Krinitza was a commune near Novorossiysk, southern Russia, which existed between autumn 1886 and the early 1920s. It began when a group of 9 Russian intellectuals, influenced in the 1870s by the ideas of the early Narodniks who wanted to go back to the land and agitate and work with the peasantry, settled on a 250 hectare farm in the southern Russian Caucasus. It grew rapidly due to an influx of temporary members but had a high fluctuation. In the 1905 revolution many of the younger members were involved in organising the peasantry into cooperatives and the commune was host to 3 different political conferences. In 1909, it adopted the statutes of a (Tsarist) state recognised agricultural cooperative. In 1911, there were 16 full members of the coop and 20 children. The commune survived the 1917 revolution but had problems during the following civil war. At the start of the 1920s, there were 50 full members. It was probably wound up during the first Soviet five year plan when peasant farms, communes and independent cooperatives were forced into becoming Kolkhoz and Sovkhoz collectives.
Historical and political background: Narodniks.
Narodniks (Russian: Наро́дники) was the name for socially conscious members of the Russian middle class in the 1860s and 1870s. The term itself derives from the Russian expression “Going to the people” (Хождение в народ).
Narodnism arose in Russia after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (under Alexander II), which signalled the end of feudalism in Russia. Arguing that freed serfs were being sold into wage slavery, in which the bourgeoisie had replaced landowners, Narodism aimed to become a political force opposed to the phenomenon. Narodniks viewed aspects of the past with nostalgia: although they resented the former land ownership system, they opposed the uprooting of peasants from the traditional obshchina (the Russian commune).
Narodniks focused upon the growing conflict between the peasantry and the so-called kulaks (i.e. the more prosperous farmers). The groups which formed shared the common general aims of destroying the Russian monarchy and the kulaks, and distributing land among the peasantry. The Narodniks generally believed that it was possible to skip capitalism and enter straight into socialism.
The Narodniks saw the peasantry as the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy, and perceived the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they also believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, insisting instead that history could only be made by outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution.
In the spring of 1874 the Narodnik intelligentsia left the cities for the villages, “going to the people”, attempting to teach the peasantry their moral imperative to revolt. They found almost no support. Given the Narodniks social background, generally middle and upper middle class, they found difficulty relating to Russian peasants and their culture. They spent much of their time learning peasant customs, such as clothing and dancing. On arriving into some villages Narodniks were viewed with suspicion by Russian peasants who were completely removed from the more modernized culture of the urban sphere. The Imperial secret police responded to the Narodniks’ attempt with repression: revolutionaries and their peasant sympathizers were beaten, imprisoned and exiled. In 1877, the Narodniks revolted with the support of thousands of peasants. The revolt however was swiftly and brutally crushed.
Origins of the commune
Founded in autumn 1886, the commune of Krinitza (a spring, source or fountainhead) had its origins in a group of Russian intellectuals which coalesced around Olga Chromova in the last years of the 1870s. It was a period in which many young radicals were energetic in agitating among the peasantry and were going into the villages to voluntarily work with them. This was the background which influenced the group. At the end of 1879, the group numbered 16 members and met regularly in Chromova’s Moscow apartment, where they decided to try to start a large commune. In order to experience communal life before they took the step back to the land, they first started a project in the city. During 1880, the group took the first steps into the country where they leased some land. However, due to the activities of the Tsarist police, they were forced to move on. This continued for a couple of years but did not lead to the break up of the group. They then decided that instead of leasing land they would attempt to find and purchase land in the Caucasus region, where the government was open to new settlements as the area was relatively sparsely populated and near to the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. (The area had been taken over by Russia after the 1829 Russo-Turkish War).
After a two year search, they found a 250 hectare farm, previously owned by Greeks, in the Novorossiysk district near to the Black Sea.
The group of five men, four women and a few small children moved there in autumn 1886. They moved into the only building on the farm, a thatched cottage on a rise above the Black Sea, and began a project which was to survive two revolutions and the civil war but which then fell victim to the early Stalinist collectivisation of the mid 1920s.
The first years
The communards at Krinitza put physical work on the land as their basis for communal life.
At a meeting at the start of 1889, they set three main goals: communal property and work, self-managed work and communal child-care and education. From the start, the aimed for self-sufficiency and a minimum of luxury, concentrating on the satisfaction of basic needs. On the other hand, it was not their intention to be an “ivory tower” or an isle of happiness outside the existing society. They were open to guests, and, at the same time, saw themselves as being part of a radical movement to change Russian society through the creation of autonomous rural communes. They distanced themselves from the hegemony of the Russian Orthodox Church but believed that without a spiritual aspect real change was impossible and that communal life would fail. Simply changing the organisation and economy of society would not succeed without a renewal of the human spirit. The commune had no statute at the beginning as they believed that this would only regulate outer things. On the other hand, they saw the future of the Russian peasantry as lying in the formation of well organised agricultural cooperatives, a step that they were themselves later to take in 1909.
In the first two years, they were able to cultivate only 40 of the 250 hectares, and indeed, in this period lost two harvests of wheat. Attempts to cultivate maize and medicinal herbs also failed. It took some time before they had gathered enough experience to successfully cultivate their land. During these first years, they lived mostly on beetroot and potatoes. Other foodstuff was a luxury they could seldom afford: the health of the communards suffered accordingly.
