Committees of the Village Poor

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Committees of the Village Poor (komitety derevenskoy bednoty or kombedy in Russian) were peasant organizations created by the Bolshevik government in 1918 to procure grain and create a revolutionary counterweight to the traditional peasant commune.

Bolshevik ideologists viewed peasant communities as divided between a small minority of rich kulaks and a majority of poor peasants. The kulaks controlled local soviets and traditional peasant communes, hoarded grain, and hired poor peasants to till their extensive lands. The kombedy, selected by poor peasants, would break this power, distributing food and consumer goods to the rural poor and assisting in expropriating grain from the kulaks for delivery to the city. With their knowledge of local conditions, they would be far more effective at finding hidden grain than food-supply detachments from the city.

In practice, the committees failed to fulfill the hopes communist leaders had for them. Peasants made no firm distinction between the village soviet, the village commune, and the committee of the rural poor, and the committee was rarely more responsive to central control than the first two had been. Food supply officials complained that the kombedy focused too little attention on procuring grain and pursued local interests at the expense of the state. Most grain gathered by the kombedy was redistributed within the peasant community. Some committees used their powers to rob fellow peasants or to settle old scores. Bringing the revolution to the countryside did not result in more bread for the city.

Attempts to requisition grain by force, depredations of the kombedy, and an ill-timed attempt at conscription led to uprisings throughout central Russia in November 1918. While Red Army detachments quickly suppressed the poorly organized peasant groups, the 6th Congress of Soviets decided to eliminate the Committees of the Village Poor in November 1918. It ordered new elections to local soviets in which kulaks would not participate. These new, more reliable soviets would replace the committees. This process was little more than a face-saving gesture, as the new soviets were no more pliable than the institutions they replaced. Communist government retreated to the cities, and the only influence it had over rural society was exercised by armed grain-procurement and recruitment detachments.

The kombed experiment failed to create a rural government that was responsive to the center, and failed to procure significant amounts of grain. It did mobilize thousands of peasants to join the Communist Party (including Brezhnev-era ideologue Mikhail Suslov), but without creating a significant Party presence in the countryside. Ambitious, energetic rural party members moved to the cities or joined the Red Army, while most of the members remaining in the villages were soon purged for inactivity.

See also: agriculture; collective farm; collectivization of agriculture


Brovkin, Vladimir, ed. (1997). The Bolsheviks in Russian Society. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Figes, Orlando. (1989). Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution (19171921). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lih, Lars. (1990). Bread and Authority in Russia, 19141921. Berkeley: University of California Press.

A. Delano DuGarm

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Committees of the Village Poor

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