62 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
acres of arable land per head were available in Russia, while in France approximately the same figure obtained as far back as 1892. This last comparison is not really fair, as even in some of our Western and Central Provinces where the summers are longer and the climate is milder than in the East, the Russian average was lower than in France.
Only in the provinces of the lower Volga and those bordering on the Black Sea do we meet with the higher figure of approximately 10 acres. The yield per acre, however, in France and Russia differed considerably, due primarily to inferior methods of husbandry, but also to climatic, geological and other conditions, (a)
The figures quoted should, in my opinion dispel the idea that land in Russia was a commodity in unlimited supply.
"The landlords owned nearly all the land in Russia." This is a commonly held opinion, but one that is quite unfounded. If reference is made to enormous tracts in the northern and north-eastern provinces, thinly populated and where the peasants' holdings were small it should be understood that the soil in these regions was quite unsuited to agriculture and that by far the greater part was owned by the State.(b) These provinces, located on the confines of European Russia, were covered by dense forests and their main wealth lay in the minerals they contained. The timber was mostly used as fuel for blast furnaces in the great iron and steel works of the Urals and it was only in the last decades before the Revolution that active steps were taken by the Government to avert the threat of deforestation.
(a) Professor D. Mendeleev in his original study "Toward Knowledge of
Russia," published in 1907, drew attention to certain geographical conditions,
unfavorable to agriculture. Further studies were made by Count A. Saltikov
and V. Paletika. This point must not, however, be overstressed, as proved
by the tables at the end of the chapter.
(b) In 1916 arable land held by the State, the Crown, monasteries, churches,
cities and the Peasants' Bank was estimated at 6.9% of all public lands. This
figure represents less than 5.5% of lands suitable for cultivation.
As regards agricultural land it should be noted that this was mainly split up into small parcels and was owned by the peasants. According to figures published as a result of an agricultural census taken in 1916 out of total of 179,274,232 acres under cultivation only 19,218,402 acres, or 10.7 per cent, belonged to estate owners, the balance being the property of the peasants.
The figures quoted tally with those produced by one of the ablest Soviet agricultural experts. According to his estimates, on the eve of the Revolution, 90.45% of arable land was cultivated by the peasants and 9.55% by estate owners.(2)
Other Soviet statistics express the value of land jointly held in the 36 provinces by estate owners and peasants as follows (a):
(In million Acres)
In private ownership
Cattle (in millions) head;
In 1907, in Germany, holdings not exceeding 125 acres amounted to 40% of land privately owned; in France holdings of 100 acres, or less to 58%, in 1892; and in Belgium to 38.95%.(b) In Russia, in 1905, holdings of 27.5 acres accounted for 75% of the total, thus showing that the number of small holdings in relation to the total amount of land in private ownership was greater in Russia than in Western Europe.
The principles of land tenure in Russia were more democratic than in the West and this democratization had evolved very rapidly. In 1861, immediately after the emancipation of the serfs and ensuing redistribution of land the total still held
(a) Soviet Review: "On the Agrarian Front," 1927. Nos. 11, 12. pp. 93-113.
(b) S. Seebohm Rowntree, "Land and Labour; Lessons from Belgium."
London. 1910. pp. 44-45.
64 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
by the landlords amounted to 300 million acres. By 1915 this figure had fallen to 157.5 million.(b)
It is obvious that, if during 55 years, the acreage of large and medium landed property decreased by 47.5%, the amount of land owned by the "moujik" had grown considerably. This assumption is borne out by figures: at the time of the emancipation the peasants were endowed with 284.25 million acres. In 1916 they owned 470 million, while the Peasants' Bank held a further 5,567 million acres, purchased by the Bank for resale to the peasants. (These figures do not include the three Baltic i and three northern provinces.) Thus, the total of the peasants' acreage had gone up by 68% in the 55 years mentioned, 1861 to 1916.
This rapid evolution, which resulted in the complete democratization of land tenure in Russia was brought about by measures expressly taken by the Czarist government to increase and maintain the wellbeing of the peasants.
When serfdom in Russia is discussed two points are generally emphasized: its long duration and the late date at which it was abolished.
An important, perhaps the most important, fact to remember is this: serfdom in Russia had nothing in common with serfdom, as it emerged from the feudal system, in the West. (3) But, as serfdom it nevertheless was, let me say that in Russia it had lasted for two hundred and fifty years only and affected but half the peasant population, whereas in Western Europe it had endured for eight or ten centuries. As for the date, 1861, it was not so far behind other countries as one might suppose. While it is true that in Denmark, for instance, serfdom was abolished in 1788, statute peasant labor was enforced up to 1850. In the German States it was abolished at varying dates during the first half of the 19th century. In rural districts, however, up to 1848, the police and the maintenance of law were in the hands of the local squires who retained the right of corporal punish-
(b) D. Pestrjezky, "Close to the Soil." Berlin. 1922. p. 19. In Russian.
ment. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire serfdom was abolished in 1848.
The mitigated serfdom of our peasant even at its height bears little resemblance to actual slavery in the United States, and none at all in the forms it had acquired by the 19th century. (4) As comparison between Russian serfdom and slavery in the United States is often stressed, I would point out that in 1861 our peasants were freed while the negroes in the States were still slaves.
In the majority of countries serfdom was broken by revolution. In Russia liberation took place on the initiative of the government. If we were behind other countries by a few years, let us reflect on the fact that when they were freed our serfs were granted generous holdings of land, an unprecedented act in the annals of history.
As a matter of interest, I should say that quite a few foreign economists—Haxthausen, Zando, Ferroti, Southerland-Edwards —who visited Russia between 1840 and 1850, evinced less enthusiasm for the immediate suppression of serfdom in its existing form than the Russian sovereigns. For a number of political and economic reasons, which he analyses with true German thoroughness, Haxthausen in particular was definitely against this measure so dear to Nicholas I and brought into being by his son Alexander II, the Liberator. (a)
Instead of immediate and complete emancipation, these foreign economists favored a staggered plan spread over a number of years.
