Skip to main content Accesibility Help

The Concept of the Stolypin Land Reform

  • George L. Yaney

The Stolypin Land Reform was a series of actions taken by the Russian Imperial government during the years 1905-17 to cope with the social and economic problems of the European Russian peasants. The basic part of any analysis of the Reform, therefore, should be a description of these actions as a coherent historical development in themselves. This essay presents such a description. The discussion is divided into four topics: general interpretation, the problems the Reform had to cope with, the general outline of its evolution, and the role of force in its execution. Related topics, such as the historical forces or events which produced the Reform, its results, or its significance in larger developments, are mentioned only incidentally.

Hide All

1 Stolypin's name is used here only as a concession to usage. His views before 1906 were generally in harmony with those of the Reform's authors (see, e.g., his note to Nicholas II of late 1904 in () XVII, 85), but the Reform itself was actually enacted by other men—chiefly S. Iu. Witte, A. V. Krivoshein, and V. I. Gurko—before Stolypin ever came to St. Petersburg. The only decree that came out after Stolypin became president of the Council of Ministers was that of November 9, 1906, but Gurko had actually drafted this in the early part of the year. Its enactment had been postponed only out of regard for the First Duma, which met from April to June. See the introduction to () (Moscow, 1924), pp. 18-19. Stolypin was a great statesman, and his time of office (1906-11) does coincide with that of the Reform's development, but even the actual carrying out of the Reform was not so much his work as it was that of Krivoshein, his minister of agriculture.

2 The Reform extended to all of European Russia except the three Baltic gubernias and Congress Poland. It affected only settled people within this area who derived their support from agriculture, including a number of non-Russians, such as the Moldavians and Germans near the Black Sea.

3 The most important scholarly works dealing with the Reform are C. M.,(), op. cit.; W. D. Preyer, Die russische Agrarreform (Jena, 1914); K. A. Wieth-Knudsen, Bauernfragen und Agrarreform in Russland (Munich, 1913); C. von Dietze, Stolypinische Agrarreform und Feldgemeinschaft (Leipzig, 1920); and George Pavlovsky, Agricultural Russia on the Eve of the Revolution (London, 1930). Addendum in proof: A new edition of Dubrovsky's work has been published under the title () (Moscow, 1963).

4 The texts of the decrees are in () (St. Petersburg, 1907). That of November 3, 1905, is on pp. 259-60, that of March 4, 1906, on pp. 38-41, and that of November 9, 1906, on pp. 203-6. The November 3, 1905, decree was important to the Reform because it eliminated the peasants’ redemption debts as of January 1, 1907, thus removing the only legal obstacle that prevented them from acquiring their shares of the village land as private property. This decree represents the first important step in the Reform, whether its enactors were aware of it or not. It made necessary the November 9, 1906, decree, which established procedures enabling the peasants actually to secure their land as their own.

5 The lowest administrative level of the Reform organization was the uezd land settlement commission. The uezd was an administrative area with an average population in 1900 of about two hundred thousand. There were about five hundred uezds in the area affected by the Reform. The next highest level was the gubernia. The Reform organization extended to forty-nine of these by 1914—just about all of European Russia. Each gubernia had a land settlement commission which supervised the uezd commissions under its jurisdiction. Directly over the gubernias was the central government itself.

6 The members of the Committee represented the State Control and the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, Internal Affairs, Justice, and the Imperial Court. The actual administration of the Reform was under the minister of agriculture. (The government organization which for the sake of simplicity is called throughout this essay the Ministry of Agriculture was officially named as follows: 1837-94, Ministry of the State Domains; 1894- 1905, Ministry of Agriculture and the State Domains; 1905-15, Chief Administration of Land Settlement and Agriculture; and 1915-17, Ministry of Agriculture.)

7 This was the decree of March 4, 1906. Gurko was associated with Krivoshein when he was drafting this decree, and he may have had something to do with it (see BeceaOBCKHH, op. cit., pp. 102-5). The only thing that makes his direct involvement doubtful is that his memoirs fail to mention any work on this decree in an otherwise rather detailed account. See V. I. Gurko, Features and Figures of the Past (Stanford, 1913).

