Transforming Peasants, Property and Power

Transforming Peasants, Property and Power: The collectivization of agriculture in Romania, 1949–1962

Constantin Iordachi
Dorin Dobrincu
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 553
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Transforming Peasants, Property and Power
    Book Description:

    The subject matter of the volume is part of larger research agenda on the process of land collectivization in the former communist camp, focusing on state, identity and property. The main innovation of the volume is to apply recent interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the collectivization process, asking what types of new peasant-state relations it formed and how it transformed notions of self, persons, and things (such as land). The project conceived of changes in the system of ownership as causing changes in the identity and attitude of people; similarly, it regarded the study of personal identities as essential for understanding changes in the system of ownership. This perspective is rare in the area-studies approaches to the topic.

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-72-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    The present volume is the result of an interdisciplinary collaborative project entitled Transforming Property, Persons, and State: Collectivization in Romania, 1949–1962, which we initiated in 1998. The project was the fruit of the extensive research each of us had conducted separately over more than three decades; we wanted finally to carry out a project together. In the early 1990s, while Robert Levy was conducting research on the life and political activity of Ana Pauker for his dissertation at UCLA, he identified numerous unpublished documents concerning collectivization. At the same time, we were each in the Romanian villages where we...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The collectivization of agriculture performed a central role in the process of reconfiguring the political regime and property relations in communist Romania, and more generally in Eastern Europe. Whereas the nationalization of industry and finance was carried out in a relatively short period of time (1948–1952), the process of collectivization was by far the largest political campaign conducted by the communist elites, spanning much of two decades (1949–1962). Collectivization affected Romania’s entire rural population, which in 1948 encompassed circa 75% of its total population (or 12 million of Romania’s 16 million inhabitants).¹ As collectivization began at a time...

  5. PART ONE The Collectivization of Agriculture:: General Aspects
    • The First Wave of the Collectivization Campaign: Central Policies and Their Regional Implementation (1949–1953)
      (pp. 27-48)

      The first wave of collectivization in Romania took place from 1949 to 1953, and was characterized by conflicting policy lines emanating from Bucharest, which produced both aggressive advances and dramatic retreats throughout the campaign. This paper will outline what appear to be the five discernible stages of this period. Emphasis is placed on the earlier stages due to the greater availability of documents concerning this time (as opposed to the latter stages, especially the fifth).

      Collectivization was formally launched at a Central Committee plenary of the Romanian Workers’ Party (RWP) on March 3–5, 1949. The Party’s initial line on...

    • The Final Offensive: “The Socialist Transformation of Agriculture” from Slogans to Reality (1953–1962)
      (pp. 49-80)

      This chapter addresses the ways in which the higher echelons of the Romanian communist leadership planned and carried out collectivization between 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, and 1962, the year that marked the end of collectivization. My research relies largely on archival data from the Central Historical National Archives in Bucharest, much of which is completely new. In this paper I seek to uncover how the upper levels of the Party leadership addressed the “sensitive” issue of collectivization and promoted collective forms of ownership. I argue that the focus of policymaking was not the welfare of the peasantry, but...

    • Law and Propaganda: Rural Land Ownership, Collectivization and Socialist Property in Romania
      (pp. 81-100)

      The other studies in this book, as well as in post-communist academic literature, amply illustrate the realities of collectivization of agriculture in Romania in the period from 1949 1962:confiscatory taxation of private peasants; mandatory agricultural quotas; prosecution and destruction of those designated as “rich peasants”; violence and coerced membership in collective farms.¹ In the face of this apparent state-sponsored lawlessness, any analysis of peasant property rights and the legal mechanism for the transfer of land to the collectives seems almost irrelevant. Nevertheless, the question of ownership of the land farmed by the collectives, and how such ownership was acquired, has...

  6. PART TWO Center and Periphery in the Collectivization Campaign
    • “Constanţa, The First Collectivized Region”: Soviet Geo-Political Interests and National and Regional Factors in the Collectivization of Dobrogea (1949–1962)
      (pp. 103-140)

      On October 18, 1957, the Agerpress news wire agency and national newspapers such as Scînteia (The Spark), Scînteia Tineretului (The Young People’s Spark), Dobrogea Nouă (New Dobrogea) and Drumul Socialismului (The Socialist Path) announced the successful completion of collectivization in the Constanţa region, presenting it as one of the greatest victories that had been won so far in “the socialist transformation of agriculture.” This happened at a time when collectivized land represented barely 51 percent of the country’s total land surface, and 52 percent of the total number of house holds in rural areas. Only nine years after the beginning...