The "Law of Emancipation" of 1861 granted personal liberty to the former serfs and dispossed the landowners of 87.5 million acres in favor of the peasants, i.e., a third of all the land they owned, amounting to more than half of the area cultivated by them. In law, this amounted to expropriation. (b) The State in
(a) "Studien uber die inneren Zustande des Volksleben und insbesondere
die Einrichtungen Russlands," Hannover & Berlin. 1847.
(b) See article by Baron Nolde in "Le Monde Slave," March 1927.
66 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
its turn surrendered 200 million acres and liberated its peasants who, though not serfs, were bound to the land owned by the State, or the crown. The size of the holdings granted to the village communes (the "Mir") for distribution among their members averaged 37.5 acres per "hearth."
For reasons which will immediately be made clear, the grandiose reform of 1861 engendered an agrarian problem which it took 45 years to solve successfully.
The maintenance of the existing standard of living depended on the possibility of so increasing production as to meet the demands of the population, growing at the rate of 1 to Vn% per annum. In 1861 the total population was estimated at 70 million. In 1913 it had risen to 174.5 million; an increase of over 100 million; while, in the 20th century the annual rate of increase had jumped to 2%% per annum.
The problem before the government may be summarized thus: how to utilize the productive forces of the nation to the best advantage in order to maintain a constant improvement in the general standard of living in the face of a steadily growing birth rate.
The Czarist government solved this complex problem by following an elaborate program directed along four main lines. 1. The development of industry; 2. a further increase in peasant land tenure; 3. improvement in methods of agriculture; and 4. Agricultural credit.
1. Increased industrial production is obviously able to pro
vide, in theory at least, virtually unlimited employment and
is not subject to those limiting factors which impede agricul
tural expansion. The development of industry depends, how
ever, on three factors: raw material, labor and an assured mar
ket. The first two factors presented no particular problem in
Russia. The third was dependent on the rural population. The
rapid expansion of industry in the decades preceding the Rev
olution are a striking proof of the increased purchasing power
of the peasants.
2. As previously explained, between 1861 and 1916, nine-
tenths of the agricultural land changed ownership and passed into the hands of peasants. This transfer was accelerated by the activities of the Peasants' Bank, founded by the State in 1882 with the object of providing the peasants with greater facilities for the purchase of land. Toward the close of the last century Russian agriculture was going through a difficult time partly due to the general agricultural crisis in Europe, but also because of the impoverishment of the landowners who had been severely hit by the liberation of the serfs and consequent forfeiture of part of their estates.
The policy of the Bank, as laid down by charter, consisted in acquiring real estate in the shape of arable land, and reselling it to the peasants on extremely favorable terms; the loans, advanced by the bank over an average of 55 years, often amounted to 90% of the purchase price of the land. The rate of interest charged was low and any annual deficit in the operations of the Bank was guaranteed by the Treasury. Five-sixths of the Bank's clients were peasants owning less than 22.5 acres, i.e., the poorest section of the rural population.
Loans Granted by the Peasants Bank 1901-1912
(In Gold Roubles)
In viewing these figures we must agree that the description of the Bank as "the largest institution of agricultural credit in the world" was well deserved.(a)
I have described the steps taken by the government to increase peasant land tenure in European Russia. Now let us turn
(a) Wieth Knudsen. "Bauernfrage und Agrarreform in Russland." Munich, 1913. p. 134.
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to Siberia, where all the arable land was turned over to the peasants, those from European Russia being encouraged to emigrate and generously subsidized.
The penetration of Siberia began at the end of the 16th century. There gradually developed a movement, which through the centuries took the form of a steady trek eastward that brought Russian pioneers to the shores of the Pacific and across the Behring Straits into Alaska. This eastward flow proceeded evenly through the years, with no "rushes" like the Klondyke Gold Rush, and, up to 1831, was free from government interference. Thereafter a certain measure of encouragement was given to the settlers, but there resulted no marked acceleration in the general trend and at the time of the liberation of the serfs the entire populaion of Siberia numbered less than 3,000,000. A new phase was opened in the nineties of the last century. Two factors brought about this change: the rapid growth of the population and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, begun in 1891 and completed in 1906.
A committee was founded by the management of the railway known as the "Committee of the Trans-Siberian." It took particular interest in the transportation of would-be settlers, and by organizing canteens, rest centers, and in general looking after the welfare of the emigrants, gave an enormous impetus to the settling of Siberia. The Committee was generously supported by the "Board of Emigration," which corresponded to a Ministry of Colonies, founded in 1897. The number of settlers increased from a steady average of 100,000 p.a. at the end of the century, to 400,000, and by 1907 had reached 600,000.
Every encouragement was given by the government to induce the peasants from European Russia to settle in Siberia. Credits were opened; starting with 5 million roubles in 1906, 11 the following year and soon reaching an annual figure of 30 million.
Emigrants were carried free of charge by the Trans-Siberian Railway, the government paying for their transportation. A grant of 100 to 400 roubles per family was allowed and each
family, upon arrival, was given gratis a holding averaging 100 acres.
A system of large depots of agricultural machinery was established in Siberia for supplying the settlers on terms which only the government could afford.
During the reign of Nicholas II (1894-1917) 5% million emigrants were carried to Siberia and were allotted 100,000,000 acres of land (four fifths of the territory of France).
3. Emigration to Siberia, measures to facilitate the purchase of land in European Russia, etc., were, no doubt, steps taken in the right direction; however, they were based on a quantitative assessment of the agrarian problem and were, by themselves, insufficient. It was imperative to introduce better methods of husbandry in view of the constantly decreasing acreage of available tillage. Yet improvement was slow among the peasants.
