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Stolypin's Reforms in Revolutionary Russia

Дата публикации: 04 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Imperial Russia →
Источник: (c) http://russia.by
Номер публикации: №1188912282 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

Did Stolypin's reforms in the wake of the Revolution of 1905 have the potential to solve the problems of rural Russia?

Viewpoint: Yes. Stolypin's reforms instilled an appreciation for private property, satisfied grievances, and began to displace outmoded peasant institutions.

Viewpoint: No. Stolypin's reforms were inadequate to bring about the necessary redistribution of land and transform the peasantry into productive and supportive subjects of the tsar.


The appointment of Petr Arkadevich Stolypin as premier of the Russian Empire in 1906 brought with it the promise of reform. Although Stolypin became infamous for his use of political repression to stabilize Russian society in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1905, he also implemented major initiatives intended to deepen that stabilization. Chief among these reforms was a measure that allowed peasants to depart from the traditional mir (commune), the institution to which most of them had belonged for centuries, and create their own private farms. Meant to instill values of proprietorship and private property, this legislation was intended to give Russian peasants a stake in the preservation of the established order. Hoping to attract people of initiative and responsibility, Stolypin characterized the measure as "a wager on the strong." By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, millions of peasants had embraced his idea and left the commune. Millions of others left overcrowded central Russia for new lives in Siberia, where, in another reform, the state made lands available to colonists.
Because Stolypin's assassination in 1911 was followed shortly thereafter by war and revolution, it is impossible to assess the long-term effects of his reforms. Since large numbers of peasants left the commune and formed private farmsteads after 1906, some observers believe the reform was successful; millions of people were dissatisfied with the communal way of life and set out on their own. Yet, as others point out, the majority of Russian peasants did not establish private farms in the period between the implementation of the reforms and 1914. Moreover, when central authority collapsed in 1917, the communal form of land tenure reemerged. The question of whether Stolypin's reforms could have averted revolution and successfully addressed the problems of rural Russia remains central to considerations of the era.

Viewpoint: Yes. Stolypin's reforms instilled an appreciation for private property, satisfied grievances, and began to displace outmoded peasant institutions.

Petr Arkadevich Stolypin, the last great statesman of Imperial Russia, served as premier from 1906 until his assassination in 1911. During that half decade he put forward an ambitious agenda of reforms designed to help the peasantry develop the citizenship skills they needed to become integrated fully into Russia's incipient civil society in accordance with the original intentions of the Great Reforms of 1861, which had abolished serfdom and attempted to establish procedures by which they could become landowners. He thought that this goal could be accomplished only if the zemstvo (rural local self-government, plural zemstva) and municipal administrations cooperated closely with the national government. Stolypin believed that government "supervision over the activity of public agencies must be confined predominantly to the observation of the legality of these agencies' activities." For their part, the zemtsy (elected deputies of the zemstvo) hoped to serve in the role of kul'turtreger (culture bearers) and convert the zemstvo into an engine of rural progress and a school for the civic education of the isolated and largely illiterate peasantry. The zemstva could thus assist Stolypin in the gradual closure of the cultural and psychological gulf between the two Russias: the masses, who still existed in a state of legal segregation, and educated and privileged society.

Stolypin was aware of the tsarist regime's limited social underpinnings and familiar with the zemstva from his tenure as governor of Grodno and Saratov provinces. He envisioned a new social and civic order in the countryside. Along with the creation of a new peasant stratum of individual farmers (conservative and free from the dysfunctional rural commune), Stolypin supported a program of broader peasant enfranchisement in local government. His reforms included democratization of elections to the existing uezd (county) zemstva, the reduction of noble influence by replacing the county gentry marshal with an appointed official, and the establishment of all-estate local government at the most basic local level, the peasants' volost' (canton) zemstvo. While no liberal, Stolypin shared the zemtsy's belief that only such fundamental reform of local government could provide vital connections between the village and the state and make Russian peasants into conservative citizens who would support the changing state order. He believed that the volost' zemstvo, in particular, would empower peasants and quite likely bring about the as-yet-unrealized promise of civic equality for the peasantry. Implicit in this viewpoint was the understanding that such an overhaul of local government would come at the expense of the landholding nobility's traditional dominance.

At the same time, Stolypin's government was sympathetic to the idea of slowly expanding the zemstva into the borderlands, areas of the empire where there were few nobles (and hence where peasants would largely control any new lands) or where the nobility was largely non-Russian (as was the case in the Polish provinces of the empire, for example). As proponents of zemstvo expansion had long argued, the economic and cultural backwardness of Siberia, the Caucasus, and the western provinces (even compared to the Russian heartland) could partly be explained by the absence of elected local governments. In addition to bringing improved health care, better roads, and schools to these regions, zemstvo expansion also promised to foster the integration of the empire, although such prospects ran against the grain of unsystematic efforts at Russification (the attempt by the last two tsars to stifle the emerging national consciousness of Russia's ethnic minorities by discriminating against their religions and languages) and involved risks related to turning over local self-government to non-elite or non-Russian hands.

