Inventing a Soviet Countryside

State Power and the Transformation of Rural Russia, 1917–1929

James W. Heinzen's work fills a significant gap in the extensive historiography of the New Economic Policy (NEP) . . . The book studies the organization and staffing of NKZem RSFSR, offers some memorable portraits of its leading figures, especially its head, Alexander Petrovich Smirnov, and delves into the complexity of policy making in this era and the clash of institutional interests that had a major impact on policy. . . . Heinzen makes a convincing case that Smirnov and the specialists in NKZem RSFSR were one of the major sources of ideas and policies for the 'Rightists' within the party leadership. . . . The book is distinguished by its thoroughness, and by its cool and balanced judgment. . . . This study brings out the full complexity of the Bolshevik regime, its dilemmas, and its internal contraditions.
The American Historical Review

Following the largest peasant revolution in history, Russia's urban-based Bolshevik regime was faced with a monumental task: to peacefully “modernize” and eventually “socialize” the peasants in the countryside surrounding Russia's cities. To accomplish this, the Bolshevik leadership created the People's Commissariat of Agriculture (Narkomzem), which would eventually employ 70,000 workers. This commissariat was particularly important, both because of massive famine and because peasants composed the majority of Russia's population; it was also regarded as one of the most moderate state agencies because of its nonviolent approach to rural transformation.
Working from recently opened historical archives, James Heinzen presents a balanced, thorough examination of the political, social, and cultural dilemmas present in the Bolsheviks' strategy for modernizing of the peasantry. He especially focuses on the state employees charged with no less than a complete transformation of an entire class of people. Heinzen ultimately shows how disputes among those involved in this plan-from the government, to Communist leaders, to the peasants themselves-led to the shuttering of the Commissariat of Agriculture and to Stalin's cataclysmic 1929 collectivization of agriculture.

about the author

James W. Heinzen

James W. Heinzen is Professor of History at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

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James W. Heinzen