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Genesis: Historical research

Trends and dynamics of modernization changes in the agrarian system of post-reform Russia

Omel'chenko Nikolai Alekseevich

Doctor of History

Head of the Department of State Management and Political Technologies at State University of Management

109542, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Ryazanskii Prospekt, 99

Other publications by this author

Kovalev Dmitrii Vladimirovich

Doctor of History

Professor at the State University of Humanities and Social Studies of the Department of National and Universal History and Municipal Administration

30 Zelenaya str., Kolomna, Moscow region, 140411, Russia

Kazarova Nina Akopovna

Doctor of History

Leading Researcher at the Research Institute of Public Policy and Management of Sectoral Economics, State University of Management

109542, Russia, Moscow, Ryazansky Prospekt, 99










Abstract: The subject of this article is the agrarian policy of Russia, conducted after the abolition of serfdom. Specifically, we are talking about the modernization of agriculture in Russia at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries. It is no secret that, despite the lingering remnants of feudal-serfdom relations, the peasant reform of 1861 gave a noticeable impetus not only to the development of agriculture, but also to the economic development of Russia as a whole for several decades. The object of the study is the analysis of the state of agriculture in Russia, the level of development of which largely determined the state of the economy as a whole. The authors place special emphasis on the comparison of the American and Prussian ways of developing the agrarian system, as well as on the analysis of P.A. Stolypin's policy. The article presents two ways of developing the agrarian system – the Prussian and the American. If the Prussian way was typical for Russian agriculture in the first two decades after 1861, the American way became a reality in the early twentieth century. The novelty of the conducted research lies in the fact that in modern historiography there is no consensus on the question of the correlation of types of agrarian evolution in Russia. In the "old", serf-like areas, of course, the "Prussian" way of development prevailed. The "American" way of developing capitalism in rural areas, or rather, its potential, has become a historical reality where the level of development of landed proprietorship was low or it was absent as such. Despite the fact that the reforms initiated by P. A. Stolypin were curtailed, the trace of Stolypin's evolution of peasant farming on capitalist principles turned out to be quite noticeable in the agrarian policy of some regions. So, in those provinces where the remnants of serfdom did not have a significant impact on the socio-economic development of the village, there was a lot of free land and there was an active process of colonization, the colonists created separate farms. Modernization was actively underway in these regions: the most developed, mature forms of capitalism in agriculture emerged – using large capital, mass wage labor and improved tools and machines. It is no coincidence that after 1917, bran and farmsteads often existed until complete collectivization.


agricultural industry, serfdom, agrarian reform, agricultural policy, modernization, the peasantry, peasant community, the American agricultural system, the Prussian agrarian system, Stolypin reform

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.


Introduction. In the process of implementing the peasant reform of 1861, the most painful costs fell to the poorest strata of the peasantry. The loss of 20% of the land, the increase in tithe payments and redemption payments, which sucked money out of peasant societies, had a severe impact on their economic situation. According to the law adopted on February 19, 1861, landowners in their estates were recognized as the right of ownership of all land, including peasant allotment. Nothing has changed in the life of the peasants. They continued to work out their duties on this land, only in a "free" status. Only a small part of the peasantry was able to redeem their allotments: in 1863-1872, the redemption price exceeded the market price of land by 25%, and after the end of the redemption operation, the value of allotment land was 2.4 times higher than the redemption price [2]. Peasants could receive a part of their allotted allotment without redemption, but these so-called "gift" allotments themselves decreased from year to year. As a result, peasants in the post-reform period had less land than before the reform.

The situation of the Russian peasantry was further worsened by the fact that the law forbade cutting off arable land, in connection with which the peasants were deprived of the land they needed (meadows, pastures, watering holes), without which it was impossible to maintain a full-fledged peasant economy, and were forced to rent these "cut off" lands from the landowner, which later became the basis of the labor system conducting a landowner's household. If, under serfdom, peasants used not only the pastures of landlords for free, but also forests, where they freely collected mushrooms, berries, and brushwood, now they had to buy special "tickets" from the landowner. In addition, peasant allotments could alternate with landowners' lands. This led to the fact that, having received a land allotment, the peasant did not become its rightful owner.

