Rural rebellion against efficiency

Effectiveness says something about the outcome of a procedure.
 The price you had to pay for it says something about its efficiency.

 ?From the point of view of a deteriorating social-economic situation and the lack of distinct realisation of previous obligations signed by the government, delegates recognise that if the situation will develop in an unwanted direction, it will be indispensable to take up any form of protest as sharp as efficiency requires it.?
 (Quoted from the ?Samoobrona resolution No.4?, published by the Polish party ?Self-defence ? Samoobrona?)

 In 2004 Poland will become a member of the European Union. It will be the beginning of the end of the Polish peasantry, as it exists today. However, the official opinion is that the membership in the European Union holds great prospects for the Polish economy. If you ask Andrzej Lepper, the leader of the peasants? party Samoobrona, about that, he will draw a picture of his country?s future that may remind you of Judgement Day. Big companies from the evil West will ? after breaking the politicians? resistance with checks – soon strangle the innocent Polish farmer, force him to leave his land and work in huge food factories where there aren?t no such thing as human or animal rights.

In 1929 the Soviet government under Stalin decided to start a war against the peasantry. Its aim was not only to defeat its ever-present fear of a peasant counterrevolution but also to impose upon the peasantry its definition of efficiency.

 How Soviet peasants dealt with collectivation and how Polish farmers resist agricultural industrialization you can read in the following chapters:

Moral economy vs. food factories
The Polish Eco-Che and the politburo?s dream
Judgement days of the countryside
 The end of the dream

Self-sufficient farming vs. food factories

 The image Lepper draws of the Polish peasants? future is not too unrealistic. Poland?s peasantry is far from the definition of modern efficient agriculture: it consists of more than two million farms, most of which exist only to feed the family. About half a million are commercial operations, but of those only one in five meets EU standards. Many farms are very little, some land and a small number of cattle, pigs and poultry. The methods of production haven’t changed too much since the end of the Second World War. The use of modern technology is minimal and the work intensity high. How will these peasants compete with the large-scale agriculture from the West? They won?t, and that?s not only Lepper?s opinion.


Moral economy – their way of living

The future, which the planners in the Soviet government envisaged, was far from reasonable and far from the peasants? reality. The Russian peasantry, who had only been freed from serfdom in 1861, had since then withstood various attempts to reform their way of life. Peasant life was determined by a system that had evolved throughout the centuries, a system whose main purpose was to protect the commune against the threats and claims of the state.

 Every year the land was distributed anew, and the distribution followed a so-called moral economy. Peasants who had more mouths to feed received more land to guarantee their survival. This system, of course, prevented the evolving of peasants who would try to become richer than others, for they knew that the land would be re-distributed in the next year anyway.

 Moreover, the commune kept its members from starvation ? if a peasant wasn?t able to feed his family because of illness or even death the commune would collect for him. Having survived the Soviets? first attempt to collectivize it after the Civil war, the peasant commune existed in this form until the end of the 1920s.

Fears of the Polish peasants and Lepper, the Eco-Che

 The fear and uncertainty among Polish peasants is widespread. Although the Polish representatives fought a tough fight for subsidies in the EU membership negotiations (it was finally agreed that in the years 2004-2006 Poland will get respectively 55, 60 and 65 percent of the payments granted to the present EU farmers)- Polish peasants feel that they?re no match for their Western rivals who have been pumped up for 50 years by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. In the West of the country, in areas which were once part of Germany, there are fears that EU membership will allow rich foreigners to buy up land and push out the locals.

 Lepper channels these fears. He gives legitimacy and form to the protests of the peasants. In spite of their economic inferiority he provides them with a feeling of moral superiority. ?Don?t believe all those clever experts who tell you that you must make profit at all cost – you’ve seen the results – BSE, foot-and-mouth and other diseases. I advise you, return to nature, you?ll have a healthier and better life.? He has become a fighter for a clean, natural way of living. Eco-Che.

 The picture he draws of Western style agriculture is a horrible one: there is no respect for Mother Nature, no respect for the animals, and no respect for the peasants ? it is led by the principles of efficiency and not by the principles of humanity. He contrasts this with the image of the Polish peasantry living in harmony with chicken, cow and pig and respecting the God-given rules of nature.

 Lepper?s ?theory? echoes the ideas of John Paul II. ?Neither ultra idealism nor ultra materialism, but the natural outlook on life?, as he puts it. His moral-social system is a pyramid, where Man is on the top. On the second level there is family, on the third work, and on the last, a proper life. The role of the state is to control private banking and protect the national resources from being exploited by foreign companies. Sounds good, doesn?t it?


