Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 11 out of 15

removed from discussion. Those who desired to discuss details were
invited individually to attend meetings of the Commission, where
they found one or two members ready to engage with them in a little
dialectical fencing. This, of course, did not give much
satisfaction. Indeed, the ironical tone in which the fencing was
too often conducted served to increase the existing irritation. It
was only too evident that the Commission had triumphed, and some of
the members could justly boast that they had drowned the deputies
in ink and buried them under reams of paper.

Believing, or at least professing to believe, that the Emperor was
being deceived in this matter by the Administration, several groups
of deputies presented petitions to his Majesty containing a
respectful protest against the manner in which they had been
treated. But by this act they simply laid themselves open to "the
most unkindest cut of all." Those who had signed the petitions
received a formal reprimand through the police.

This treatment of the deputies, and, above all, this gratuitous
insult, produced among the nobles a storm of indignation. They
felt that they had been entrapped. The Government had artfully
induced them to form projects for the emancipation of their serfs,
and now, after having been used as a cat's-paw in the work of their
own spoliation, they were being unceremoniously pushed aside as no
longer necessary. Those who had indulged in the hope of gaining
political rights felt the blow most keenly. A first gentle and
respectful attempt at remonstrance had been answered by a
dictatorial reprimand through the police! Instead of being called
to take an active part in home and foreign politics, they were
being treated as naughty schoolboys. In view of this insult all
differences of opinion were for the moment forgotten, and all
parties resolved to join in a vigorous protest against the
insolence and arbitrary conduct of the bureaucracy.

A convenient opportunity of making this protest in a legal way was
offered by the triennial Provincial Assemblies of the Noblesse
about to be held in several provinces. So at least it was thought,
but here again the Noblesse was checkmated by the Administration.

Before the opening of the Assemblies a circular was issued
excluding the Emancipation question from their deliberations. Some
Assemblies evaded this order, and succeeded in making a little
demonstration by submitting to his Majesty that the time had
arrived for other reforms, such as the separation of the
administrative and judicial powers, and the creation of local self-
government, public judicial procedure, and trial by jury.

All these reforms were voluntarily effected by the Emperor a few
years later, but the manner in which they were suggested seemed to
savour of insubordination, and was a flagrant infraction of the
principle that all initiative in public affairs should proceed from
the central Government. New measures of repression were
accordingly used. Some Marshals of Noblesse were reprimanded and
others deposed. Of the conspicuous leaders, two were exiled to
distant provinces and others placed under the supervision of the
police. Worst of all, the whole agitation strengthened the
Commission by convincing the Emperor that the majority of the
nobles were hostile to his benevolent plans.*

* This was a misinterpretation of the facts. Very many of those
who joined in the protest sincerely sympathised with the idea of
Emancipation, and were ready to be even more "liberal" than the

When the Commission had finished its labours, its proposals passed
to the two higher instances--the Committee for Peasant Affairs and
the Council of State--and in both of these the Emperor declared
plainly that he could allow no fundamental changes. From all the
members he demanded a complete forgetfulness of former differences
and a conscientious execution of his orders; "For you must
remember," he significantly added, "that in Russia laws are made by
the Autocratic Power." From an historical review of the question
he drew the conclusion that "the Autocratic Power created serfage,
and the Autocratic Power ought to abolish it." On March 3d
(February 19th, old style), 1861, the law was signed, and by that
act more than twenty millions of serfs were liberated.* A
Manifesto containing the fundamental principles of the law was at
once sent all over the country, and an order was given that it
should be read in all the churches.

* It is sometimes said that forty millions of serfs have been
emancipated. The statement is true, if we regard the State
peasants as serfs. They held, as I have already explained, an
intermediate position between serfage and freedom. The peculiar
administration under which they lived was partly abolished by
Imperial Orders of September 7th, 1859, and October 23d, 1861. In
1866 they were placed, as regards administration, on a level with
the emancipated serfs of the proprietors. As a general rule, they
received rather more land and had to pay somewhat lighter dues than
the emancipated serfs in the narrower sense of the term.

The three fundamental principles laid down by the law were:--

1. That the serfs should at once receive the civil rights of the
free rural classes, and that the authority of the proprietor should
be replaced by Communal self-government.

2. That the rural Communes should as far as possible retain the
land they actually held, and should in return pay to the proprietor
certain yearly dues in money or labour.

3. That the Government should by means of credit assist the
Communes to redeem these dues, or, in other words, to purchase the
lands ceded to them in usufruct.

With regard to the domestic serfs, it was enacted that they should
continue to serve their masters during two years, and that
thereafter they should be completely free, but they should have no
claim to a share of the land.

It might be reasonably supposed that the serfs received with
boundless gratitude and delight the Manifesto proclaiming these
principles. Here at last was the realisation of their long-
cherished hopes. Liberty was accorded to them; and not only
liberty, but a goodly portion of the soil--about half of all the
arable land possessed by the proprietors.

