why? I am not as experienced and have not passed through fire and water, as they have, and any Vladimir Ia. can confuse all of us simpletons if we do not pay careful attention and keep our wits about us. (49)

Following the same line of reasoning, another peasant inquired: "Do you think that administering the government is as easy as preparing a blintz?" (50) Others praised the government for providing them with loans to purchase equipment and tools to construct houses, for dividing the land, and for allowing the peasants to carry out their own justice. In words that would soon reveal their true horror, one peasant asked: "Have you not been given full freedom to work for yourself? Have you not been given the complete right to organize your own life as you see fir according to your personal discretion?" (51)

However, in the tradition of Russian village women taking on any and all authority, the "village baba" K. O. Sheviakova declared that "It is something frightful to write to Kalinin," but then proceeded to condemn him for calling counterrevolutionary people who have been driven to the edge by need and privation. Sheviakova accused Kalinin of being ready to brand anyone as a counterrevolutionary who merely expressed vexation. Peasants lived poorly, she exclaimed, and they were forced despite their extremely hard work to live "in no way like a human." But all Kalinin wanted to do was condemn people who asked hard questions: "This cannot be, because in a country where there is a worker-peasant government, one can speak truth to the face, as [Commissar of Foreign Affairsi Chicherin does to the League of Nations." Soviet citizens, including women, had the duty to assist the government by pointing out its mistakes--which the government itself had called upon the people to do. (52)

On August 31, 1926, Kalinin wrote a two-page response to the discussion entitled "On the second letter from Vladimir Ia. (53) He informed the readers that Vladimir Ia. had written him back a lengthy response, but claimed that he could not print the letter in its entirety "first of all because of its size (ten printed pages), secondly, because in essence it offers nothing new, and thirdly, it is of a more personal character." Kalinin assured his readers that he would provide excerpts of the principal general questions, but in essence he launched once more into an ad hominem attack, declaring anew that Vladimir Ia. was a counterrevolutionary and that his denial of the charge was simply "amusing." Kalinin's main idea, one that was central to Bolshevik discourse on the eve of collectivization, was that although "the urban and village poor in their mass were revolutionaries" and "the success of the October revolution to a significant degree was based on the revolutionariness of the mass of the town and village poo r," and "the foundation of soviet power, of course, is the poor," nonetheless "from within the midst of the poor counterrevolutionary ideas can be smuggled In." (54)

Kalinin offered what he claimed to be the three definitive conclusions that could be drawn from the discussion. First, "the overwhelming majority of the working masses understand the actions of the Soviet government and their great significance for the present time." Second, "The small householders, not seeing the perspective of their economy as that of an individual economy, infect with their lack of faith and pessimism not only individuals from amongst the small holders, but also the intelligentsia who are joined with the petty bourgeoisie." Finally, "socialism is constructed not from materials that we desire, but From the presently existing society." Socialism, he therefore concluded, would only be created slowly as the prejudices of the past and the contradictions of the present were Overcome.

For the editors and the party, one of the prime functions of the polemic between Vladimir Ia. and Kalinin was to allow the party to gain a sense of the political disposition in the villages as well as to establish the limits of discourse on conditions within the countryside. With extremely little communist presence outside the urban areas, some barometer of peasant political inclinations and attitudes toward the government was essential. What made Vladimir Ia.'s attack on the soviet system so threatening was his status as a Red Army veteran, for the regime's ability to penetrate the village was based in large measure on maintaining the support of this group. The state could not allow the status of veteran to legitimize radical challenges to its privileges and powers.

What the peasants revealed, and the editors reported only in part, was a deep resentment of the disdain with which party and state officials in the countryside held them. A significant number of letter writers had come to the defense of Vladimir Ia. The peasant Golovlev had asked, for example, how the villagers could regard the government as theirs when its agents acted with arrogance and aloofness toward them? Peasants resented especially the privileges that party members and officials enjoyed. Kalinin in his second response attempted to undermine the significance of these complaints by declaring that "several of these letters carry a striking counterrevolutionary, deeply hostile character toward the soviet system." (55) But the party had to take note of such statements from peasants as "in my mind, revolution and counterrevolution are one and the same foolishness, they do not recast humanity." (56)