The politburo has a dream

 The planners in the politburo had a dream. They dreamed of a Soviet Union that would be modernized and industrialized by the end of the 30s and would soon overtake the capitalist countries from the west. The agrarian sector played a key-role. The ?transfer of resources? from the countryside to the industry was thought to be the catalyst for the industrialization. In return, peasants would get the benefits of civilization.

 The planners dreamed of settling the widespread peasants into big ?agro-towns? that would be self-sufficient and would realize industrialization at the microcosmic level. The first 5-year-plan, ending in 1929, would make up for the delayed revolution in the countryside. When the collectivization campaigns were set in action, it was still unclear how the kolkhoz (kollektivnoe khozyaystvo, collective farming) should look. The main feature was that there was to be no private property – machines and land belong to the community, for use by everyone.

?Poland needs real knights, not sly fellows!?


 While most of the other parties led their election campaigns in a rather American style, Lepper started his campaign by entering Gniezno (the first Polish capital) on a horse, dressed as a knight. He announced: ?Poland needs real knights, not sly fellows?. When in 2001 the peasants for the first time elected 42 members of Lepper?s party ?Samoobrona? into Sejm, the MP?s of the big parties (Democratic Left Party (SLD) and Citizens? Platform) mainly just laughed at the ordinary folk that were suddenly sitting in Parliament. Until then, Samoobrona made headlines mainly with organized peasant protests, in the course of which they blocked roads where trucks loaded with agricultural import goods from the EU were supposed to pass. Samoobrona?s protest was so inspiring that it even got its own name: Lepperiada.

 But the arrogant attitude of those in power had not considered the meaning of Lepper?s position. The behaviour of the peasants in Parliament may be peculiar ? but at least they represent an important part of the population. That?s what Lepper referred to when he announced on 29th November 2001 at his inauguration as vice marshal in Parliament: ?If you do not change your policy, then all these villains, smelly bones and dung will come to Warsaw to remind you of their rights. [Outburst of laughter]? And you are laughing, laughing at people on the bazaars. You are laughing at those who say that Poland is being sold out, that your policies have led to 3 million unemployed? Well, laugh if you have to??

Judgement Day on the Soviet countryside

 The first thing to do was to announce the class war in the village, a war that didn?t exist before. In the propaganda the richer peasants were presented as the exploiters, the bourgeois of the countryside. These so called kulaki (kulak = fist) were to be liquidated. Due to the propaganda they should go through a ?self-dekulakization?, thus being afraid of being deported they should sell all their property and go back to honest work within the kolkhoz. Or ? what was usually the case ? they would be forced out. To achieve this, in December 1929 thousands of workers and red army soldiers were sent to the villages to build up kolkhozy and force the peasants into them.

 The peasants reacted in a way the government hadn?t expected them to. Being afraid of becoming the next victims themselves, they often tried to protect the kulaki. Representatives of the state were beaten and thrown out of the villages or even killed by furious crowds and administration buildings were burnt down. In some areas (mostly Central Asia), peasant armies were constituted and took over the rule until the Red Army crushed them. In Western Siberia, where most of the peasants were kulaki and had to fear annihilation, the peasants formed rings, living in the forests and assaulting kolkhozy and state institutions.

 The state was completely unable to handle the phenomenon of the ?bab?y bunty? (womenfolk?s plotting): fearing punishment and knowing that the Red Army wouldn?t shoot at women, the male peasants sent their wives to protest and drive the brigades out of the village. What was most surprising for the state was that the peasants, who were forced into the kolkhozy, knowing that they would have to give their animals and grain to the state anyway, killed their horses, cattle and sheep and burnt their grain. Eyewitnesses said that there was an atmosphere of Judgement Day in the air and peasants were having huge orgies before they were forced into the kolkhoz.

 The state had to react and slowed down the tempo of collectivization. Anyway, the measures proved effective in the end. By the end of 1933, about 80 percent of the peasantry had been collectivized.

Victories of self-defence

 Maybe Samoobrona?s biggest victory was the day when Joe Luter, CEO of the world?s biggest pork production company Smithfields Foods, had to admit to the Washington Post that ? considering the level of protest ? his plan to establish US ?industrial-style? pig farming has no immediate future in Poland.
 At the occasion of receiving the Albert Schweitzer medal from the American Animal Welfare Institute, Lepper gave another sharp message to Smithfield Foods Vice President Richard Poulson: ?He will always feel the breath of Samoobrona on his neck and if that is not enough he will have to feel the fist of Polish farmers.? Robert F. Kennedy, president of the Water Keeper Alliance, praised Lepper?s heroism and courage for ?standing up to these bullies? who try to move industrial hog production all over the world, and for Lepper?s efforts to protect ?our environment, human dignity, the dignity of these animals and of future generations.? Kennedy congratulated him ?for the successful battle that he has waged against this criminal, bullying, outlaw industry.?