In reality the Manifesto created among the peasantry a feeling of
disappointment rather than delight. To understand this strange
fact we must endeavour to place ourselves at the peasant's point of

In the first place it must be remarked that all vague, rhetorical
phrases about free labour, human dignity, national progress, and
the like, which may readily produce among educated men a certain
amount of temporary enthusiasm, fall on the ears of the Russian
peasant like drops of rain on a granite rock. The fashionable
rhetoric of philosophical liberalism is as incomprehensible to him
as the flowery circumlocutionary style of an Oriental scribe would
be to a keen city merchant. The idea of liberty in the abstract
and the mention of rights which lie beyond the sphere of his
ordinary everyday life awaken no enthusiasm in his breast. And for
mere names he has a profound indifference. What matters it to him
that he is officially called, not a "serf," but a "free village-
inhabitant," if the change in official terminology is not
accompanied by some immediate material advantage? What he wants is
a house to live in, food to eat, and raiment wherewithal to be
clothed, and to gain these first necessaries of life with as little
labour as possible. He looked at the question exclusively from two
points of view--that of historical right and that of material
advantage; and from both of these the Emancipation Law seemed to
him very unsatisfactory.

On the subject of historical right the peasantry had their own
traditional conceptions, which were completely at variance with the
written law. According to the positive legislation the Communal
land formed part of the estate, and consequently belonged to the
proprietor; but according to the conceptions of the peasantry it
belonged to the Commune, and the right of the proprietor consisted
merely in that personal authority over the serfs which had been
conferred on him by the Tsar. The peasants could not, of course,
put these conceptions into a strict legal form, but they often
expressed them in their own homely laconic way by saying to their
master, "Mui vashi no zemlya nasha"--that is to say. "We are
yours, but the land is ours." And it must be admitted that this
view, though legally untenable, had a certain historical

* See preceding chapter.

In olden times the Noblesse had held their land by feudal tenure,
and were liable to be ejected as soon as they did not fulfil their
obligations to the State. These obligations had been long since
abolished, and the feudal tenure transformed into an unconditional
right of property, but the peasants clung to the old ideas in a way
that strikingly illustrates the vitality of deep-rooted popular
conceptions. In their minds the proprietors were merely temporary
occupants, who were allowed by the Tsar to exact labour and dues
from the serfs. What, then, was Emancipation? Certainly the
abolition of all obligatory labour and money dues, and perhaps the
complete ejectment of the proprietors. On this latter point there
was a difference of opinion. All assumed, as a matter of course,
that the Communal land would remain the property of the Commune,
but it was not so clear what would be done with the rest of the
estate. Some thought that it would be retained by the proprietor,
but very many believed that all the land would be given to the
Communes. In this way the Emancipation would be in accordance with
historical right and with the material advantage of the peasantry,
for whose exclusive benefit, it was assumed, the reform had been

Instead of this the peasants found that they were still to pay
dues, even for the Communal land which they regarded as
unquestionably their own. So at least said the expounders of the
law. But the thing was incredible. Either the proprietors must be
concealing or misinterpreting the law, or this was merely a
preparatory measure, which would be followed by the real
Emancipation. Thus were awakened among the peasantry a spirit of
mistrust and suspicion and a widespread belief that there would be
a second Imperial Manifesto, by which all the land would be divided
and all the dues abolished.

On the nobles the Manifesto made a very different impression. The
fact that they were to be entrusted with the putting of the law
into execution, and the flattering allusions made to the spirit of
generous self-sacrifice which they had exhibited, kindled amongst
them enthusiasm enough to make them forget for a time their just
grievances and their hostility towards the bureaucracy. They found
that the conditions on which the Emancipation was effected were by
no means so ruinous as they had anticipated; and the Emperor's
appeal to their generosity and patriotism made many of them throw
themselves with ardour into the important task confided to them.

Unfortunately they could not at once begin the work. The law had
been so hurried through the last stages that the preparations for
putting it into execution were by no means complete when the
Manifesto was published. The task of regulating the future
relations between the proprietors and the peasantry was entrusted
to local proprietors in each district, who were to be called
Arbiters of the Peace (Mirovuiye Posredniki); but three months
elapsed before these Arbiters could be appointed. During that time
there was no one to explain the law to the peasants and settle the
disputes between them and the proprietors; and the consequence of
this was that many cases of insubordination and disorder occurred.
The muzhik naturally imagined that, as soon as the Tsar said he was
free, he was no longer obliged to work for his old master--that all
obligatory labour ceased as soon as the Manifesto was read. In
vain the proprietor endeavoured to convince him that, in regard to
labour, the old relations must continue, as the law enjoined, until
a new arrangement had been made. To all explanations and
exhortations he turned a deaf ear, and to the efforts of the rural
police he too often opposed a dogged, passive resistance.

In many cases the simple appearance of the higher authorities
sufficed to restore order, for the presence of one of the Tsar's
servants convinced many that the order to work for the present as
formerly was not a mere invention of the proprietors. But not
infrequently the birch had to be applied. Indeed, I am inclined to
believe, from the numerous descriptions of this time which I
received from eye-witnesses, that rarely, if ever, had the serfs
seen and experienced so much flogging as during these first three
months after their liberation. Sometimes even the troops had to be
called out, and on three occasions they fired on the peasants with
ball cartridge. In the most serious case, where a young peasant
had set up for a prophet and declared that the Emancipation Law was
a forgery, fifty-one peasants were killed and seventy-seven were
more or less seriously wounded. In spite of these lamentable
incidents, there was nothing which even the most violent alarmist
could dignify with the name of an insurrection. Nowhere was there
anything that could be called organised resistance. Even in the
case above alluded to, the three thousand peasants on whom the
troops fired were entirely unarmed, made no attempt to resist, and
dispersed in the utmost haste as soon as they discovered that they
were being shot down. Had the military authorities shown a little
more judgment, tact, and patience, the history of the Emancipation
would not have been stained even with those three solitary cases of
unnecessary bloodshed.

