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Peasants under Stalinism: mentality and way of life, 1923-1929, 1938-1939
Unpublished letters sent by peasants (kolkhozniki) to the editorial board of "Krest΄ianskaia gazeta", a newspaper published by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (TsK VKP(b))
Biography / History Note
"Krest΄ianskaia gazeta" was published in the period 1923-1939. At the end of 1926, it had a circulation of one million, making it the biggest Soviet periodical. In 1939, circulation reached three million. The "Gazeta" was headed by I.A. Iakovlev (Epshtein), and later by S.B. Uritskiĭ. The newspaper addressed country people in the name of the ruling party, and published articles about problems in the countryside. The articles in it were simple and easy to understand, and the text was printed in large letters, so that even peasants with a very low level of education could understand it.
The newspaper had a double social function: to disseminate Communist ideology, and to serve as a feedback channel between the Soviet government and the peasantry. Peasants regarded the newspaper as a body of state power. After a while, the editorial board of the newspaper took it upon itself to analyze the complaints and the various needs of country people. The response from readers was enormous, among the correspondents were peasants, workers, students and soldiers. The stream of letters from readers exceeded the editor's expectations. During its first ten years, the paper received over five million letters. Those containing complaints and/or requests were passed on to various ministries and commissions (about 15-20% of the total); less than 1% were actually published.
Scope and Content
Under Stalinism peasants comprised the majority of the Soviet population, and these letters reveal their attitudes toward nationality, the financial system, social and economic policy in the countryside, the Soviet government's penal policy, the use of the Red Army in agriculture, Soviet holidays, and family and leisure. Many letters are accompanied by poems, stories, and drawings.
Between 1924 and 1927, peasants discussed the possibility of building socialism, and tried to define their attitude toward the new life; they created 'models' of a future society. The peasants' naïve appreciation and worship of the Soviet party elite was at variance with their attempts to defend their own rights. In 1928, the tone of the letters started to change: Their writers criticized and expressed dissatisfaction with the socialist system in the countryside. A year later, the letters no longer discussed what socialism would look like: The majority reflected dissatisfaction with Soviet rule, and hostility to and distrust of socialism. The content of the letters changed drastically in 1938-1939. Peasants emphasized 'sabotage, mismanagement and power abuse on collective farms'.
However, although correspondents were writing about serious social conflicts, disappointments, and difficult situations in the countryside, the "Gazeta" published only positive information. Letters containing negative facts were classified. On the basis of these letters, surveys and collections were prepared for governmental functionaries. Later, these materials were sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The letters in this collection reveal peoples' attitudes toward the Soviet authority, the Communist Party, governmental policies, collective farms (kolhozy), social problems and conflicts in the countryside, family relations, life in communes and agricultural associations, leisure, everyday life, new culture, and the demography of the Russian countryside.
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