Russian Peasants and Village lands,

A Summary Compiled by Alan Kimball


Table of Contents
"The big picture" = An interpretive Introduction
1861fe19:Emancipation Manifesto
Portraits of peasant life
1870s:Land Distribution by institution and social class
Traditional Village Community and the Land
1882:Peasant Land Bank
1885:Noble's Land Bank
1888:Sergei Kravchinakii (Stepniak) on the Russian Peasantry
1893:Law Restricting the Alienation of Allotment Land
1903:A.Rittikh on the peasant commune
On the Eve of the 1905 Revolution
Stolypin Land Reforms
Conclusion = Into the Soviet Era



"The big picture": An interpretive Introduction

Nostalgia for original, native, "natural" or national folk ways was powerfully felt everywhere economic modernization ate away at rural tradition [EG]. Yet, beginning in the 18th century, rural ways came under the powerful transformational influence of "modernization", at first in northwest Europe but eventually everywhere on the globe. "The West" was the first to be "Westernized".

England was the first nation to assume the need to transform the old agrarian national economy in order to promote a new mercantilist and then later industrializing market economy. The central English state policy was “inclosures” [spelling sometimes standardized = "enclosures"]. Over many long decades and in two historical epochs, the English crown worked with entrepreneurial-minded insider aristocratic elites to expropriate village common lands and relocate rural folks in new industrial centers [ID].

Russia faced this problem as a more pressing and immediate crisis, not to be solved over the course of centuries, as earlier in England, but over the course of a few years. Witte had a good sense of this [2-hops on "Witte"]. So did Petr Stolypin [ID]. Russian Marxists had to come to terms with this process [ID]. In the 1930s, Stalinist "agricultural collectivization" was a cruel expression of the Russian Marxist interpretation of the role of villagers in the progressive evolution of humanity [ID].

*1835:1858; Census data on the number of Russian nobles and serfs, and the 1858 distribution by provinces of serfs who owed feudal dues in money [obrok] and labor [barshchina] [DIR3:304-7]



*1861fe19:Emancipation Manifesto [SAC]
[Source: From Polnoe sobranie zakonov Russkoi Imperii PSZ2:#36490:130-134|
First presented onWWW at Durham University, England
[SAC editor has adjusted British spelling and certain other transliterations]

By the Grace of God We, Alexander Il, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, and so forth, make known to all OUR faithful subjects:

Called by Divine Providence and by the sacred right of inheritance to the throne of OUR Russian ancestors, We vowed in OUR heart to fulfill the mission which is entrusted to Us and to surround with OUR affection and OUR Imperial solicitude all OUR faithful subjects of every rank and condition, from the soldier who nobly defends the country to the humble artisan who works in industry; from the career official of the state to the ploughman who tills the soil.

Examining the condition of classes and professions comprising the state, We became convinced that the present state legislation favors the upper and middle classes, defines their obligations, rights, and privileges, but does not equally favor the serfs, so designated because in part from old laws and in part from custom they have been hereditarily subjected to the authority of landowners, who in turn were obligated to provide for their well-being. Rights of nobles have been hitherto very broad and legally ill-defined, because they stem from tradition, custom, and the good will of the noblemen. In most cases this has led to the establishment of good patriarchal relations based on the sincere, just concern and benevolence on the part of the nobles, and on affectionate submission on the part of the peasants. Because of the decline of the simplicity of morals, because of an increase in the diversity of relations, because of the weakening of the direct paternal attitude of nobles toward the peasants, and because noble rights fell sometimes into the hands of people exclusively concerned with their personal interests, good relations weakened. The way was opened for an arbitrariness burdensome for the peasants and detrimental to their welfare, causing them to be indifferent to the improvement of their own existence.

These facts had already attracted the attention of OUR predecessors of glorious memory, and they had adopted measures aimed at improving the conditions of the peasants; but these measures were ineffective, partly because they depended on the free, generous action of nobles, and partly because they affected only some localities, by virtue of special circumstances or as an experiment. Thus Alexander 1 issued a decree on free farmers, and the late Imperial Russian Emperor Nicholas, OUR beloved father, promulgated one dealing with the serfs. In the Western provinces, inventory regulations determine the peasant land allotments and their obligations. But decrees on free farmers and serfs have been carried out on a limited scale only.

We thus became convinced that the problem of improving the condition of serfs was a sacred inheritance bequeathed to Us by OUR predecessors, a mission which, in the course of events, Divine Providence has called upon Us to fulfill.

We have begun this task by expressing OUR confidence in the Russian nobility, which has proved on so many occasions its devotion to the Throne, and its readiness to make sacrifices for the welfare of the country.

We have left to the nobles themselves, in accordance with their own wishes, the task of preparing proposals for the new organization of peasant life, proposals that would limit their rights over the peasants, and the realization of which would inflict on them some material losses. OUR confidence was justified. Through members of the guberniia committees, who had the trust of the nobles' gatherings, the nobility voluntarily renounced its right to own serfs. These committees, after collecting the necessary data, have formulated proposals on a new arrangement for serfs and their relationship with the nobles.

These proposals were diverse, because of the nature of the problem. They have been compared, collated, systematized, rectified, and finalized in the Main Committee instituted for that purpose; and these new arrangements dealing with the peasants and domestics of the nobility have been examined in the State Council.

Having invoked Divine assistance, We have resolved to execute this task.

On the basis of the above mentioned new arrangements, the serfs will receive in time the full rights of free rural inhabitants.