This interregnum between the eras of serfage and liberty was
brought to an end by the appointment of the Arbiters of the Peace.
Their first duty was to explain the law, and to organise the new
peasant self-government. The lowest instance, or primary organ of
this self-government, the rural Commune, already existed, and at
once recovered much of its ancient vitality as soon as the
authority and interference of the proprietors were removed. The
second instance, the Volost--a territorial administrative unit
comprising several contiguous Communes--had to be created, for
nothing of the kind had previously existed on the estates of the
nobles. It had existed, however, for nearly a quarter of a century
among the peasants of the Domains, and it was therefore necessary
merely to copy an existing model.

As soon as all the Volosts in his district had been thus organised
the Arbiter had to undertake the much more arduous task of
regulating the agrarian relations between the proprietors and the
Communes--with the individual peasants, be it remembered, the
proprietors had no direct relations whatever. It had been enacted
by the law that the future agrarian relations between the two
parties should be left, as far as possible, to voluntary contract;
and accordingly each proprietor was invited to come to an agreement
with the Commune or Communes on his estate. On the ground of this
agreement a statute-charter (ustavnaya gramota) was prepared,
specifying the number of male serfs, the quantity of land actually
enjoyed by them, any proposed changes in this amount, the dues
proposed to be levied, and other details. If the Arbiter found
that the conditions were in accordance with the law and clearly
understood by the peasants, he confirmed the charter, and the
arrangement was complete. When the two parties could not come to
an agreement within a year, he prepared a charter according to his
own judgment, and presented it for confirmation to the higher

The dissolution of partnership, if it be allowable to use such a
term, between the proprietor and his serfs was sometimes very easy
and sometimes very difficult. On many estates the charter did
little more than legalise the existing arrangements, but in many
instances it was necessary to add to, or subtract from, the amount
of Communal land, and sometimes it was even necessary to remove the
village to another part of the estate. In all cases there were, of
course, conflicting interests and complicated questions, so that
the Arbiter had always abundance of difficult work. Besides this,
he had to act as mediator in those differences which naturally
arose during the transition period, when the authority of the
proprietor had been abolished but the separation of the two classes
had not yet been effected. The unlimited patriarchal authority
which had been formerly wielded by the proprietor or his steward
now passed with certain restriction into the hands of the Arbiter,
and these peacemakers had to spend a great part of their time in
driving about from one estate to another to put an end to alleged
cases of insubordination--some of which, it must be admitted,
existed only in the imagination of the proprietors.

At first the work of amicable settlement proceeded slowly. The
proprietors generally showed a conciliatory spirit, and some of
them generously proposed conditions much more favourable to the
peasants than the law demanded; but the peasants were filled with
vague suspicions, and feared to commit themselves by "putting pen
to paper." Even the highly respected proprietors, who imagined
that they possessed the unbounded confidence of the peasantry, were
suspected like the others, and their generous offers were regarded
as well-baited traps. Often I have heard old men, sometimes with
tears in their eyes, describe the distrust and ingratitude of the
muzhik at this time. Many peasants still believed that the
proprietors were hiding the real Emancipation Law, and imaginative
or ill-intentioned persons fostered this belief by professing to
know what the real law contained. The most absurd rumours were
afloat, and whole villages sometimes acted upon them.

In the province of Moscow, for instance, one Commune sent a
deputation to the proprietor to inform him that, as he had always
been a good master, the Mir would allow him to retain his house and
garden during his lifetime. In another locality it was rumoured
that the Tsar sat daily on a golden throne in the Crimea, receiving
all peasants who came to him, and giving them as much land as they
desired; and in order to take advantage of the Imperial liberality
a large body of peasants set out for the place indicated, and had
to he stopped by the military.

As an illustration of the illusions in which the peasantry indulged
at this time, I may mention here one of the many characteristic
incidents related to me by gentlemen who had served as Arbiters of
the Peace.

In the province of Riazan there was one Commune which had acquired
a certain local notoriety for the obstinacy with which it refused
all arrangements with the proprietor. My informant, who was
Arbiter for the locality, was at last obliged to make a statute-
charter for it without its consent. He wished, however, that the
peasants should voluntarily accept the arrangement he proposed, and
accordingly called them together to talk with them on the subject.
After explaining fully the part of the law which related to their
case, he asked them what objection they had to make a fair contract
with their old master. For some time he received no answer, but
gradually by questioning individuals he discovered the cause of
their obstinacy: they were firmly convinced that not only the
Communal land, but also the rest of the estate, belonged to them.
To eradicate this false idea he set himself to reason with them,
and the following characteristic dialogue ensued:--

Arbiter: "If the Tsar gave all the land to the peasantry, what
compensation could he give to the proprietors to whom the land

Peasant: "The Tsar will give them salaries according to their

Arbiter: "In order to pay these salaries he would require a great
deal more money. Where could he get that money? He would have to
increase the taxes, and in that way you would have to pay all the

Peasant: "The Tsar can make as much money as he likes."

Arbiter: "If the Tsar can make as much money as he likes, why does
he make you pay the poll-tax every year?"