8 (), op. cit., p. 109.

9 The law of May 29, 1911, gave legal definition to what the Reform organization was doing and attempted to redefine land ownership to allow for the Reform's impact. This law did not, however, make the Reform any more compulsory than it had been. See A. A. () (St. Petersburg, 1912), for an annotated edition of this law.

10 E.g., () (St. Petersburg, 1912), p. xv.

11 See his speech of March, 1910, in the State Council in () (Moscow, 1911), pp. 112-15.

12 It is always hard to judge just what Witte's policy really was at any given time. His statements were often simply a means to improve his position in the administration, and reflect no real conviction on his part. He did write a note to Nicholas on January 10, 1906, which expressed the belief that peasant violence would get worse in the following summer and that the government should hasten to take reform measures in order to gain the initiative (ibid., p. 71; also see Witte's note to N. N. Kutler of Jan. 13, 1906, ibid., pp. 80-81).

13 This concern did not always lead to intelligent policies and actions, but it was certainly sincere. In 1880 the salt tax was repealed, in 1881 the peasants’ redemption debt was lowered, and in 1882 the poll tax was abolished. In 1883 the Peasant Bank began operating. In 1889 the land captains were established. In 1894 the Ministry of Agriculture began to expand its operations among the peasants, and in 1895 the Peasant Bank was reformed so as to operate on a larger scale.

14 For descriptions of this investigation see the official summary by () (St. Petersburg, 1905), and the somewhat more negative account by () (St. Petersburg, 1905). Fifty-eight volumes of testimony before the local committees were published. From these, government scholars wrote twenty-three volumes of analysis and numerous special studies. The fifty-eight volumes are entitled () (St. Petersburg, 1903-4). The twentythree volumes are entitled () (St. Petersburg, 1903-4). Witte's own conclusions may be found in his () (St. Petersburg, 1904).

15 The Land Section projects are in () (St. Petersburg, 1903), especially pp. 374-87, 403-44.

16 See above, note 1.

17 P. N. Durnovo's note to Witte of January 24, 1906, in (), op. cit., pp. 86-88.

18 By this I mean that no significant number of peasants had shown any such desire. In Witte's investigations, only 160 local committees discussed the problems of peasant legal relations and land ownership. Of these, only ten favored radical reform of the village land arrangements (IIlHflJiOBCKifi, op. cit., pp. 25-26). The most encouraging indication concerning the peasants’ readiness for land reform came from the work of A. A. Kofod, who discovered about seven hundred villages in the western and northwestern gubernias which had consolidated their land into separate farms on their own before 1905. See his () (2 vols.; St. Petersburg, 1905).

19 () (Moscow, 1956), pp. 102-6.

20 No compilation of court decisions could be legally binding in any case, but they were not even compiled unofficially for purposes of information. In 1882 the Ministry of Justice had ordered that reports of all such cases be submitted by the local justices of the peace and government courts so that such a compilation could be made, but apparently the order was not carried out. See () (2 vols.; St. Petersburg, 1906), II, 301-3

21 This was why K. P. Pobedonostsev thought that the individual official's conscience was a better basis for government than statutory law. See his Reflections of a Russian Statesman (London, 1898), p . 89.

22 Zemskie nachal'niki—actually this would be better translated as “rural commissioners.” They were salaried central government agents who were made virtually absolute rulers over the peasants in their districts (uchastki). Each land captain held executive and judicial authority over about forty thousand peasants and was held responsible by the government for their good order. The land captains have been generally regarded as the agents of reaction. Whether or not this was true, they did accumulate considerable experience in dealing with the peasants by 1906, and this proved to be a factor in the Stolypin Reform's success. See A. A. Ko$Ofti, PyccKoe 3eMJieycmpoucmeo (St. Petersburg, 1914), p. 52.