The nobles, while retaining their property rights on all the lands belonging to them, grant the peasants perpetual use of their domicile in return for a specified obligation; and, to assure their livelihood as well as to guarantee fulfillment of their obligations toward the government, grant them a portion of arable land fixed by the said arrangements, as well as other property.

While enjoying these land allotments, the peasants are obliged, in return, to fulfill obligations to the noblemen fixed by the same arrangements. In this condition, which is temporary, the peasants are temporarily obligated.

At the same time, they are granted the right to purchase their domicile, and, with the consent of the nobles, they may acquire in full ownership the arable lands and other properties which are allotted them for permanent use. Following such acquisition of full ownership of land, the peasants will be freed from their obligations to the nobles for the land thus purchased and will become free peasant landowners.

A special decree dealing with domestics will establish a temporary status for them, adapted to their occupations and their needs. At the end of two years from the day of the promulgation of this decree, they shall receive full freedom and some temporary immunities.

In accordance with the fundamental principles of these arrangements, the future organization of peasants and domestics will be determined, the order of general peasant administration will be established, and the rights given to the peasants and to the domestics will be spelled out in detail, as will the obligations imposed on them toward the government and the nobles.

Although these arrangements, general as well as local, and the special supplementary rules affecting some particular localities, estates of petty nobles, and peasants working in factories and enterprises of the nobles, have been as far as possible adapted to economic necessities and local customs; nevertheless, to preserve the existing order where it presents reciprocal advantages, we leave it to the nobles to reach a friendly understanding with the peasants and to reach agreements on the extent of the land allotment and the obligations stemming from it, observing, at the same time, the established rules to guarantee the inviolability of such agreements.

This new arrangement, because of its complexity, cannot be put into effect immediately; a time of not less than two years is necessary. During this period, to avoid all misunderstanding and to protect public and private interests, the order actually existing on the estates of nobles should be maintained until the new order shall become effective.

Towards that end, We have deemed it advisable:

Aware of the unavoidable difficulties of this reform, We place OUR confidence above all in the graciousness of Divine Providence, which watches over Russia.

We also rely upon the zealous devotion of OUR nobility, to whom We express OUR gratitude and that of the entire country as well, for the unselfish support it has given to the realization of OUR designs. Russia will not forget that the nobility, motivated by its respect for the dignity of man and its Christian love of its neighbor, has voluntarily renounced serfdom, and has laid the foundation of a new economic future for the peasants. We also expect that it will continue to express further concern for the realization of the new arrangement in a spirit of peace and benevolence, and that each nobleman will realise, on his estate, the great civic act of the entire group by organizing the lives of his peasants and his domestics on mutually advantageous terms, thereby setting for the rural population a good example of a punctual and conscientious execution of state regulations.

The examples of the generous concern of the nobles for the welfare of peasants, and the gratitude of the latter for that concern give Us the hope that a mutual understanding will solve most of the difficulties, which in some cases will be inevitable during the application of general rules to the diverse conditions on some estates, and that thereby the transition from the old order to the new will be facilitated, and that in the future mutual confidence will be strengthened, and a good understanding and a unanimous tendency towards the general good, will evolve.

To facilitate the realization of these agreements between the nobles and the peasants, by which the latter may acquire in full ownership their domicile and their land, the government will lend assistance, under special regulations, by means of loans or transfer of debts encumbering an estate.

We rely upon the common sense of OUR people. When the government advanced the idea of abolishing serfdom, there developed a partial misunderstanding among the unprepared peasants. Some were concerned about freedom and unconcerned about obligations. But, generally, the common sense of the country has not wavered, because it has realized that every individual who enjoys freely the benefits of society owes it in return certain positive obligations; according to Christian law every individual is subject to higher authority (Romans, chap. xiii, 1); everyone must fulfil his obligations, and, above all, pay tribute, dues, respect, and honor (Ibid., chap. xi, 7). What legally belongs to nobles cannot be taken away from them without adequate compensation, or through their voluntary concession; it would be contrary to all justice to use the land of the nobles without assuming responsibility for it.

And now We confidently expect that the freed serfs, on the eve of a new future which is opening to them, will appreciate and recognize the considerable sacrifices which the nobility has made on their behalf.

They should understand that by acquiring property and greater freedom to dispose of their possessions, they have an obligation to society and to themselves to live up to the letter of the new law by a loyal and judicious use of the rights which are now granted to them. However beneficial a law may be, it cannot make people happy if they do not themselves organize their happiness under protection of the law. Abundance is acquired only through hard work, wise use of strength and resources, strict economy, and above all, through an honest God-fearing life.

The authorities who prepared the new way of life for the peasants and who will be responsible for its inauguration will have to see that this task is accomplished with calmness and regularity, taking the timing into account in order not to divert the attention of cultivators away from their agricultural work. Let them zealously work the soil and harvest its fruits so that they will have a full granary of seeds to return to the soil which will be theirs.

And now, Orthodox people, make the sign of the cross, and join with Us to invoke God's blessing upon your free labor, the sure pledge of your personal well being and the public prosperity.

Given at St. Petersburg, February 19, the year of Grace 1861, and the seventh of OUR reign. Alexander .