Peasant: "It is not the Tsar that receives the taxes we pay."

Arbiter: "Who, then, receives them?"

Peasant (after a little hesitation, and with a knowing smite): "The
officials, of course!"

Gradually, through the efforts of the Arbiters, the peasants came
to know better their real position, and the work began to advance
more rapidly. But soon it was checked by another influence. By
the end of the first year the "liberal," patriotic enthusiasm of
the nobles had cooled. The sentimental, idyllic tendencies had
melted away at the first touch of reality, and those who had
imagined that liberty would have an immediately salutary effect on
the moral character of the serfs confessed themselves disappointed.
Many complained that the peasants showed themselves greedy and
obstinate, stole wood from the forest, allowed their cattle to
wander on the proprietor's fields, failed to fulfil their legal
obligations, and broke their voluntary engagements. At the same
time the fears of an agrarian rising subsided, so that even the
timid were tranquillised. From these causes the conciliatory
spirit of the proprietors decreased.

The work of conciliating and regulating became consequently more
difficult, but the great majority of the Arbiters showed themselves
equal to the task, and displayed an impartiality, tact and patience
beyond all praise. To them Russia is in great part indebted for
the peaceful character of the Emancipation. Had they sacrificed
the general good to the interests of their class, or had they
habitually acted in that stern, administrative, military spirit
which caused the instances of bloodshed above referred to, the
prophecies of the alarmists would, in all probability, have been
realised, and the historian of the Emancipation would have had a
terrible list of judicial massacres to record. Fortunately they
played the part of mediators, as their name signified, rather than
that of administrators in the bureaucratic sense of the term, and
they were animated with a just and humane rather than a merely
legal spirit. Instead of simply laying down the law, and ordering
their decisions to be immediately executed, they were ever ready to
spend hours in trying to conquer, by patient and laborious
reasoning, the unjust claims of proprietors or the false
conceptions and ignorant obstinacy of the peasants. It was a new
spectacle for Russia to see a public function fulfilled by
conscientious men who had their heart in their work, who sought
neither promotion nor decorations, and who paid less attention to
the punctilious observance of prescribed formalities than to the
real objects in view.

There were, it is true, a few men to whom this description does not
apply. Some of these were unduly under the influence of the
feelings and conceptions created by serfage. Some, on the
contrary, erred on the other side. Desirous of securing the future
welfare of the peasantry and of gaining for themselves a certain
kind of popularity, and at the same time animated with a violent
spirit of pseudo-liberalism, these latter occasionally forgot that
their duty was to be, not generous, but just, and that they had no
right to practise generosity at other people's expense. All this I
am quite aware of--I could even name one or two Arbiters who were
guilty of positive dishonesty--but I hold that these were rare
exceptions. The great majority did their duty faithfully and well.

The work of concluding contracts for the redemption of the dues,
or, in other words, for the purchase of the land ceded in perpetual
usufruct, proceeded slowly. The arrangement was as follows:--

The dues were capitalised at six per cent., and the Government paid
at once to the proprietors four-fifths of the whole sum. The
peasants were to pay to the proprietor the remaining fifth, either
at once or in installments, and to the Government six per cent. for
forty-nine years on the sum advanced. The proprietors willingly
adopted this arrangement, for it provided them with a sum of ready
money, and freed them from the difficult task of collecting the
dues. But the peasants did not show much desire to undertake the
operation. Some of them still expected a second Emancipation, and
those who did not take this possibility into their calculations
were little disposed to make present sacrifices for distant
prospective advantages which would not be realised for half a
century. In most cases the proprietor was obliged to remit, in
whole or in part, the fifth to be paid by the peasants. Many
Communes refused to undertake the operation on any conditions and
in consequence of this not a few proprietors demanded the so-called
obligatory redemption, according to which they accepted the four-
fifths from the Government as full payment, and the operation was
thus effected without the peasants being consulted. The total
number of male serfs emancipated was about nine millions and three-
quarters,* and of these, only about seven millions and a quarter
had, at the beginning of 1875, made redemption contracts. Of the
contracts signed at that time, about sixty-three per cent, were
"obligatory." In 1887 the redemption was made obligatory for both
parties, so that all Communes are now proprietors of the land
previously held in perpetual usufruct; and in 1932 the debt will
have been extinguished by the sinking fund, and all redemption
payments will have ceased.

* This does not include the domestic serfs who did not receive

The serfs were thus not only liberated, but also made possessors of
land and put on the road to becoming Communal proprietors, and the
old Communal institutions were preserved and developed. In answer
to the question, Who effected this gigantic reform? we may say that
the chief merit undoubtedly belongs to Alexander II. Had he not
possessed a very great amount of courage he would neither have
raised the question nor allowed it to be raised by others, and had
he not shown a great deal more decision and energy than was
expected, the solution would have been indefinitely postponed.
Among the members of his own family he found an able and energetic
assistant in his brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, and a warm
sympathiser with the cause in the Grand Duchess Helena, a German
Princess thoroughly devoted to the welfare of her adopted country.
But we must not overlook the important part played by the nobles.
Their conduct was very characteristic. As soon as the question was
raised a large number of them adopted the liberal ideas with
enthusiasm; and as soon as it became evident that Emancipation was
inevitable, all made a holocaust of their ancient rights and
demanded to be liberated at once from all relations with their
serfs. Moreover, when the law was passed it was the proprietors
who faithfully put it into execution. Lastly, we should remember
that praise is due to the peasantry for their patience under
disappointment and for their orderly conduct as soon as they
understood the law and recognised it to be the will of the Tsar.
Thus it may justly be said that the Emancipation was not the work
of one man, or one party, or one class, but of the nation as a

