The 'peasant question', in some form or other, was one that Russian governments faced for hundreds of years. Although it presented itself in many aspects, the essential problem was how to harness a dispersed and backward agriculture to state needs. In the 20th century a transformation-minded Bolshevik Party wrestled with peasant traditionalism, capitalism, low agricultural output and its own ideological preconceptions in an attempt to modernise along socialist lines. Economic development and industrialisation were at the top of the Bolshevik agenda after the Russian Revolution. To meet these goals it was necessary, among other things, to accumulate investment capital for expansion while assuring the kind of expanding food supply necessary for industrial revolution. At first, they tried to do all this within the framework of a mixed capitalist/socialist economy. From 1921 to 1929, after winning a bitter and devastating civil war, the Bolsheviks retreated temporarily from their goals of nationalisation and collectivisation and allowed private land ownership and a free-market agriculture. In 1929 the position changed abruptly when the party leadership decided on a radically leftist scheme involving the 'liquidation' of private trade, rapid and state-planned industrialisation, and collectivisation of agriculture. Today's five-year plans and collective farms are the legacy of that late Twenties decision.
LRB 22 January 1987 | PDF Download