    • The Role of Ethnicity in the Collectivization of Tomnatic/Triebswetter (Banat Region) (1949–1956)
      (pp. 141-164)

      Any cross-regional analysis of collectivization in Romania ought to be concerned with the impact of local specificities on the strategies employed by the Party, as well as on the timing and pace of collectivization. Ecological, socioeconomic, and historical particulars left their mark on the way the “socialist transformation of agriculture” was carried out. This was especially true of the historical province of the Banat, which, at the time of collectivization, was a region of rich ethnic diversity. The same conclusions hold for other regions of Romania with similar characteristics (see the chapters by Iordachi and Goina in this volume).


    • Creating Communist Authority: Class Warfare and Collectivization in Ieud (Maramureş Region)
      (pp. 165-202)

      Collectivization was the first mass action through which Romania’s young communist regime initiated its radical agenda of social, political, and economic transformation. To that end, the Party promoted class warfare to achieve the inversion of spatial, symbolic, and social relations. Ieud, a community then of some 3,500 inhabitants, was the first collectivized in “historic” Maramureş, a region in the far north of Romania. On March 5, 1950, nine party members—the village total at the time—had the “honor” of formally announcing the creation of the State Agricultural Collective, Scînteia (The Spark; henceforth, GAC Scînteia).¹ Situated in the Iza Valley,...

    • Collectivization Policies in the Cluj Region: The Aiud and Turda Districts
      (pp. 203-228)

      To paraphrase Voltaire, we should judge people’s intelligence by the questions they ask. The quotation above, excerpted from an official query sent by the President of the People’s Council of the village of Rimetea to the authorities of the Turda district, is illustrative of how communist authorities thought they should interact with their fellow citizens who, for ideological reasons, had become undesirable in the new socio-political order. Moreover, beyond their content and language, the questions posed suggest the amplitude of class warfare waged in Romania’s villages, as well as the degree to which local authorities were accountable to those higher...

    • Collectivization in the Odorhei District (The Hungarian Autonomous Region)
      (pp. 229-250)

      Historians from Hungary and Romania have generally neglected the postwar social history of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania.¹ As a consequence, research on the collectivization of areas inhabited by this ethnic group is barely nascent. There is no theoretical or empirical academic literature to speak of on the topic, and the few relevant sources published after 1989 are generally limited to memoirs, interviews, a few articles and several manuscripts under review.² Recently, an interdisciplinary research group has initiated a project on the history of the short-lived Hungarian Autonomous Region (HAR, formed in 1952 from the present-day counties of Covasna, Harghita and...

    • Collectivization and Resistance in the Shepherding Village of Poiana Sibiului (Sibiu Region)
      (pp. 251-274)

      The village that is the focus of this paper, Poiana Sibiului, has been known the length and breadth of Romania for at least two decades, if not longer. This is because of their sale of cheese in markets across the country, and perhaps in part due to extremely wide scale of the transhumance practiced by its inhabitants, but above all its fame results from the fabled wealth of its inhabitants.

      In the 1980s, amusing stories circulated about Poienari who wanted to install lifts in their homes, or who had converted their stables into diesel stores at a time when the...

    • Persuasion, Delay and Coercion. Late Collectivization in Northern Moldova: The Case of Darabani (Suceava Region)
      (pp. 275-304)

      As Romania was the last country in the Soviet bloc to complete collectivization, so the region of Suceava (which included Bukovina and the extreme northern part of Moldavia) was the last Romanian region to officially mark completion, in March of 1962. Why was Suceava so delayed? There are three hypotheses: (1) hoping that the communist regime would not last, local peasants fiercely resisted collectivization (the most tempting);¹ (2) the limited interaction between the peasants and authorities, and the relatively weak nature of the communist state during the 1950s (in other words, the communist regime’s inability to force peasants into collective...

  7. PART THREE Collectivization and the Transformation of Social Relations
    • Exploiters Old and New: Making and Unmaking “Rich Peasants” in Aurel Vlaicu (Hunedoara Region)
      (pp. 307-328)

      The relationship between peasants and the state has long been a central topic in analyzing agrarian societies, such as Romania’s in the first half of the twentieth century.¹ Important elements in this relationship include the balance of political forces in the state (understood as a collection of groupings having potentially different agendas); the state’s capacity for surveillance, the degree to which it could penetrate rural areas, and its technologies of rule (such as taxation, subsidies or denunciations); the intermediate groups that affect how peasants connect with the state; the state’s dependence on peasant production of food; and the resources available...