* The names most commonly associated with the Emancipation are
General Rostoftsef, Lanskoi (Minister of the Interior), Nicholas
Milutin, Prince Tchererkassky, G. Samarin, Koshelef. Many others,
such as I. A. Solovief, Zhukofski, Domontovitch, Giers--brother of
M. Giers, afterwards Minister for Foreign Affairs--are less known,
but did valuable work. To all of these, with the exception of the
first two, who died before my arrival in Russia, I have to confess
my obligations. The late Nicholas Milutin rendered me special
service by putting at my disposal not only all the official papers
in his possession, but also many documents of a more private kind.
By his early and lamented death Russia lost one of the greatest
statesmen she has yet produced.



Two Opposite Opinions--Difficulties of Investigation--The Problem
Simplified--Direct and Indirect Compensation--The Direct
Compensation Inadequate--What the Proprietors Have Done with the
Remainder of Their Estates--Immediate Moral Effect of the Abolition
of Serfage--The Economic Problem--The Ideal Solution and the
Difficulty of Realising It--More Primitive Arrangements--The
Northern Agricultural Zone--The Black-earth Zone--The Labour
Difficulty--The Impoverishment of the Noblesse Not a New
Phenomenon--Mortgaging of Estates--Gradual Expropriation of the
Noblesse-Rapid Increase in the Production and Export of Grain--How
Far this Has Benefited the Landed Proprietors.

When the Emancipation question was raised there was a considerable
diversity of opinion as to the effect which the abolition of
serfage would have on the material interests of the two classes
directly concerned. The Press and "the young generation" took an
optimistic view, and endeavoured to prove that the proposed change
would be beneficial alike to proprietors and to peasants. Science,
it was said, has long since decided that free labour is immensely
more productive than slavery or serfage, and the principle has been
already proved to demonstration in the countries of Western Europe.
In all those countries modern agricultural progress began with the
emancipation of the serfs, and increased productivity was
everywhere the immediate result of improvements in the method of
culture. Thus the poor light soils of Germany, France, and Holland
have been made to produce more than the vaunted "black earth" of
Russia. And from these ameliorations the land-owning class has
everywhere derived the chief advantages. Are not the landed
proprietors of England--the country in which serfage was first
abolished--the richest in the world? And is not the proprietor of
a few hundred morgen in Germany often richer than the Russian noble
who has thousands of dessyatins? By these and similar plausible
arguments the Press endeavoured to prove to the proprietors that
they ought, even in their own interest, to undertake the
emancipation of the serfs. Many proprietors, however, showed
little faith in the abstract principles of political economy and
the vague teachings of history as interpreted by the contemporary
periodical literature. They could not always refute the ingenious
arguments adduced by the men of more sanguine temperament, but they
felt convinced that their prospects were not nearly so bright as
these men represented them to be. They believed that Russia was a
peculiar country, and the Russians a peculiar people. The lower
classes in England, France, Holland, and Germany were well known to
be laborious and enterprising, while the Russian peasant was
notoriously lazy, and would certainly, if left to himself, not do
more work than was absolutely necessary to keep him from starving.
Free labour might be more profitable than serfage in countries
where the upper classes possessed traditional practical knowledge
and abundance of capital, but in Russia the proprietors had neither
the practical knowledge nor the ready money necessary to make the
proposed ameliorations in the system of agriculture. To all this
it was added that a system of emancipation by which the peasants
should receive land and be made completely independent of the
landed proprietors had nowhere been tried on such a large scale.

There were thus two diametrically opposite opinions regarding the
economic results of the abolition of serfage, and we have now to
examine which of these two opinions has been confirmed by

Let us look at the question first from the point of view of the

The reader who has never attempted to make investigations of this
kind may naturally imagine that the question can be easily decided
by simply consulting a large number of individual proprietors, and
drawing a general conclusion from their evidence. In reality I
found the task much more difficult. After roaming about the
country for five years (1870-75), collecting information from the
best available sources, I hesitated to draw any sweeping
conclusions, and my state of mind at that time was naturally
reflected in the early editions of this work. As a rule the
proprietors could not state clearly how much they had lost or
gained, and when definite information was obtained from them it was
not always trustworthy. In the time of serfage very few of them
had been in the habit of keeping accurate accounts, or accounts of
any kind, and when they lived on their estates there were a very
large number of items which could not possibly be reduced to
figures. Of course, each proprietor had a general idea as to
whether his position was better or worse than it had been in the
old times, but the vague statements made by individuals regarding
their former and their actual revenues had little or no scientific
value. So many considerations which had nothing to do with purely
agrarian relations entered into the calculations that the
conclusions did not help me much to estimate the economic results
of the Emancipation as a whole. Nor, it must be confessed, was the
testimony by any means always unbiassed. Not a few spoke of the
great reform in an epic or dithyrambic tone, and among these I
easily distinguished two categories: the one desired to prove that
the measure was a complete success in every way, and that all
classes were benefited by it, not only morally, but also
materially; whilst the others strove to represent the proprietors
in general, and themselves in particular, as the self-sacrificing
victims of a great and necessary patriotic reform--as martyrs in
the cause of liberty and progress. I do not for a moment suppose
that these two groups of witnesses had a clearly conceived
intention of deceiving or misleading, but as a cautious
investigator I had to make allowance for their idealising and
sentimental tendencies.

