Red Bread: Collectivization in a Russian Village
(1931; rptd. 1988) by Maurice Hindus tells the story of life in Russia in the late 1920s and early 1930s, focusing primarily upon the lives of peasants in the Belorussian village of Bolshoye Bykovo, the town in which the author spent the first sixteen years of his life. His initial return visit to this town occurred in the summer of 1929, before the velikii perelom
or “Great Breakthrough,” while his second return visit occurred after this period of forced and rapid collectivization.
The way in which Hindus approaches the topic makes this a very interesting book. Rather than only telling the facts, he detailed the varying opinions of people from nearly every Russian social class on collective farming, koolacks, and many other aspects of life. In telling the stories that he obtained from the people, he brings the historical facts to life in a way that a traditional historical approach fails to do.
In his introduction to Red Bread, Ronald Grigor Suny calls Hindus “an objective observer” and “a sympathetic interpreter to an alien Western world.” (p. vii) Other scholars have not been as kind in evaluating Hindus. For example, Eugene Lyons called Hindus an apologist for Stalin’s regime. (qtd. p. xiii) Although there is some evidence to back this claim, I feel that Hindus is mostly objective in his interpretation of what he sees in the Russia of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Part of Hindus’ objectivity can be seen in the variety of people to whom he talked. Not only did he speak to collectivized peasants and independent farmers, but he also visited the city to discover the views of the industrial workers on collectivization and the peasantry. Also, he spoke to members of the administration of the kolhoz (collective farm), obtaining the views of a part of the Soviet government. He even visited a tribe of gypsies, in order to learn about the effects of collectivization on a wandering people. By including all of these different groups in his writing, Hindus offers a view of Russian society during the First Five Year Plan from a variety of viewpoints. Since he does not seem to regard any of these viewpoints as superior to the others, his overall presentation is in this way unbiased.
There are several reasons why some scholars call Hindus an apologist for Stalin and his regime. One of the most prominent reasons is that “For him [Hindus] the Russian revolution (and this includes Stalin’s ‘revolution from above’ of the 1930s) was on the whole a powerful force for needed change.” (p. xii) This seems to imply that Hindus was a supporter of Stalin’s actions, if not also his methods. For example, Hindus does not suggest that “peaceable methods alone would not have brought about change at a fast enough pace.” (p. xiii) However, he is also critical of the “barbarities” which occurred in the winter of 1929-1930, about which he believes that Stalin’s supporters had no regrets. (p. 356)
In his conclusion, Hindus suggests that the collectivization of Russia in the late 1920s and early 1930s was loaded with failure. As examples of the failings of the kolhoz, he includes poor leadership and a lack of care for the machinery. However, he also says that the efforts being made to overcome these failings were of great benefit to Russia. Schools to train leaders and experts in farming were opening in many parts of the country. As the most valuable part of the kolhoz, he notes that it dramatically cut the wasted land and productivity associated with individual strip farming. While he admits that “The enforced parting with the past … has its tragic aftermath” (p. 364), he still felt that, overall, collectivization was a very beneficial path for Russia to take.
While not always being accused of being an apologist, some people may have felt that Hindus was not an objective observer of the situations in Russia because he was a Russian and spent the early part of his life in that county, and therefore still had emotional ties to what he saw. On the contrary, this seems to have made Hindus a better observer of the situation-he could identify differences in the society before and after collectivization, but he was then able to make these observations as a Westerner might.