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Études rurales

Paysans et intellectuels en Russie (Entretien)

Jane Burbank, Monsieur Claudio Sergio Ingerflom

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Burbank Jane, Ingerflom Claudio Sergio. Paysans et intellectuels en Russie (Entretien). In: Études rurales, n°149-150, 1999.
Justice et sociétés rurales. pp. 173-180;

doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/rural.1999.4711


Fichier pdf généré le 07/01/2019


si peu d'effets sur l'histoire de la Russie/Union

soviétique ?

Jane Burbank — Claudio, you note that the

people that I'm writing about are the same
generation of peasants who will live through the
revolution and - some of them - into the 1920s
and beyond into the period of collectivization.
I'm glad you identified this generation in this
way because most studies of pre-revolutionary
peasants describe peasants living in early
twentieth century Russia as if they were the
Claudio Ingerflom — Depuis quelques same people who experienced the
années, à travers une série d'articles, tu as emancipation of 1861. Generally, the historiography
construit une vision nouvelle des pratiques treats Russian peasants as people without
judiciaires dans le monde paysan russe du début history, to use Eric Wolf's term, as an unchanging
du siècle. Ta recherche porte dans une large social group that remained the same from 1861
mesure sur la génération paysanne qui bénéficia du straight through the revolution of 1917. What
décret sur la terre en 1917, fut ensuite appelée à I'm trying to do in my work is to address rural
choisir son camp pendant la guerre civile et, people at a particular point in time, the early
finalement, fut victime de la terreur twentieth century, without tying them back to
accompagnant la collectivisation. Donc, tes recherches the experience of earlier generations. The
sont certes académiques, mais leur enjeu emancipation took place half a century before
concerne l'interprétation de la révolution et du the period on which my work is based, and I
phénomène soviétique. Pourrais-tu approfondir want to allow peasants, like other members of
les références contenues dans ton article pour Russian society, the possibility of changing in
situer ta démarche dans l'historiographie de la those fifty years.
paysannerie russe? Plus généralement, quelle At the same time, and in partial subversion
est la situation historiographique actuelle de la of your question, I am trying explicitly not to
paysannerie aux États-Unis? Quelle place link these people and their behavior to the
conservent les raisonnements fondés sur revolution of 1917. In fact, I'm trying to look at
l'arriération, la naïveté, l'ignorance, voire l'irra- life at court - at rural courts - as peasants
tionnalité, paysannes? Comment expliques-tu experienced it, which means without the
que les avancées sur d'autres aires de knowledge that within five or ten years they would be
civilisation -je pense à la prise en compte par les
historiens de la problématique anthropologique, de * Interview (1er octobre 1998) de Jane Burbank
la question de l'altérité, de celle de la place du (historienne, University of Michigan) par Claudio Ingerflom
sujet-chercheur devant l'objet-cherché - ont eu (historien, CNRS).