Since that time the situation has become much clearer, and during
recent visits to Russia I have been able to arrive at much more
definite conclusions. These I now proceed to communicate to the

The Emancipation caused the proprietors of all classes to pass
through a severe economic crisis. Periods of transition always
involve much suffering, and the amount of suffering is generally in
the inverse ratio of the precautions taken beforehand. In Russia
the precautions had been neglected. Not one proprietor in a
hundred had made any serious preparations for the inevitable
change. On the eve of the Emancipation there were about ten
millions of male serfs on private properties, and of these nearly
seven millions remained under the old system of paying their dues
in labour. Of course, everybody knew that Emancipation must come
sooner or later, but fore-thought, prudence, and readiness to take
time by the forelock are not among the prominent traits of the
Russian character. Hence most of the land-owners were taken
unawares. But while all suffered, there were differences of
degree. Some were completely shipwrecked. So long as serfage
existed all the relations of life were ill-defined and extremely
elastic, so that a man who was hopelessly insolvent might contrive,
with very little effort, to keep his bead above water for half a
lifetime. For such men the Emancipation, like a crisis in the
commercial world, brought a day of reckoning. It did not really
ruin them, but it showed them and the world at large that they were
ruined, and they could no longer continue their old mode of life.
For others the crisis was merely temporary. These emerged with a
larger income than they ever had before, but I am not prepared to
say that their material condition has improved, because the social
habits have changed, the cost of living has become much greater,
and the work of administering estates is incomparably more
complicated and laborious than in the old patriarchal times.

We may greatly simplify the problem by reducing it to two definite

1. How far were the proprietors directly indemnified for the loss
of serf labour and for the transfer in perpetual usufruct of a
large part of their estates to the peasantry?

2. What have the proprietors done with the remainder of their
estates, and how far have they been indirectly indemnified by the
economic changes which have taken place since the Emancipation?

With the first of these questions I shall deal very briefly,
because it is a controversial subject involving very complicated
calculations which only a specialist can understand. The
conclusion at which I have arrived, after much patient research, is
that in most provinces the compensation was inadequate, and this
conclusion is confirmed by excellent native authorities. M.
Bekhteyev, for example, one of the most laborious and conscientious
investigators in this field of research, and the author of an
admirable work on the economic results of the Emancipation,* told
me recently, in course of conversation, that in his opinion the
peasant dues fixed by the Emancipation Law represented, throughout
the Black-earth Zone, only about a half of the value of the labour
previously supplied by the serfs. To this I must add that the
compensation was in reality not nearly so great as it seemed to be
according to the terms of the law. As the proprietors found it
extremely difficult to collect the dues from the emancipated serfs,
and as they required a certain amount of capital to reorganise the
estate on the new basis of free labour, most of them were
practically compelled to demand the obligatory redemption of the
land (obiazatelny vuikup), and in adopting this expedient they had
to make considerable sacrifices. Not only had they to accept as
full payment four-fifths of the normal sum, but of this amount the
greater portion was paid in Treasury bonds, which fell at once to
80 per cent. of their nominal value.

* "Khozaistvenniye Itogi istekshago Sorokoletiya." St. Petersburg,

Let us now pass to the second part of the problem: What have the
proprietors done with the part of their estates which remained to
them after ceding the required amount of land to the Communes?
Have they been indirectly indemnified for the loss of serf labour
by subsequent economic changes? How far have they succeeded in
making the transition from serfage to free labour, and what
revenues do they now derive from their estates? The answer to
these questions will necessarily contain some account of the
present economic position of the proprietors.

On all proprietors the Emancipation had at least one good effect:
it dragged them forcibly from the old path of indolence and routine
and compelled them to think and calculate regarding their affairs.
The hereditary listlessness and apathy, the traditional habit of
looking on the estate with its serfs as a kind of self-acting
machine which must always spontaneously supply the owner with the
means of living, the inveterate practice of spending all ready
money and of taking little heed for the morrow--all this, with much
that resulted from it, was rudely swept away and became a thing of
the past.

The broad, easy road on which the proprietors had hitherto let
themselves be borne along by the force of circumstances suddenly
split up into a number of narrow, arduous, thorny paths. Each one
had to use his judgement to determine which of the paths he should
adopt, and, having made his choice, he had to struggle along as he
best could. I remember once asking a proprietor what effect the
Emancipation had had on the class to which he belonged, and he gave
me an answer which is worth recording. "Formerly," he said, "we
kept no accounts and drank champagne; now we keep accounts and
content ourselves with kvass." Like all epigrammatic sayings, this
laconic reply is far from giving a complete description of reality,
but it indicates in a graphic way a change that has unquestionably
taken place. As soon as serfage was abolished it was no longer
possible to live like "the flowers of the field." Many a
proprietor who had formerly vegetated in apathetic ease had to ask
himself the question: How am I to gain a living? All had to
consider what was the most profitable way of employing the land
that remained to them.

