The Peasant Commune and the Stolypin Reforms: Peasant Attitudes, 1906–14

  • David A. J. Macey


It has usually been argued that the Stolypin Reforms represented the old regime’s, and specifically the landed nobility’s, final attempt to save itself from revolutionary destruction.1 As such, the Reforms have been seen primarily as defending the sacred and holy right of private (that is, noble) property by extending that right to the peasantry. As one report filed by three members of the central administration who had returned from a preliminary trip inspecting the land-organisation commissions candidly noted, at least one of the ‘red threads’ guiding the government’s activity was that ‘a transfer of noble [kul’turnyi] land to the peasants on the same principles as 1861 would be equivalent to the destruction of the state’.2 As a consequence, when the Reforms were first adopted most commentators, whether of the Left or Right, tended to denounce them as an act of political coercion.3 This opposition continued throughout the Reforms’ implementation as critics pointed to the peasant disorders associated with the Reforms and the government’s use of ‘influence’, mandatory procedures, and even ‘force’ to implement them.4 In addition, critics cited Stolypin’s famous statement about a‘wager on the strong’ (which was intended primarily as propaganda to win legislative support for the Reforms) and claimed that the Reforms favoured rich peasants at the expense of the poor.5 Thus, it was widely concluded, and historians have tended to support this judgement, the Reforms were a failure, in large measure because the peasants themselves clearly opposed them.6 For many, the final proof of this thesis came with the resurgence of the commune during and after 1917, which, it is often argued, demonstrated the peasantry’s ultimate preference for the communal system of organisation and way of life.7


Local Official Land Reform Present Volume Family Division Peasant Community 
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    See A. V. Krivoshein’s confidential letter to the provincial governors of 2 March 1910 in TsGIA SSSR, f. 408, op. 1 (1910), d. 153, ll. 1–3. Cf. Ia. Ia. Litvinov’s 26 Aug. 1909 report in ibid., ll. 64–106, especially ll. 77–8; and Krivoshein’s 17 May 1911 speech to a conference on land-organisation, Izves-tiia zemskago otdela, 1911, no. 5, 220–2. Mandatory procedures could, of course, be invoked both in the interests of the individual peasant and the commune as a whole.Google Scholar
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    See Litvinov’s report of 26 August 1909 in TsGIA SSSR, f. 408, op. 1(1910), d. 153, l. 86. In addition to archival sources already cited see the accounts of peasant disorders linked to land reorganisation which tend to support this judgement in Shapkarin, Krest’ianskoe dvizhenie, passim.Google Scholar
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    Revision souls were those peasants or their direct descendants who had been recorded in the last census (revision) conducted in 1858, just prior to the Emancipation of the serfs in 1861.Google Scholar
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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1990

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  • David A. J. Macey

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