The greatest obstacle to progress was the "mir," (5) or agricultural village commune. Compared with more archaic forms of land ownership it was, at one time, a step forward, but under modern conditions of civilization and economics, the abolition of this system was a crying necessity. Individual ownership was the answer as the only method which could lead to improved methods and increased yields.
To abolish the "mir" was a stupendous task. Russian public opinion of all shades and at all times had shown a singular attachment to communal ownership. Great exponents of Russian thought, though often holding diametrically opposite views, were unanimous in defending the "mir" and unequivocal against its suppression. Opposition, theoretical, social and political, was eventually overcome by the government and an immense agrarian reform, aimed at creating a new class of small landed proprietors at last got under way.
The coup de grace to the rural commune was dealt by Prime Minister P. Stolypin on 22nd November, 1906, in the face of a storm of criticism and abuse by every organ of the "liberal" press.
70 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
The proposed reform was as radical as that of 1861. It was preceded by a decree cancelling the balance still due by the peasants for the land that had been requisitioned in their favor in 1861, a concession which cost the Treasury 80 million roubles. The "mir" was thus freed from financial obligations to the State and the individual peasant could leave the commune unburdened by debt. By the new law, heads of families were allowed to withdraw from the commune and claim as personal property the land which they had been using as members of the "mir." As this often consisted of scattered parcels, a special clause provided for the exchange of these parcels against a single plot.
The whole change-over was to be achieved by a) gradually abolishing the "mir"; b) granting title deeds to heads of families only and debarring other members of the "mir" from the right of claiming communally owned land. This restriction included members who habitually earned their livelihood outside the commune, e.g., workers in towns, factories, etc., as they constituted a permanent threat of further parcellation; c) the creation of small properties of a single tenant, as a means of putting an end to the depressing system of splintered holdings and an incentive to improvement.
Stolypin's reform, by creating a new type of holding, brought about a radical change in the question of housing. Farmhouses, standing on their own land, the private property of individual owners, now began to replace the customary large villages, saving time and labor, and reducing the danger of village fires. This new type of dwelling became increasingly popular, especially in the southwest and the middle reaches of the Volga, and the changed appearance of the countryside over a period of a few years was astounding.
The immediate result of these changes was the dawn of a new era in agriculture. By January 1, 1915, only nine years after the promulgation of the law, 3,027,129 peasants, heads of families, had left the "mir" and held 67,132,500 acres individually owned. (An area larger than half of France.) By
January 1, 1916, their number had risen to 5,793,540. The popularity of the reform may be gauged by increasingly frequent instances of whole communes voluntarily disbanding in order to avail themselves of the benefits derived from the new system.
It is obvious that an agrarian reform of such magnitude demanded an immense amount of complicated work and organization which was entrusted to Special District Committees; 12,000 agents and surveyors were employed at a cost to the Treasury of over 100 million roubles. The staunchest supporters of the reform would have recoiled in dismay, appalled at the expenditure, if the government had not assumed responsibility for all the charges involved.
A general improvement in the level of agriculture followed the development of the system. Having created a new type of owner, the government came to his financial assistance. In 1913 grants amounted to 37 million roubles, of which 25 million were paid by the central administration and 12 million by the Zemstvo (local administration). The handful of agricultural instructors of 1900 grew into an army 4,581 strong, engaged in teaching and demonstrating improved methods of cultivation.
The number of students in agricultural colleges rose from 9,300 in 1907 to 18,000 in 1913. An average of 2,000 graduated annually and over 300,000 farmers attended special courses in practical agriculture.
Sponsored by the government, model farms were organized in every province; large depots of modern agricultural machinery and tools were opened; cattle breeding was improved. On the eve of the First World War a fundamental change in the general aspect of Russian Agriculture was in full process of development: a new class of small landowners, attached to the soil and proud of their independence, had come into being; the soil of Russia had at last passed into the hands of the peasants who had coveted it for centuries.
This new sense of responsibility among the peasants brought home the fact that their future wellbeing, still threatened by
72 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
rural overpopulation, henceforth depended solely on their own efforts and that improved methods of husbandry and increased yields could allay this threat.
Stolypin's reform pursued a double aim: on the one hand, increased agricultural production and a consequent improvement in the country's economy; on the other, the creation of a small peasant bourgeoisie as a solid foundation for the social framework of Russia. It is not surprising that our revolutionaries and their fellow-travellers, the left-wing politicians, should have tried by every means, from propaganda to bombs, to disrupt and handicap this magnificent act of statesmanship, until they finally succeeded in shooting its author to death. The inscription on Stolypin's statue in Kiev, where he was assassinated, and which was taken from one of his speeches, is a tribute to his work and to his whole life: "You desire great upheavals; we, a great Russia." If the aims toward which his policy was directed had been achieved, we should have been spared much bloodshed and even, perhaps, the Revolution. Another decade of untrammeled peace and security would have consolidated the reform of 1906 and finally solved the agrarian problem. But fate willed otherwise. When war broke out in 1914 only 15-20% of the whole program of reorganization had been completed.
4. Not the least among the measures taken by the government to develop agriculture was the extension of rural credit.
After the emancipation of the serfs, rural credit, mainly secured by agricultural produce, was obtainable from the State Bank and later from the Peasants' Bank and a few other banking enterprises. In 1895 "The People's (Petty or Mutual) Credit" was first instituted and at once became popular with the peasants, while the reform of 1906 further stressed the necessity for extending the existing credit machinery in order to meet an ever growing demand.
