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Face to the Village

Face to the Village: The Riazan Countryside under Soviet Rule, 1921-1930

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 440
  • Book Info
    Face to the Village
    Book Description:

    Richly rooted in archival sources, including local and central-level secret police reports, detailed cases of the local and provincial courts, government records, and newspaper reports,Face to the Villageis a nuanced study of the everyday workings of the Russian village in the 1920s.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8611-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Word Choice and Translation
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xvii-2)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 3-28)

    ‘It is high time to compel the entire range of our organizations to turn their face to the countryside,’¹ wrote Grigory Zinoviev on 30 July 1924. The slogan ‘face to the countryside’ (litsom k derevne) became a rallying cry dispatched from the Centre to scholars, the police, the courts, and to all manner of party and state organs to turn toward the villages and their inhabitants, who made up the vast majority of the population of the country. Zinoviev’s call was made in the spirit of Lenin’s emphasis on a link between the proletariat and the peasantry and the need...

  8. PART ONE. The Battle for Space:: What Physical and Virtual Space Reveal about the Countryside

    • Chapter One The Setting
      (pp. 31-50)

      This chapter is a historical overview of the broad political and economic context surrounding agriculture and the Russian countryside in the years between the Civil War and collectivization. It is vital to have this historical framework in mind in order to fully grasp the significance of chronological developments as they are developed in the chapters that follow. The agricultural background of Riazan is aimed at the reader who wants to know more about the regional geography of the province, crops, markets, land, and livestock. It could be skipped over by the reader whose concerns lie elsewhere.

      Obviously the decisions reached...

    • Chapter Two The Police
      (pp. 51-82)

      The bones of a police force came into being in Russia only in the nineteenth century.³ Like its future Soviet counterpart, the tsarist police force was understaffed and underpaid, and lacked rigorous or systematized training. Labour turnover was extremely high and pensions were negligible, if they existed at all.⁴ A small number of officers patrolled large areas; it took an officer anywhere from three to five days to patrol the territory under his jurisdiction in Riazan before the Revolution. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, in the province, the ratio of police officers to inhabitants was roughly one officer...

    • Chapter Three The Courts
      (pp. 83-98)

      Many historians of the pre-Revolutionary countryside have focused on courts and legal records in their study of Russia’s rural inhabitants.² This study also makes extensive use of legal cases. In fact, those cases appear in all of the other chapters. Therefore this chapter is designed to provide a sense of the structure and staffing of the courts and the Centre’s concerns regarding the courts. Specific cases are employed elsewhere.

      From the post-Emancipation legal reforms to the introduction of the District Congress of Land Captains and the Provincial Board for Appeals in 1889, district (volost’) courts were peasant institutions. They were...

    • Chapter Four The Rural Soviet
      (pp. 99-122)

      As with the offices of the police and the courts, a system of government based on local soviets could not avoid overlap with the pre-Revolutionary forms of local administration. In the pre-Revolutionary period, the lowest level of village administration was the ‘gathering’ (skhod). The gathering was made up of male heads of each village household and together they chose a leader in the person of the local elder (starosta). After 1889, in an effort to monitor and control village politics, the individual selected to be the elder had to be confirmed by the local land captain. Land captains were state...

  9. PART TWO. The Battle for Resources:: What Non-Violent Crime Reveals about the Countryside

    • Chapter Five Taxation: Talking with the Taxman about Subsistence; or, Feeding the Proletarian Cat
      (pp. 125-146)

      On 15 March 1925, Ivan Abramovich Guskov, a peasant subscriber toKrest’ianskaia gazetafrom the village of Eliseev in Sasovo, wrote to the newspaper to ‘describe the situation’ of the peasants in his village. He wanted to explain village life from a ‘material point of view,’ focusing on the income and expenses for each household. He began his letter by assuring the editors atKrest’ianskaia gazeta, ‘We have no kulaks in our village.’ Instead, he emphasized, ‘there are only middle peasants and a lot of poor peasants.’ The village of Eliseev was located in the very northern corner of Sasovo,...