Of equal importance was Stolypin's effort to ease the peasant's so-called land shortage by facilitating their resettlement in Siberia. In fact, Russian peasants had more land per capita than other European counterparts; their economic distress was largely the result of their inefficient cultivation techniques and the paralyzing influence of the commune. Their perception of disadvantage, whether grounded in reality or not, was a powerful undercurrent in the countryside that Stolypin knew had to be defused. The tsarist government had formerly discouraged peasant migration to preserve a supply of cheap labor for the nobility, but the overpopulation of the European provinces made it, in Stolypin's words, essential "to relieve the congestion of some provinces in Russia." The plan for resettling peasants in Siberia and the Far East was part of Stolypin's attempt to bring the peasantry into the modern era in both the political and economic sense. He hoped to create a class of rural property holders east and west of the Urals. As with his attempt to break up the commune and replace it with a class of smallholders who would presumably be loyal to the throne, Stolypin did not devise the plan himself. He was the one who forcefully and tenaciously promoted it.

All Stolypin's reforms (especially that of local government) were connected to other projects designed to break down peasant particularism and make peasants into citizens--most notably dismantling the rural commune and achieving universal schooling. During the period of 1906-1911, peasant-oriented zemstvo activity expanded most dramatically since these institutions had been established during the era of the Great Reforms. Zemstvo budgets had unprecedented and steady increases as a result of the expansion of existing programs and the creation of new fields of activity such as agronomy and adult education. State grants increased from 2 million rubles in 1907 to more than 40 million rubles by 1913. The largest share of these grants went to schools (22.7 million in 1913), amounting to about one-quarter of zemstvo spending on education. Zemstvo spending grew at an even faster rate than state subsidies during this time period. By 1914 zemstvo spending on education surpassed spending on medicine for the first time.

Peasants began to pressure the government for more schools and assistance. Despite the undemocratic franchise the zemstvo still embodied the all-estate principle and the public interest at large, factors that marked their transformation into legitimate organs of popular expression. New procedures adopted by decree on 5 October 1906 restored direct peasant voting in zemstvo elections and deprived provincial governors of the right to select peasant zemstvo deputies from lists of candidates chosen by peasant voters, a scheme that had often ensured the installation of peasant officials who were dependent on tutelage from the bureaucracy. An emerging cohort of younger peasants, many of whom were products of the zemstvo schools, played a more assertive role in zemstvo sessions. In other words, despite Stolypin's failure to gain noble acquiescence to the introduction of the canton all-estate zemstvo (which no amount of noble gerrymandering could have prevented the peasants from dominating), the zemstvo touched ever-widening circles of peasants, and within the village there were elements (though still a minority) pressing for wider participation and inclusion in local government.

After Stolypin's death, key agencies such as the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Education largely abandoned their support for reform, defending the legal resegregation of peasants and advocating the reassertion of autocratic policies. The nobles, however, had come to realize that such policies would undercut their own influence and ability to shape events in the countryside. The renewed activism of the zemstva (which was paradoxical given their political turn to the Right after the Revolution of 1905) led to a pattern of conflict that resembled in many respects the clashes with the state that had taken place during the previous decade when the zemstva had been led by liberals. The zemtsy were thrust into conflict with the state at all levels, and they made common cause with the technical specialists whom they had hired to run the many zemstvo programs. The conferences held by these professionals--convened to discuss technical, social, economic, and other issues in the years before World War I--fostered the public space for an emerging civil society that included independent and active organs of local self-government.

Stolypin knew that the changes he sought would have to be effected gradually. He stated that in twenty years one would no longer recognize Russia, and that assertion proved to be correct, though not in the way he anticipated. He also said that his reforms could not be stopped even by cannon, and in that respect he was proven wrong. By the outbreak of World War I, millions of peasants had migrated to Siberia and established their own farms free of noble interference. In addition, half the peasant households in European Russia had asked to participate in the consolidation of contiguous farmsteads outside the influence of the commune. In 1914 the tsarist government was prepared to make substantial changes in fiscal policy in order to accelerate the peasant resettlement program and the consolidation of plots into so-called American-style farms. Literacy rates doubled between 1897 and 1917, and peasant participation in local self-government was steadily increasing. Perhaps the answer to the question of whether Stolypin's heroic efforts could have successfully transformed Russia into a modern polity can be found in this quotation from the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin: "It would be empty and stupid democratic phrasemongering to say that the success of the Stolypin agrarian policy in Russia is 'impossible.' It is possible!"

