Making Revolutionary Proletarians out of Ukrainian Peasants

Making Revolutionary Proletarians out of Ukrainian Peasants : Bolsheviks’ Implementation of Class Struggle in the Countryside in 1919 

at Historical Materialism’s Tenth Annual Conference « Making the World Working Class » (7-10 November 2013, SOAS, London) 

Between February and April 1919, tens of agricultural communes (kommuny) are created in the newly conquered Kharkov region. With the support of the bolsheviks’ party, communes became forms of political and social mobilization of the lowest class of the rural society. Landless peasants and day-laborers viewed themselves as proletarians, discussed endlessly about the contribution of their communes to a socialist economy yet to be built or about the revolution in Germany. Hence they showed their willingness to be a part of the great workers’ uprising taking place in Europe then. These first communes were swept away by the advance of the white army within a few months and the coming back of the Reds in 1920 did not bring a new bloom of communes. Both Soviet and western historiography assert that the “communards” are uprooted or outcast, and since 1991 the communes’ rejection by the majority of peasants is unanimously presented as another proof of the failure of the bolsheviks’ implementation of class struggle in the countryside. I would like to challenge this statement on the basis of archival material giving some insight about poor peasants’ self-consciousness.