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Alexander Chayanov

Alexander Chayanov

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Alexander V. Chayanov (1888 – October 3, 1937) was a Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 agrarian economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

, and scholar of rural sociology
Rural sociology
Rural sociology is a field of sociology associated with the study of social life in non-metropolitan areas. It is the scientific study of social arrangements and behaviour amongst people distanced from points of concentrated population or economic activity...

 and advocate of agrarianism
Agrarianism has two common meanings. The first meaning refers to a social philosophy or political philosophy which values rural society as superior to urban society, the independent farmer as superior to the paid worker, and sees farming as a way of life that can shape the ideal social values...

 and cooperatives.

He was a proponent of agricultural cooperatives, but was skeptical about the inefficiency of large-scale farms. Chayanov's skepticism was rooted in the idea that households, especially peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

 households which practice subsistence farming, will tend to produce only the amount of food that they need to survive. He believed that the Soviet government would find it difficult to force these households to cooperate and produce a surplus. These views were sharply criticized by Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 as "defence of the kulak
Kulaks were a category of relatively affluent peasants in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union...

s". However, Chayanov was ultimately shown to be right about the problems with Soviet agricultural planning.

In 1930 Chayanov was arrested in the "Case of the Labour Peasant Party" (Трудовая крестьянская партия), fabricated by the NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

. The name of the party was taken from a science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 book written by Chayanov in the 1920s. The process was intended to be a show trial
Show trial
The term show trial is a pejorative description of a type of highly public trial in which there is a strong connotation that the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as...

, but it fell apart, due to the strong will of the defendants. Nevertheless on a secret trial
Secret trial
A secret trial is a trial that is not open to the public, nor generally reported in the news, especially any in-trial proceedings. Generally no official record of the case or the judge's verdict is made available. Often there is no indictment...

 in 1932 Chayanov was sentenced to five years in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 labour camps
Labor camp
A labor camp is a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons...

s. On October 3, 1937 Chayanov was arrested again, tried and shot the same day.

His wife was repressed as well and spent 18 years in labour camps. Chayanov was rehabilitated in 1987.

Chayanov's major works, Peasant Farm Organisation (originally published in Russian in 1925) and On the Theory of Non-Capitalist Economic Systems were first translated into English in 1966. Chayanov's theory of the peasant household influenced economic anthropology
Economic anthropology
Economic anthropology is a scholarly field that attempts to explain human economic behavior using the tools of both economics and anthropology. It is practiced by anthropologists and has a complex relationship with economics...

. The substantivist Marshall Sahlins
Marshall Sahlins
Marshall David Sahlins is a prominent American anthropologist. He received both a Bachelors and Masters degree at the University of Michigan where he studied with Leslie White, and earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1954 where his main intellectual influences included Karl Polanyi and...

 drew on Chayanov in his theory of the domestic mode of production, but later authors have argued that Chayanov's use of neo-classical economics supports a formalist position.

His book Puteshestvie moego brata Alekseia v stranu krest’ianskoi utopii [My brother Alexei's journey into the land of peasant utopia] (Moskva: Gosizdat, 1920) predicted a rapid transfer of power into peasant hands; its hero wakes up in 1984, "in a country where the village has conquered the city, where handicraft cooperatives have replaced industry." Like Evgeny Zamyatin's We, it contains theosophical elements.

Consumption-labour-balance principle

The higher the ratio of dependents to workers in a household, the harder the workers have to work. Chayanov proposed that peasants would work as hard as they needed in order to meet their subsistence needs, but had no incentive beyond those needs and therefore would slow and stop working once they were met. The principle, which is called the consumption-labour-balance principle, is therefore that labour will increase until it meets (balances) the needs (consumption) of the household. This view of peasant farming implies that it will not develop into capitalism without some external, added factor. Furthermore, the peasant's way of life is seen as ideologically opposed to capitalism in that the family work for a living, not for a profit.

In practice

In practice, the consumption-labour-balance principle means that accounting is not as precise on a farm than in a regular financial capitalist company. This, as there is no separation between capital and labour. Accounting works with an artificial cost structure which charges all kinds of costs which in reality, a farm does not have. For example, wage and farm-grown animals as well as organic fertiliser and animal feed are charged against commercial (artificial) fertiliser and composed animal feeds. A bought tractor is written off in four years against the bought value while the farmer often buys a second secondhand tractor and carries along with it for another 15 years.

Chayanov's influence

Chayanov's ideas have survived him. His work was rediscovered by Westerners in the mid-1960s. Agricultural sociologists, anthropologists and ethnologists working in developing countries, where the peasant economy remains a predominant factor, apply his theory to help understand the nature of the family labour farm. Halil Inalcik
Halil Inalcik
-Biography:He was born in Istanbul to a Crimean Tatar family, which left Crimea for Constantinople in 1905. His birthday is unknown but İnalcık chose 26 May 1916 for his birthday. He attended Balıkesir Teacher Training School and then Ankara University, Faculty of Language, History and Geography,...

, the leading historian of the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, applied his ideas to peasant land tenure in the Ottoman Empire.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, Vladimir Megre
Vladimir Megre
Vladimir Megre is a Siberian entrepreneur from Novosibirsk, and founder of the Anastasia/"Ringing Cedars" movement.-Background:...

's Ringing Cedars series have many points in common with Chayanov.