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Peasants under Siege

Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962

Gail Kligman
Katherine Verdery
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 520
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  • Book Info
    Peasants under Siege
    Book Description:

    In 1949, Romania's fledgling communist regime unleashed a radical and brutal campaign to collectivize agriculture in this largely agrarian country, following the Soviet model.Peasants under Siegeprovides the first comprehensive look at the far-reaching social engineering process that ensued. Gail Kligman and Katherine Verdery examine how collectivization assaulted the very foundations of rural life, transforming village communities that were organized around kinship and status hierarchies into segments of large bureaucratic organizations, forged by the language of "class warfare" yet saturated with vindictive personal struggles.

    Collectivization not only overturned property relations, the authors argue, but was crucial in creating the Party-state that emerged, its mechanisms of rule, and the "new persons" that were its subjects. The book explores how ill-prepared cadres, themselves unconvinced of collectivization's promises, implemented technologies and pedagogies imported from the Soviet Union through actions that contributed to the excessive use of force, which Party leaders were often unable to control. In addition, the authors show how local responses to the Party's initiatives compelled the regime to modify its plans and negotiate outcomes.

    Drawing on archival documents, oral histories, and ethnographic data,Peasants under Siegesheds new light on collectivization in the Soviet era and on the complex tensions underlying and constraining political authority.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4043-4
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-46)

    “The theory of the Communists,” Marx and Engels wrote in theCommunist Manifesto, “may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Their Bolshevik disciples who gained power and founded the Soviet Union followed this theory in full, confiscating most of the country’s wealth by various means and using it to set up a new property regime: socialist property. Not that what it replaced was entirelyprivateproperty, for what then prevailed in the Russian countryside was communal tenure. The dissolution of the previous forms did not take long: some nationalization decrees, a few years of constant...

  9. Part I. Laying the Groundwork

    • Chapter 1 The Soviet Blueprint
      (pp. 49-87)

      As the first country in the world to be founded on Marxist-Leninist principles, the Soviet Union had myriad problems to solve. They included establishing control over vast areas and diverse populations, developing a new political form (the “Party-state”), creating sufficient numbers of cadres who would promote the Party’s goals, verifying the loyalty of those cadres, securing a police force to ensure internal and external security, and finding sources of accumulation that would enable the country to industrialize; collectivization would be the principal means. In addition, the leaders’ ambitious program of social engineering required developing a variety of techniques for carrying...

    • Chapter 2 The Village Community and the Politics of Collectivization, 1945–62
      (pp. 88-149)

      In her pioneering work on Soviet collectivization, Lynne Viola conceives of it as an important means of modernization, including economic development, state-building, colonization of the peasantry, geographic expansion and border defense, and political centralization. Here she joins James Scott (1998), who places the entire Soviet experiment in a “high modernist” mode as a variant of an Enlightenment project, offering an alternative to the modern state and modern industrial forms. For the particulars of these kinds of processes, both owe a debt to Charles Tilly, whose work on state-making gave paramount importance to the problem of controlling the food supply (e.g.,...

    • Chapter 3 Creating Party Cadres
      (pp. 150-210)

      In the previous two chapters we have outlined the creation of the communist Party-state in Romania and the methods by which it gained control over the food supply, inspired by the Soviet blueprint. We have indicated that because the Romanian Communist Party was not a fully formed entity when it began implementing these policies, collectivization itself would serve as a generative process for many of its subsequent practices. Most organizations do not come into being full-blown and then acquire tasks and personnel: they take shape as part of those tasks and of the behavior of their personnel, coevolving both with...

  10. PART II. Pedagogies of Power:: Technologies of Rural Transformation

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 211-214)

      The preceding three chapters have set the stage for the peasantry’s experience of collectivization in daily life. Through this massive social engineering project, the young regime would put its transformative goals into motion, creating socialism in and through practice. The magnitude of the task cannot be overstated, for the Romanian Communist party, guided by its Soviet mentors, would have to “sell” collectivization to the Romanian populace—no small feat. But as a revolutionary party in the soviet mold, the leaders believed they held the keys to a better, socialist future and had the specialized knowledge and means to achieve this...