Études rurales, janvier-juin 1999, 149-150 : 173-180


174 caught up in revolutionary events. This attempt tions of resistance and accommodation. But
to escape from linkages to either the what is striking to me about this 1990s
emancipation or the revolution is important, in my literature, which is primarily focussed on the
view. An attachment to time as people knew it post-emancipation period, is its unexamined
allows us to see what they wanted at a retention of the category 'peasant' and related to
particular moment without necessarily tying it to a this, the idea of the peasantry as a group set off
later or an earlier big political event. from the rest of Russian society.
You asked about the historiography on I don't believe that the notion of a distinct
Russian peasants today and you implied that it and separate peasant community is helpful in
tends to exoticise peasants and to regard them understanding Russian society in the early
as backward. I would have to say that there is a twentieth century. One of my main goals is to
great deal of attention given to peasants by individualize the experience of rural people so
historians of Russia in the United States. The that we can call into question the very notion of
most innovative and important study was the peasantry as being an isolated group in the
Steven Hoch's Serfdom and Social Control early twentieth century. In most parts of even
in Russia: Petrovskoe, A Village in Tambov, a rural Russia, 'peasants' did not live in the
microhistory of a single village, published in closed communities that our researchers
1986. Hoch's book, which reaches back, by the describe (with such terms as 'the world of, etc.).
way, to questions raised by Michael Confino, One marvelous book that opens up a different
explored the intersecting systems of authority perspective on peasant values is Jeffrey
that enabled enserfed peasants to produce and pioneering study, When Russia
survive. Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular
Later, in the early 1990s, there was an Literature, 1861-1917. Brooks' book, published in
outburst of books with the word 'peasant' in the 1985, and thus like Hoch's well before the
title, among them Christine Worobec's Peasant latest array of peasant studies, shows that peasant
Russia: Family and Community in readers were the mainstay of bestseller
Post-Emancipation Russia; Peasant Economy, Culture and publishing in late imperial Russia.
Politics of European Russia, 1800-1921, edited People of peasant status were extensively
by Esther Kingston-Mann and Timothy Mixter; engaged in commerce with nearby and distant
The World of the Russian Peasant, edited by cities; people of peasant status obviously
Ben Eklof and Stephen P. Frank; and Russian constituted the bulk of the Russian working class in
Peasant Women, edited by Beatrice Farnsworth industrial production. Many of the legal
and Lynne Viola. The peasant appeared to take documents I examine describe peasants travelling to
over from the proletariat as a focus of markets, or moving away from their villages.
historiographie attention, if not struggle. Many of these Legal disputes often suggest a familiarity with
works are indeed influenced by peasant studies urban life. You can't tell from a village's
located in different world areas, by subaltern proximity to a city whether its inhabitants will be
studies to some extent and in particular by engaged in agriculture or in handicraft work or in

working in a factory. Thus, in the early literature, which was critical to sustaining the 175
twentieth century, it would be hard to isolate peasants image of peasants as outsiders to civilized
according to their occupations, their educational Russia, has been directly transmitted into twentieth
level, or even their place of residence. century history. The Revolution of 1917 played
What makes this issue complicated though, an important role in this regard. The kinds of
is that in many areas of life in imperial Russia, statistical data and surveys produced by
estate status was enormously important. (The Russian commissions in the late nineteenth century
best book on the relationship of the estate are missing for the period after 1905, because
system to experience is Elise Kimerling of the disruption of the war and revolution.
Wirtschafter's recent study, Social Identity in Thus, there's a gap in information on village
Imperial Russia.) From the legal documents of life for the last ten years of the imperial
the rural courts, which were initially regime. Perhaps this is a second reason why so
established for the peasant estate exclusively, it is much of our scholarship on peasants is stuck in
clear that litigators routinely identified certain assumptions. An excellent book on how
themselves as peasants, as 'peasant' Ivan Ivanich, of Russian intellectuals formed their stereotypes
village such-and-such. I do not want to deny of peasants is Cathy A. Frierson's Peasant
the meaning of official status as a part of Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late
everyday life, but I do want to question the notion Nineteenth-Century Russia.
fundamental to most works on Russian
peasants - that there was, in early twentieth century C. I. — Dans ce sens, ne pourrait-on dire qu'il
Russia, such a thing as a peasant way of life y a eu peu de différences entre l'historiographie
and a peasant way of being. soviétique et l'historiographie occidentale?
You asked me why Russian peasant studies
seem to adhere so insistently to a certain J. B. — Right. This is one area where one sees
construct of peasant naivety or way of thought. a strong correspondence between Russian,
One reason may be called 'vestiges of Soviet, and so-called Western historiography.
revolutionary history'. Decades of historiography on
go the
and say
that the category
both in
the Russian revolution stressed exploitation,
rather than agency, for peasants; the present- the Soviet period and today is still a strong and
day 'othering' and victimization of peasants accepted concept. The prejudices of Russian
may derive from that tradition. But there's intellectuals against rural people and their
another geneology of peasant 'otherness' to be ignorance, or supposed ignorance, so frequently
found in the ethnographic work accomplished heard in the Soviet years, also shaped scholarly
by Russian intellectuals themselves in the views of the imperial period.
nineteenth century. Most studies of Russian Another tendency, of a different kind, that
peasants and the law today are based on studies carries over from the late nineteenth to the late
accomplished by Russian experts who worked twentieth century is the inclination on the part
in the countryside in the 1870s and 1880s. This of academics to imagine peasants as doing