On January 1, 1903, the State Bank's agricultural loans amounted to 46,476,000 roubles; three years later they had risen to 128,244,000 roubles. Other operations of the Bank,
connected with agriculture, between 1903 and 1913 rose from 15,118,000 roubles to 58,280,000, of which 45,077,000 roubles represented loans to institutions dealing with rural credit and 13,203,000 roubles, loans in the proper sense.
The State Bank was quick to recognize the great advantage offered by grain elevators, (a) In 1912 it was decided within the next four years to build in the East and Southeast of European Russia 85 elevators with a total capacity of 65,600,000 poods.(b) After their completion another 77, of 62,750,000 poods capacity, were to follow in other regions of Russia and subsequently a similar network was to be extended to Siberia. In the opinion of the government the existing storage capacity of 45,000,000 poods was inadequate, and, in its desire to come to the assistance of the peasants, the program was given energetic support. The old elevators were condemned as inefficient, too small and not readily accessible to the small farmer. The new type built by the State Bank was ultra modern and ranked with the finest installations on the continent. Grain was not only stored in these elevators, it was cleaned and classified and the owner was given facilities for obtaining a loan on his produce, or selling it on commission. A further concession was made to the small producer: the minimum amount of grain accepted for storage was set at approximately 25 poods, i.e., two-fifths of a ton.
Fifteen State Bank elevators were completed and in operation by January 1, 1914, and 46 were in process of construction. Owing to technical difficulties arising from the war it was not possible to carry out the original program, though by 1916 the number of fully completed elevators had risen to 40, with a total capacity of 27,700,000 poods, and 27 others were being built.
(a) In Russia, as in America, the term "elevator" is applied to a general
storehouse and elevator specially equipped for the preservation of grain in
(b) 1 pood equals 40 lbs. 61 poods equal 1 ton.
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Operations of Elevators Belonging to the State Bank
Turnover in thou-
sands of poods
These figures, though relating to the war years, testify to the energy with which the original program was being carried out by the State Bank and permit one to appreciate the results that might have been obtained under normal conditions.
A new law of June 7, 1904, was passed to complete and amend the 1895 regulations governing "Petty Credit." "People's Banks of Mutual Credit" were founded by the State with the participation of the Zemstvos for handling and extending rural credit operations, expressed by the following figures:
Number of Banks
Jan. 1, 1911
It will be seen that between January 1, 1905, and July 1, 1914, i.e., in nine and a half years the number of banks was trebled; membership increased over five times and the volume of turnover, nearly ten times.
The figures above relate to the operations of the "Mutual Credit Banks" only, controlled by specially appointed agents called "Mutual Credit Inspectors," whose duty it was to popularize the system of mutual credit by conferences and lectures to the peasants and to explain to them all the advantages of the system. Large scale operations, connected with the disposal of crops, etc., of the State Bank, the Peasants' Bank and other banking institutions are not included.
This ends the summary of the measures adopted by the Czarist government to develop and increase agricultural production and improve the standard of living and general well-being and prosperity of the "Mujik."
An era of continued and increased expansion dawned for Russian agriculture in all its aspects, as a result of the measures enumerated. Between 1869 and 1914 the yield of the peasant, always inferior to that of the large estate owner, rose steadily from just over 29 poods per diessiatine to 38 poods in 1899, and to 41 poods at the outbreak of the war. The manufacture in Russia of agricultural machinery increased fourfold from 1904 to 1914, importation from abroad continued to mount and, in 1913, the turnover of agricultural machinery, implements, etc., was valued at 140 million roubles. The manufacture of artificial fertilizers rose from 13 to 32 million poods between 1907 and 1913 and imports of fertilizer from 10 to 30 million poods.
Agricultural societies, numbering 447 in 1902, increased to 2,967 in 1909 and 4,685 at the end of 1913. A year later there were also 2,023 other agricultural associations mainly concerned with marketing, the purchase of machinery and the creation of rural industries. In 1909 there were only 106 such associations.
The same trend was manifest in other branches connected with agriculture. The number of credit associations rose from 1,680 in 1905 to 8,000 in 1913. The most striking fact was, however, the extraordinary increase in the number of agricultural cooperative societies, from 2,000 in 1902 to 22,000 in 1912, of which 4,200 were founded in 1911.
The following table illustrates the expansion of agricultural production in relation to cereals. The first two columns in the following table give the yearly average for 1898-1902 and 1908-1912. The figures for 1913, the last year of normal production, are given in column three.
CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
Production of Grain in Russia (in millions of Poods)
1913 increase in
Totals 3,301.1 4,349.1 5,414.9 2,183.8 64.8
Nothing comparable has ever been achieved by any country in Europe and I would further stress that the remarkable expansion of our agriculture was based on a national effort without help of imported foreign labor, as in America, Canada and the Argentine. It enabled the government to meet the needs of an increasing population, provide more and better food for the prospering peasant, increase our foreign trade and settle our foreign commitments by the export of grain.
Exports of Russian Grain (in millions of Poods)
Rye Wheat Barley Oats
Other cereals Totals
Value of above (in millions of Roubles)
94.4 1898-1902 80.0 133.0 83.2 55.4 46.4
+ 70.1 52.7
+ 156.3 188.3
+ 82.9 178.6
+ 249.8 62.7
Thus, thanks to an increase in exports and a slight rise in world prices, the sale of Russian grain on foreign markets in 1913 brought in practically double the amount as compared with the previous decade. (a)
In 1913, 12% of the Russian harvest was exported. At the beginning of the century home consumption amounted to 2,833.1 million poods as against 4,767.1 million poods just before the war, an increase of 1,934.0 million poods, or 67%. During the same period the population had grown from 135.2 million to 174.5 million, an increase of 27.9%. A comparison between these two figures, 67% (home consumption) tod 27.9% (increase in population) is in itself a striking proof of the improved standard of living of the broad masses.