    • Chapter 4 Pedagogies Of Knowledge Production and Contestation
      (pp. 215-282)

      Because communist power arrived in Romania from without, not through an internally generated revolutionary process, the Party faced a population minimally predisposed to its ideas. It would have to build a revolutionary society and raise people’s consciousness simultaneously, transforming the class structure while enlightening them about proper forms of expression and the new conceptual categories in which they were expected to think. The notion that the Party had to educate the masses—Lenin’s notion of the “vanguard Party”—came straight from Soviet experience, as did many of the means of doing so.⁴ We refer to these means as pedagogies. They...

    • Chapter 5 Pedagogies of Persuasion
      (pp. 283-323)

      As the previous chapter has shown, the Romanian Communist Party had many means of drawing the peasantry into its communicative forms and rituals and from there into collective farms, as well as into a new state-subject relation.⁴ Now we will concentrate on another set of techniques for creating such relations: “persuasion work” (muncă de lămurire), one of the most fundamental categories of the work of a political activist during the collectivization campaign. Persuasion work was another element of a new regime of truth or knowledge production, as is evident from the meanings of its root term:lămurire, which can be...

    • Chapter 6 Fomenting Class War
      (pp. 324-366)

      In the previous two chapters, we set out the principal pedagogies through which the Party introduced its ways of thinking to the peasantry and drew them into employing its terms, while making use of village social organization to persuade peasants into the collectives. Now we complete the discussion of organizational breakthrough by explaining another key instrument for carrying out the mammoth restructuring the communists envisioned: fomenting class struggle or class war.⁴ Carried out simultaneously with the other techniques discussed so far, it provided the framework for the politics of difference we discussed in chapter 4, resignifying familiar persons, practices, and...

  11. PART III. Outcomes

    • Chapter 7 The Collectives Are Formed
      (pp. 369-407)

      The technologies of persuasion we have detailed in the preceding chapters—the propaganda, mimesis, denunciations, enlightenment work by cadres, class war, and so on—had one express goal: that peasants would join the collectives “of their own free will.” They did so throughout the period under consideration, from 1949 to 1962, but with greatly increased frequency once the final campaign got underway in 1957. Can we discern any patterns in how that occurred? Aside from the more or less uniform application of the same technologies, were there general similarities in the manner of peasants’ signing up? Were there significant differences?...

    • Chapter 8 The Restratification and Bureaucratization of Rural Life
      (pp. 408-443)

      The formation of collectives had far-reaching consequences. Chief among them were a greatly changed village social organization, the overturning of older status hierarchies and the emergence of new ones, and the infusion of everyday life with politics. A new relationship arose between citizens and the Party-state, the Party’s institutionalization bringing the political center permanently into villages to a much greater degree than before. We might characterize this new relationship as the bureaucratization and politicization of the rural world. With collectives, villages ceased to be primarily sources of community and became segments of formal organizations that reached upward into higher administrative...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 444-460)

    On December 18, 2006, at a joint session of the two chambers of Romania’s Parliament, President Traian Băsescu officially condemned the former communist regime and its assault on Romania’s people and history. This formal condemnation—for many, long overdue, for others, unfounded—added political ballast to the fierce struggles over history and memory that the collapse of communism unleashed.⁴ Lest President Băsescu’s words have silencing effects, scholarship must continue to explore the possibilities for historical understanding that the regime’s collapse has opened and must strive to prevent their premature foreclosure—a goal we hope to promote with this book.


  13. Appendix I Project and Participants
    (pp. 461-463)
  14. Appendix II Methodology
    (pp. 464-471)
  15. Appendix III List of Interviewers and Respondents
    (pp. 472-476)
    (pp. 477-498)
  17. Index
    (pp. 499-508)