Portraits and other pictorial representations of peasant/village life in Russia

*--Visit "Olga's Gallery" for the following portraits by the "realist" Ivan Kramskoi. They are realistic human portraits, but they simultaneously idealize, universalize, possibly romanticize village life. Kramskoi concretized the magic of Russian cultural "populism" =

*--Browse "Olga's Gallery" for the following "realist" paintings by Isaak Levitan  =

*--Peasant artists portrayed village life =

Original in the Riabov Collection at Rutgers University

*--Another folk-art peasant portrait [pix]







*1870s:Land distribution by institution and social class =

Approximate Distribution and Amounts of Russian Agricultural Land
in the 1870s

Expressed in desiatiny [one desiatina = 2.7 acres]
[Based on many sources, often at great variance among themselves]


Desiatiny amount (millions)


State and public bodies*



Imperial family






Towns and cities



SUBTOTAL of state lands



Peasant allotments **



Peasant individuals



Noble individuals






Commercial institutions



Other private owners



SUBTOTAL of private land






*State and public bodies possessed mainly state forest & unimproved land
**Allotment land = 54.9% of all land not in the hands of the state and other public bodies
Average peasant allotment was 13.2 desiatiny  [one desiatina = 2.7 acres] or ca. 35 acres per household, with more than 8,841,000 households.

A great demographic problem confronted Russian agriculture in the late imperial period = “relative overpopulation” in peasant villages. The over-all Russian population, per acre, was Europe’s lowest, but peasant village life tended to be concentrated in tightly packed nodules of agricultural folk. Some redistribution was not only possible but was a growing necessity. The great open steppes and distant Siberia needed to be settled. The industrial centers needed wage laborers. Those who remained behind the plow needed relief from the number of mouths that had to be fed on the local scene. Yet officials withheld from peasants internal passports, required even for regional travel. On average, each year, stingy issuance of passports meant that only about 2.5% of the peasant population was able to migrate legally from impacted village centers. Thirty to forty thousand peasants fled to Siberia illegally each year.

Yet another problem was the financial inadequacy of the original 1861 emancipation. Not only did peasants get less than adequate quality land, and in amounts barely adequate, but also the price of the land given peasants as part of the emancipation settlement was significantly higher than the productive value of the land itself. Periodic “redemption payments”, like annual mortgage payments by peasant to the state, were too high. Six percent interest imposed by the state was impossible. Here’s a chronology of growing peasant arrears in redemption payments, expressed as a percent of annual assessment =

1875 =    22%
1880  =   27%
1900  = 119%

Subsistence peasant households were skidding toward total financial ruin. Since customary “collective responsibility” [krugovaia poruka] committed the whole village to cover the cost of individual household redemption payments, household ruin meant village [sel’skoe obshchestvo] ruin. Thus, whole regions suffered.



Traditional Village Community and the Land

The peasant “commune” [obshchina] administered much of its internal life through the village assembly [mirskoi skhod] and saw to the several traditional collective responsibilities imposed on, or accepted by, villagers [krugovaia poruka] =

 The word "temporary" (much more than the word "private") presented quite an obstacle to economic modernization of Russian agriculture. Allotment lands might have been more sufficient unto the needs of peasant households if it were not for traditional methods of land cultivation. One-third of plow-land was always fallow, according to the time-honored “three-field system”. Then there was the question of strip farming on scattered, thin furrows which might on occasion be subject to redistribution among village households. Grain yield was something like 10 bushels per acre throughout the 19th century.

Many Russians greatly admired the peasant commune = Slavophiles and populists [LOOP on populism], for example. At the time of emancipation [ID], the state also valued communal village self administration. But officials did not want to strengthen pre-existing village functions or even boundaries. Instead, it grafted re-structured obshchinas onto newly cobbled police and administrative institutions at the local level [volost’]. Thus bureaucratic reformers filled the perceived vacuum caused by termination of gentry landowner authority with innovative but recognizable village institutions shaped to state needs.

The world history of economic modernization suggested that customary public practice within village communities was doomed everywhere. The Russian decision to preserve a statist version of the obshchina was fateful for Russia. That act contradicted later energetic efforts to modernize the Russian economy [ID]. Something had to be done, and peasants understood that as well as anyone. But not everyone agreed on just what had to be done.



1882my18:Peasant Land Bank [Source]


Here are a few short excerpts from the statute establishing the Peasant Land Bank. The bank's role was enhanced when, in 1885, it was permitted to buy land in its own name for future sale to peasants. By the end of 1913 this bank had aided peasants in the purchase of more than seventeen million desiatinas (about forty-six million acres).

Reference: PSZ, 3d ser., 2:219, 221

1. The Peasant Land Bank is established for assisting peasants of all categories in purchasing land that its owners desire to sell and the peasants wish to acquire

2. The Peasant Land Bank is a governmental institution under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance.... [...]

25. Loans from the Peasant Land Bank are granted for twenty-four and one-half or for thirty-four and one-half years, according to the wishes of the borrower.

26. Village communities, peasant associations [tovarishchestva iz krest'ian], and individual peasants who receive a loan from the bank are required to pay, at the expiration of every half-year, on a date fixed by the minister of finance:

(1) as interest, 2.75 percent;
(2) for the liquidation of principal: on loans granted for twenty-four and one half years, 1 percent, and on loans for thirty four and one-half years, 5 percent; and
(3) for the administrative expenses of the bank and for the cumulation of reserve capital, 5 percent.




On the centennial of Catherine II's Charter to the Nobility, Alexander III issued his imperial rescript of April 21, 1885. It was followed on June 3 by his statute formally establishing the Nobles' Land Bank. Reference: PSZ3,5:169,264, 267-68.