Let us now compare Russian and world production. (The figures are taken from the Bulletin of the International Institute of Agriculture in Rome for November 1914.)
World Production of Grain in 1913 (in millions of poods)
Between 1909 and 1913 Russian production of these four main cereals was 28% greater than the combined production of the Argentine, Canada and the United States and her exports of cereals exceeded the corresponding exports of the Argentine by 177%, of Canada by 211% and of the U.S.A. by 366%.
These comparative figures would appear to dispense with the need for any further commentary but for a striking fact
(a) Attention is drawn to the change in the amounts of various types of grain caused by an increase or drop in demand. Rye, for instance, could no longer compete with wheat, which sold at a better price, greatly to the advantage of our national economy. For further details on this subject see my article in "Revue Pohtique et Parlementaire," Paris, January 10, 1931.
78 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
which, though well known, is not fully appreciated: since the fall of Czarism enormous regions of the USSR, known but recently as "Russia," have been struck by recurrent famines, a damning fact in a country where the expansion of agricultural production was proceeding at the astounding rate we have just shown.
Russia led the world in the production of potatoes and animal fodder. Vast quantities of vegetables and fruit were also grown, while the Crimea, the Caucasus and Central Asia specialized in grapes and produced excellent wines and liqueurs.
We occupied third place among the tobacco growing countries, coming after the United States and British India. Because of the varied climatic conditions in our tobacco-growing regions we were able to grow different kinds of tobacco and thus meet the demands of markets catering to different tastes. Tobacco from the Caucasus went to make the type of cigarette known as "Russian," while Crimean tobacco was exported to Egypt, amounting to 18.3% of the total Egyptian imports and was used in the manufacture of the famous Egyptian cigarettes.
Plants used as raw material in many branches of industry were also extensively grown in Russia. In the chapter on Industry we shall examine the production of beet, flax and hemp. Cotton, introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture, merits special attention, however, because of the striking success obtained in its cultivation.
The climate of European Russia is unsuitable to cotton-growing, but in Central Asia, and particularly in the Turkistan conditions are exceptionally favorable. This region covers an area equal to former Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Holland and Denmark put together and its importance is immense.
In 1881, after the final defeat of the fierce Turkoman "Teke" tribe and the capture of its stronghold, "Geok-Tepe," Central Asia was at last pacified. Before the conquest of this enormous
region and the introduction of the Czarist administration it had been for centuries a hotbed of anarchy and tribal wars. No ordered economic life was possible under these conditions and cotton was not cultivated, though, according to local tradition, the art was known to the natives long before the Christian era having probably been imported from Persia and China. Lack of security and organizing ability, primitive methods of irrigation, the absence of transport facilities and shortage of capital, in fact the total absence of the benefits of civilization, rendered the cultivation of cotton quite impracticable from an industrial point of view.
The civilizing achievements of Czarist Russia in this part of the world in the space of 25 years were magnificent. Free labor replaced a regime of slavery. Order, justice and equity now reigned instead of the tyranny and despotism of proverbially cruel warring chieftains. The railway engine ousted the camel as a means of transportation. Schools, hospitals, roads, business houses and industrial undertakings sprang up over the whole region. Tashkent, until it was ruined by Red vandalism, was, in the words of Professor Ch. Sarolea, "a little Paris" in the heart of Asia.
The steps taken by the Imperial Government to promote cotton-growing in the Turkistan are worthy of the greatest praise. New brands of better quality were introduced and replaced those locally grown, unsuited to modern industry. Vast stretches of desert were reclaimed by irrigation and brought under cotton cultivation.
As we shall see in the next chapter, Russia became one of the biggest cotton-weaving countries in the world and, on the eve of war in 1914 the internal demand of her huge population was met by the output of her mills.
The figures below, showing the source of supply of raw cotton during the thirty years preceding the Revolution, illustrate the rapid expansion of the industry.
80 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
Cotton Used by Russian Industry (In millions of poods)
% of Russian
in relation to
The steady rise in output was not even retarded by the war, as we see that in 1915-16 78.9% was grown at home.
On the eve of the Revolution, thanks to the energy of the Government in developing the Turkistan, our textile industry no longer depended on imports from abroad. The Ministry of Agriculture had other irrigation projects in hand and a further 50% increase in production might confidently have been expected. There is little doubt that had the Revolution not upset the whole industrial organization of the country, Russia would shortly have become one of the great cotton exporting countries of the world.
The cultivation of cotton, so laboriously developed, was virtually destroyed by the Bolsheviks. After years of neglect it has again come to life at the price of untold suffering; grandiose schemes are on foot which will, some day, restore it to its former prosperity. Accompanied by waving of flags and beating of drums we are told of the brilliant results now being achieved; after forty years of power Moscow is only now restoring what had been so brilliantly built up by the "retrograde" Czarist regime.
Russia was in the forefront of cattle breeding countries and, like agriculture, the cattle trade was rapidly expanding.
Total of livestock 1895-1914 (In thousands of heads)
Increase in %
compared to 1895
Much of the transport in Russia was horsedrawn and all the work in the fields was done by horses until the tractor made its appearance shortly before the first World War. Horsebreeding was a national industry and in this respect Russia occupied a unique position. According to figures taken shortly before 1914 we owned more than half the total number of horses in the world 33 million out of 60 million. By 1914 the number had risen to 37.5 million, i.e., 21 horses per 100 head of population. (In France the corresponding figure was 8 to 100.) Some of the State and private studs were successful in introducing excellent new breeds, such as the "Orlov Trotters," the fastest in the world, while the export of Russian horses rose from 60,000 in 1895 to 107,000 in 1913.
