Chayanov, Alexander Vasilievich

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(18881937), pseudonym Ivan Kremnev, theoretician of the peasant family farm, leading chair of agricultural economics in Soviet Russia in the 1920s.

Born in Moscow, Alexander Chayanov entered the famous Moscow Agricultural Institute in 1906 (known as the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy from 1917 to 1923 and as the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy since 1923) and graduated with a diploma in agricultural economics in 1911. Appointed associate professor in 1913, he became full professor and chair of the agricultural organization in 1918, and worked at the academy until his arrest in 1930. In 1919 he was appointed director of the Seminar of Agricultural Economy. In 1922 this institution became the Research Institute for Agricultural Economics and Politics. As director, Chayanov gathered an illustrious body of researchers. Often traveling abroad from 1911 onward, he became an internationally recognized specialist in his field, forming a network of correspondence in more than sixty countries. Chayanov actively participated in the Russian cooperative movement, filling leading positions during World War I and after the Revolution. From 1917 onward, he also took part in shaping agricultural policy, drafting plans for agricultural development at the Peoples Commissariat for Agriculture and the State Planning Commission.

Accused of being the head of the "Toiling Peasant Party," Chayanov was arrested in 1930. Only in 1987 did details of his further fate become known. Although the planned show trial never took place, he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1931 and exiled to Kazakhstan. Released due to his poor state of health, Chayanov worked from 1933 to 1935 in the Kazakh Agricultural Institute in Alma-Ata, teaching statistics. In connection with the show trial against Bukharin, he was newly arrested in March 1937, sentenced to death October 3, 1937, and shot the same day in Alma-Ata.

Belonging to the "neopopulist tradition," in the 1920s Chayanov became the most eminent theoretician of its Organization and Production School of Agricultural Doctrine. His fundamental work, Peasant Farm Organization (1925), was published in an earlier form in 1923 in Berlin. Emphasizing the viability of peasant agriculture and its ability to survive, he posited a special economic behavior of peasant households that relied almost exclusively on the labor of family members. Unlike the capitalist enterprise, the peasant family worked for a living, not for a profit, thus the degree of "self-exploitation" was determined not by capitalist criteria but by a hedonic calculus. He envisioned the modernization of traditional small farming not as part of capitalist or socialist development, but as part of a peasant process of raising the technical level of agricultural production through agricultural extension work and cooperative organization. His vision of a future peasant Russia is described in his utopian novel Journey of My Brother Alexei to the Land of Peasant Utopia (1920). This work later became instrumental in his downfall. His studies on the optimal size of agricultural enterprises are of interest even today. Chayanov's theory of the peasant mode of production challenged the Marxist interpretation of differentiation of the peasantry into classes by positing the idea of a cyclical mobility based on the peasant family life cycle.

Chayanov's ideas have survived him. His work after his arrest was rediscovered in the West in the mid-1960s. His pioneering study of the family labor farm now claimed the attention of agricultural sociologists, anthropologists, and ethnologists working on developing countries where the peasant economy remains a predominant factor. In spite of the problematic nature of part of his work, it is generally seen as an important contribution to the development of the theory of peasant economy.

See also: agriculture; peasant economy


Bourgholtzer, Frank, ed. (1999). "Aleksandr Chayanov and Russian Berlin." Journal of Peasant Studies 26 (Special Issue).

Harrison, Mark. (1975). "Chayanov and the Economics of the Russian Peasantry." Journal of Peasant Studies 2(4):389417.

Kerblay, Basile. (1966). "A. V. Chayanov: Life, Career, Works." In Chayanov, Aleksandr V., The Theory of Peasant Economy, eds. Daniel Thorner, Basile Kerblay, R. E. F. Smith. Homewood, IL: Richard Irwin (American Economic Association).

Millar, James R. (1970). "A Reformulation of A. V. Chayanov's Theory of the Peasant Economy." Economic Development and Cultural Change 18:219229.

Stephan Merl

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Chayanov, Alexander Vasilievich

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