23 A. H. HavMOBi, Is yV/Mrbeiuum eocnoMunauiu, 1868-1917 (2 vols.; New York, 1954); KncceffB- 3aropaHCKi5, “Les Memoires du General Kissel-Zagorianskii” (in Russian; unpublished manuscript in the Russian Archive at Columbia University) and B. Mafi6opoflOB'b, «Moa cjryst6a npH CTapoMt peacHMi H BO BpeMH CMVTH, 1904-1920” (unpublished manuscript in the Russian Archive). Kissel's account is particularly instructive, for he was schooled and experienced in law and government administration before he took up his job as land captain. See especially pp. 43-44 in his memoirs.

24 After 1899 the tax inspectors (podatnye inspektory) began to collect taxes directly from the peasants, b u t their presence had no effect on the development of legal relations between peasant and government.

25 Law of May 5, 1903, in EsetbcmiH SeMCKaio OmdibJia, Jan., 1904, p . 31. This refers only to those police who were salaried employees of the central government. All police below these were elected from among the peasants. E3eibcmia SeMCKaio Omdma (hereafter referred to as H30) was the journal of the Land Section in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

26 0mv,erm no dibJionpou3eodcmey rocydapcmeeuHaw Coetbma sa cecciom 1905-1906 (St. Petersburg, 1906), p. 119.

27 See note 5.

28 Excerpts from the inspection reports were printed in various issues of H30-

29 n. H. nepmHH, 3eMejivnoe ycmpoucmeo dopeeoxwu/uonuou depeenu (Moscow, 1928), contains an exhaustive account of these complexities for the northwest, the central, and the southeast areas of European Russia.

30 This was strictly true only before 1893. The Law of June 8, 1893, limited the frequency of the redistributions and required that the land captains approve them.

31 Circular of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of December 9, 1906, in E30, Jan., 1907. p. 20. 32 IlepnraH, SeMejimoe ycmpoucmeo…, p. 191.

33 ibid., pp. 83-84.

34 Even the famous November 9 decree was intended primarily to facilitate land sales, according to the official statements that accompanied it (“Considerations of the Council of Ministers” concerning the decree, in CaBH^i, op. cit., pp. 207-16).

35 A number of leading officials went out to visit the newly established local commissions in the fall in 1906 with secret instructions not to emphasize land sales (see JIJGPOBCKHH, GmojiunuHCKan pefiopMa, pp. 61-62). Yet the official instructions continued to emphasize them. See, e.g., the instruction of September 19, 1906, in UpaeumeAtcmeennuu etbcmnuicb, Sept. 20, 1906, pp. 1-2. The government did, however, conduct a large-scale program to sell lands in Siberia to European Russian peasants who would migrate from their old villages.\

36 The sale of new lands to the peasants was closely connected with the government's initial land reform objectives, although this kind of land distribution had nothing to do with the needs of the land-poor peasantry. Stolypin and others wanted to sell land in separate, integral plots to the most able peasants in order to encourage them to break away from the villages. Presumably they were to serve as good examples to their more old-fashioned fellows. See Stolypin to Nicholas II, late 1904, Kpacmiu apxue, XVII, 85, and A. C. EpMOJiOB-b, Hawb seMeJihnuu eonpocb (St. Petersburg, 1906), pp. 131-37. In pursuance of this policy, land sales were arranged to give preference and easier terms not only to the needy but also to those who bought consolidated plots and agreed to maintain them as such. See C6opuuKb npaevjfb u mcmpywiiiu no KpecmtnucKOMy Uo3eMexhnoMy Bamcy, 1883-1908 (St. Petersburg, 1908), p. 742. In practice, land was often sold quite apart from considerations of either poverty or consolidation simply on the basis of the buyer's wealth and credit. See IlepniHH, SeMeMuoe ycmpoucmeo…, pp. 104-7. 37 See note 36.

38 Gurko, Features…, pp. 157-58, 171-72, is the frankest statement of the opinion that the peasants should find their own way. Witte, who did much of the groundwork for the Reform in the years prior to its enactment, often implied that he conceived of peasant development in these terms. See his Sanucica…, pp. 33-54, and his speech in the State Council in March, 1910, in rep6e, op. cit., p. 113. Stolypin clearly believed in the progressive few, judging from his note to Nicholas of late 1904 (see above, note 36).

