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19 September 2018

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The Great Wrong Turn

Author: Tamara Eidelman
Translation: Nora Seligman Favorov

Nov/Dec 2014
Page 21   ( 3 pages)

Summary: A look back at the proclamation of Collectivization, in November 1929, leading essentially to the reinstatement of serfdom in Russia.


On February 19, 1861, Tsar Alexander II signed the manifesto abolishing serfdom. Sixty-eight years later, on November 7, 1929, Pravda published an article by Stalin, “The Year of the Great Turning Point,” that heralded the peasantry’s return to a state closely resembling slavery.

By 1929, the effort to drive peasants into kolkhozes had been under way for almost two years, ever since the 15th Party Congress had adopted a plan to collectivize agriculture. One sign of the turning point discussed in the article was that “middle peasants” (?????????, the moderately well-off peasants that made up the bulk of the rural population) were now, supposedly, buying into the party line, giving up their private farming operations, and joining kolkhozes to further the cause of collectivization.

What came in the wake of Stalin’s article was horrific. Since the majority of peasants were now supposedly going along with collectivization, there was no reason to show laggards the slightest mercy. The article marked the beginning of the brutal policy of “total collectivization” and the emergence of the slogan, “We will destroy the kulak as a class,” a politically correct way of saying “We will kill the kulaks,” which is how the slogan was often applied.

Peasants were now physically forced into kolkhozes, and local authorities tried to outdo one another in their race to collectivize private farms. The brutal winter of 1929-1930 brought the Russian peasantry to its knees at a time when it had only just begun to find its bearings after the turmoil of revolution and civil war. Most of the tragic scenes that unfolded across the Russian countryside, scenes worthy of Shakespeare in terms of the passions at play, will forever be hidden from history.

Posterity will never know how many peasants, choking back tears, slaughtered their cows rather than hand them over to the kolkhoz, or how many eagerly divvied up the possessions of their “dekulakized” neighbors sent into exile. It will never know in which villages the peasants (as, for example, happened outside Ryazan) formed a human chain to protect their village church when it was slated for destruction, or in which the locals were happy to join in desecration of icons.

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