No 2404 (2016): Personal and Political: A Micro-history of the “Red Column” Collective Farm, 1935-36
This article investigates the confluence of personal interests and official policy on collective farms in the mid-1930s, a period that has received far less scholarly attention than the collectivization drive. The current historiography on collective farmers’ relationship with the state is one-sided, presenting peasants either as passive victims of or idealized resistors to state policies. Both views minimize the complex realities that governed the everyday lives of collective farmers for whom state policies often were secondary to local concerns. This paper, which draws upon rich archival materials in Kirov Krai, employs a micro-historical approach to study the struggle to remove the chairman of the “Red Column” collective farm in Kirov Krai in 193536. It demonstrates that local and personal issues (family ties, grudges, and personality traits) had more influence on how collective farmers reacted to state campaigns and investigations than did official state policy and rhetoric. The chairman’s rude and arrogant behavior, mistreatment of the collective farmers, and flaunting of material goods led to his downfall. But to strengthen their arguments, his opponents accused him of associating with kulaks and white guardists. The chairman and his supporters struck back, alleging that his detractors were themselves white guardists and kulaks, who sought revenge for having been expelled from the collective farm.
Such a micro-historical approach reveals the importance of popular opinion, attitudes, and behavior on collective farms and the level of control that collective farmers had over shaping the implementation of state policies. This paper enables one to appreciate that peasants knew well how to manipulate official labels, such as kulak or class enemy, as weapons to achieve goals of local and personal importance. It enriches the historiography by offering a different way to appreciate peasant attitudes and behavior, and collective farm life in the mid-1930s.