The expansion of cattle breeding was particularly noticeable after the turn of the century when higher world prices for meat and improved methods of dairy farming made for an increase in the margin of profit. Sheep farming, though on the increase in Asia, was gradually being replaced by more profitable forms of agriculture in European Russia. Nevertheless, in 1913 Russia was still ahead of Australia with 90.3 million head as against 85 million. The Australians, however, specialized in Merino sheep while the Russians gave up the breeding of sheep for wool and concentrated on the common kinds suitable for slaughter. The total of common-breed sheep rose from 75.9 to 86.1 million between 1908 and 1914, whereas the total of Merino sheep dropped from 7 to 4.2 million. Because of an increase in demand for woolen yarn by our national mills, Russia
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also imported large quantities of wool from abroad.
The number of pigs rose by 16% between 1910 and 1914, while the proportionate rise between 1895 and 1910 was only 23.7%. The spread of dairy farming and more intensive methods of cultivation contributed to this increase, as pig fodder, in the form of fats and vegetable refuse, became increasingly available. Generally speaking the number of pigs in a country is in direct proportion to the wealth of the rural population, even more so than in the case of cattle, and this was particularly striking in Russia. Just before the 1914 War Russia had become the largest bristle exporting country and, in 1914, sold 127,000 poods of bristles abroad. Russian curing was steadily gaining in popularity and Russian bacon, which as late as 1907 was virtually unknown, was now cured and exported in large quantities. (95,746 poods worth 820,000 roubles in 1908 and 543,000 poods worth 4,200,000 roubles in 1912).
Below is a table, covering the period from the beginning of the century up to the war, showing the increases in exports of live animals; fresh, cured and smoked meat; butter and poultry produce.
(In thousands of Roubles)
& smoked meat
Fowl, dead & alive
These figures, resulting from the great changes that had taken place in the agrarian life of the country, leave no doubt as to the expansion of Russian agriculture and especially of our rural economy. All the benefits of the radical reforms, previously mentioned, were made manifest by an increase in all the many branches of her agriculture. Particularly was this the
case in those connected with farm industries. The latter, because of a greater yield in profits than the trade in grain, are of immense importance in any well-ordered agricultural economy.
All that has just been said relates only to foreign trade; the value of home consumption obviously by far exceeded the export figures quoted. The fact, however, that exports of farm produce were rising faster than those of grain was of great importance to our economy. Between 1898 and 1902 the ratio between the two was 21.2%, grain fetching 303.5 million roubles and farm produce, 64.6 million, while in 1913 it had altered to 37.5%, valued at 589.9 and 221.2 million roubles respectively.
In the years preceding the war large chilling plants were installed to facilitate exports and an increasing number of especially designed railway trucks allowed for a speedier movement of perishable produce without risk of damage. Space does not allow me to dwell any longer on this subject, but I should like to mention two examples directly connected with these facilities. In 1913, Russia contributed 50% to the total world trade in eggs, while Siberia supplied half the total of all the butter consumed inside the country and exported considerable quantities as well.
Exports of Siberian Butter
1894 400 poods
1895 5,000 -
1898 16,000 -
1900 1,050,000 -
1903 1,746,000 -
1906 2,974,000 -
1909 4,100,000 -
1913 5,550,000 -
These figures point to the great advances made by agriculture in Siberia and should be related to my previous remarks on the colonization of this immense region.
In these pages I have given a brief outline of the remarkable development of Russian agriculture during the last ten or
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fifteen years before the First World War. The completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the revolutionary agrarian reform of Stolypin, the stability and excellent state of our finances together contributed in bringing about an era of mounting national prosperity. The picture, as we see it today, is tragic. The landed democracy of which the great Stolypin had dreamt, has been destroyed. Collectivization is doomed to failure, even at the price of further restricting the liberty of the peasant and of turning a free man of the soil into a paid farm hand. Soviet agricultural policy, in the 40 years of its application, has moved from one disaster to another. Between 1927 and 1928 there were 20 million unemployed on the land and the enforced collectivization of 1929-30, accompanied by atrocities, unparalled even in the USSR, spelt the doom of Russian agriculture.(a) The "mujik" has been turned into a slave, while famine and reprisals cost the nation millions of lives. An objective assessment is almost impossible, but figures taken from the Soviet Press speak of the ruinous state of Russian livestock, of the meagre yields, the poor quality of agricultural work and, at best, of the abysmal apathy of the peasant. We are told of new coercive measures; of new directives; immense virgin regions are brought, theoretically, under cultivation; and yet the peasant remains an enslaved pauper and agricultural figures lag behind those of 40 years ago. A sorry picture indeed, if all that Mr. Khrushchev can do is to boast of having reached the 1913 level of production. It has taken the Soviet tractor forty years to dead heat with the Czarist horse and plow.
(a) See my articles in "Politique," April 1927, and "Revue Politique et Parlementaire," May and August, 1928.
(1) The statistical information contained in the chapters dealing with agri
culture, industry, trade, commerce and finance are taken from the following
official Russian publications: "Explanatory Notes on the Budget of the Em
pire," a series of documents commencing from the end of the 19th century,
part of which was annually devoted to economic questions giving a complete
survey of the activities of the various branches of national production; a
collection of "The Russian Financial Market," published by the Chancellery
of Credit of the Ministry of Finance; "Collection of Statistics on Russian
Agriculture"; and "Collection of Statistical Data on the Russian Mining and
Metallurgical Industries." Any other sources are specifically mentioned.
(2) Though only 9.55% of all the arable land was owned by the landlords
their contribution to the total harvest amounted to 11.24%, as the yield on
their estates was 20% higher than on that of the peasants. Moreover, the
landlords produced mainly for export and, though often called "absentees in
Western Europe," they were, nevertheless, always in the vanguard of any
development or improvement in the field of agriculture.