Despite the fact that the agrarian reform of 1861 retained remnants of the feudal formation, even in this form, this reform gave a noticeable impetus to the economic development of Russia for several decades. Although some historians talk about the crisis state of agriculture in Russia, according to S. A. Vasiliev, "there was no agrarian crisis in post-reform Russia, but on the contrary, the economy and agriculture developed quite successfully" [2]. So, by the end of the XIX century. Russia has become one of the leading grain powers in the world.

This reform, according to N. B. Postike, "ensured the transition to a new stage of economic development of Russian agriculture. Large-scale noble land ownership based on serf labor of peasants ceased to exist and brought to life the need to solve new generally significant issues" [9].

In the new conditions, landlords had to reorganize the ways of running their own farms. However, this reorganization was very slow, especially in the first post-reform years, when economic ties between peasant and landowner farms were not yet severed (peasants had to negotiate the terms of use of "segments", pay duties, for a certain fee, and most often on account of grain payments or for the right to lease segments continued to work for the landowner using his inventory, etc.). The lack of funds, equipment and experience also hindered the creation of capitalist farms. Due to the low productivity of economically disinterested workers, the labor-processing system for a long time could not compete with the capitalist forms of economic organization known in the West.

By the 1890s, when a significant number of Russian landowners went bankrupt (about 40% of the noble lands were mortgaged by the government, several thousand noble estates were sold for debts per year), to help the nobles by creating a special Noble bank to pledge land on favorable terms, the issues of setting up farms that had emerged from serfdom became acute peasants. The most important need in the new economic conditions seemed to the government to increase the general level of agronomic literacy of the peasant population [9], which, in general, retained primitive agricultural technology and the natural character of its agricultural production. But at that time, a small but very significant part of the enlightened landowners appeared in Russia for the reorganization of the agrarian system, to whom the successes of agronomy and the latest technical achievements in the agricultural sector of mechanical engineering opened up new opportunities. All these factors opened the way to the modernization of the agrarian system of the country, which should have led to the beginning of the development of capitalism in peasant agriculture. [5, 8]

Research materials. The term "modernization" is usually interpreted as "the transition from an agrarian society to an industrial one, which is complex and takes place in all spheres of society: the foundations of building a market system and industrialization are outlined in the economy; in the social sphere there is an increase in social mobility and urbanization; in politics, civil society and the rule of law are taking shape; the spiritual sphere It is characterized by the emergence of multiculturalism based on universal values" [10]. In relation to the agrarian system, modernization should be understood as "the improvement of production in agriculture, which is impossible without the use of innovations, which is a key factor in achieving success in competition in foreign agricultural markets" [11].

In modern Russian historiography, when studying agrarian relations in post-reform Russia, it is customary to distinguish two ways of developing capitalism.

The first way, the "Prussian", characteristic of Prussia and common east of the Elbe, implies "obtaining rent through leasing (short–term or long-term) land (arable land, forests, pastures), separately - agricultural equipment, including machinery and draft cattle (including harnesses to it)  both to rural communities, sub-tenants and artels, and to individual farmers on the terms of both earnings and cash payment" [3]. The second way, "American", involves "obtaining rent through the direct entrepreneurial activity of the owner of land property both in personal labor form and by exploiting the hired labor of agricultural workers, mainly engaged in management" [3].

The Prussian version of the development of the agrarian system in Russia took place in the first half of the XIX century, until the abolition of serfdom. The second option begins to form in the post-reform period. In the case of the organization of the economy according to this type, the peasant turns into a capitalist farmer. This path has found its most vivid expression in the United States of America, which is why it was called "American".

It is important to note that in modern historiography there is no consensus on the relationship of these types of agrarian evolution in Russia. In the "old", serf-like regions of the country, of course, the "Prussian" path of development prevailed. The "American" way of developing capitalism in rural areas, or rather, its potential, became a historical reality where the level of development of landowner land ownership was low or it was absent as such (Siberia, the North, the peripheral regions of the empire).

