Agricultural Collectivism and Protest: The Babii Bunt

Out of all the examples Viola provided in her incredibly interesting account of peasant protest, the one that surprised me the most and that I found the most interesting was the babii bunt.  Chapter six is almost entirely devoted to the practice of babii bunt in which the women of the villages took control and took rebellion into their own hands.  Translated literally as a woman’s riot, which were officially dismissed by the state as ignorant and hysterical.[1]  Although a bunt is defined traditionally as irrational, unorganized and spontaneous, the reality of the babii bunt in peasant rebellions was far from that definition.[2]  The state’s official position of dismissal of the babii bunts worked to the peasant’s advantage, as they were tolerated far more than male-led resistance.[3]  In fact, Viola points out that in some instances, not only was the state’s perception of the baba and babii bunts used advantageously, they were also exploited, allowing the baba to manipulate the system in order to achieve their objectives.[4]  Viola points out that “bab’i bunty belied the official depiction of peasant women’s protest and were not as irrational as they appeared to outside observers.”[5]  For the soviet government, all peasants were backwards and uncultured, and this was even more true in reference to peasant women.[6]  This allowed the baba to act in ways that their male counterparts could not, bringing protest to the state in ways that were not only organized and rational, but in some cases effective as well.

The party went even further in its dismissal of peasant women which allowed these women to act in ways that could not even be fathomable by male rebellion.  Not only uncultured, dark, and irrational, peasant women were denied political agency at all, meaning that they lacked any semblance of political consciousness.[7]  The women were therefore excused for their behavior in most cases and could not be held responsible for rebellion and the blame was transferred to kulaks who took advantage of these ‘highly susceptible’ simple women.[8]

Many babii bunts focused on opposition to the closing of village churches.  Women in traditional village life were the keepers of village religious life and fulfilled important roles within the church structure.[9]  In defending the church, these women were not only defending their religion, but their community as a whole since the church often represented village cohesion.[10]  Contrary to the official position of the babii bunt, many instances showed not only initiative and organization and political awareness that the state steadfastly insisted on denying.[11]

[1] Lynne Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 181.

[2] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 182.

[3] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 182.

[4] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 182.

[5] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 183.

[6] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 183.

[7] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 184.

[8] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 184.

[9] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 188.

[10] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 188.

[11] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 194.

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