Was Peasant Rebellion Irrational?

As the Soviet government pushed peasants towards collectivism throughout the countryside, resistance from the peasants was inevitable.  Collectivization forced peasants into socialized farms, threatening not only their culture and their way of life, but threatening their very survival as well.  Soviet authorities relied on the ability to classify peasant resistance as illogical and irrational thereby avoiding the reality of acknowledging that 80% of the population could be viewed in a state of official rebellion against the Soviet government.  Viola not only argues against the official party line of dismissing peasant rebellion, she provides numerous, important examples to illustrate the fact that peasant resistance was anything but irrational and illogical.  In chapter 3, she begins by describing peasant self-help initiatives aimed at self-defense of the peasant communal cohesion when initial dekulakization efforts began.  She states outright that “peasant self-help was neither irrational nor the emanation of backwards peasantry.  It was, rather, logical, political and humane.”[1]  The first example provided is razbazarivanie, the squandering of livestock and/or resources which allowed peasants who were fearful of the dreaded label kulak to transform their socio-economic status.

Perhaps the most impressive example of the logical and rational nature behind peasant resistance against the state was the prevalent practice of the babii bunt which the state officially deemed female hysteria, spontaneous and irrational.[2]  In reality, however, the babii bunt was anything but.  Led by women, these rebellious not only showed evidence of prior planning and inter-village cooperation, they also shielded the participants in many cases from the state’s brutal repression that was often brought to bear on male-led rebellion.  By officially denying women political agency, it was thereby impossible for the baba to stage a political protest, protecting her in most cases from the otherwise frequent repercussions often visited upon others.[3]  The fact that women were virtually ‘untouchable’ by state reprisals was not lost on the women or their male villagers which was often exploited to their advantage in preventing the closure of a church or kulak deportation.[4]  The very fact that the state’s resistance to prosecute the baba was used strategically by the village shows clear insight and planning that was often successfully employed in achieving village objectives.  This is the epitome of rational and determined actions against a repressive government.

[1] Lynne Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 68.

[2] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 237.

[3] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 237.

[4] Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin, 237.

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