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Stolypin reform

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Stolypin agrarian reforms were a series of changes to Imperial Russia's agricultural sector instituted during the tenure of Pyotr Stolypin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister). Most, if not all, of these reforms were based on recommendations from a committee known as the "Needs of Agricultural Industry Special Conference," which was held in Russia between 1901–1903 during the tenure of Minister of Finance Sergei Witte.

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  • Russia Before the 1917 Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special
  • Double Agents and Assassins of the Russian Revolution
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In 1914, when the war began, it was the world’s fourth largest economy, and it covered 15% of the world’s landmass. It had what seemed like an endless supply of men and they patriotically went to war in support of their leader. And yet three years later, that empire was in tatters and wracked by revolution. I’m talking, of course, about Russia. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War Special episode about Russia and the First World War. Russia had been ruled for two decades by Tsar Nicholas II when the war began. He had ascended to the throne in 1894 at the age of 26 upon his father’s death. That same year the zemstvos, a collection of peasants and workers that made up local governments that had been instituted by Nicholas’ grandfather Alexander II, brought a proposal to Nicholas for adopting a European style constitutional monarchy, and socio-economic and civil rights reforms for the peasantry. That group, mainly subsistence farmers, made up 82% of the population. Nicholas denounced the idea as “senseless dreams”; he would rule by autocracy. Now, Alexander II had made sweeping reforms decades earlier after the Russian loss in the Crimean War. He modernized his empire’s military-industrial complex, he expanded the scope of the railways and communications, but most importantly he modernized Russia’s military personnel, which had been mainly serfs. Seeing the defeat of the Russian serf army by the free British and French, he enacted the Emancipation Reform of 1861, which effectively abolished serfdom in the empire over the course of a few years. Eventually, he was even planning constitutional reform through the proposed Loris-Melikov Constitution, whose contents were a little more modest than the name might suggest, but which would have made Russia a constitutional monarchy. On February 16th, 1881, the Executive Consultation, in which Alexander participated, unanimously approved the project, and on March 1st, Alexander told Loris-Melikov that the Council of Ministers would discuss it in four days. That same day Alexander was assassinated by an anarchist group and any progressive government or civil reforms died with him. Alexander III ascended to the throne, dismissed the project, and ruled as an absolute monarch. You can imagine that this stirred up a fair amount of civil unrest, but through sheer force of character and iron will, Alexander kept order in his empire. His reign was cut short in 1894 by kidney disease, and he had never taken the time to teach his son, now Tsar Nicholas II, how to be a proper monarch and maintain peace and order. Nicholas inherited an immense job, personally ruling the world’s second largest empire, and as time passed it became quite clear how ill-prepared he was for a job that, on many levels he didn’t even want, and thought was a burden. But he did it because he believed in Divine Right, that he and the Tsarina had been chosen to rule by God and had to do it, like it or not. He wanted to continue his father’s policies, but Russia was entering the modern age, and the political landscape was shifting beneath Nicholas’ feet, and his father’s policies would need a very strong ruler to carry them out, which Nicholas was not. Still, for the first ten years of his rule, Russia flourished. A lot of the credit for that goes to Finance Minister Sergei Witte and Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Stolypin. Russia became one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, expanding at 4% annually. Then came 1905. Russia suffered a surprising and humiliating defeat to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, which they considered a “secondary power”. Morale plummeted and you saw major economic stagnation. There was an unprecedented wave of worker strikes and demonstrations that targeted landlord, industry, and the government. The strikes and civil unrest led to the 1905 Russian Revolution and also a series of anti-Jewish pogroms. Now, the Russian military remained loyal to the Tsar during the revolution, so Nicholas was not removed from power but he was forced to sign the October Manifesto, which promised basic civil rights and created a Parliamentary body, the Duma. Nicholas hated this, though, and undermined it at every turn. He had actually wanted to create a sort of military dictatorship with Grand Duke Nikolai at the helm, but Nikolai threatened to shoot himself in the head if the Tsar didn’t sign the manifesto. From then until the First World War, Russia’s economy had something of a recovery, but the promised constitutional government never developed. Nicholas ceded none of his power, and would dissolve the Duma time and again, rendering it into a feckless entity cooperative with his own policy. This served to foment underground dissent and there was a series of assassinations of Tsarist officials, including the Governor-Generals of Moscow and Finland, and Stolypin himself in 1911. And then came the war. Nicholas called for all citizens to stand united against the Central Powers, and to the surprise of many, they did. The peasantry went to war with great patriotism and Nicholas, for maybe the first time in his reign, enjoyed great popularity. Okay, everybody thought that it would be a short war. People like economic journalist Norman Angell thought, “modern war had become unprofitable, and a drawn-out conflict had become impossible. Industrialized economies... were so bound together by trade... that a conflict of any duration would lead quickly to collapse, starvation, and revolution”. Russian financier I.S. Bliokh wrote that, it “was agrarian economies, such as Russia, with a large population of subsistence farmers and a cushion of net food exports, that would stand up best when global trade was disrupted and the industrialized economies fell down”. Both of those guys were very wrong. Backed by massive military-industrial complexes the war grew to a scale never before seen. It also turned out that the industrial economies were actually better suited for mobilizing national resources. I’m not going to talk about Russian involvement the war, since I cover all that in the regular episodes, but there were both great successes and great disasters. Nicholas made what can only be regarded as a serious error when he personally took command of the army in September 1915. This meant that any military failures in both the field or in supply rested on his shoulders. The nation’s economy could not handle the strain of the war, the unpopular Tsarina and even more unpopular Rasputin wielded great influence in Petrograd, and as the misery continued, and food shortages became endemic, strikes and demonstrations broke out on an almost daily basis, culminating in the February Revolution that saw Nicholas abdicate, abandoned even by his own armies that had saved him in 1905. Today I really wanted to look a bit at Russia before the war. Heading into the 20th century, Russia found itself racing to adapt to the modernization of the rest of the European powers. The economy expanded thanks to people like Witte and Stolypin, but progress was stifled by the inflexibility of the autocratic rule of Nicholas II. Crushing or dismissing all opposition, he and the larger part of the ruling class disregarded the public unrest coming from below. Ignoring the warnings and lessons of the 1905 Revolution, he failed to see how broken and outdated his system was, and that didn’t just affect the civilian population, but also the economy and the military. All of the Russian Empire’s woes were exposed in 1917 when the demoralized, exhausted, and angry public joined together and ended 304 years of Romanov rule.