 Lepper isn?t used to praise like this. In Poland he is the funny guy of the media. They just don?t take him seriously. That?s why he accuses TV channels, radio stations and newspapers of being manipulated and campaigning against him. In Sejm he plays the bad boy in the sandpit, calling president Kwasniewski a layabout, former prime minister Olszewski a drunkard, former minister of finances Balcerowicz a bandit and so on. In general he accuses the whole class of Polish politicians of being corrupt. This has brought him several lawsuits.

The gap between l??tat and le peuple

 Most of the kolkhozy weren?t bigger than 400 ha (a joke compared to the 200 000 ha of the planned but never realized agrotowns). The relationship of the kolkhozniki to the kolkhoz itself couldn?t have been worse. They tried to cause damage to the state wherever they could: they damaged state-owned tractors, hid grain from state procurements, tried to keep their work on the kolkhoz down to a minimum – no kolkhoznik spent more than 150 days per year on the kolkhoz at that time.

 The efforts of the Soviet Union in the field of industrialization were remarkable: out-of-nothing industrial conglomerates, like Magnitogorsk, and big Hydro-electricity-stations had been established and enabled the industrialization of regions that were far from the centre.

 Thus the SU had even managed to overtake the shaky economies of the West – but the numbers in the agrarian sector were far behind the plan. The high-scale import of thousands of tractors at the beginning of the thirties couldn?t compensate for the amount of horsepower that had been destroyed in the course of collectivization.

 The ?Stakhanovite-movement?, named after Aleksey Stakhanov who had exceeded his norm in a coalmine by 1300 percent in 1935, had proven quite successful in the industrial sector. It was ?transferred? to the countryside to increase the will to work. However, it didn?t work out: the Stakhanov imitators met pure hatred from the others, as they were seen to be responsible for boosting the working norms.

The EU membership in Lepper?s hands?

 There is no doubt that Lepper is popular among Polish peasants. He gives them a feeling of holding their fate in their own hands, a belief that they can fight and defeat the Goliaths from the West ? and that they can?t rely on their government: "The European Union, America and other countries have turned Poland into a dumping ground for their over-production. And let me tell you, that’s been with the permission of a line of Polish governments."

The popularity of this opinion, which obviously corresponds with the unpopularity of the EU, has encouraged other parties ? such as the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) or the Law&Justice (PiS) party ? to shift their party-line to a rather anti-EU position. In any case, the League of Polish Families (LPR) stands at the side of Lepper on the EU question.

 The chorus of Samoobrona?s party song is ?This land is your land, this land is my land, we won?t let anyone punch us in the face.? It is sung with all one?s heart at party meetings. On 6th December 2002 Polish press agencies reported: The parliamentary caucus of the Self-Defense radical farmers union has sent a letter to President Aleksander Kwa_niewski, saying that the creation of an alliance against Self-Defense would only add to spreading corruption and poverty in Poland, and could also provoke an ?uncontrollable social explosion?.

 How powerful Lepper?s anti-EU position is one could see in the opinion polls, which were taken in the run-up of the referendum, which was held in June 2003 on the EU membership of Poland. Up to the very end of the referendum it wasn?t clear if the pro-Europeans would gather enough votes. There was a shrill fight between pros and cons, demonstrating a huge gap between cities and countryside in this question. Lepper announced that he would call on his followers to vote against joining if the Polish government didn?t change the conditions of the membership. It seems that the people in power have underestimated the influence of the other side – and also the width of the gap. Having ignored it will bite back.

The end of the dream

 The state had dismissed its dream of the ?transfer of resources? by the mid-30s. It didn?t even trust the peasantry to guarantee the supply of food to the towns. In fact, it started supporting workers with their own ?datsha? in the countryside where they could grow their own potatoes and tomatoes and thus become independent from the resistant peasants. The countryside itself had suffered severely from the campaign. The absolute level of production had gone down, and a famine in the winter 1932/33 killed millions of peasants, most of them in the Ukraine. Although they couldn?t prevent the introduction of the kolkhoz system, the peasants had turned it into an inefficient one with their everyday resistance. Until the end of the Soviet Union it was not the kolkhozy that ensured the supplying of the population but the small areas of land that the peasants cultivated ?privately?.

 The collectivization of the peasantry certainly led to a radical change of the living circumstances in the Russian countryside. But a voyage to a Russian village nowadays may prove that the basics of Russian peasant life before 1917, that is the religiousness, the moral and economical principles and even the techniques of cultivation have survived the Soviet colonization attempt.

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