Aspects of development. The struggle of the peasantry and landlords for the realization of one or another path of agrarian evolution runs through the entire post-reform history of Russia. Landowner land ownership was the main obstacle to the development of the agricultural sector of the economy and largely determined the landlessness of millions of peasants. Historical practice has shown the futility of the conservative path of development, but due to the dominance of landowner land ownership and remnants in the Russian countryside, the farmer's way could not prevail.

In the post-reform period, new, progressive phenomena and remnants of the past are present in Russian agriculture, although it is gradually taking on a commercial, entrepreneurial character, overcoming the stagnation that formed in previous years.

An important factor is the constant expansion of acreage (in the chernozem provinces, in the east and south-east of the country). At the same time, in some regions (Northwest) these areas have been somewhat reduced. The structure of crops gradually changed (the share of grain crops decreased, the share of technical and fodder crops increased, etc.). Agrotechnical techniques also changed, which led to an increase in grain yields by the mid-1890s, which reached 4.9% [4].

Cattle breeding developed in the northern, northwestern and central non-Chernozem provinces (Vologda, St. Petersburg, Estonia, Livonia, Courland, Moscow, Yaroslavl, etc.). Pskov and Novgorod provinces became the centers of commercial flax production, and a number of Ukrainian and western provinces became sugar beet production centers. There were areas of viticulture, tobacco farming, etc. [4].

The specialization of individual regions of the country contributed to the establishment of strong economic ties between them, increased yields, livestock productivity and labor productivity. In 1877, the Central Statistical Committee conducted the first census of land ownership in European Russia: 150 million dessiatines belonged to the treasury, 93 million were privately owned, 131 million dessiatines belonged to peasant farms, 7 million dessiatines of land were specific (income from it went to the maintenance of the royal family). The average size of the allotment per capita in 1878 ranged from 2.9 to 5.1 tithes. If by the beginning of the reform in 1861, a significant part of the land was owned by the nobility, then after the reform, as we see, the situation changed dramatically [4].

By the end of the 19th century, most of the "marketable" bread was produced by the wealthy and middle peasantry. Only in the western regions of the country the leading role in the agricultural market belonged to the landlord economy.

Large landlords and well-to-do peasant farms used agricultural machines (harvesters, threshing machines) and mineral fertilizers. But most peasants did not have the opportunity to improve the farming system and tools. The land was still plowed with a plough or plow, a sickle or scythe was used for harvesting, threshed manually with flails, grain was cleaned of litter with a large sieve, and flour was ground on manual or small watermills [4].

The remnants of feudalism in the agrarian sector also consisted in the presence of large landowner land ownership and, as a result, the existence of a small-land or landless peasantry, which led to the preservation of archaic, serf-like methods of exploitation of peasants by landlords. The industrial backwardness of Russia in the post-reform period also hindered the development of agriculture. All this significantly hindered the growth of productive forces.

But in the last decade of the 19th century, agriculture was experiencing a significant upsurge. This was facilitated by the active colonization of Southern Ukraine, the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga region. At the very end of the 19th century, the colonization of Siberia intensified.

At the turn of the century, there was a significant increase in agricultural production. If in 1864-1866 the acreage under cereals and potatoes in the territory of 50 provinces of European Russia did not exceed 72.2 million dessiatines, then in 1885-1894. they have already reached 92.6 million tithes. This growth was ensured by plowing land in the chernozem zone, especially in the south of Ukraine, the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga [4].

So, progressive changes took place in the Russian agriculture of the post-reform period: machines and mineral fertilizers were more widely used, more complex crop rotations were introduced. The marketability of agriculture increased, and bread was supplied to the market in increasing quantities. Specialized branches of agriculture were even more closely connected with the market: commercial cattle breeding, distilling, flax growing, gardening, gardening, gardening.