True, in some villages significant changes had occurred: schools had been constructed, reading huts established, visits by traveling movie theaters arranged, radio receivers built. The three field system had been replaced in many locals by the multifield system, and the lands of the gentry distributed among the peasantry. Tractors and other farm equipment had arrived and the old wooden plough had been replaced in some villages. Even electricity had been introduced to a few villages. And clearly for some peasants these changes proved the worth of the revolution. But others voiced the demand that the revolution provide something more; they called for equality and above all for respect, something they failed to see in interaction with government and party officials. As the responses of the peasants to the Vladimir Ia. Kalinin exchange reveal, it was this appreciation of the value of the individual personality [lichnost'], apart from a collective consciousness of being a member of the peasantry, that had become t he touchstone for many peasants' evaluation of the soviet regime. (57) And many had concluded that the revolution had not ended the class system, while its leaders continued to fail to value the peasant as an individual, rather than as merely a member of a group whose support for the regime, or at least acquiescence to soviet power, was essential.

The sel'kor movement had been intended as a major step towards eliminating such peasant-party conflict by combining the desire of the despot to control his subjects with a campaign to modernize them. The door to transforming peasant society was to be opened by the party breaking down the "bureaucratic" structures that had emerged within the rural party and state institutions. It was not enough to try to move the world of the peasantry through orders issued from the top; rather, the state had to associate itself with the "outs" via the sel'kory and to work from within the social depths. The party believed that it could insinuate itself into peasant society by siding with the poorest, the downtrodden, and then forming them into a force to destroy from below what the party declared to be remnants of the old social order--in effect Russian peasant society. Krest'ianskaia gazeta's sel'kory were to be crusaders, indoctrinated in most cases through their modernizing experience in the Red Army, crusading in the name of socialism to bring essentially alien western values to the countryside, values that the party believed would no longer be alien to these particular peasants.

The organizers of the sel'kor movement thus were intending to set off a controlled process of social evolution through the party's efforts to reorder rural society. But as the case of Vladimir Ia. demonstrates, once that social evolution was initiated it could not be controlled by the government, for the sel'kory challenged more than the kulaks and old village hierarchy. The changes that the party had initiated in rural Russia produced also a reaction against the government. Those peasants writing in support of Vladimir Ia. were using the newspaper as a vehicle to organize around peasant concepts of justice [pravo, etymologically and conceptually closely related to pravda, truth] in opposition to the government. Rather than establishing a well-ordered machine, or, as Marc Raeff has referred to it, a well-ordered police state, (58) the sel'kor movement in the case of Vladimir Ia. had produced a complex series of intertwined conflicts among aspects of a changing society.

The peasants' experience with Bolshevik-initiated social evolution had begun with an attack from the outside on the values and behaviors, the culture, of peasant society. The result was a growing awareness of their society as a whole, a collective identity standing in opposition to Vladimir Ia.'s reincarnated Romanov magnates. Vladimir Ia. and his supporters were resisting the authority and the legitimacy of their overlords, asserting their right to live their lives within their own framework of meaning. (59) This represented a fundamental struggle between peasant and elite society over what Chinua Achebe has described as that which is "right and natural." (60)

The party indeed had desired that the peasants organize around concepts and ideas, but the party's concepts and ideas. The ideas of the Bolsheviks, however, were failing when they hit the traditional Russian peasant social structure. The attempt to break the traditional society--through mobilizing the sel'kory, the "outs," to destroy, the "ins" of kulaks and supposedly kulak-infected local party and government agents--appeared to Kalinin as instead threatening to strengthen that same traditional society. Vladimir Ia. had to be unmasked as a counterrevolutionary and the limits of discourse securely established.

The campaign against Vladimir Ia. represented Krest'ianskaia gazeta's and the party's final effort before the storm of collectivization to win the peasants' hearts and minds and to garner their backing for the soviet system within the social and economic structures of the New Economic Policy. Kalinin admitted that poverty remained in the countryside and that the peasants as yet did not receive an appropriate reward for their contributions to the survival of the soviet state. He reminded the peasants of their duty to country and pointed toward the achievements that had been made, but ultimately Kalinin had to ask the peasants to support the regime out of faith in a better future. But within months the regime would itself lose all faith in the peasantry, including the sel'kory, whose limited independence was ended and whose movement was brought under strict state control. (61) The tempering of the Russian people would begin by the men of steel, who, having lost the force of faith, could rely only on force. The cold, long winter of collectivization had set in, and Vladimir Ia.'s description of the relationship of the peasantry to the state would become prophetic: "We were slaves and will continue to be."


(1.) S. A. Andronov, Bol'shevistskaia pechat' v trekh revoliutsiakh (Moscow, 1978).

(2.) For the early Soviet press, see Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929 (Cambridge, 1985); Jeffrey Brooks, "Public and Private Values in the Soviet Press, 1921-1928," Slavic Review, 45, no. 1 (1989): 16-36; and idem, Thank You, Comrade Stalin!: Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War (Princeton, 2000), especially pp. 1-53. For a critique of the thesis that Soviet journalists were from the very beginning of the regime merely party propagandists, see Julie Kay Mueller, "Soviet Journalists: Cadres or Professionals?" Russian History/Histoire Russe, 23, nos. 1-4 (1996): 277-93; and idem, "Staffing Newspapers and Training Journalists in Early Soviet Russia," Journal of Social History, 31, no. 4 (1998): 851-73.

(3.) By September 1918, 461 "bourgeois" and "petty bourgeois" newspapers had been suppressed. Additionally, by October of the following year some 125 printing and paper-producing companies had been nationalized: G. V. Zhirkov, Sovetskaia krest'ianskaia pechat'--Odin iz tipov sotsialisticheskoi pressy (Leningrad, 1984), p. 11.

(4.) James H. Krukones, To the People: The Russian Government and the Newspaper Sel'skii vestnik ("Village Herald") 1881-1917 (New York, 1987).

(5.) V.I. Lenin, Polnae sobranie sochinenii, 5th edition, 55 vol. (Moscow, 1958-1965): 37, p. 354, speech on November 8, 1918 to a conference of delegates from Committees of the Poor from the central provinces.

(6.) Krasnaia pechat', no. 26 (1923): 1.

(7.) Ibid., p.3.

(8.) Krasnaia pechat', no.7 (1923): 2.

(9.) Krasnaia pechat', no. 11(1923): 3.

(10.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, November 25, 1923.

(11.) Zhirkov, Sovetskaia krest'ianskaia pechat', pp. 54-56.

(12.) Krasnaia pechat', no. 13 (1924): 32.

(13.) "Glavneishie ocherednye zadachi partii v oblasti pechati (Iz postanovleniia TsK RKP(b) or 6 fevralia 1924 g.)", in L. S. Klimanova, comp., O partiinoi i sovetskoi pechati, radioveshchanii i televidenii: Sbornik dokumentov i materialov (Moscow, 1972), pp. 100-01.

(14.) Bednota, February 8, 1924.

(15.) I. Vareikis, "Politika partii v derevne i zadachi kresr'ianskoi pechati," Krasnaia pechat', no. 9 (1925): 7.

(16.) "Ob ocherednykh zadachakh raboty v derevne (Iz rezoliursil plenuma TsK RKP(b) 25-27) okciabria 1924 g.)," Kommunisticheskaia parriia Soverskogo Soiuza v rezoliutsiiakh resheniiakh s,, ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, 8th ed. (Moscow, 1970-): 3, pp.130-l36.

(17.) Zhirkov, Sovetskaia krest'ianskaia pechat', p. 123.

(18.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, May 24, 1926.

(19.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, April 27, 1926.

(20.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, May 24,1926.

(21.) Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power; A Study of Collectivization (Evanston, Ill., 1968), pp. 85-93; Mark Von Hagen, Soldiers in die Proletarian Dictatorship: The Red Army and the Soviet Socialist State, 1917-1930 (Ithaca, 1990), pp. 285-88, 298-308.

(22.) Steven Hoch, Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovslcoe, a Village in Tambov (Chicago, 1986).

(23.) I. Niurinberg, "Na perevale (Itogi izadachi stroitel'stva krest'ianskoi pechati)," Krasnaiapechat', no.9 (1925): 10.

(24.) Marshall T. Poe, "A People Born to Slavery: Russia in Early Modem European Ethnography, 1476-1748 (Ithaca, 2000).

(25.) The Commissariat of Justice reported that in the second half of 192423% of the cases initiated by denunciations from selkory in Leningrad, 27% in Viatka, 31% in Riazan, and 50% in Vologda had to be dropped due to lack of evidence. The sel'kory had produced 1757 denunciations leading to judicial inquiry in the Ural region (oblasr'), but of these 400 had to be dropped entirely and in another 400 cases the indictment was only partially supported: Ezhenedel'nik sovetskoi iustitsii, no. 10(1925): 235-40.

(26.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, March 23, 1926.

(27.) Krasnaia pechat', no.3 (1926): 75-76.

(28.) Krasnaia pechat', no. 23-24 (1926): 95.

(29.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, May 24, 1926.

(30.) Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization (New York, 1994).

(31.) Number claimed in Krest'ianskaia gazeta, January 19, 1926.

(32.) Krest'ianskaiagazeta, March 23, 1926.

(33.) Krest'ianskaia gazeta, March 16, 1926.

(34.) Krest,ianskaia gazeta, April 6,1926.

(35.) S. Uritskii, "Nuzhno dvinut'sia vpered," Krasnaia pechat', no. 4 (1927): 12-14.

(36.) Krasnaia pechat', no. 10(1925): 23.

(37.) S. Uritskii, "Gotov'tes' ko dniu pechati, chto takoe 'Krest'ianskaia gazeta' i v chemee naznachenie," Kresr,ianskaia gazeta, April 27, 1926.

(38.) Kresc'ianskaia gazeta, August 17, 1924.

(39.) Niurinberg, "Na perevale," 10.

(40.) "Gde moia revoliutsionnaia zasluga? (Pis'mo Viadimira Ia. M. I. Kalininu)," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, April 13, 1926.

(41.) "O dutykh zaslugakh i shirokikh pretenziakh na nagradu (Orvet M. I. Kalinina)," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, April 13, 1926.

(42.) Ia. Iakovlev, "Krest'iane i rabochie otklikaiutsia," Kresr'ianskaia gazeta, June 7, 1926.

(43.) "Vladimir Ia. neprav," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, June 7, 1926.

(44.) "Rabotat' nad stroitel'stvom sotsializma my dolzhny i bydem," Krest'ianskaia gazera, June 7, 1926.

(45.) "Byli my temnymi--imi ne ostanemsia," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, June 7, 1926.

(46.) "Koren' zla v plokhoi rabote gosapparata," Krest' ians kaia gazeta, June 7,1926.

(47.) "Moi sobrazheniia po pis'mu Vladimira Ia. i otvetu M. I. Kalinina," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, June 15, 1926.

(48.) "B'et mimo tseli," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, June 15, 1926.

(49.) A. R. Skoraev, "Sad nasadili--plodov dozhdemsia," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, June 22, 1926.

(50.) "Tysiachu raz neprav Vladimir Ia.," Krest'ianskaia gazeta, July 13, 1926.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) K. G. Sheviakova, "Rabotoi odoleem trudnosti, k luchshei zhizni prob'emsia," Krest,ianskaia gazeta, July 13, 1926.

(53.) M. Kalinin, "Zakliuchitel'nyi otvet toy. M. I. Kalinina na 2-e pis'mo Vladimir Ia. otkliki s mest," Krest'ians kaia gazeta, August 31, 1926.

(54.) M. Kalinin, "O vtorom pis'me Vladimir Ia.," Krest'ians kaia gazeta, August 31,1926.

(55.) M. Kalinin, "Zakliuchitel'nyi otvet toy. M. I. Kalinina."

(56.) ibid.

(57.) The defense of individual home and family, and not simply the collective and traditional rights of the mir, reflected a developing concept of the need for, and the existence of, a relationship between the individual and the state. For evidence of the earliest manifestation of this consciousness, see Hugh D. Hudson, "'Even if You Cut Off Our Heads': Russian Peasant Legal Consciousness in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century," Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 35, no. 1(2001): 1-17.

(58.) Marc Raeff, The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change through Law in the Germanies and Russia, 1600-1800 (New Haven, 1983).

(59.) On traditional forms of peasant resistance see James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, 1985) and in Russia, E. S. Paina, "Zhaloby pomeshchich'ikh krest'ian pervoi poloviny XIX v. kak istoricheskii istochnik," Istoriia SSSR, no.6 (1964): 110-17.

(60.) Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (London, 1958).

(61.) Steven Robert Coe, "Peasants, the State and the Language of NEP: The Rural Correspondents Movement in the Soviet Union, 1924-28" (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1993): 278-337.
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Author:Hudson, Hugh D., Jr.
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Date:Dec 22, 2002
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