Originally, the founders did not intend to find new members. However, they did plan growth through the adoption of orphans and through fostering peasant children. Nonetheless, people came from all over Russia to join the commune, some remaining for longer or shorter periods and contributing little to the economy of the commune – an experienced shared by many intentional communities in the past.
Problems and conflicts
In order to improve their economic situation, the communards decided to take up viticulture. The decision to cultivate grapes brought with it the problem of needing experienced and reliable vineyard workers. The commune had to employ workers from outside, much against their resolve to be self-sufficient.
In addition, some of the long stay guests and candidate members then began to demand wages for their work. To ease this problem, the hours of work for the guests, already relatively easy compared to the communards who worked 12-14 hours a day, were reduced. It was also decided to be much more selective in the choice of guests and candidate members. This selection, however, was only half-heartedly implemented, and visitors continued to arrive unannounced and not get turned away.
As well as problems with guests and candidates, there was, over the years, a certain amount of conflict between the generations. The founders were mostly in their forties when they started their project. By the end of the century, their children were becoming young adults and a new generation of younger members had joined. The younger people were much less influenced by the mixture of “old style” radical politics and spirituality of the founders, many being humanist socialists and atheistic Marxists. However, the conflicts were never clearly young against old; many younger members who had grown up in the commune remained true to the communal ideals of the founding generation, and there were also conflicts between older members.
A new century and the 1905 Revolution
Despite various problems, the commune entered the new century in a satisfactory position, both economic and social. Summer 1905 brought peasant revolts and strikes in many parts of the Tsarist Empire, and, although not always in agreement with the methods of the revolutionaries, the Krinitza communards supported many of the aims of the 1905 Revolution. The younger members of the commune were active in building and organising the local peasant movement and in the socialist movement. Despite the imprisonment of some members, the commune undertook some underground work and gave refuge to political refugees, regardless of which party they belonged to. Sometimes there were more refugees at Krinitza than communards, and not all of them were willing to help with the work of the commune, preferring to debate and discuss politics. At the end of August there were three separate socialist conferences at Krinitza; those of the Social Revolutionaries, the Social Democrats, and the Peasant’s Federation. In December 1905, the nearby city of Novorossiysk was the seat of the short-lived Novorossiysk Republic. However, the revolution and its failure had a negative influence on the commune and many members felt that they had lost their way or were “off course”. A number of changes took place in the following years, including the end of common childcare. The biggest change came in 1909 with the reconstitution of Krinitza as a state recognised agricultural cooperative, with a clear statute and organisation.
After the reorganisation
In 1911, Krinitza had 16 permanent members and 20 children. The families lived in private houses, and the “singles” lived communally in a larger building, where there was also a meeting hall, a library and a music room. The community had its own school with ca. 3,000
schoolbooks. They continued to employ outside workers, up to 50 in the harvest season. After one year’s employment, the workers had the right to a share in the profits. Communards received coupons for their hours of work: these coupons were exchanged for food (3 coupons daily) and rent (1 coupon). Remaining coupons could be exchanged for cash or goods. Children under four were supported by the commune, afterwards by their parents. New members of the cooperative paid 500 Roubles to join.
A premature Obituary
In January 1914, the Notre Dame, Indiana, catholic weekly, “The Ave Maria” reported (prematurely) “A Communistic Failure”
“THE only Communism that has ever justified itself by results is that species embodied in the religious Orders, or Congregations, of the Church. All other forms — Fourier phalanxes, Brook Farm experiments, Oneida communities, New Harmony settlements, etc. — have invariably come to naught. The latest failure of the kind is that of the colony of Krinitza, on the Black Sea, — a community formed about twenty-five years ago in order to solve the problem of social welfare on the basis of Marxian communism. Like so many of its predecessors in other parts of the world, this organization, has now disbanded; and the Radical political economist, Tugan-Baranowski, frankly admits the failure, declaring:
“It is impossible to conduct communities on the basis of community of property, means of production and labour. . . . From egotistical motives, most people joined the sect in order to find freedom, which developed into quarrels and dissensions. The weak were dissatisfied
that the stronger lived more happily and had more influence in the common deliberations. . . .
Apart from intellectual stagnation and eternal difficulties about the rank of those who would
be equal, nothing resulted there from.
VOL. LXXVIII. NOTRE DAME, INDIANA, JANUARY 3.
NO. I Page 21 [Published every Saturday. Copyright: Rev. D. E. Hudson, C.S. C.]
The final years
The 1917 Revolution and the Civil War brought disruption to the area. (From August 26, 1918 until March 27, 1920, Novorossiysk was the principal centre of Denikin’s White Army).
At the start of the 1920s, the community had about fifty members. However, they were in difficulty due to the situation following the revolution and civil war. In addition, a store full of foodstuff and tools burnt down, they could no longer sell enough of their products and they could not work all of their land. They could find no new members and the older generation, including founder, Olga Chromova, were dying out. The last news of Krinitza came to Kibbutz Degania in 1925, with an appeal for help. The community was probably liquidated in the first Soviet Five Year Plan.
“Das Leben in den historischen Kommunen” by Shalom Wurm. Bund Verlag, Köln, 1977.
From the Hebrew by Shimshon Elath. Pages 275 – 304.
Shalom Wurm gives his source as being from a book, “25 years Krinitza” which includes diary entries and protocols of meetings. This book was brought to the kibbutzim in Palestine by Joseph Baraz after WW1.
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