But the abolition of serfdom did not compensate for all the unfavorable conditions for the development of the peasant economy in the post-reform period. Arrears were growing. For example, in the Kazan province in 1871-1875. they averaged 4% of annual payments, and a quarter of a century later – 418%. Peasants could regularly pay taxes, redemption debt and zemstvo fees only where non-agricultural crafts and third-party earnings existed. And in most provinces, the number of peasants' livestock decreased, and the proportion of horseless peasants increased [12].

The above facts of the development of agriculture in Russia led to the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the agrarian programs of Russian political parties outlined the prospect of the American way of developing the agrarian system. These parties insisted on the complete elimination of all landowner land ownership, which, from their point of view, is a source of economic contradictions and troubles in the country [3].

The signal of the importance of switching to the American path of development of the agricultural sector was the crop failure and mass famine in 1891-1892, as well as a sharp increase in land rents and depletion of the fertility of leased land due to backward agricultural technology, the ruin of the owners of landlords, the agrarian riots of 1902-1904 [3].

In our opinion, the agrarian reform of P. A. Stolypin can be considered an awareness by the ruling elite of the prospects of the farming method of the agrarian evolution of Russia. Objectively, it contributed to the transition of Russian agriculture to the American path of development of capitalism, while simultaneously solving the problems that had accumulated in the agricultural sector of the national economy, as well as the peasant question of Russia as a whole. Stolypin's goal was to create a rich peasantry imbued with the idea of property and therefore not in need of revolution. According to Stolypin's plan, this peasantry was to become a pillar of the government.

Stolypin's agrarian reform consisted of a number of consistently conducted and interrelated activities.  The main direction of the reforms was as follows: the destruction of the community and the development of private property, the creation of a peasant bank, the resettlement of peasants, the cooperative movement, and agricultural transformations.

The decree of November 9, 1906 introduced very important changes in the land ownership of peasants. All peasants received the right to leave the community, which in this case allocated land to the outgoing person in their own possession. The decree also provided privileges for well-to-do peasants in order to encourage them to leave the community. In particular, when leaving the community, "all lands belonging to their "permanent use" became the property of individual householders. This meant that people from the community also received surpluses in excess of the per capita norm. At the same time, if no redistricting was carried out in this community over the past 24 years, then the householder received the surplus for free, if redistricting was carried out, then he paid the community for the surplus at the redemption prices of 1861. Since prices have increased several times over 40 years, this was beneficial to wealthy immigrants [10].

The law of June 5, 1912 authorized the issuance of loans secured by any allotment land acquired by peasants. The development of various forms of credit – mortgage, land reclamation, agricultural, land management – contributed to the intensification of market relations in the village [1].

In general, the results of the Stolypin reform are characterized by rapid growth of agricultural production, an increase in the capacity of the domestic market, and an increase in exports of agricultural products. As a result, it was possible not only to bring agriculture out of the crisis, but also to turn it into the dominant economic development of Russia.

And at the same time, despite the positive developments, the problems of hunger and agricultural overpopulation have not been solved. The country continued to suffer from technical, economic and cultural backwardness. The growth rate of labor productivity in agriculture has been relatively slow. Economic growth did not occur on the basis of intensification of production, but due to an increase in the intensity of manual peasant labor. But during the period under review, socio-economic conditions were created for the transition to a new stage of agrarian transformations – the transformation of agriculture into a capital-intensive technologically progressive sector of the economy.

Conclusions. It is believed that Stolypin's agrarian transformations, which lasted only 8 years, were interrupted by a number of external circumstances, including Stolypin's death and the outbreak of the First World War. However, it was not the multiplicity of the period and not the death of the author of the reform, who was killed in 1911 by the hand of a terrorist in the Kiev theater, that caused the collapse of the entire enterprise. Many historians cite the resistance of the communal peasantry to the implementation of a new agrarian policy as the main reason. [6, 7]

