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Everyday Stalinism II


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Peasants under Stalinism: Mentality and Way of Life

Hrsg. v. Prof. Dr. A. K. Sokolov


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Brill Academic Publishers

Everyday Stalinism II

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Letters written by peasants (kolkhozniki) to Krest'ianskaia Gazeta provide a unique insight into the mentality of this group under Stalinism. At the time, peasants comprised the majority of the Soviet population, and these letters reveal their attitudes toward nationality, the financial system, social and economic policy in the countryside, the Soviet government's penal policy, the use of the Red Army in agriculture, Soviet holidays, and family and leisure. Many letters are accompanied by poems, stories, and drawings. The peasants' naïve appreciation and worship of the Soviet party elite is at variance with their attempts to defend their own rights.

This collection provides an insight into the mentality and way of life of Soviet citizens of that period. It answers such question as:

- Who promoted and who resisted the Stalin regime, and in what ways?

- Why did people write to newspapers, and what did they expect from the authorities?

- How did people become voluntary informants?

- What did they write in their denunciations?

- What was the position of women?

- How did the youth go on holidays?

The collection of the Russian State Archive of Economy (RGAE) (fond 396) consists of Opis' 10 and 11, 2,121 files containing 100.000 documents.

Everyday Stalinism II continues the Brill series Mass culture and Entertainment in Russia. This series comprises collections of unique material about various forms of popular culture and entertainment industry in Tsarist and Soviet Russia.


The collection provides an insight into the mentality and way of life of Soviet citizens of that period. It answers such question as: Who promoted and who resisted the Stalin regime, and in what ways? Why did people write to newspapers, and what did they expect from the authorities? Who were the sel'kory? How did people become voluntary informants? What was the position of women?

Krest'ianskaia Gazeta

Krest'ianskaia Gazeta was published in the period 1923-1939. At the end of 1926, it had a circulation of one million, making it the biggest Soviet periodical. In 1939, circulation reached three million. The Gazeta was headed by J.A. Jakovlev (Epshtein), and later by S.B. Uritskii. It was meant to be a newspaper for people with a low level of education. The articles in it were simple and easy to understand, and the text was printed in large letters, so that even peasants with a very low level of education could understand it. The newspaper addressed country people in the name of the ruling party, and published articles about problems in the countryside.

State and country side

The response from readers was enormous. The newspaper had a double social function: To disseminate Communist ideology, and to serve as a feedback channel between the Soviet government and the peasantry. Peasants regarded the newspaper as a body of state power. After a while, the editorial board of the newspaper took it upon itself to analyze the complaints and the various needs of country people. The stream of letters from readers exceeded the editor's expectations, and this created a calamitous situation. In 1924, the number of letters addressed to the Gazeta amounted to 243,000; in 1925, this figure was 269,000 (or 397,000, according to some estimates), and in 1926, it was 1 million. During its first ten years, the paper received over five million letters. Those that contained questions about the most serious problems were forwarded to the various governmental bodies, which sometimes used the letters as the basis for discussion and for the making of new laws. Upon arrival at the Gazeta, the letters were divided in several groups. Those containing complaints and/or requests were passed on to various ministries and commissions (about 15-20% of the total); fewer than 1% were actually published.

Criticism of the socialist system

Between 1924 and 1927, farmers discussed the possibility of building socialism, and tried to define their attitude toward the new life; they created 'models' of a future society. In 1928, the tone of the letters started to change: Their writers criticized and expressed dissatisfaction with the socialist system in the countryside. A year later, the letters no longer discussed what socialism would look like: The majority reflected dissatisfaction with Soviet rule, and hostility to and distrust of socialism. The content of the letters changed drastically in 1938-1939. Peasants emphasized 'sabotage, mismanagement and power a buse on collective farms.'

However, although farmers were writing about serious social conflicts, disappointments, and difficult situations in the countryside, the Gazeta published only positive information. Letters containing negative facts were classified. On the basis of these letters, surveys and collections were prepared for governmental functionaries. Later, these materials were sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Everyday life

These letters from peasants contain extremely rich material about everyday life and the mentality of peasants under Stalinism. They also provide an insight into the political, economic, demographic, and socio-psychological consequences of Soviet politics for the countryside in the period 1923-1939. This collection is a historical source for those studying the mentality of the Soviet peasantry under Stalinism. It reveals peoples' attitudes toward the Soviet authority, the Communist Party, governmental policies, collective farms (kolhoz), social problems and conflicts in the countryside, family relations, life in communes and agricultural associations, leisure, everyday life, new culture, and the demography of the Russian countryside.

Russian State Archives of Economy

Following the successful release of the Everyday Stalinism collection (published in 2001), Brill Academic Publishers is expanding its offering of source materials from the Russian State Archive of Economy (RGAE) in Moscow. Since 1964, this collection has been held by the Russian State Archive of Economics (Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv ekonomiki; RGAE), one of the largest archives in the Russian Federation. Until 1992 it was known as the Central State Archive of the National Economy (Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv narodnogo khoziastva; TsGANKh); it is now the principal repository for documents on political, economic, and administrative matters, and contains material dating from 1917 onward. Many of the formerly classified collections and parts thereof - including most of the records of Gosplan (the State Committee on Statistics; Goskomstat) and of the military industrial institutions - have been declassified in recent years. Some sections of many of the collections of more recent origin remain classified. RGAE contains 2021 collections, comprising over 4 million files. These documents provide a comprehensive picture of the Soviet State during its 70 years of existence.

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