The ideal solution of the problem was that as soon as the peasant-
land had been demarcated, the proprietor should take to farming the
remainder of his estate by means of hired labour and agricultural
machines in West European or American fashion. Unfortunately, this
solution could not be generally adopted, because the great majority
of the landlords, even when they had the requisite practical
knowledge of agriculture, had not the requisite capital, and could
not easily obtain it. Where were they to find money for buying
cattle, horses, and agricultural implements, for building stables
and cattle-sheds, and for defraying all the other initial expenses?
And supposing they succeeded in starting the new system, where was
the working capital to come from? The old Government institution
in which estates could be mortgaged according to the number of
serfs was permanently closed, and the new land-credit associations
had not yet come into existence. To borrow from private
capitalists was not to be thought of, for money was so scarce than
ten per cent. was considered a "friendly" rate of interest.
Recourse might be had, it is true, to the redemption operation, but
in that case the Government would deduct the unpaid portion of any
outstanding mortgage, and would pay the balance in depreciated
Treasury bonds. In these circumstances the proprietors could not,
as a rule, adopt what I have called the ideal solution, and had to
content themselves with some simpler and more primitive
arrangement. They could employ the peasants of the neighbouring
villages to prepare the land and reap the crops either for a fixed
sum per acre or on the metayage system, or they could let their
land to the peasants for one, three or six years at a moderate

In the northern agricultural zone, where the soil is poor and
primitive farming with free labour can hardly be made to pay, the
proprietors had to let their land at a small rent, and those of
them who could not find places in the rural administration migrated
to the towns and sought employment in the public service or in the
numerous commercial and industrial enterprises which were springing
up at that time. There they have since remained. Their country-
houses, if inhabited at all, are occupied only for a few months in
summer, and too often present a melancholy spectacle of neglect and
dilapidation. In the Black-earth Zone, on the contrary, where the
soil still possesses enough of its natural fertility to make
farming on a large scale profitable, the estates are in a very
different condition. The owners cultivate at least a part of their
property, and can easily let to the peasants at a fair rent the
land which they do not wish to farm themselves. Some have adopted
the metayage system; others get the field-work done by the peasants
at so much per acre. The more energetic, who have capital enough
at their disposal, organise farms with hired labourers on the
European model. If they are not so well off as formerly, it is
because they have adopted a less patriarchal and more expensive
style of living. Their land has doubled and trebled in value
during the last thirty years, and their revenues have increased, if
not in proportion, at least considerably. In 1903 I visited a
number of estates in this region and found them in a very
prosperous condition, with agricultural machines of the English or
American types, an increasing variety in the rotation of crops,
greatly improved breeds of cattle and horses, and all the other
symptoms of a gradual transition to a more intensive and more
rational system of agriculture.

It must be admitted, however, that even in the Black-earth Zone the
proprietors have formidable difficulties to contend with, the chief
of which are the scarcity of good farm-labourers, the frequent
droughts, the low price of cereals, and the delay in getting the
grain conveyed to the seaports. On each of these difficulties and
the remedies that might be applied I could write a separate
chapter, but I fear to overtax the reader's patience, and shall
therefore confine myself to a few remarks about the labour
question. On this subject the complaints are loud and frequent all
over the country. The peasants, it is said, have become lazy,
careless, addicted to drunkenness, and shamelessly dishonest with
regard to their obligations, so that it is difficult to farm even
in the old primitive fashion and impossible to introduce radical
improvements in the methods of culture. In these sweeping
accusations there is a certain amount of truth. That the muzhik,
when working for others, exerts himself as little as possible; that
he pays little attention to the quality of the work done; that he
shows a reckless carelessness with regard to his employer's
property; that he is capable of taking money in advance and failing
to fulfil his contract; that he occasionally gets drunk; and that
he is apt to commit certain acts of petty larceny when he gets the
chance--all this is undoubtedly true, whatever biassed theorists
and sentimental peasant-worshippers may say to the contrary.* It
would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the fault is entirely
on the side of the peasants, and equally erroneous to believe that
the evils might be remedied, as is often suggested, by greater
severity on the part of the tribunals, or by an improved system of
passports. Farming with free labour, like every other department
of human activity, requires a fair amount of knowledge, judgment,
prudence, and tact, which cannot be replaced by ingenious
legislation or judicial severity. In engaging labourers or
servants it is necessary to select them carefully and make such
conditions that they feel it to be to their interest to fulfil
their contract loyally. This is too often overlooked by the
Russian land-owners. From false views of economy they are inclined
to choose the cheapest labourer without examining closely his other
qualifications, or they take advantage of the peasant's pecuniary
embarrassments and make with him a contract which it is hardly
possible for him to fulfil. In spring, for instance, when his
store of provisions is exhausted and he is being hard pressed by
the tax-collector, they supply him with rye-meal or advance him a
small sum of money on condition of his undertaking to do a
relatively large amount of summer work. He knows that the contract
is unfair to him, but what is he to do? He must get food for
himself and his family and a little ready money for his taxes, for
the Communal authorities will probably sell his cow if he does not
pay his arrears.** In desperation he accepts the conditions and
puts off the evil day--consoling himself with the reflection that
perhaps (avos') something may turn up in the meantime--but when the
time comes for fulfilling his engagements the dilemma revives.
According to the contract he ought to work nearly the whole summer
for the proprietor; but he has his own land to attend to, and he
has to make provision for the winter. In such circumstances the
temptation to evade the terms of the contract is probably too
strong to be resisted.

