1917 in the Countryside: Iakov Iakovlev and the Writing of the History of the Peasantry in Early Soviet Russia

  • Author / Creator
    Collin James Mastrian
  • 1917 god v derevne: vospominaniia krest'ian [1917 in the Countryside: Peasant Memoirs] is a censored volume of a vast collection of peasant memoirs and writings on the Revolution of 1917. These writings were sent by peasants in response to “an appeal to the countryside” published by future Commissar of Agriculture, Iakov Iakovlev, in the pages of the major Soviet newspaper Krest'ianskaia gazeta [Peasant Gazette] in 1925. However, this collection was also part of a broader project, led by famed Soviet-Marxist historian Mikhail Pokrovskii, and the Commission on the History of the October Revolution of the Communist Party or Istpart. Istpart was one of the most significant organizations driving the direction of early Soviet historiography. As its name implies, Istpart was tasked with writing a history that positioned the Bolshevik party at the vanguard of the Revolution, thereby legitimizing Bolshevik hegemony in the Soviet Union. The project behind 1917 in the Countryside is ultimately the product of these two forces—Peasant Gazette (edited by Iakov Iakovlev), and Istpart (under the creative purview of Mikhail Pokrovskii). Both Peasant Gazette and Istpart are unique in that they stressed direct relations with the peasantry. The original project (which undoubtedly deserves further research), was initiated by both Pokrovskii and Iakovlev and was intended to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. However, as Stalin took over the jubilee of 1927 and Istpart became increasingly neutralized by its rival, the V.I. Lenin Institute, Pokrovskii’s and Iakovlev’s joint Istpart project never reached a wider Soviet audience. Pokrovskii was hand-picked by Lenin to lead developments in Soviet historiography in the early 1920s. However, by the late 1920s, Pokrovskii’s internationalist attitude and strict adherence to classical Marxism became increasingly unpopular in the face of Stalin’s concept of Socialism in One Country. By 1929, Iakovlev had distanced himself from his former colleague and printed his own version of the project using the press of Peasant Gazette. However, because the entire project remained heavily influenced by Pokrovskii’s concept of “collective reminiscence,” as well as the rural correspondence movement, the works themselves are not mere propaganda and remain complex and valuable primary source material for understanding peasant perspectives of the Russian Revolution. My work explores the complex processes behind the production of 1917 in the Countryside. It elucidates the relationships of both Pokrovskii and Iakovlev with Lenin and the evolution of their ideological convictions in a tumultuous political climate. It investigates Istpart’s role in guiding the peasant writers of 1917 in the Countryside to create a narrative that cemented Bolshevik legitimacy. Works by Frederick Corney and Michael Hickey explore the role of Istpart in manufacturing narratives in Soviet urban areas, using histories written from the perspective of Soviet workers. My work builds on their research to explore the role of Istpart in manufacturing narratives in the Soviet countryside by using 1917 in the Countryside, a history written from the perspective of Soviet peasants. Finally, my work compares 1917 in the Countryside with Stalin’s history of the party, The Short Course in order to understand what remained of peasant interpretations of the revolution after collectivization.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
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