But despite the fact that the reforms initiated by P. A. Stolypin were curtailed, the trace of Stolypin's evolution of peasant farming on capitalist principles, which became the most important factor in the development of post-reform Russia, turned out to be quite noticeable in the agrarian policy of some regions. So, in the northwestern provinces, the Moscow region, in the south of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, the Lower Volga, Siberia, and the Far East, i.e. in those provinces where remnants of serfdom did not have a significant impact on the socio-economic development of the village, there was a lot of free land and an active colonization process was underway, the colonists led as a private farm, separate farms and farms were created. In these regions, the modernization of the agrarian system was actively underway: a capitalist economy was being formed, the most developed, mature forms of capitalism in agriculture emerged – using large capital, mass wage labor and improved tools and machines. It is no coincidence that after the revolution of 1917, there were often cut-off and farmsteads, formed mainly as a result of land management of entire villages, existed up to complete collectivization.


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Review of the article "Trends and dynamics of modernization changes in the agrarian system of post-reform Russia" The subject of the study is indicated in the title of the article and explained in the text. The methodology of the study is based on the principles of objectivity, consistency and historicism. The work was prepared using historical-comparative, historical-chronological, problem-chronological, etc. methods. The study of the development of the agricultural sector of the economy, peasant and landlord economy of Russia after the abolition of serfdom occupies an important place in Russian historiography. Russia has long been an agrarian country with a predominance of the peasant population. What were the consequences of the abolition of serfdom for the peasantry and the development of the country's economy, how did the abolition of serfdom affect the situation of peasants, land relations, agricultural development, etc. The country's economy and many other issues. The researchers note that despite the fact that "the agrarian reform of 1861 retained remnants of the feudal formation, even in this form, this reform gave a noticeable impetus to the economic development of Russia for several decades" Studying the trends and dynamics of modernization changes in the agrarian system of Russia after the abolition of serfdom in the second half of the XIX – early XX century, studying the role of and the meanings of the Stolypin reform remain relevant in Russian historical science to this day. Scientific novelty is determined by the formulation of the topic and objectives of the study. Scientific novelty is also determined by the fact that the article attempts to show what trends were characteristic of modernization changes and what was the dynamics of these changes based on the work of the last three decades. Style, structure, content. The style of the article is scientific with descriptive elements, which makes the text easy to read and perceive. The structure of the work consists of the following sections: Introduction; Research materials; Aspects of development; Conclusion. The introduction reveals the relevance, goals and objectives of the study, showing how the reform affected the situation of the peasantry, shows the costs of reform and the preservation of "remnants of the feudal formation… This reform has given a noticeable impetus to Russia's economic development for several decades to come." In the section "Research materials", the author explains the term modernization, two ways of developing the agricultural sector: Prussian and American, writes that "the Prussian version of the development of the agrarian system in Russia took place in the first half of the XIX century, up to the abolition of serfdom," and the American "begins to form in the post-reform period" and notes that that in modern historiography "there is no consensus on the relationship of these types of agrarian evolution in Russia." The first way prevailed in those regions where serfdom was widespread, while the second way "the development of capitalism in rural areas, more precisely, its potential, became a historical reality where the level of development of landed proprietorship was low or it was absent as such (Siberia, the North, the peripheral regions of the empire)." The section "Aspects of development" shows what changes were noted in the agricultural sector: the structure of crops changed (there was a decrease in the share of cereals and an increase in the share of technical and feed crops, improved agrotechnical techniques, regional specialization, etc., etc. The "Stolypin agrarian reform", the goals and objectives of this reform were considered. At the end of the article, objective conclusions on the research topic are presented. The text of the article is logically structured and consistently presented. The bibliography of the work consists of 12 sources (mainly works of the last three decades devoted to the research topic and related topics). Among them are fundamental works by A.Ya. Avrekh devoted to Stolypin's reform (1991), B.N., Mironov on the social history of Russia (2000), etc. Appeal to opponents. The appeal to the opponents is presented at the level of the information collected during the work on the topic of the article, the analysis carried out and the bibliography of the article. Conclusions, the interest of the readership. The work is written on a topical topic and will be of interest to readers of the Genesis: Historical Research magazine.
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