According to the figures of the Soviet Agricultural expert previously quoted, in 1913, i.e., the last year of normal production, estate owners disposed of 54.5% of their grain harvest and held 33% in reserve, their personal consumption being negligible. The peasants marketed 20.4% and consumed about one third of their crop. If we consider that before 1914 Russia exported 12% of her total grain harvest, the balance being absorbed by the internal market, we shall appreciate why the disappearance of large and medium estates alone suffices to explain the absence of any real exportable surplus after the Revolution, quite apart from the ruinous agricultural policy of the Soviets.
(3) The nomadic and turbulent peasants were bound to the land by the
Czars at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. This meas
ure, attributed to Boris Godunov, was taken both in the interests of the State
and the peasants themselves. At the time the Russian peasant depended to a
greater degree on the chase, fishing and petty rural industries than his Western
brother in the 10th century, and primitive agriculture retained a nomadic
character. The usual procedure was to clear a patch of forest by fire, work it
for as long as it produced, and then move on to some other place. Further
more, the peasant could consider himself lucky if he succeeded in staying in
one particular place for a year or two without being driven away. Chicherin,
the historian, tells us that in the 15th century even the Boyars seldom resided
in their domains as feudal lords, but "acquired their lands as nomads."
("Essays on Russian Law," Moscow, 1888.) This primitive and stagnant form
of agriculture was partly due to unfavorable climatic conditions, but the main
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cause lay in the annual raids on Moscovy of pillaging tribes. An idea of what Russia was like in those days is gained from the fact that in 1571, nearly a hundred years after the removal of the Mongol yoke, the Crimean Tartars captured and destroyed Moscow. (General Suhotin, "Russian Wars." St. Petersburg, 1898 p. 48) The State was compelled to wage a constant, stubborn and ruinous struggle in an endeavor to maintain conditions which would ensure the safety of its subjects, guarantee them the means of production and protect them from enslavement. The Tartars in the South and East, the Poles and Lithuanians in the West, the Teuton Knights and the Swedes in the Northwest, threatened the very existence of Moscovy. In order to save the country from annihilation and to obtain the means to continue the fight the Czars were driven into levying ever mounting taxes and found themselves forced into fostering agriculture in spite of the difficulties this entailed. The need for creating some sort of stable and permanent social structure was essential. There resulted a number of "Ukaz" (ordinances) which bound the peasant mass in Central Russia to the soil belonging to the State or owned by the nobles. The latter, likewise, saw their freedom curtailed for henceforth they were allowed to leave their estates only by permission of the government. The noble thus became the servant of the State, while the revenue from his lands constituted his pay. The Czar, in granting him a "pomestie" (estate), demanded in return the fulfilment of certain military and administrative duties. Henceforth, no nomadic peasants, no more wandering Boyars.
The social edifice which gradually took shape as a result of these measures, was made even more rigid by Peter the Great in the course of his titanic struggle against the Swedes, when the very fate of Russia was at stake.
Let me remind you that the war with Charles XII lasted for twenty-one years and engaged 1,700,000 Russian soldiers. One hundred and twenty thousand were killed and 500,000 invalided out of the army. The import of these figures is apparent if we consider that the population of Russia in those days (14 millions) was no larger than that of Sweden. All through the 18th century this figure remained unchanged, a fact that is not surprising considering the general state of the nation at that time.
In order to put the resources of the country to better use, Peter the Great ordered a general census of the rural population later known as the "First Revision." Serfdom was at its height; three quarters of the peasants were in bondage, the remaining quarter, called "State" or "Free" peasants, were settled on State or Crown lands and were independent of any individual landlords. Things gradually changed and by the middle of the 19th century only 50% of the peasants were serfs. A gradual change like this would hardly have been possible under feudalism as it had existed in the West. But, as I pointed out in Chapter II, feudalism was never established in Russia and our form of serfdom differed largely from that of Western Europe. In the West it was
generally brought about by conquest, while in Russia, as we have seen, its origin was quite different.
The measures introduced by Boris Godunov and his successors effectively turned Russia into an agricultural country, as witnessed by our exports at the time: cattle, meat, salt, skins, honey, game, horsehair, bristles, flax, hemp and a variety of goods in transit from the East. Grain, as an item of export, appeared only at a later date; for as long as our agriculture retained a nomadic character, no exportable surplus was ever available. In fact, in the country which later became the granary of Europe, corn was frequently in extremely short supply. Commenting on this state of affairs, a few historians have come to the conclusion that the attachment of the peasant to the soil was the one factor which saved Russia from economic disaster.
The economic status of the peasants and especially the serfs was a matter of the gravest concern to our sovereigns and the idea of emancipating them was conceived by the Czars in the second half of the 18th century, before the French Revolution. As we have seen, both nobles and peasants were attached to the land, but in 1762 freedom of movement was handed back to the nobility. In taking this step, Peter III relieved the nobles of their obligatory service; henceforth they were permitted to relinquish their duties at any time of the year and allowed to reside wherever they wished, either in Russia or abroad.
Should the liberation of the nobility not have been followed by an immediate emancipation of the serfs? The answer is "yes" but at that time it would have been premature. The government considered it right to free "the Men of Service" for, as the relative "Ukaz" points out, "their devotion to the Head of the State and zeal in execution of their duty were general and universal." This was undoubtedly fair. During the following reign of Catherine the Great, the nobility gave ample proof of its devotion to public duty and, as a result of historical circumstances this loyalty was particularly manifest at the end of the 18th century though it never failed all through the course of our history right up to the Revolution. The estates of our landed nobility were the birthplace of Russian culture, as we know it in the 19th century. The wandering Boyars of the 16th century effectively receded into history after the law of 1762.