[From the rescript of April 21, 1885:]

The nobility of Russia, following the precept of its ancestors . . . has steadfastly served the tsars of the Russian land as their chief mainstay in the administration of the state and in its defense against external foes; in difficult times of trial it has responded with unexampled ardor to the summons of the fatherland. It pleases our heart to acknowledge this and testify to it by our sovereign word. And in recent times, when at the summons of the monarch, our never-to-be-forgotten father, it was necessary to undertake the abolition of serfdom, the nobility readily responded to this summons and, while enduring no small sacrifice of their fortune, presented an example of magnanimity rare in the history of any country or people. On this present noteworthy day, pausing in grateful thought on the history of the noble class [soslovie, estate] which is inseparable from the history of the Russian state and people, we set firm hopes that the sons of valiant fathers who served the state will show themselves worthy members of this class in seeing the fatherland. Along with this our solicitude is addressed toward assisting them to fulfill with honor so lofty a calling in the days ahead. Mindful of the needs of noble estate-ownership, in many places disarranged by the impoverishment of economic resources and the difficulty of obtaining credit, we have ordered the minister of finance to proceed, along principles indicated by us, to the establishment of a special Nobles' Land Bank, so that the nobles might be more attracted to reside permanently on their estates, where it is primarily their task to apply their energies to the activity that the duty of their station demands of them. Confident that the continuation of this activity will also be in keeping with splendid successes in other fields of endeavor, as prescribed for the nobility from olden times by history and the monarchical will, we, for the welfare of the state, deem it right for the nobles to retain, now as heretofore, a preeminent place in military leadership, in the affairs of local administration and justice, in unselfish solicitude for the needs of the people, and in the propagation by their example of the precepts of faith and loyalty and sound principles of popular education.

[From the statute of June 3, 1885:]

1. The State Nobles' Land Bank is established for granting long-term loans to landowning hereditary nobles, on mortgage of landed property belonging to them....

47. On loans granted by the bank, borrowers are obliged to pay every six months, for the entire term of the loan:

(1) as interest, 21/: percent;
(2) for the liquidation of principal: on loans granted for 48 years, 1/4 percent, on loans for 36 years, l/2 percent; and
(3) for administrative expenses of the bank and for the accumulation of reserve capital ?? percent. In addition to this, borrowers are to pay 1/4 percent of the obtained loan at the time the mortgage is taken out....

[Note: A manifesto of November 14, 1894, ordered that the interest rate on loans from the State Nobles' Land Bank be lowered to 4 percent per year.]


Sergei Kravchinskii (Stepniak) on the Russian Peasantry


Sergei Mikhailovich Kravchinskii (1851-95), whose literary pseudonym was "Stepniak," was trained as a military man but in his early twenties abandoned that career and embraced the movement "to the people." In 1878, as a member of the Land and Freedom organization, he assassinated General Mezentsev, the chief of police. Soon escaping abroad, he made his home from 1884 onward in England, where his life was cut short by a train accident in 1895. The following excerpts are from his book The Russian Peasantry: Their Agrarian Condition, Social Life, and Religion, first published in New York in 1888. (In the following year, through the land captains, the rights of the mir [village, more narrowly "village assembly"] were significantly curtailed, to be restored only by a law of October 5, 1906.)

Source = S. M. Kravchinskii [Stepniak], The Russian Peasantry: Their Agrarian Condition, Social Life, and Religion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1905), pp. 117, 126-27, 132, 134-35, 137-39, 147, 156, 635-37.

Far from being degraded and brutalized by slavery, the peasants, united in their semi-patriarchal, semi-republican village communes, exhibited a great share of self-respect and even capacity to stand boldly by their rights, where the whole of the comune was concerned. Diffident in their dealings with strangers, they showed a rearkable truthfulness and frankness in their dealings among themselves, and a sene of duty and loyalty and unselfish devotion to their little communes. [...]

A Russian village has never been a mere aggregation of individuals, but a very intimate association, having much work and life in common. These associations are called mirs among the Great and White Russians, hromadas among the Ruthenians. Up to the present time the law has allowed them a considerable amount of self-government. They are free to manage all their economical concerns in common: the land, if they hold it as common property which is the case everywhere save in the Ruthenian provinces, the forests, the fisheries, the renting of public-houses standing on their territory, etc. They distribute among themselves as they choose, the taxes falling to the share of the commune according to the Government schedules. They elect the rural executive administration. Starost [or starosta] and Starshinstvo are (nominally at least) under their permanent control. Another very important privilege which they possess is that they, the village communes composing the Volost [district], in general meeting assembled, elect the ten judges of the Volost. All these must be peasants, members of some village commune. The jurisdiction of the peasants' tribunal is very extensive; all the civil, and a good many criminal offences (save the capital ones), in which one of the parties, at least, is a peasant of the district, are amenable to it. The peasants sitting as judges are not bound to abide in their verdicts by the official code of law. They administer justice according to the customary laws and traditions of the local peasantry. The peasants have applied their collective intelligence not to material questions alone, nor within the domain apportioned to them by law; the mir recognizes no restraint on its autonomy. In the opinion of the peasants themselves, the mir's authority embraces, indeed, all domains and branches of peasant life. Unless the police and the local officers are at hand to prevent what is considered an abuse of power, the peasants' mir is always likely to exceed its authority. In the olden times, as late as the sixteenth century, it was the mir who elected the parson (as the dissenting villages are doing nowadays), the bishops only imposing hands on [i.e. endorsing] the mir's nominees. The mir forms indeed a microcosm, a small world of its own. The people living in it have to exercise their judgment on everything, on the moral side of man's life as on the material, shaping it so as to afford to their small communities as much peace and happiness as is possible under their very arduous circumstances. "Each for himself," they say, "but God and the mir for all." The mir is no egotist; it pities everybody alike, and should it have to settle any difference it does not look to the numerical strength or respective influence of the contending parties, but to the absolute justice of the cause. The Russian muzhik [peasant] is proverbially benevolent towards strangers of his own race. He is accustomed to feel something like family attachment to most, or to very many, of the members of his mir. [...]

