Staunton, June 25 – German social theorist Eric Hobsbawn argued that the disappearance of the peasantry as a class was one of the main results of what he called “the short 20th century.” But if the peasantry as a class has disappeared in Russia, rural residents still form a quarter of the population of the country and far more in some regions and republics.
Regnum commentator Dmitry Buyanov argues that it is important to recognize what has happened in rural areas where peasant agriculturalists have almost entirely disappeared with the rise of huge agro-industrial companies but where rural residents, although marginalized, still try to continue to work the land (regnum.ru/news/economy/3645933.html).
With the collapse of the Soviet system, the collective and state farms which had preserved some of the elements of the peasantry while destroying others ceased to exist, the commentator says; and while some of their members tried to go back to farming, both the forces of capitalism and the approach of the Russian state left them at the margins.
As a result, the number of Russians in the villages who engaged in commercial as opposed to subsistence agriculture fell from 10.5 million in 1992 to only 1.4 million now – and that during a period when agricultural production rose dramatically because of the ever-increasing role of agricultural holding companies and conglomerates.
Today, those farmers with 100 hectares or less form a microscopic part of the market, while the small number of agrarian giants “which are interested in profit and property and not the development of the village” dominate the sector, a situation which leaves the villages without much in the way of prospects.
What is striking is that most of the small farmers want to remain in the business as long as they can and are unwilling to work for the agrarian giants. That means the latter suffer from labor shortages which the government has tried to address by its aid but which Moscow has succeeded only in exacerbating.
“Hobsbawm was right,” Buyanov says, “when he spoke about the demise of the peasantry. But what disappeared was a class and not the people who did not find a new place for themselves and were forced to struggle for survival” against forces which did not and do not show any concern for what they are destroying.