    • Revolution in Bits and Pieces: Collectivization in Southern Romania (Craiova Region)
      (pp. 329-354)

      Early morning: exuberant villagers go out from their courtyards, happy to begin a new workday. The weather is good and the fiddlers play briskly. In a swift display of organization, cows are gathered into herds and headed towards pasture. Upon seeing the cars transporting villagers to the fields, the most impatient of them start to wave with their hoes in the air: “Hurrah! Hurray!” For the villagers of Dob rosloveni (Oltenia, southern Romania) and, most probably, for all those who entertain a realist notion of work, such actions from the propaganda movies on collectivization could only be fables, fairy tales;...

    • Persuasion Techniques and Community Reactions in Corund (the Hungarian Autonomous Region)
      (pp. 355-368)

      Was the change in property regime as straightforward and uneventful as this 59 year-old man claimed? Did everything really go so smoothly? It is true that there were no bitter conflicts, nor were there public trials or atrocities. The planners of collectivization did not refer to Corund (Korond in Hungarian) as a “problem case.” In retrospect, one can argue that nothing special happened in Corund. Nonetheless, upon closer scrutiny, several cues alert the researcher to processes that require further examination. For instance, the voices of people interviewed still trembled when they referred to collectivization, forty years later. In the same...

    • “Never Leave ‘til Tomorrow What You Can Do Today!” A Case Study of a Model Collective Farm: “New Life” Sântana (Arad Region)
      (pp. 369-398)

      This case study examines the collectivization process in the village of Sântana, located in the Arad Plain of western Romania. Sântana presents an interesting if atypical study because the first collective farm there, designated a “model collective farm,” was a success both in the short and long term, and was praised by Party propagandists and villagers alike, whereas the second farm was not. The GAC “Viaţa Nouă” (New Life) Sântana was created in 1950. By the end of 1952, three years into the collectivization campaign in Romania, more than two thirds of the village’s farmland had been collectivized and over...

    • “Here in Reviga, There Was Nobody to Wage the Class Struggle”: Collectivization in Reviga, Bărăgan Plain (Bucharest Region)
      (pp. 399-422)

      This paper undertakes a case study of collectivization in the commune of Reviga, located in Ialomiţa county, and in the larger Bărăgan region. First, I will describe several characteristics situating the Bărăgan region historically and culturally, since that context played an important role in Reviga’s emergence and transformation. In the 19th century, the Bărăgan region was an internal colony and a sparsely inhabited borderland with many large estates, which experienced successive waves of colonization during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

      Compared with neighboring villages or other regions of Romania, Reviga was collectivized relatively late (1958–1959). This raises the...

    • One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Institutionalizing the Party-State and Collective Property in Two Romanian Villages (Galaţi Region)
      (pp. 423-454)

      During the second half of 1957, despite the violent methods employed by the so-called “persuasion” (or collectivization) teams, which mainly consisted of industrial workers and Party activists, collectivization in the Galaţi region met strong peasant resistance. In this region, peasants took control of the mayor’s office in several villages (Suraia, Răstoacă, Boþârlău) and burned their petitions to join the collective farms. The police stepped in and made arrests. On December 1, 1957, locals from the neighboring village of Vadu Roşca blocked the visit of a persuasion team to their village. Two days later, the regional authorities and the President of...

  8. Conclusions
    (pp. 455-472)

    This book has provided 17 papers on collectivization in Romania, ranging from broad national-level overviews to case studies of small villages. Based on interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives and employing rich empirical material, the book contributes to understanding collectivization in several important respects. First, although we focus on a single country, our case studies open up new possibilities for comparing patterns of collectivization in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, shedding new light upon the relationship between national and international factors. In what follows, we describe some similarities and differences between the process of collectivization in Romania and in other Eastern European...

    • General Bibliography on the Collectivization of Agriculture in Romania
      (pp. 475-484)
    • The Communist Take-Over and Land Collectivization in Romania: Chronology of Events, 1945–1962
      (pp. 485-491)
      (pp. 492-494)
  10. MAPS
    • MAP 1: Administrative division of Romania, 1950
      (pp. 496-496)
    • MAP 2: Administrative division of Romania, 1952
      (pp. 497-497)
    • MAP 3: Administrative division of Romania, 1960
      (pp. 498-498)
    • MAP 4: List of Research Villages
      (pp. 499-500)
  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 501-502)
  12. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 503-506)
  13. Authors
    (pp. 507-512)
  14. Photo Credits
    (pp. 513-514)
  15. Index
    (pp. 515-530)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 531-538)