There is no people on the face of the earth who treat aliens so kindly as do the Russian muzhiks. They live peacefully side by side with hundreds of tribes, differing in race and religion, Tartars, Circassians, Buriats, and German colonists. [...]

The mir in the management of its affairs recognizes no permanent laws restricting or guiding its decisions. It is the personification of the living law, speaking through the collective voice of the commune. Every case brought before the mir is judged on its own merits, according to the endless variety of its peculiar circumstances. A passion for Equality and Fraternity is and will ever be the strongest, we may say the only strong social feeling in Russia. Every Russian village commune elects its elder or mayor, who is by virtue of his office its spokesman and delegate before the authorities. In the village itself the elder is neither the chief nor even the primus inter pares, but simply the trusted servant and executor of the orders of the mir. The mir discusses and regulates everything that falls within its narrow and simple sphere of action, leaving hardly anything to the discrimination and judgment of its agent. So simple and subordinate are the elder's duties, that any peasant, provided he be neither a drunkard nor a thief, is eligible for the post. In many villages, in order to avoid discussion, the office of elder is filled in turn by all the members of the mir. There exist no people on the face of the earth, or, to keep within the boundaries of the better known, on the face of Europe, who, as a body, are so well trained for collective labor as our muzhiks are. Whenever a group or a crowd of them have some common economical interest to look after, or some common work to perform, they invariably form themselves into an artel [cooperative workshop], or kind of trades union, which is a free, purely economical mir, purged of the compulsory, despotic elements of political authority. It is a free union of people, who combine for the mutual advantages of cooperation in labor, or consumption, or of both. Its membership is voluntary, not imposed, and each member is free to withdraw at the close of the season, or upon the conclusion of the particular work for which the artel was formed, and to enter into a new artel. [..]

The artel has no legal authority over its members. Expulsion from the artel is the only punishment, or rather the only protection, these associations possess against those who break their rules. Yet the artels do very well, and in permanent work often prove to be lifelong partnerships. The fishermen of the north; the carpenters who go to work in the towns; the bricklayers and builders; the diggers and the freight carriers, all the hundreds of thousands of peasants who move from the villages in search of work, either start by forming artels, or join some artel when they reach their destination. Every artel accepts work, makes engagements, etc., as a body, distributing or dividing the work they have to do amongst themselves. The principle followed is, that every man's pay shall be strictly proportioned to the amount of his individual labor, or, that this ideal shall be approached as nearly as the nature of the particular industry will admit of. There is endless variety in the economical characters and the size of these artels, some being regular owners of industrial establishments or trading companies (a machine manufactory in Ural), whilst others are only temporary and limited associations of vast numbers of men, blown together by the four winds of heaven, such as those of bargemen or railway servants, etc., though in substance they all reproduce the leading features of the village mir. The principle of co-operation is applied as frequently and as naturally to agricultural as to non-agricultural work.



The law that is reproduced in part here repealed article 165 of the redemption statute of February 19, 1861, which had obligated the community to allow a householder to obtain separate tenure on his plot if he paid the entire share of the redemption dues on that plot and demanded its withdrawal from communal tenure.

Source = PSZRI, 3d ser., 13:653-54.

[I.] 1. The sale of allotment land by the entire village community is permitted only on the basis of a special decision to that effect by the community, laid down with the consent of not less than two-thirds of all peasants with a vote in the assembly, and confirmed by the guberniia bureau.... If the value of the alienated plot [uchastok] exceeds five hundred rubles, then its sale requires, in addition, the permission of the minister of internal affairs, by agreement with the minister of finance....

3. Peasant communities and individual peasants are forbidden to mortgage allotment land to private parties and private institutions, even if the redemption loan on this land has been liquidated....

II.... As long as the redemption loan has not been repaid [by the entire community], individual householders shall not be permitted separation of tenure [vydel, by which a peasant converted his allotment into a hereditary holding and withdrew from the commune] and advance redemption of individual plots of communal land, except with the consent of the community and on the conditions stated in the decision of the corresponding village assembly.



The pros and cons of the peasant land commune were hotly debated at the opening of the twentieth century, especially in local committees of the Special Conference on the Needs of Agriculture [Osoboe Soveshchanie o nuzhdakh sel'skokhoziaistvennoi promyshlennosti], established in 1902 in forty-nine guberniias of European Russia. Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Rittikh, an expert on the peasantry, published in 1903 a summary of the views expressed in these local committees. It is interesting to evaluate his comments, as excerpted here, in the light of the subsequent developments in the rural sector. (For other observations on the peasantry at about the same time, see Stolypin's report from Saratov in 1904)

Reference: A. A. Rittikh, ea., Krest'ianskoe zemlepolzovanie (St. Petersburg: V. F. Kirsbaum, 1903), pp. 2, 14-15,18-19, 22,33,35,36.