39 Krivoshein to Nicholas II, February, 1906, in (), op. cit., p. 109. This view was expressed in () (St. Petersburg, 1906), pp. 139-46. Judging from its popularity in government circles, Pestrzhetsky's book came as close as any document to typifying the government's point of view in 1905-6. It was first published during 1905 in serial form in the journal of the Ministry of Finance () then discussed extensively in the journal of the Ministry of Agriculture () hereafter referred to as ETJ), and finally published as the book cited above in January, 1906, by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Pestrzhetsky was a high official in the Land Section and a member of the commission that drafted the November 9, 1906, decree.

40 A village could do this with the consent of two-thirds of its household heads. See II. A. () (3 vols.; St. Petersburg, 1911), I, 332-33.

41 Sec. III, art. 3.

42 Sec. IV.

43 About 76,000 households petitioned for consolidation before January 1, 1908 (ETJ, Jan. 20, 1908, p. 47), and 205,000 more did so during the next year (ibid., May 24, 1909, p. 437). The practical accomplishments of the 1908 field period demonstrated that the petitioners were by and large sincere (ibid., Jan. 10, 1909, pp. 38-39).

44 E.g., II30, Jan., 1908, p . 21.

45 Only A. A. Kofod, who apparently had been working under Witte's aegis since about 1902, called, even before 1905, for the consolidation of whole villages at once. His book on this subject, (), attracted much favorable attention in the government in 1905-6. Kofod later became chief inspector of the Reform organization and may have wielded a great deal of influence even beyond what his official position allowed. He was, however, an exception in 1905. No other official went on record before late 1907 as favoring or anticipating the immediate development of village consolidation. Pestrzhetsky specifically warned against it (Onumb …, p. 141).

46 () (Petrograd, 1916), p. 20.

47 Figures for yearly legal transfers of land are in () (Petrograd, 1915), p. 21.

48 Land sales before 1908 were almost wholly to peasants who already lived in the uezd where the land was located. See IITJ, April 20, 1908, p. 312. From 1908 on, however, most of the land sold was in the lower Volga gubernias, and peasants had to move long distances to settle on it.

49 ()…, p. 75. The earliest report of this kind of opposition appeared in Poccin, March 25, 1907, p. 2. See also B. C. (), Howimie 3eMJteycmpoucmea (Petrograd, 1917), pp. 65-78, for a discussion of the legal difficulties.

50 According to the law of May 29, 1911, land consolidated out of a village's holdings by one of its individual members was still subject to redivision in the event of a village consolidation (ibid.).

51 A. A. () op. tit., I, 333.

52 () pp. 131-35. 53 In at least two uezds the peasants refused for some months to elect representatives to the local commissions of the Reform organization. See Poccin, April 10, 1907, p. 3.

54 See above, note 19.

55 For a description of the processes involved in carrying out land reform projects, see () pp. 18-39.

56 IIZT, April 26, 1909, pp. 349-50.

57 The central government's concern with the land captains’ success in land reform operations is reflected in the reports from inspectors who were checking on them; e.g., E30, Mar., 1908, pp. 185-91. The information concerning the gubernia bonuses and travel allowances comes from the late Dr. Vladimir Gsovski, who was himself a land captain from 1906 on.

58 The official members were as follows: uezd marshal of nobility (chairman), chairman of the uezd zemstvo board, permanent member, uezd “member of the regional court,” tax inspector, and one of the land captains. Of the elected members, three came from the uezd zemstvo assembly and three from the peasants in the uezd. Of the official members the first two were themselves elected from within the uezd area.

59 The incentive system discouraged the use of force insofar as the land captains and surveyors were not likely to embark on a two-year project without reasonable assurance that the peasants would support it. It encouraged the use of force insofar as these officials would be very hostile to opposition which arose among the peasants in the latter stages of preparation.

