Rules of political communication in the pre-war Soviet countryside


The author aims to debunk the Soviet official myth of local administration as being weak and not functioning effectively. The Soviet regime could not function in the way it pretended to, and the official picture of the economy was far from the reality though played a central role in the political discourse for the aims of legitimacy. The command economy actually functioned as a symbiosis of commands and threats ‘from above’ and corrupt practices of the majority of people including officials. However, this symbiosis worked quite successfully in industry ensuring impressive rates of growth, but not in agriculture and rural areas. Certainly, the kolkhoz system also combined severe control and treats with tolerance to corrupt practices condemned in the official slogans so as to save people from starvation. However, in the countryside the myth that rural administration was weak and wrongdoing proved to be the strongest basis of the regime for it corresponded to the firm conviction of rural people and traditional expectations that Stalin would pursue the paternalist rule as a “good tsar” by punishing local officials (as scapegoats) and by removing them from office (after blaming them for regime’s shortcomings as incompetent managers). To keep people from protests und rebellions the rural officials’ task was not only to use force and intimidation during the campaigns, but also to look away allowing the kolkhozniki from time to time to betray the state as compensation. Thus, the Soviet rural administration fulfilled its functions set by the regime, such as ensuring political communication for the aims of the faith in the legitimacy of the political rule. The author also considers a vertical channel of communication between the people and the regime - petitions to the ruler. Soviet people were encouraged to write letters including complaints to “bargain” personal dissatisfaction. Soviet peasants considered such a communication as a privilege and a part of the paternalist rule. For the regime, the most important function of such letters was preventing local protests by the timely reaction so as not to let the dissatisfaction to reach a critical level. Peasant letters became an additional means of control over rural officials that put limits to their arbitrariness.

S Merl
Bielefeld University
University St., 25, 33615, Bielefeld, Germany

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