176 their politics for them. [Laughs]. In other subjects or citizens. The other trope is
words, politics is framed according to elite resistance, and here one can see the difficulties
notions, and peasants then are fit into that scholars have moving away from the old
schema. Rather than imagining that peasants struggles over 1917 that characterized Russian
might have agendas of their own. For example, historiography before 1991. It's hard for people to
Russian Marxists in the late nineteenth and imagine that peasants might have not been
early twentieth century thought about peasants resistant to autocratic authority. I am not arguing
either as potential revolutionaries - Lenin's that peasants were not resisters at some times,
view - or, more commonly, as threats to the but what I'm doing in my work is looking at a
revolution, because of peasant backwardness sphere of life without asking what this does
and conservativism. One can see these mean for autocratic politics, or do these actions
attitudes reflected in contemporary scholarship as mean that peasants supported the autocracy or
well. In other words, peasants are made to be despised it? I don't think these are always the
the bearers of other people's politics. Very few appropriate questions. But its does seem very
scholars - you are one of them, another is Ben difficult for historians to break with this notion
Eklof in his study, Russian Peasant Schools - of struggle for or against the autocracy, to
attempt to figure out what it was that peasants break away from revolutionary politics as
were thinking, and instead fit them into the conventionally conceived.
intellectuals' own understandings of politics.
C. I. — Tu écris qu'il ne faut pas analyser les
C. I. — Est-ce que le changement dans la choses, les phénomènes, à partir des
recherche historiographique aux États-Unis est différences qu'on remarque lorsqu'on les confronte
lié au changement de génération des avec ce que nous connaissons de l'Occident. Je
chercheurs ? La prise en compte de l'anthropologie suis entièrement d'accord et il m'est arrivé à
est récente. Quels sont les problèmes qui plusieurs reprises de montrer à quels non-sens
occupent aujourd'hui en Amérique du Nord les aboutissait cette démarche dans
historiens du monde paysan russe ? l'historiographie. Une fois cette précaution prise, j'aimerais
que tu nous en dises plus sur l'absence
J. B. — There are two dominant tropes for d'avocat, dans les procès que tu as étudiés. Je crois
understanding Russian peasants today. One is the qu'on peut se poser cette question aussi parce
romantic world apart peasant with his or her que, quelques années plus tard, les paysans
sturdy customs, with particular folkways of vont devoir compter sur les avocats. Comment
being. In other words, a continuation of the alors dans ces litiges sans avocats joue la
ethnographic tradition of the nineteenth jurisprudence? J'irai plus loin : les cours rurales te
century, which looks at peasants with sympathy, semblent être plutôt une prolongation de la
but as folkloric characters. This approach communauté paysanne ou, au contraire, est-on
denies peasants normalcy in their own country, bien plus proche du futur tribunal ? Mais peut-
where they were, of course, the majority of être ne faut-il pas poser la question en ces

