The serednyaki, or middle peasants, were peasants whose households in the 1920s had enough land to support their extended family (dvor ) and sometimes even the hiring of one of the poorer bednyaki or landless batraki of the neighborhood in busy seasons. In practice, some of the middle peasants lived no differently from the poorer classes; they too had no draft horse (malomoshchnyi ) and might likewise hire out a family member in the village community or send him to a nearby city or rural enterprise as wage labor. Many were illiterate. Other members of this intermediate stratum of peasants, however, were prosperous (zazhitochnye or krepkie ) and thus close to the richer kulaks who constituted about 5 to 7 percent of the peasantry. These better-off peasants would sell some surplus grain if provided an incentive in the form of manufactured goods, and thus were crucial to the alliance of workers and peasants (smychka ) that was supposed to be the political basis of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921 to 1928.
Although the Marxist-Leninist categories barely fit the complex reality of the Russian countryside, Vladimir Lenin expected the serednyaki to be tolerant of Bolshevik power and policies in the rural areas, and saw them as a temporary ally until such time as the regime could afford to incorporate them into more modern collective farms. There was a danger, however, that industrious middle peasants who prospered would became petty bourgeois allies of the kulaks and thus would oppose Soviet industrialization and the heavy taxes and price discrimination it required. The Marxist-Leninist category of middle peasant, unlike the traditional terms bednyak or kulak, meant little to the peasants themselves. Many other factors besides ownership of productive capital influenced their behavior. Populist students of the peasantry, notably A. V. Chayanov, and later sociologists have challenged this conceptualization of the NEP village as too static.
The schematic class analysis of the Soviet countryside was not merely ideological. Depending on one's class, one could obtain benefits or avoid penalties. Poor peasants enjoyed tax exemptions and preferential admission to schools and Communist Party organizations; kulaks (along with priests and the bourgeois) were deprived of these and even of the right to vote. Late in the NEP, taxes on middle peasants increased, though not as much as those imposed on the kulaks. Not surprisingly, middle peasants endeavored to be officially identified as poor—for example, by referring to past proletarian occupations. They would sometimes try to hide their prosperity by hiring out some labor or a horse. Nonetheless, when forced requisitioning of grain was reinstated in 1928, the prosperous peasants were affected adversely. "Dekulakization" and collectivization in 1929 to 1931 made it even more important to avoid official identification with the richest peasant stratum.
See also: kulaks; peasant economy; peasantry
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. (1991). "The Problem of Class Identity in NEP Society." In Russia in the Era of NEP, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Lewin, Moshe. (1968). Russian Peasants and Soviet Power. London: Allen & Unwin.
Martin C. Spechler