Russian Peasants - Sociopolitical Organization



Traditionally, there was a sharp division between the sociopolitical organization imposed from above by the state through landlords or local officials and that which was administered by the peasants themselves through their village assembly. This assembly was the governing body of the local community; normally, only males had a voice. The assembly controlled rights to land (arable, pasture, or forest), allocated community tasks, and was responsible to the landlord for feudal dues and to the state for the collection of taxes and the provision of recruits for the army.

Lines of authority were specified either through general Soviet law or through the charter of the collective farm. The governing agency of the local community was the village soviet, which, at least in theory, maintained a staff of workers to handle day-to-day matters. In most instances, however, actual power was wielded by the local committees of the Communist party on various levels. This situation may soon change, pursuant to the current political reform, but there is little firm indication as yet that the local soviets will be given any real power, such as would make them a countervailing force against chairmen of collective farms and their governing boards or against directors of state farms or the heads of other important economic organizations.

Social Control. In the pre-Revolutionary Russian village, two basic forms of social control, with sometimes conflicting aims, were operative: the national law, as enforced by officials, and local custom, as enforced by the community acting through informal groups or, in some instances, as interpreted by the courts. Specific data on the workings of community-based enforcement are extremely scarce for European Russia proper, but in Siberia, where there was no serfdom, the local community had a fairly well-developed system of criminal investigation and enforcement, staffed by constables, messengers, and so forth chosen from the local community. Ethnographic sources show that community standards of morality were enforced by groups of young people who, for example, vandalized the property of those who were considered guilty of violating them, and that persistent thieves and people guilty of assaultive behavior were sometimes dealt with by being murdered or driven out of the community. On the other hand, the national law was enforced by a uniformed constable, who typically did not live in the village, and a small group of other officials subordinate to him. Corruption of such minor officials was considered a matter of course by the peasants.


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