Background to reforms

The reforms aimed to transform the traditional obshchina form of Russian agriculture, which bore some similarities to the open-field system of Britain. Serfs who had been liberated by the emancipation reform of 1861 lacked the financial ability to leave their new lands, as they owed money to the state for periods of up to 49 years.[1] Perceived drawbacks of the obshchina system included collective ownership, scattered land allotments based on family size, and a significant level of control by the family elder. Stolypin, as a staunch conservative, also sought to eliminate the commune system — known as the mir — and to reduce radicalism among the peasants, thus preventing further political unrest such as that which occurred during the Revolution of 1905. Stolypin believed that tying the peasants to their own private land-holdings would produce profit-minded and politically conservative farmers like those living in parts of western Europe.[2] Stolypin referred to his own programs as a "wager on the strong and sober".[3]

The reforms began with and introduced the unconditional right of individual landownership (Ukase of November 9, 1906). Stolypin's reforms abolished the obshchina system and replaced it with a capitalist-oriented form highlighting private ownership and consolidated modern farmsteads.

The multifaceted reforms introduced the following:

The state implemented the Stolypin agrarian reforms in a comprehensive campaign from 1906 through 1914. This system was not a command economy like that found in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but rather a continuation of the modified state capitalism program begun under Sergei Witte. Stolypin's program differed from Witte's reforms not in the rapid push — which was a characteristic also found in the Witte reforms — but in the fact that Stolypin's reforms were to the agricultural sector, including improvements to the rights of individuals on a broad level and had the backing of the police. These reforms laid the groundwork for a market-based agricultural system for Russian peasants.

The principal ministers involved in the implementation of the Stolypin agrarian reforms included Stolypin himself as Interior Minister and Prime Minister, Alexander Krivoshein as Agriculture and State Property Minister, and Vladimir Kokovtsov as Finance Minister and Stolypin's successor as Prime Minister.

The Soviet agrarian program in the 1920s reversed the Stolypin reforms.[citation needed]


As a result of the expansion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and other railroads east of the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, migration to Siberia increased. Thompson estimated that between 1890 and 1914 that over 10 million persons migrated freely from western Russia to areas east of the Urals.[4]

This was encouraged by the Trans-Siberian Railroad Committee, which was personally headed by Tsar Nicholas II. The Stolypin agrarian reforms included resettlement benefits for peasants who moved to Siberia. An emigration department was created in 1906 at the ministry of agriculture. It organized resettlement and assisted the settlers during their first years in the new settlements. The settlers received on average 16.5 hectares of land per man. The total area allocated was 21 million hectares. Migrants received a small state subsidy, exemption from some taxes, and advice from state agencies specifically developed to help with peasant resettlement.[5]

In part thanks to these initiatives, approximately 2.8 million of the 10 million migrants to Siberia relocated between 1908 and 1913. This increased the population of the regions east of the Urals by 2.5 times before the outbreak of World War I.

Cooperative initiatives

A number of new types of cooperative assistance were developed as part of the Stolypin agrarian reforms, including financial-credit cooperation, production cooperation, and consumer cooperation. Many elements of Stolypin's cooperation-assistance programs were later incorporated into the early agrarian programs of the Soviet Union, reflecting the lasting influence of Stolypin.


  1. ^ Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (2000). A History of Russia (6 ed.). p. 373.
  2. ^ Thompson, John M. (1996). A Vision Unfulfilled: Russia and the Soviet Union in the Twentieth Century. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company. pp. 83–85.
  3. ^ Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (2000). A History of Russia (sixth edition). p. 414.
  4. ^ Thompson, John M. (1996). A Vision Unfulfilled: Russia and the Soviet Union in the Twentieth Century. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company. pp. 83–85.
  5. ^ Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (2000). A History of Russia (sixth edition). p. 432.


  • Bartlett, Roger (ed.). Land Commune and Peasant Community in Russia: Communal Forms in Imperial and Early Soviet Society. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
  • Pallot, Judith. Land Reform in Russia, 1906–1917: Peasant Responses to Stolypin's Project of Rural Transformation. Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-820656-9
  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. A History of Russia. Sixth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-512179-1
  • Thompson, John M. A Vision Unfulfilled: Russia and the Soviet Union in the Twentieth Century. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1996. ISBN 0-669-28291-X

External links

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