termes. La rédaction de la revue veut qu'on themselves did not know written law, I do not 177
évoque la commune, le mir. Ne serait-ce pas le see it as distinguishing them from other people
moment? Si j'ajoute par exemple une phrase in the country.
comme celle qui suit : en fait, la question qui The Russian system did make room for
est derrière ces préocupations est celle du rôle peasants, like others, to use lawyers, but not at
de la commune paysanne dans ces années et the volost' court. For example, a peasant could
dans ces affaires. take cases to the circuit court with the
assistance of a lawyer, or engage a lawyer in an
j. B. — Your question concerning the absence appeal to the supervisor of the rural court, or to a
of lawyers from the rural courts was something higher court of appeal. Peasants knew that if
that bothered Russian society. When Russian you were going to reach beyond the volost'
intellectuals and jurists thought about the court it could help you to have a lawyer, or at
volost' courts, there were two things that to least they thought it would help them to have a
them stood for illegality or alegality. One was lawyer.
the absence of lawyers, the other was the But in the volost' courts themselves there
presence of uneducated judges. A third might be were no lawyers. I do not see this as an
the absence of a real jury because the great impediment to a legal decision. I interpret the volost'
achievement of the Court Reform of 1864 in court reform instead as having provided rural
the eyes of professional elites was the people with an accessible legal system where
institution of the jury. In the volost' courts the judge they could interpret the law themselves. This
and the jury were the same. There were three was perhaps exactly what made these courts
or four judges, and they had to make a so attractive to Russian people. The absence
collective decision on each case. It is true that there of lawyers could be seen as a good thing, of
were no lawyers to make the best case for their course, in that it allowed the peasants to come
clients. to some kind of decision that represented local
My views on these issues are formed to judgements - ethical judgements - and at the
some extent by my position in Anglo-American same time adhered to a national standard of
jurisprudence as opposed to the civil law decision making.
tradition of continental Europe. Russian observers, You ask about the role of the peasant
for the most part devoted to positivist ideas of commune. As you know, after the emancipation,
law, claimed that peasants had no legal people of peasant status were attached to 'rural
consciousness because they did not know the societies' [sel'skie obshchestva] that were
written law. This in itself is a misleading criticism. descendants of the peasant collectives, also known
Knowing the content of the legal codes is not a as communes, that had controlled the cultivation
requirement for legal consciousness. Certainly of land in common either on a serf-owner's
most elite people in Russia did not 'know' the estate or on state-controlled domains. These
laws of their country. That is what lawyers were rural societies could show up at the volost' court
for, to know the laws. So the fact that peasants as litigants, either suing an individual or being

178 sued by a person from within or outside the be from your own village, in fact the contrary.
society. In addition, representatives of a rural Since each of the judges had to be from a
society would often be summoned as witnesses for different village in the volost', the procedures of
inheritance cases, or in conflicts over labor. But the court ensured that a majority of the judges
the court itself was an institution that covered would be from a different village from your
the territory of many different rural societies, own. Perhaps it was the dual nature of the
and was not directly linked to any one of them. volost' court - that it was connected to the
government, the state, and at the same time, in a
C. I. — Tu as souligné la confiance que les mostly impersonal way, to people of one's own
paysans avaient dans ces cours. C'est une locality, but not one's village, that made the
prolongation de la confiance dans la starostal Une court so attractive. It would be very hard to
confiance dans la notion abstraite de justice measure this attractiveness because we don't
incarnée par des juges qui sont aussi leurs pairs ? know how many cases were settled at home.
Nor does a settlement out of court deny the
J. B. — First, let me note that these peasant influence of the court on people's lives. But we
judges were elected by peasants themselves, do know that hundreds of thousands of people
voting at meetings of their rural assemblies. Of each year went beyond the village for justice.
course in the United States we elect most of
our judges, and we don't always have a high C. I. — Dans tes travaux tu mets en avant
opinion of them. Let's think about the l'effort fait par les acteurs sociaux pour réguler la
relationship of peasants to their own village headman violence. Le tribunal ne se demande pas si les
(starosta) or village elders and the hypothesis insultes sont justifiées ou non mais prend en
of their confidence in the volost' court. Most of compte leur existence même, comprise comme
the problems that were brought to the volost' une violence commise par une personne à l'
court probably could have been settled in the encontre d'une autre. Tu affirmes que ce
village. Could have been. That is, the rural processus de monopolisation croissante de la
assembly, the village elders, the starosta all violence par une institution correspond à la fois
could have made decisions about most minor aux besoins de l'État et aux besoins de la
conflicts. population. Il y aurait une négociation entre les
So, then, why did people go beyond the deux parties, un compromis. Or, celui-ci est
village to seek justice? To me this effort is the contemporain d'un déferlement extraordinaire
strongest testimony to my insistence that de violence dans le pays (les révoltes de 1902
peasants did not live in a world apart. Although it et la révolution de 1905). Il porte donc sur une
took time and trouble to take an issue to the petite violence relativement éloignée des
court, people nonetheless went outside grands enjeux sociaux et politiques, qui oppose
their villages to get legal judgments. Who were avant tout les paysans entre eux. Mais il y a
the judges that they would go before? There une deuxième opposition entre l'ensemble des
was no guarantee that one of the judges would paysans, d'un côté, et les propriétaires et le