60 Art. 18, Law of May 29, 1911, in (), op. cit., p. 60.

61 The official members were as follows: governor (chairman), gubernia marshal of nobility, chairman of the gubernia zemstvo board, permanent member, head of the fiscal administration, head of the regional section of the Peasant Bank, a member of the regional court, and a permanent member from the gubernia board. The six elected members were all elected by the gubernia zemstvo assembly; three of them had to be peasants.

62 IIΓy, Jan. 6, 1908, pp. 2-4; ibid., Oct. 31, 1910, pp. 994-95. The conference first began to operate in 1908 but did not gain official status until 1910. The gubernia surveyor and the regional hydraulic engineer were in the conference but were not members of the commission. The governor and vice-governor were supposed to be members of the conference, but apparently they did not play active roles in it. 63 Village land settlement and personal land settlement were the two main varieties of individual land settlement (edinolichnoe zemleustroistvo), the category into which all consolidation of peasant land fell. Individual land settlement on the one hand and group land settlement on the other were the categories into which all the Reform's major programs of land reform fell.

64 Figures for yearly accomplishment in both group and individual land settlement may be found in ()…, p. 1.

65 E.g., Ministry of Agriculture circular of April 19, 1909, in ETJ, May 3, 1909, pp. 376-78.

66 () pp. 80-81.

67 () pp. 101-2.

68 S. M. Dubrowski, Die Bauernbewegung in der russischen Revolution, 1917 (Berlin, 1929), p. 31.

69 The term otrub originally meant a separate, integral plot, and therefore the khutor was actually only a special form of it. After 1906, however, the terms were used exclusively from one another to distinguish individual plots with farmhouses on them from individual plots without them.

70 () (Moscow, 1922), pp. 20-21.

71 E.g., G. T. Robinson, Rural Russia under the Old Regime (New York, 1932), p. 264; and () (Moscow, 1951).

72 The most complete published collection of reports of coercion in connection with the Reform may be found in,() pp. 63-70.

73 It seems to me that many of the cases which Dubrovsky cites serve to demonstrate this point. See ibid.

74 There were 3,228 incidents of large-scale peasant violence in 1905, 2,600 in 1906, 1,337 in 1907, 885 in 1908, 819 in 1909, 928 in 1910, 725 in 1911, 307 in 1912, and 128 in 1913. See Dubrowski, Bauernbewegung…, pp. 39, 53. The government, on its side, executed some two thousand people in 1905-6 under court-martial sentence and imprisoned and exiled many more in the ensuing years. Samuel Kucherov, Courts, Lawyers and Trials under the Last Three Tsars (New York, 1957), p. 206.

75 See, e.g., Owen, L. A., The Russian Peasant Movement, 1905-1917 (London, 1937), p. 141.

76 () pp. 35-37; and Dubrowski, Bauernbewegung..., pp. 112-13. Also see () (Moscow, 1926), p. 51. Chernyshev gives figures for the breakdown of consolidated farms in 1917, showing the highest incidence to have been in the lower Volga gubernias and in the area south and southwest of Moscow. Almost all the land that the Peasant Bank sold to peasants that was not near their own villages was in the lower Volga gubernias, chiefly Samara, Saratov, and Simbirsk. In the area south of Moscow, the consolidated farms bought with the aid of the Peasant Bank were not only separate from any village but also much larger than the average peasant allotment in the area. See ()…, pp. 104-7.

77 J. Maynard, The Russian Peasant and Other Studies (London, 1937), pp. 163-64; () …, p . 50.

78 () (Samara, 1927), pp. 116-17.

79 This achievement reflects the concept of proper government administration in an absolutist state set forth by () (6th ed., 2 vols.; St. Petersburg, 1909), II, 2-3. It also bears a close resemblance to Mikhail Speransky's schemes for bringing law to the Russian state. See his () (Moscow, 1961), pp. 56-62.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Slavic Review
  • ISSN: 0037-6779
  • EISSN: 2325-7784
  • URL: /core/journals/slavic-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed