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A traditional Russian term denoting a poor peasant household, one without enough land or capital to support itself without hiring out family members to work on neighbors' fields.

During the Black Repartition, which occurred during the revolutionary events of 1917 and 1918, Russian peasants seized land owned by noble and absentee landlords and the more substantial peasants, some of whom had consolidated holdings during the Stolypin reforms of 19061914. Thus the number of peasant holdings increased markedly, and the size of the average plot declined. Many villages returned to the scattered strips and primitive tools characteristic of tsarist times. Use of the wooden plow, sickle, or scythe were common among the poorer peasants. These subsistence agriculturists typically had one cow or draft animal, along with a small wooden house and naturally had little or nothing to sell in the market. Many poor peasants had been proletarian otkhodniki (migrants) or soldiers before and during the war, but the economic collapse forced them to return to their ancestral villages. The village community (obshchina or mir ) resumed its authority over the timing of agricultural tasks and occasional repartition. Hence the Bolshevik Revolution constituted a social and economic retrogression in the countryside.

Considering their economic plight, the bednyaki, along with the landless batraki, were expected to be rural allies of the proletariat. According to Bolshevik thinking in the period of War Communism and the New Economic Policy, these lower classes would support the government's policy and would eventually be absorbed into collective or communal farms. Those middle peasants (serednyaki ) with slightly more land and productive capital were expected to tolerate Bolshevik policy only, while the so-called kulaks would oppose it. In reality the various peasant strata lacked any strong class lines or reliable political orientation.

See also: black repartition; kulaks; new economic policy; peasantry; serednyaki; war communism


Lewin, Moshe. (1968). Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization, tr. Irene Nove and John Biggart. London: Allen and Unwin.

Martin C. Spechler

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