wikimedia commons Children digging up frozen potatoes in the field of a collective farm, Udachne, Donetsk Oblast, 1933.

The Ordeal of the Russian Peasantry

FOUR years have passed since the rulers of the Soviet Union decided to make an end of individual farming. These four years represent a period of what may be called agrarian revolution from the top, because no one with any realistic knowledge of the Russian village can believe that the majority of the peasants, left to their own volition, would have decided to sink their small holdings in the new kolkhozi, or collective farms. The best evidence on this question is the fact that only about two percent of the peasant households entered collective farms during the years of the New Economic Policy, up to 1929, when the choice was entirely free and before the overwhelming administrative and economic power of the highly centralized and dictatorial Soviet state had not been thrown on the side of the new organization of agriculture.

During these four years the Russian peasants have lived through a tremendous ordeal, second in degree of violent change and suffering only to the crowded years of social upheaval, civil war and famine which marked the period from 1917 until 1921. The very face of the countryside has been transformed. The traditional strips of land which signalized individual holdings have given way to the wide, compact fields of collective and state farms. The hum of the tractor is heard far more frequently. There are changes which are less favorable: if there are more tractors on the Soviet fields there are far fewer horses and cows, pigs and sheep; and the new harvesting combines which are supposed to symbolize the march of progress in agriculture sometimes find the going hard in the seas of weeds to be found on far too many state and collective farms.

In the human sphere the changes that one finds in the Russian country districts today are even more revolutionary. In a very literal sense, the first have often become last and the last have become first. The former batrak, or farmhand, who used to be at the bottom

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