-- Thomas Earl Porter, North Carolina A&T State University

Viewpoint: No. Stolypin's reforms were inadequate to bring about the necessary redistribution of land and transform the peasantry into productive and supportive subjects of the tsar.

Premier Petr Arkadevich Stolypin wagered in vain on "the sober and the strong" because he was essentially betting against the strength of Russian cultural traditions. He looked to the West, where centuries of internal developments had favored private property and paved the way for the development of a bourgeoisie that successfully transformed an agrarian economy into an industrial economy. Historical patterns of Russian landownership differed so substantially from those of the industrialized democracies of the West that Stolypin's reforms, though revolutionary and farsighted, were necessarily stillborn.

Having risen to political prominence as governor of the agricultural province of Saratov, Stolypin understood keenly the extent to which Russian peasantry was economically inefficient. Although he attracted the tsar's attention because of his use of force against peasants who took part in the Revolution of 1905, he made it clear as premier that he had acted decisively to defend private property, not to oppress the peasants further. On the contrary, at the heart of his reforms lay the desire to turn the peasants into individual property owners who--because they would then feel invested in the system--would respect the need for law and order. As Stolypin wrote, "private peasant ownership is a guarantee of order, because each small owner represents the nucleus on which rests the stability of the state." In this sense, Stolypin's plans were as ambitious as the emancipation of the serfs had been in 1861: both sets of reforms were designed to incorporate the peasantry into the empire as productive and supportive subjects, if not quite citizens, of the autocracy.

Like the Great Reformers before him, however, Stolypin could not devise a satisfactory set of means to achieve his ends. He attempted to tackle two problems simultaneously because of their intrinsic connection: hierarchical social relations and unproductive agriculture. As a result of the first reforms in the 1860s, the obshchina (village assembly of male elders) was entrusted with the responsibility of making the payment to the state for the lands procured from the emancipation, which left about two-thirds of Russian farmland in peasant hands. This role gave the obshchina tremendous power over all members of the village commune because it made decisions about the portion of the collective payment for which each family was responsible. Keeping this system in place perpetuated the practice of cultivating land in disaggregated strips, which were worked by different families on a rotating basis. By canceling the collective redemption payments and making it legally possible for individuals to consolidate strips and withdraw from communal land tenure, Stolypin launched a frontal assault on the social institution that had held the overwhelming majority of the population together for hundreds of years.

Undermining the authority of the obshchina, however, was not tantamount to destroying it. From the first debates about how to implement the emancipation, it had been mired in a controversy that had cultural as well as political implications. Political groups as disparate as the right-wing Slavophiles and left-wing socialists endowed the commune with a primordial peasant sense of democracy; both saw it not only as Russia's past but as an ideal model for its future. In contrast, Russians oriented toward change according to Western models of industrialization and modernization saw the commune as a bulwark of tradition against change and progress. When the government decided to make the communes rather than the individual peasant households responsible for paying for lands received in the terms of the emancipation, it gave the obshchina increased authority. For Stolypin's reforms to achieve the goal that he had set for them, he would have had to break up the commune by legislative fiat. He had denounced the institution as "a rotten anachronism that thrived only thanks to the artificial, unsound sentimentalism of the last half century." Despite implementing measures to undermine the power of communes, Stolypin was unprepared to go to the extreme of legally dissolving the communes forever. He thus left a situation in the countryside whereby they could assert themselves either negatively, by using force or intimidation against members who wanted to leave, or positively, by continuing to borrow collectively from the state for the purchase of new lands. Both variants happened, and the patriarchal hierarchy remained in place.

The other plank in Stolypin's reforms, improving agricultural productivity, also faced an historical political impediment: taking land from the gentry to give to the peasantry. Rural unrest during the Revolution of 1905 had taught many landowners the lessons that their predecessors had failed to learn from centuries of peasant rebellions, and many were eager to sell portions, or all, of their estates to the government, via the Peasant Land Bank, for repurchase by the peasants. Also looking to profit from rapidly rising land prices, the already brisk sale of noble land increased dramatically after 1905. In the first year of Stolypin's reforms, the Peasant Bank purchased almost 183 million acres from noble landowners for redistribution to peasants. Additionally, Stolypin opened up for peasant colonization state-owned lands in the frontiers of Western Siberia, where the communal structure was not embedded. He also increased funds available through the Peasant Bank for the loans necessary to expand and improve cultivated territories.