Section I. Communal Ownership
Chapter 1. Positive Aspects of the Commune

Recognizing the necessity for basic changes in the legal structure of the peasant economy, the members of the local committees differ in evaluating the various particular aspects of this structure. The conflict is most clearly marked in the question of the commune: a considerable majority admits the extreme harm done by the equalizing form of land utilization, and may even see in it the basic cause of the decline of agricultural production; a minority, however, expresses its conviction that this form of land ownership is advantageous both for the economy as a whole and for private economic relationships. From the latter point of view it is maintained that this form of utilization is quite profitable for the peasant economy, and at the same time presents no particular obstacles to the development of agriculture. Propositions concerning the possible development of the commune into a cooperative union are linked to a considerable degree with considerations of socioeconomic significance. From the latter point of view the stress is laid primarily upon the positive aspects of the equalizing system of land ownership, even when it is admitted that from the point of view of the individual economy this system presents a serious obstacle to the progress of agriculture. This important defect is compensated for in that the land belongs not to individuals, but to the entire commune, with each person belonging to it and born into it having the right to a land allotment equal to that of every other member. Under these conditions, the supply of land, which is the chief and, in the majority of cases, the sole source of subsistence, is protected against monopolization by a minority of the population, and our entire communal peasantry is guaranteed a share of this basic and immediate source of existence that will be just and commensurate with the needs of each. On the other hand, the right of private property converts the land into a commodity which, under the influence of unequal competition between men who differ in capacities, and especially between the rich and the poor, gradually accumulates in the hands of the former and places in their power the dispossessed, displaced masses, who become farmhands and proletarians. The history of all the countries of western Europe demonstrates that with the abolition of the commune begins the transfer and great diminution of small landed property as a result of its concentration in the hands of the few. From that, as a result of this same process, stems the abnormal development of the proletariat, which is at present the incurable disease of the political organisms of western Europe. The same process would undoubtedly take place in Russia; if the land were divided by households into private plots, one or two bad harvests, i.e. one or two decades, would be enough to bring about the dispossession of the overwhelming majority to the advantage of the numerically insignificant portion of the population that is more enterprising and economically secure. In Russia this would be particularly dangerous, because in countries with a higher cultural level a considerable part of the dispossessed population finds employment and income in manufacturing and commercial activity, which in Russia is underdeveloped, and which in any case is incapable of providing an income for the millions who would undoubtedly be left without land following a transfer from communal to household ownership. Therefore the commune, with its characteristic equalizing procedures, must be protected by all means from destruction; it is the sole guarantee against the development of an economically undesirable and politically dangerous proletariat.

Chapter 2. Undesirable Aspects of the Commune . . .

The amount of arable land is . . . greatly diminishing as a result of the ruining of the soil, which the opponents of the equalizing system of land utilization trace directly to the instability of possession, as this hinders an increase in soil productivity through intensive cultivation and leads people to "plow as much as possible, no matter how." Hence the hayfields, the pastures, the slopes of gullies are put to the plow, the forests are cut down and turned into meadowland or pastures, which in a short time will also come under the plow. Under such conditions the sandy subsoil is laid bare, and the plowed under slopes of gullies cause the emergence of a series of ravines that eat up the soil, depriving it of moisture and facilitating the removal of the topsoil by spring floods. The deterioration of the arable land and its careless cultivation have an extremely harmful effect on peasant cattle raising both qualitatively and quantitatively, as a result of which the area under cultivation is fertilized less and worked less beneficially. Agriculture becomes unprofitable on the exhausted land. This is particularly noticeable in relation to fields distant from settlements, where the scant harvest barely repays the time and work spent in their cultivation. The peasants neglect them, and the periphery of the allotment, formerly plowland, now becomes wasteland. In this way, after the rapid growth of the cultivated area comes its gradual diminution, but in place of lands formerly arable and useful for fodder there now appear wastelands, completely exhausted and agriculturally worthless. Under these conditions the allotment becomes more and more inadequate for feeding the growing population, and the peasants, in the search for unexhausted land, are forced to buy it and in large measure resort to renting it outside the allotment. The constantly increasing demand for land raises its price out of all proportion to its potential income, in consequence of which the peasant barely gets back the price of his labor from the rented plot, gaining no net profit. Everywhere there are complaints of too little land, while at the same time the percentage of agriculturally worthless areas, such as marshes, sands, ravines, and wastelands, steadily increases, replacing former fields and plowlands. Ascribing this desire of the peasantry for a quantitative rather than a qualitative economy to the impermanence of communal land use, the opponents of the equalizing system see this as the chief cause of the constant complaints of too little land. Holding such [land scarcity] to be merely conditional, they claim that, with proper cultivation of allotments, which is possible only where the user has permanent property rights, the problem of too little land would cease to exist for the majority of peasants now complaining of it. Reports from the Kursk Province made clear what an indescribable amount of work it takes for even the most energetic communal peasants to introduce intensive cultivation on land they hold only temporarily: "The peasant lacks not only the possibility but also the right to improve and develop his agricultural enterprise. He cannot, on a plot allotted to him for twelve years by a general reapportionment, put up a fence and plant a garden, for his fence will be broken down and his garden trampled under by cattle; he cannot plant on it whatever he wants, grasses, grains, or garden vegetables, for these too will be pulled up and trampled down. At the will of the mir, he is obliged in a designated place to sow winter crops, in another place to sow spring crops, and in a third place for all his desire to make some use of it to do nothing at all. Part of his meadows he cannot improve because he does not know where it is. Part of his woods he must cut down when the communal meeting so orders. Only in his little yard does the peasant have rights equal to those of a private landowner." The basic cause of all the undesirable aspects of the peasant economy as detailed above is held to be the absence, under an equalizing system of land tenure, of the main incentive to work of the knowledge and conviction that the results of labor will be enjoyed by the laborer himself, or by persons near to him by kinship and attachment.... Under such conditions, the economic prudence, the enterprising spirit, and the energy of the individual are pointless and, in the majority of cases, inapplicable. These mainsprings of any material progress find an insuperable obstacle in the conditions of the communal system. Hence an apathetic and negligent attitude toward one's work, laziness, and a tendency to shiftlessness and drunkenness develop among the peasantry. Along with this, the impermanence of those rights of land tenure most vital to the peasants, and their dependence on the whim of a majority vote formed by chance, teach them not to respect the rights of others, and give rise to mutual distrust, sometimes even to open enmity, among commune members. The communal system is not a voluntary association on artel' principles, but has a sharply formulated compulsory character. In contradiction of the general principle of civil rights, that no one may be constrained to remain in a corporate holding, the legislation regulating the communal system deprives individual peasants of the right to withdraw their share of land out of the communal allotment without the consent of the mir, or even to receive compensation for it. The right to transfer to private holding [vydel ] existed, however, up to the year 1893, and until that time every communal peasant who had paid his redemption debt had the possibility of transferring his land to homestead tenure, even without the consent of the commune. As is well known, the law of December 14, 1893 [?? above], which abrogated this right, was intended to prevent the dispossession of the peasantry.... At present it is generally impossible to withdraw one's share out of the communal allotment, due to the difficulty of getting the consent of the mir; consequently, every member of a land commune is forced either to stay in it or to renounce his share of the land. . .. On the other hand, each commune member has the right to an allotment of land, with the result that persons permanently residing elsewhere and firmly established in nonagricultural occupations appear in the village at the time of reapportionment and demand allotments, which they then rent to fellow villagers, most often to kulaks. The compulsory tie with the land, coupled with the contrary principle of the right of all to receive an allotment, has the consequence that the communal landholding is split up so as to correspond exactly with the growth of the population bound to it, while at the same time the decrease in the size of individual household allotments is not compensated for by a corresponding increase in yield per acre. . . . The result of such a splitting up is that in the majority of cases the allotments of the individual commune members are sufficient neither for subsistence nor for the full employment of the available working force.