The case of the peasants was altogether different. The monstrous rising, lead by Pugachev in 1763, brought into vivid light the anarchical instincts still prevalent in large masses of the peasantry and cut short any ideas of emancipation which the liberally minded Catherine, the friend of philosophers, might have cherished. (Pugachev was a brigand on a grand scale who burnt, pillaged and put to the sword the whole basin of the Volga. The plundering and murdering bands under his command were joined by groups of peasants of the regions through which he passed, who swelled his ranks and contributed to
88 CZARISM AND REVOLUTION
the astounding exploits and success of his "army." This uprising, called "Pugachevschina" is brilliantly depicted by Pushkin in "The Captain's Daughter.")
Paul I, Catherine's successor, took a lively interest in the serfs and in 1797 promulgated measures which considerably improved their lot. Officially, however, the subject of emancipation was taken up for the first time in 1801. Alexander I, that young idealist, filled with republican ideas, discussed it with his friends as soon as he was crowned. These young men, though captivated by the ideals of the French Revolution, were in closer touch with reality than the monarch and convinced him that the country was not ready for such a step. Even the Swiss LaHarpe, his former tutor, who, to a large degree was responsible for Alexander's republican leanings, strongly opposed the idea.
Alexander, perforce, had to give in, but nevertheless published a law encouraging emancipation of entire villages, and soon the number of serfs freed by their landlords ran into hundreds of thousands. (Referred to in "War and Peace" by Count L. Tolstoi.) In spite of this the Emperor never quite relinquished the idea of total emancipation and toward the end of his reign entrusted one of his close collaborators with the task of drawing up a draft law for putting it into effect. However, the privilege of planning this grand reform fell to Nicholas I, his brother, and the glory of final realization, to Alexander II.
All possible data relevant to complete emancipation was studiously examined and brought up to date by special committees in 1826, 1835, 1839, 1840, 1846, 1848 and 1849. The reasons which had brought about the attachment of the peasant to the soil and made it necessary to continue his bondage were no longer operative and now, as the century progressed, the ground was steadily being cleared for total and final emancipation. It is very probable that the serfs would have been freed by Nicholas I had the Polish rebellion and especially the events in Europe of 1848 not deterred him. In a speech on March 30, 1842, the Emperor declared that bondage in any form was an evil and added "anyone acquainted with the situation will realize that it cannot last."
(4) The condition of the serfs in the middle of the 19th century is well described in a conversation between a visiting Englishman and Pushkin, whose liberalism and breadth of mind are well known. "Speaking in a general way, the charges which the peasants have to bear are really not very heavy. The head tax, paid by the Commune, and the poll tax are not ruinous. As to the latter, once it has been fixed by the landlord, the peasant is at liberty to augment his income how and where he pleases. Do not forget that in Russia today some serfs travel as far away as two thousand versts. You call that serfdom. As far as I am concerned I do not know of any single people in
Europe who enjoys a similar liberty of movement ("prostor"). Look at the complaints of your English workers" (reference is probably made to the Chartists). "One might think we were dealing with the building of the pyramids by Pharaoh. Not a bit of it. We are concerned with the cloth of Mr. Smith and the needles of Mr. Thompson. . . . Have you ever seen anything freer, anything less servile than the attitude of our peasant toward you? Can you find a trace of servility in his appearance, in his speech, or his whole demeanor?"
Cases of harsh treatment of the serfs by some landlords are, of course, undeniable. But, taking everything into consideration, the customary comparison with slavery in the United States does not stand up to examination and, as Pushkin pointed out, the situation of the proletarian masses in Western Europe and England at the time was much inferior to that of our Russian serfs.
(5) The appearance of the "mir" and of the system of an annual change over of individually allotted land dates back to the time when the peasants were bound to the soil. For valuable information on the origin, patriarchal and administrative, of the "Mir" the reader is referred to A. Miller's excellent study, "Essai sur les Institutions Agraires de la Russie Centrale du 16-me au 18-me siecle." Marcel Giard. Paris, 1926.
The "Mir" was a rural community administered by the peasants themselves in all matters which concerned them economically. The duties of the police were the responsibility of elected authorities, and justice, in civil matters, was administered by elected tribunals. It is this typically Russian social organization that Professor Sarolea had in mind when he compared Russia to a vast federation of fifty thousand small peasant republics.
At one time the rural commune was encouraged by the State which derived considerable advantages from the collective responsibility of all the members of the commune for payment of taxes, while this mutual guarantee also acted as an efficient check on lawlessness. The functions of the "Mir" and the lines on which it operated were definitely laid down by Catherine the Great.
"Russia will, in the near future, become one of the leading industrial nations of the world. A number of factors point that way: the inexhaustible abundance of raw materials of every kind, mineral wealth, and extensive range of production and the astounding growth of the population." Thus wrote Mr. Ed-mond Thery, the eminent French economist, on his return from Russia in 1914, (a) while only a few years earlier the great scientists Mendeleev had made a similar prophecy, (b)
At the time Russian industry was relatively young and just entering upon a period of energetic expansion. Nevertheless, Russia no longer presented a country exclusively engaged in agriculture and mainly dependent on imports for the supply of the manufactured goods it required. To overstress Russian dependency on industrial imports would be wrong, as wrong as the view sometimes expressed by the West that Russian industry was largely created by foreigners and foreign capital, that industrial progress was obstructed by the Czarist government as a matter of considered policy, or even that Russians, as a whole, were temperamentally non-technical minded, in fact that in matters of industry and trade we were rather like a colony of the West.
The continued industrial growth of the USSR is in itself a striking proof of the nation's ability. It might lend color to the view that under the Czars, industrial development was neglected, were it not for irrefutable facts and figures which prove the contrary. Not much was generally known abroad
(a) Ed. Thery. "La Transformation Economique de la Russie." Paris, 1914.
(b) Source previously mentioned, p. 79.