Work, Employment and Society

The Myth of the Urban Peasant

Simon  Clarke a1, Lena  Varshavskaya a2, Sergei  Alasheev a3 and Marina  Karelina a3
a1 Centre for Comparative Labour Studies, University of Warwick, Warwick, UK,
a2 Institute for Comparative Labour Relations Research, Kemerovo, Russia
a3 Institute for Comparative Labour Relations Research, Samara, Russia


This paper explores, the ‘myth of the urban peasant’, the widespread belief that urban Russian households are surviving the collapse of employment and money incomes by turning to subsistence agriculture. On the basis of the analysis of official and survey data the paper shows that although many urban households grow food in their garden plots, those with low money incomes are the least likely to do so, while subsistence production is a complement rather than an alternative to paid employment. Moreover, those who do grow their own food work long hours for very little return, spending no less of their money income on buying food than do those who grow nothing. The implication is that dacha use is a leisure activity of the better-off rather than a survival strategy of the poor. Regional data suggests that urban agricultural production persists in those regions in which commercial agriculture and monetised relations are least developed which, it is surmised, retain memories of past shortages.

(Accepted January 2000)