On the Eve of the 1905 Revolution

Those who continued to live in customary village settings (now altered by state action) concluded that the only way out of their economic plight was to purchase more land. It was a bit like the old joke = A destitute businessman says, “I lose about three dollars on every widget I sell, but I make up for it in volume”.

After 1883, the Peasant Land Bank facilitated peasant purchase of more land [TXT]. Expensive new land, however, only put peasants deeper into debt and insolvency. Furthermore, interest rates charged by the Peasant Land Bank were higher than standard rates, notably higher, for example, than interest rates charged by the Noble Land Bank [TXT] [SAC]. Privileged classes borrowed from the Noble Bank to buy land, and increasingly bankrupt nobles mortgaged their holdings there.

By 1905, whatever the inadequacies of agrarian fiscal policy in the last years of the old regime, about forty percent of all land left in gentry hands after emancipation had been purchased through the Peasant Land Bank. Remember that, in 1861, half of all gentry land was expropriated with compensation. Now nearly half of that half had also passed out of gentry hands.

Still, gentry numbered only about one million and owned about 37 million desiatiny of cropland. The average per capita land holding of gentry was larger than the average peasant household. Peasants were 100 times more numerous yet owned only slightly more that four times more land.





In the last century and especially the last half-century of the tsarist era, the machinery for collecting statistics developed in Russia as in other modern states, and a mountain of information is available on the empire's economic growth and condition. Little of this material lends itself to inclusion in this sourcebook, and yet some of it constitutes exceedingly valuable data for the student of Russian history. An example is the Ezhegodnik Rossii 1906 g., the statistical annual for 1906 prepared by the Central Statistical Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Here are excerpts from the section covering landholding in the fifty guberniias of European Russia (i.e. excluding Finland, Poland, and the Caucasus) in 1905.

Reference: Tsentral'nyi Statisticheskii Komitet, Ezhegodnik Rossii 1906 g. (St. Petersburg: Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del, 1907), pp. 26, 31, 36-38, 50-51.

[Landholding in fifty guberniias of European Russia in 1905 (sum totals from the table): ]


Average Amount Land Area (in Number of Households of Allotment Land thousand Percent of with Allotment Land per Household Type of Landholding desiatinas)

Total Area (in thousands) (in desiatinas)

Private property 101,735 25.8

Allotment land 138,768 35.1 12,298 1

State, church, and [other] institutions 154,689 39.1

Total 395,192 12,298 1

[Note: Of the 154,689,000 desiatinas in the third category, 138,086,000 were treasury lands situated predominantly in the non-tillable forests and tundras of the north.]