Initially, more than a million peasant households responded positively to Stolypin's initiatives: 508,000 households petitioned to leave their communes in 1908, and 580,000 in the next year. But after this initial enthusiasm, the numbers began to decline. By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, only 20 percent of the peasantry claimed personal ownership of their property, and just 14 percent of peasant-owned agricultural land was no longer held communally. Although they purchased new lands, peasants were dissatisfied with the obligation to pay for land that they had traditionally farmed as serfs or hired laborers; they usually considered the land to be theirs by right. As for Stolypin's dream of creating independent, enclosed farmsteads (as opposed to the disaggregated farming strips)--homes to "the capable, industrious peasant, the salt of the Russian earth"--less than 11 percent of peasant lands had been consolidated in this way by 1916. The so-called Stolypin trains, transporting potential colonizers to the East, had already begun to run less frequently by 1910, when a crop failure in Siberia prompted 20 percent of that year's colonizers to reboard the trains heading back to their homes in the West. Though some have blamed peasant inertia for these poor results and ennobled the commune as an essential form of Russian egalitarianism, much of the failure was the fault of the government. It lacked the will to break up the communes once and for all or to implement a compulsory redistribution of noble land (as, for example, Britain was doing around the same time with government-sponsored financial compensation for the landowners). The government also failed to provide such fundamental necessities as surveyors to oversee the consolidation of strips.

Tellingly, in his attempt to implant the roots of economic liberalism, Stolypin used the illiberal political tactics that autocracy allowed him. Instead of taking his plans to the deliberative legislative body, the State Duma, which began meeting in April 1906, he implemented his reforms by using a loophole clause in the Russian quasi constitution, Article 87, which allowed the tsar to promulgate laws when the Duma was not in session. The high-handedness of this measure did not endear Stolypin to the elected reformers, many of whom advocated more-radical measures. This contradiction exposes Stolypin's fundamental failure: he wanted to change the mentality of others, but not his own.

-- Louise McReynolds, University of Hawai'i, Manoa


Petr Arkadevich Stolypin's plan to help Russian peasant private landowners was outlined in the Ukaz of 9 November 1906, which included the following provisions:

By Our Manifesto of 3 November 1905, the levying on the peasantry of redemption (vykup) payments for allotment land (nadel'naia zemlia) is abolished from 1 January 1907. From this time such lands are exempted from the restrictions placed on them as a result of the redemption debt and peasants receive the right freely to exit the Land Commune and to acquire as individual householders (domokhoziain) the rights of personal ownership of holdings from the Land Commune's allocation. We command . . . that the following rules be established:

1. Each householder who has allotment land in communal ownership (obshchinnoe vladenie) can at any time ask for his portion of such land to be confirmed as his individual property (lichnaia sobstvennost').

2. In Land Communes where there has been no redivision (peredel) of the land in the 24 years preceding the application by individual householders to change from communal to individual ownership, each such householder shall have confirmed as his individual property not only the kitchen garden (usadebnyi uchastok), but also all the holdings of communal land in his permanent possession apart from those which he rents. . . .

6. Demands to have areas of communal land registered as individual property (art. 1) are made through its elder (starosta) to the Land Commune which is obliged, within a month of receiving the application and by a simple majority vote, to indicate those portions of communal land which are the individual property of the householder. . . . If the Land Commune does not within this period enact such a decision, then on the request of the householder making such an application, all the steps required will be taken on the spot by the Land Captain (zemskii nachal'nik) who resolves all quarrels arising from it and his decision on the subject is final. . . .

12. Each householder who receives portions of communal land . . . under the present rules has the right at any time to demand that the Land Commune allocate him, in place of these portions, a corresponding portion, if possible in one place.

Source: John Slatter, Russian History Home Page http://www.dur.ac.uk/~dml0www/Russhist.HTML.



Abraham Ascher, P. A. Stolypin: The Search for Stability in Late Imperial Russia (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2001).

Richard Hennessy, The Agrarian Question in Russia 1905-1907: The Inception of the Stolypin Reform (Giessen: Wilhelm Schmitz, 1977).

David Macey, Government and Peasant in Russia, 1861-1906: The Prehistory of the Stolypin Reforms (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1987).

Judith Pallot, Land Reform in Russia, 1906-1917: Peasant Responses to Stolypin's Project of Rural Transformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).

Thomas Porter and Scott Seregny, "The Zemstvo Reconsidered," in The Politics of Local Government in Russia, edited by Alfred Evans and Vladimir Gelman (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 19-44.

Donald W. Treadgold, The Great Siberian Migration: Government and Peasant in Resettlement from Emancipation to the First World War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).

Peter Waldron, Between Two Revolutions: Stolypin and the Politics of Renewal in Russia (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998).

George Yaney, The Urge to Mobilize: Agrarian Reform in Russia, 1861-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982).

Aleksandr V. Zenkovskii, Stolypin: Russia's Last Great Reformer (Princeton: Kingston Press, 1986).

Опубликовано 04 сентября 2007 года

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