For rural society in both Soviet and post-Soviet times, agriculture has been the primary source of employment. Before 1992, however, the CPSU and its predecessors constituted the sole form of political organization, and all village communities were organized around the economic institution of the collective farm (kolkhoz
--see Glossary) or state farm (sovkhoz
--see Glossary) and the village soviet (council) administration--organizations that employed the elite of rural society, nearly all of whose members were men.
As in the past, the post-Soviet nonpolitical elite includes schoolteachers, agronomists, veterinary surgeons, and engineers. Teachers are held in high esteem, partly because of their role in determining who in the next generation will have upward social mobility. Despite this status, teachers receive low pay and often must maintain private garden plots to support themselves. Agricultural machinery specialists, including operators and mechanics, emerged as increasingly important and well-paid members of rural society in the 1970s and 1980s. In general, however, workers who remain in the countryside have less possibility of upward mobility than do urban dwellers. Managers and white-collar workers in rural agricultural and other organizations generally are brought in from outside.
Rural dwellers tend to spend more time in their homes than residents of urban areas. Rural homes generally are larger than those in the city and have private garden plots. The tastes of country people are simpler and less Western-oriented than those of their urban counterparts, and they have less money to spend on leisure pursuits. The routine of life in many rural villages has scarcely changed over many generations; the central concerns continue to be the weather and the condition of crops and livestock.
The end of Soviet rule cast a shadow over the villages' guarantee of medical care, job training, and entertainment, and rural areas benefited much less from the increased pace of information exchange characteristic of urban centers. Rural young people continue to leave their families to seek a better life elsewhere because village life has improved little since their grandparents were young. In this process, the family, the foundation of peasant society, has become fragmented. Villages with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants are disappearing at a rapid rate: between 1960 and 1995, the entire population of an estimated two-thirds of such villages either died or moved away. In the remaining rural villages, health care and education are increasingly inadequate, and essential commodities such as propane gas have become extremely expensive.
Many young people return to their rural homes after acquiring the type of education or technical training that is available only in cities and that is increasingly necessary to run mechanized farming operations and agroindustrial enterprises. They are joined by Russian émigrés from former Soviet republics, especially Central Asia, for whom it is easier to start life in Russia in a rural rather than an urban setting. However, most of those additions to the rural population are only stopping temporarily until they find more satisfying situations elsewhere. According to most experts, the long-term prospects of the traditional Russian village became grim in the immediate post-Soviet period.