Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1963
Katherine Verdery, Gail Kligman
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In 1949, Romania's fledgling communist regime unleashed a radical and brutal campaign to collectivize agriculture in this largely agrarian country, following the Soviet model. Peasants under Siege provides the first comprehensive look at the far-reaching social engineering process that ensued. Gail Kligman and Katherine Verdery examine how collectivization assaulted the very foundations of rural life, transforming village communities that were organized around kinship and status hierarchies into segments of large bureaucratic organizations, forged by the language of "class warfare" yet saturated with vindictive personal struggles.
Collectivization not only overturned property relations, the authors argue, but was crucial in creating the Party-state that emerged, its mechanisms of rule, and the "new persons" that were its subjects. The book explores how ill-prepared cadres, themselves unconvinced of collectivization's promises, implemented technologies and pedagogies imported from the Soviet Union through actions that contributed to the excessive use of force, which Party leaders were often unable to control. In addition, the authors show how local responses to the Party's initiatives compelled the regime to modify its plans and negotiate outcomes.
Drawing on archival documents, oral histories, and ethnographic data, Peasants under Siege sheds new light on collectivization in the Soviet era and on the complex tensions underlying and constraining political authority.
cadres a sense of belonging to a larger unit and broader endeavor. The problem with all this travel was the inadequate infrastructure for it: the Romanian transportation network linked all parts of the country with Bucharest but in the countryside, it could be very difficult to get from peripheral communes or districts to the district or regional centers. As one former activist put DJAN HD, Fond CR PMR, file 1082/1953, 145. 68 Kligman.indb 173 5/23/2011 11:00:09 AM 174 Chapter 3 it in
institution, and workplace. A Party secretary headed each one, alongside general assemblies that elected executive bureaus or committees. The chain of command thus went from the First/General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party in Bucharest through the First Secretaries of the regions, down to the Party secretaries of the districts and communes, ending with the Party secretaries of workplace cells. In addition to their secretaries, each of these units had a variety of cadres referred to as
animals as well. The amount of land and animals required for “wealthy” status differed by community and region, but a crucial ingredient was having enough land to be able to control one’s own labor process and not have to work for others (see below). Evidently, these were the values of households of means, but they had wide currency, and the poor often strove to realize them. In many areas, landholding and kinship were intertwined, vestiges of more extensively developed kin institutions from
the economic and political independence of the large majority of Romania’s population, 77 percent of whom lived in villages at the time. It would involve by far the most massive exercise of force against the peasantry in Romania’s modern history. To the extent that the peasantry represented—as many Romanians believed—the repository of the national identity, that too would be placed in question (Negrici 2003: 8). Notwithstanding significant differences between Romanian and Soviet rural life, the
beginning of the collectivization campaign, GACs received much lower levels of investment than did GASs and did not have their own machinery—they were served by state machinery parks known as SMTs (later SMAs).86 Throughout the communist period, land was moved back and forth between collective and state farms. The process we discuss in this book largely concerns the formation of collectives: how Party cadres compelled households to “donate” their land and to become an underpaid and undervalued