pouvoir d'État, de l'autre. Que peux-tu dire de possible to think of people acting in both ways 179
cette contemporanéité ? Tu évoques l'idéal at once, that is, using the legal system of the
civique, qui semble se construire à partir du bas nation to achieve order in their daily lives with
par la négociation. Quelle est sa place au their neighbors, but also taking the opportunity
milieu de cette grande violence généralisée en to settle accounts with their landlords or former
1902-1905? landlords during a hiatus in political authority
in the grand sense. And once again here, I
j. B. — You ask a hard question in an don't see anything bizarre about this or
interesting way. I also wondered, when I began my anything particularly peasant-like. If we think
study with court records from 1905, why I about Russian professional society in 1902,
could not find the revolution. Reading the court 1903, 1904, 1905, we can be sure that it was
documents, you could not imagine that there going to court to settle its debts, to regulate
was a revolution going on. There were just the inheritance, to settle lawsuits of all kinds,
same cases about inheritance, about insults, searching for a kind of normalcy in the everyday
about work, that you see in 1906, 1909, 1910, events of private existence. And at the same
1911, and so on. Things change a great deal time perhaps tolerating or even participating in
however in 1917 and they also change during the grand terrorist campaigns or political
the World War. For example, the percentage of movements against the autocracy. So my
civil cases involving inheritance goes up response to your question is to say there is no
enormously. When most of the inheritance cases are contradiction here. People engage in different
about women inheriting from men who died in kinds of activities that we may call political
the war, one can clearly see a connection but that have very different valences for their
between the greater events of outside violence and lives. A search to regulate one's immediate
the life of people in villages and at court. existence, in an orderly way through procedures
But the harder question to ask is: is there a provided by the State, does not mean that a
link between the legal consciousness of rural person must defend the State order when given
people, expressed in their search for an orderly a chance to attack it. I think this holds for both
way of life in the village, and, as you say, these peasants and professionals.
great outbursts of violent struggle against the
greater order of things? It seems to me entirely Transcrit par Elizabeth Yelien

Références bibliographiques

Brooks, J. — 1 985, When Russia Learned to Read: Eklof, B. — 1986, Russian Peasant Schools:
Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917. Princeton, Officialdom, Village Culture, and Popular Pedagogy, 1861-
Princeton University Press. 1914. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Eklof, B. and S.P. Frank, eds. — 1 990, The World of Kingston-Mann, E. and T. Mixter, eds. — 1991, Peas-
the Russian Peasant. Boston, Unwin Hyman. ant Economy, Culture and Politics of European Russia,
Farnsworth, B. and L Viola, eds. — 1992, Russian 1800-1921. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Peasant Women. New York, Oxford University Press. Tian-Shanskaia, O.S. — 1 993, Village Life in Late
Frierson, C.A. — 1 993, Peasant Icons: Représenta- Tsarist Russia. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
tions of Rural People in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia. Wirtschafter, E.K. — 1 997, Social Identity in Imperial
New York, Oxford University Press. Russia. DeKalb, Northern Illinois Press.
Hoch, S.L — 1986, Serfdom and Social Control in Worobec, C. — 1991, Peasant Russia: Family and
Russia: Petrovskoe, a Village in Tambov. Chicago, Uni- Community in Post-Emancipation Russia. Princeton,
versity of Chicago Press. Princeton University Press.