    • Chapter Six The Forest: Wood, Warmth, and Repair
      (pp. 147-182)

      On 4 October 1923, M. Moskalev, a member of Riazan’s forest guard,¹ sent a petition to the chief forester (lesnichii) of the Belomutsk Forest District (lesnichestvo). The chief forester sent the petition on to the provincial forest department. Moskalev, struggling to express himself in writing, complained that after every single court case in which monetary fines were levied against wood thieves he had caught, the thieves returned to break his windows. He requested permission to repair the damage and was very specific about what he had lost and what he needed to survive the approaching winter. On 25 December 1922...

  10. PART THREE. The Battle for Souls:: What Violent Crime Reveals about the Countryside

    • Chapter Seven Bandit Tales: The Steam of the Still and the Lure of Easy Profit
      (pp. 185-205)

      In the early morning hours of 6 November 1927, the body of a rural newspaper correspondent (sel’kor), V.T. Shchelokov, was discovered in a Moscow apartment. Shchelokov had helped himself to a considerable quantity of strychnine and added a tragic crescendo to the ‘case of the Riazhsk bandits,’ as the case had become known in the local Riazan press and the national press. His suicide note read, ‘I am dying for communism’ (Umiraiu za kommunizm). The case was featured in the national peasant newspapers ofBednotaandKrest’ianskaia gazetaas a (im)morality tale of the corruption and violence deeply embedded in...

    • Chapter Eight Hooliganism: Toward the Cultured Life
      (pp. 206-224)

      On 25 August 1924, the local priest, Father Kotov, walked into the Trukharev ‘tea room’ (chainaia), pointed to the poster on the wall, which commemorated the sixth year of the October Revolution, and yelled, ‘Six years of hooligan power!’ (Shest’ let vlasti khuliganov!). He was sentenced to six months in jail, under Article 176 of the Criminal Code, for his act of ‘hooliganism.’² As with the label of ‘bandit,’ the Bolshevik state had its own categories and fears thrown back in its face by members of a population who clashed with the new Soviet culture.

      The origins of the term...

    • Chapter Nine Rough Justice: The Village Disciplines Its Own
      (pp. 225-257)

      Despite its relative proximity, Moscow was indeed far away and, at times, the village did discipline its own. This chapter focuses on the internal workings of justice and what the investigation of them can reveal about the countryside. Jane Burbank has expressed concern that too many studies of the peasantry focus on an anomalous brutality that exoticizes a ‘peasant other’ and creates or reinforces the view that peasants are vicious and backward.⁴ Burbank regards her own study of the kinds of cases that Russian peasants took to the district courts as an important corrective. She writes, ‘Study of ordinary and,...

    • Chapter Ten Pitelino
      (pp. 259-297)

      On the night of 27 January 1930, a member of a collectivization brigade raped a peasant woman in the village of Malye Mochily in the Pitelino district of Riazan. Her husband returned home to find the man hiding in their cellar. According to the OGPU report on the incident, a ‘massive scandal resulted that compromised the whole brigade.’² The brigade, however, was in fact already compromised by its tendency to indulge in ‘tactless activities.’ Brigade members, for example, demonstrated a penchant for firing off their guns in the middle of the night; the local peasants used these nocturnal gunshots as...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 298-304)

    Writing as many of Riazan’s villagers back into history as possible has been a fundamental goal of this study. Thus Ivan Abramovich Guskov, the Sasovo peasant whose detailed letter on taxation and his village opens part 2, is as important, if not more important, a historical actor in these pages as Vladimir Il’ich Lenin or Grigorii Zinoviev. The physical spaces of the village, the buildings of local government, courts, gathering places, meadows, and forests are the constant backdrop. Relations among peasants, kinship networks, community expectations and demands, and the peasant experience of the state at various levels were an important...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 305-310)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 311-314)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 315-380)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 381-404)
  16. Index
    (pp. 405-422)