In This Review

Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962
Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962
By Gail Kligman,Katherine Verdery
Princeton University Press, 2011, 520 pp.

This book is the fruit of a ten-year project undertaken by two premier social anthropologists working with an international, interdisciplinary team of 19 scholars. It is a monumental effort to understand, in all its complexity, one of the most far-reaching undertakings in the history of socialism in Eastern Europe: the struggle to transform Romanian peasants into Soviet-inspired collective farmers. In a deeply traditional society, no aspect of the communist regime’s social engineering was more wrenching or its implications more dramatic. The results, as the authors richly document, turned out to be far more convoluted, ironic, and layered than histories to this point have suggested. The bricks and mortar of their study are the massive data they assembled, generated from multiple, diverse sources. But the book’s depth results from its thoughtful reflections on the fundamental relationships among people, property, and the state. It offers a model of how histories of this period in Eastern Europe should treat the intricacies of cause and effect, authoritarian design and bureaucratic muddling, and political power and the power of tradition.