Encyclopedias as tools of modernization: Stalinist versions of agrarian knowledge

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The article considers directions of the agrarian modernization as presented in the four editions of the Soviet agricultural encyclopedia from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s. On the basis of some historical examples and theoretical concepts, the author explains the scientific, ideological and political significance of encyclopedias in the formation of social knowledge and ideology; shows how during the Stalinist period, the Soviet agricultural encyclopedias passed through several successive ‘great leaps’ in the representation of agrarian knowledge under the accelerated Soviet modernization; stresses the manipulative way of managing agrarian knowledge and human capital in agriculture - on behalf of the leader and ruling party. The article describes the transition from the first Soviet encyclopedia of the 1920s, which focused on the modernization of peasant Russia, to the encyclopedia of the early 1930s, which denied the importance of the peasantry and praised the projects of large-scale industrial-agricultural production; many authors of the first peasant encyclopedia were repressed. The encyclopedia of the late 1930s reflects the fight against the authors of the previous encyclopedia of the ‘great leap’ and the purges in the name of the ideology of the planning-management approach in the further modernization of Soviet agriculture. The encyclopedia of the late 1940s - early 1950s reflects the victory of the technocratic-bureaucratic worldview and personnel approach to the agrarian sphere, which prevailed in the agriculture of the USSR until the very end of the Soviet era. The author focuses on the influence of the subjective factor (political leaders, editors-in-chief and anonymous authors) on the ideology, topics and style of encyclopedic articles. In conclusion, the author notes that the strong ideological control and volatile political situation distorted knowledge in the Soviet agrarian encyclopedias, which negatively affected the quality of rural human capital and largely predetermined the stagnation of rural development in the late USSR.

About the authors

A. M. Nikulin

Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration

Author for correspondence.
Email: harmina@yandex.ru

кандидат экономических наук, директор Центра аграрных исследований

Vernadskogo Prosp., 82, Moscow, 119571, Russia


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