Group I (private holdings).... Personal property [of individuals] . . .
Landholding as Percent of Landholding (in desiatinas) Total Area Personal Property
    53,169,008     13.5     61.9
         337,206       0.1       0.4
Merchants and honorary citizens [potomstvennye pochetnye grazhdane]
     12,906,795      3.3     15.0
       3,763,822      0.9       4.4
     13,214,025      3.3     15.4
Other classes
      2,213,372       0.6       2.5
Foreign subjects
         352,438       0.1        0.4
Total belonging to individual property owners
    85,956,666     21.8    100.0

Collective private property. The second form of private property consists of holdings of societies and associations, to which belong
    15,778,667       4.0      15.5

Group II (allotment lands).
The second category of holdings includes the allotment lands of peasants and of the Don, Orenburg, and Astrakhan' Cossack hosts.
The total area of allotment land . . . is calculated at
138,767,587 desiatinas, which comprises 35.1 percent of the total area of fifty guberniias of European Russia;
or, if the northern region, with its exceptional size and composition, is excluded,
130,873,445 desiatinas or 47.2 percent of the total area.
The number of households among which the aforesaid allotment area [Note in text: "With the exclusion of 1,837,121 desiatinas not distributed by households" ] is distributed, is calculated at
12,297,905, which consequently comes to an average of 11.1 desiatinas per household.

In the separate parts of Russia this percentage varies . . . by guberniias from 3.8 desiatinas (in the Podolia guberniia) to 65.1 (in the Olonets guberniia).

If the guberniias are arranged in the order of the greatest average size of peasant allotment land per household, it is as follows:
Desiatinas per Household Over 10 7 to 10 7 or Fewer
Olonets 65.1
Saint Petersburg 9.7
Orel 7.0
Orenburg 29.8
Voronezh 9.6
Tambov 7.0
Astrakhan' 28.4
Saratov 9.5
Simbirsk 6.8
Samara 19.8
Ekaterinoslav 9.3
Riazan' 6.6
Ufa 18.8
Pskov 9.2
Bessarabia 6.5
Grodno 16.5
Minsk 9.1
Chernigov 6.3
Viatka 16.0
Smolensk 9.0
Tula 6.3
Perm' 15.8
Vladimir 8.9
Archangel 6.1
Vologda 15.5
Kostroma 8.9
Kiev 5.5
Tavrida 14.7
Tver' 8.6
Poltava 4.9
Kovno 14.6
Kazan' 8.6
Don 4.4
Vilna 13.5
Mogilev 8.2
Podolia 3.8
Novgorod 13.5
Kaluga 8.1
Vitebsk 11.5
Volynia 7.8
Kherson 7.8
Moscow 7.5
Penza 7.5
Nizhnii-Novgrod 7.4
Khar'kov 7.3
Kursk 7.3
Iaroslavl' 7.1

[Note: There were no allotment lands in the Baltic guberniias of Estonia, Courland, and Livonia.] If the allotment land is divided according to its manner of utilization, communal or household, into two parts . . . the following figures are obtained: Land held as personal property [Allotment] land held under household tenure [Allotment] land held under communal utilization Land held as property of societies and associations 85,956,666 desiatinas 22,981,193 desiatinas 115,786,390 desiatinas 15,778,677 desiatinas If we turn to an investigation of the composition of private landholding by classes [sosloviia ], and add to the allotment land of peasants the land that is held as their personal property and as the property of societies and associations (the latter including both exclusively peasant and mixed peasant-meshchan'e associations); if we add to the personal property of meshchan'e, land belonging to meshchan'e associations; and if we add to the personal holdings of merchants, land belonging to commercial industrial associations: it will be found that out of the total amount of 240,502,930 desiatinas of nonpublic [chastnyi, in the sense of excluding lands of the state and the church] land there belongs to: ??




Stolypin Land Reforms

In this setting, Petr Stolypin [SAC LOOP] pushed through his massive three-part agrarian reform =

By 1916, two years into World War One and six years after the Stolypin land reforms got fully under way, two-thirds of all peasant households had completed the first step. One-tenth of peasant households had completed the more complex consolidation.

Eighty-five to eighty-seven percent of the Russian population was formally designated “peasantry”. Seventy percent derived their livelihood from the soil. Ninety percent of all cropland in Russia (some say much more) was now farmed by peasants.

Peasants had always dreamed of dominion over the agricultural land of Russia. That dream was taken to be extremely "revolutionary" in the era of the 1905 Revolution. The Trudoviki in the First and Second Dumas were thought to be utterly and unspeakably dreamy, naive, impractical and radical in their efforts to introduce legislation aimed in this direction [LOOP]. Twelve years later, in the era of the 1917 Revolution, the peasant slogan “land to the peasants” was less a revolutionary slogan than an insistent and protective proclamation of established trends in Russian agricultural life.


Conclusion = Into the Soviet Era

The echoes of the Stolypin land reforms rang down through the years after his assassination, through World War One [ID], then revolutionary civil war [ID] and a decade of revolutionary recovery (NEP) [ID]. By 1927 the Russian countryside had entered a very different epoch. However =

<>1927:1928; On the eve of Stalinist Collectivization, 98% of Russian cultivated land was worked by individual farming families who lived in villagers

At just this time, as the "Stalinist era" opened [LOOP], the assault on traditional village ways was renewed with an unprecedented vigor and cruelty.

<>1962:USSR agricultural land was 97% socialized and 3% private. Only 70% of total production came from socialized land and only 83% of marketed production. Between 1929 and 1953, annual gross agricultural output only once, in 1937, exceeded that of 1928. Still, Collectivization did force a massive labor transfer from agriculture to industry, from the countryside to the city. Furthermore, resources were now channeled away from agriculture while the volume of marketable farm output increased, even when gross output did not. Prices paid by the state for agricultural products fell. Therefore, while marketable output increased the standard of living in the countryside did not. In summary we might say that Russian villagers, as so often in the past, and as in other areas of the world, paid the domestic price of modernization
*--Arcadius Kahan, "The Collective Farm System in Russia....", in Eicher, et. al., Agriculture in Economic Development:251-71