“The Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind”
29-30 June 2011
Russian State Social University
One of the lives claimed in the Gulag of the 1930’s was that of Alexander Chayanov. An agricultural economist of unusual insight, Chayanov did most of his work here in Moscow and was well on his way to constructing a compelling theory of what he called the “natural family economy.”
Alas, his intellectual project was cut short by imprisonment and eventual death. All the same, he left behind a body of work that—I argue—still illuminates the nature of a true family-centered economy. Moreover, I contend that family reconstruction and demographic renewal depend on recovering some aspects of Chayanov’s idea of the natural family economy.
Alexander Chayanov studied a Russian agrarian order which, as late as 1914, still counted about 85 percent of the population on peasant or family farms. Where Communist and Liberal Capitalist theorists of the era agreed that such small-scale agriculture was surely and properly doomed in the modern industrial era, Chayanov dissented.
He insisted that history was not necessarily moving toward pure capitalism or total communism, that the peasantry need not disappear, and that “the peasant family labor farm” could “remain the same, always changing in particular features and adapting to the circumstances surrounding the national economy.”
Chayanov made the compelling argument that the true nature of the family farm economy could not even be understood by using the categories of either Marxist or Manchester Liberal analysis. Peasant farms, for example, rarely applied the category of wages to their operation, and had little use as well for conventional understandings of profit, capital accumulation, interest, or land rent.
These facts alone led Chayanov and his colleagues in Moscow’s “Organization and Production School” to develop a new system of accounting, one suited to peasant farm inputs and outputs.
More broadly, Chayanov’s theories provide—in historian Teodor Shanin’s words—a “conceptual rearmament” of the micro-economy of the family farm. 
Among his key propositions, Chayanov stresses that human biology, not “class conflict” or “marginal utility,” drives the peasant economy. Economic development, in his words, rests on “demographic differentiation which depends [in turn] on biological family growth.” By family, Chayanov means “the purely biological concept of the married couple, living together with their [children] and aged representation of the older generation.”
His emphasis on a farm’s sexual division of labor also “turns marriage into a necessary condition of fully-fledged peasantship.”
Moreover, Chayanov’s “natural family economy” assumes a robust fertility. Indeed, his whole theory rests on what economist Daniel Thorner calls “the natural history” of a family, as rural couples marry, bear an average of nine children, settle those children on land, and then retire. 
As economic historian Mark Harrison summarizes:
Peasant economy reproduces itself through the family. The family is the progenitor of the family life-cycle and of population growth. It is the owner of property. As such, it expresses the fact that the aim of production is household consumption, not feudal rent or bourgeois profit. 
Chayanov also emphasizes that the family itself is a “work unit,” with family members fundamentally bonded to each other: husband and wife need each other to survive and prosper; and they, in turn, need children to prosper and survive. As Chayanov puts it, “peasant farms are structured to conform to the optimal degree [which mobilizes] the family labor force.”
His central point is simple: shared labor in a common enterprise binds the family together.
All this, though, took place a century ago. An agriculture built on family-farming appears to be gone. The Russian and Ukrainian peasantries were decimated by the collectivization and “de-kulakization” drives of the early 1930’s. Curiously, the American family-farming sector was also decimated, albeit later—after 1940—and without physical violence. All the same, a shift in government policy was involved, and the end result was identical: industrialized agriculture and the near-disappearance of the small family farm. 
And yet, there are broader lessons in family- and population-policy to be found within the theory of Alexander Chayanov.
Most importantly, even in our day, strong families and large families—those with many children—are usually families that still claim a real home economy: not just one of consumption, but one of production as well.
A living American writer very much in sympathy with the spirit of Alexander Chayanov is Wendell Berry. Like Professor Anatoly Antonov a poet—as well as a novelist and essayist—Wendell Berry insists that any hope for rebuilding a nation’s life on the principles of freedom and family depends on bringing functions—real functions—back into the family home.
“We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility” that have been turned over to governments and corporations during the 20th Century and “put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods.”
The great Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin himself had lamented the “loss of function” as both a central cause and symptom of family decline. As he wrote in The Crisis of Our Age:
“In the past the family was the foremost educational agency for the young. Some hundred years ago it was well-nigh the sole educator for a vast proportion of the younger generation. At the present time its educational functions have shrunk enormously… In these respects the family has forfeited the greater part of its former prerogatives.”
Sorokin pointed as well to the loss of religious, recreational, and subsistence functions. He concluded:
“Now families are small, and their members are soon scattered…. The result is that the family home turns into a mere ‘overnight parking place.’”
The diagnoses of familial decay offered by Alexander Chayanov, Wendell Berry, and Pitirim Sorokin are quite similar. Do they point to a common response?
The answer, I believe, is yes: Simply put, societies need to recover and renew the natural family economy; societies need to chart a return of certain economic functions—broadly understood—to the home.
What might this mean? In the spirit particularly of Chayanov, allow me to offer specifics, ranging from the simple and easily forgotten to the, perhaps, surprising:
Overall, the key corrolations are clear: functional families are strong and large; strong and large families are function-rich.
Concerned governments… take notice!
 A.V. Chayanov, Peasant Farm Organization (Moscow: The Cooperative Publishing House, 1925): 42.
 Teodor Shanin, The Awkward Class: Political Sociology of Peasantry in a Developing Society: Russia 1910-1925 (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1972): 101.
 Chayanov, Peasant Farm Organization, 257, 54.
 Noted in: Teodor Shanin, “The Nature and Logic of the Peasant Economy 1: A Generalization,” Journal of Peasant Studies 1 (Oct. 1973): 68.
 Daniel Thorner, “Chayanov’s Concept of Peasant Economy,” in A.V. Chayanov, The Theory of Peasant Economy (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986): xvii.
 Mark Harrison, “The Peasant Mode of Production in the Work of A.V. Chayanov,” Journal of Peasant Studies 4 (July 1977): 330.
 Chayanov, Peasant Farm Organization, 5-7, 92.
 Only recently has the small-farm sector begun to revive in the United States. See: Allan Carlson, “Agrarianism Reborn: On the Curious Return of the Small Family Farm,” Intercollegiate Review 42 (Spring 2008): 13-23.
 Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony: Essays, Cultural and Agricultural (San Diego, CA and New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972, 1970): 79, 82.
 Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1941).
 Wendell Berry: The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (New York: Avon, 1977): 115.
 Eric Kaufmann, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-first Century (London: Profile Books, 2010): 35-39.
 Lawrence M. Rudner, “Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998,” Education Policy Analysis Archives 7 (23 March 1999): 7–8, 12.
 Leslie Wittington, “Taxes and the Family: The Impact of the Tax Exemption for Dependents on Marital Fertility,” Demography 29 (May 1992): 220-21;
and L.A. Wittington, J. Alan, and H.E. Peters, “Fertility and the Personal Exemption: Implicit Pronatalist Policy in the United States,” The American Economic Review 80 (June 1990): 545-56.