* Amongst themselves the peasants are not addicted to thieving, as
is proved by the fact that they habitually leave their doors
unlocked when the inmates of the house are working in the fields;
but if the muzhik finds in the proprietor's farmyard a piece of
iron or a bit of rope, or any of those little things that he
constantly requires and has difficulty in obtaining, he is very apt
to pick it up and carry it home. Gathering firewood in the
landlord's forest he does not consider as theft, because "God
planted the trees and watered them," and in the time of serfage he
was allowed to supply himself with firewood in this way.

** Until last year (1904) they could use also corporal punishment
as a means of pressure, and I am not sure that they do not
occasionally use it still, though it is no longer permitted by law.

In Russia, as in other countries, the principle holds true that for
good labour a fair price must be paid. Several large proprietors
of my acquaintance who habitually act on this principle assure me
that they always obtain as much good labour as they require. I
must add, however, that these fortunate proprietors have the
advantage of possessing a comfortable amount of working capital,
and are therefore not compelled, as so many of their less fortunate
neighbours are, to manage their estates on the hand-to-mouth

It is only, I fear, a minority of the landed proprietors that have
grappled successfully with these and other difficulties of their
position. As a class they are impoverished and indebted, but this
state of things is not due entirely to serf-emancipation. The
indebtedness of the Noblesse is a hereditary peculiarity of much
older date. By some authorities it is attributed to the laws of
Peter the Great, by which all nobles were obliged to spend the best
part of their lives in the military or civil service, and to leave
the management of their estates to incompetent stewards. However
that may be, it is certain that from the middle of the eighteenth
century downwards the fact has frequently occupied the attention of
the Government, and repeated attempts have been made to alleviate
the evil. The Empress Elizabeth, Catherine II., Paul, Alexander
I., Nicholas I., Alexander II., and Alexander III. tried
successively, as one of the older ukazes expressed it, "to free the
Noblesse from debt and from greedy money-lenders, and to prevent
hereditary estates from passing into the hands of strangers." The
means commonly adopted was the creation of mortgage banks founded
and controlled by the Government for the purpose of advancing money
to landed proprietors at a comparatively low rate of interest.

These institutions may have been useful to the few who desired to
improve their estates, but they certainly did not cure, and rather
tended to foster, the inveterate improvidence of the many. On the
eve of the Emancipation the proprietors were indebted to the
Government for the sum of 425 millions of roubles, and 69 per cent.
of their serfs were mortgaged. A portion of this debt was
gradually extinguished by the redemption operation, so that in 1880
over 300 millions had been paid off, but in the meantime new debts
were being contracted. In 1873-74 nine private land-mortgage banks
were created, and there was such a rush to obtain money from them
that their paper was a glut in the market, and became seriously
depreciated. When the prices of grain rose in 1875-80 the mortgage
debt was diminished, but when they began to fall in 1880 it again
increased, and in 1881 it stood at 396 millions. As the rate of
interest was felt to be very burdensome there was a strong feeling
among the landed proprietors at that time that the Government ought
to help them, and in 1883 the nobles of the province of Orel
ventured to address the Emperor on the subject. In reply to the
address, Alexander III., who had strong Conservative leanings, was
graciously pleased to declare in an ukaz that "it was really time
to do something to help the Noblesse," and accordingly a new land-
mortgage bank for the Noblesse was created. The favourable terms
offered by it were taken advantage of to such an extent that in the
first four years of its activity (1886-90) it advanced to the
proprietors over 200 million roubles. Then came two famine years,
and in 1894 the mortgage debt of the Noblesse in that and other
credit establishments was estimated at 994 millions. It has since
probably increased rather than diminished, for in that year the
prices of grain began to fall steadily on all the corn-exchanges of
the world, and they have never since recovered.

By means of mortgages some proprietors succeeded in weathering the
storm, but many gave up the struggle altogether, and settled in the
towns. In the space of thirty years 20,000 of them sold their
estates, and thus, between 1861 and 1892, the area of land
possessed by the Noblesse diminished 30 per cent.--from 77,804,000
to 55,500,000 dessyatins.

This expropriation of the Noblesse, as it is called, was evidently
not the result merely of the temporary economic disturbance caused
by the abolition of serfage, for as time went on it became more
rapid. During the first twenty years the average annual amount of
Noblesse land sold was 517,000 dessyatins, and it rose steadily
until 1892-96, when it reached the amount of 785,000. As I have
already stated, the townward movement of the proprietors was
strongest in the barren Northern provinces. In the province of
Olonetz, for example, they have already parted with 87 per cent. of
their land. In the black-soil region, on the contrary, there is no
province in which more than 27 per cent. of the Noblesse land has
been alienated, and in one province (Tula) the amount is only 19
per cent.

The habit of mortgaging and selling estates does not necessarily
mean the impoverishment of the landlords as a class. If the
capital raised in that way is devoted to agricultural improvements,
the result may be an increase of wealth. Unfortunately, in Russia
the realised capital was usually not so employed. A very large
proportion of it was spent unproductively, partly in luxuries and
living abroad, and partly in unprofitable commercial and industrial
speculations. The industrial and railway fever which raged at the
time induced many to risk and lose their capital, and it had
indirectly an injurious effect on all by making money plentiful in
the towns and creating a more expensive style of living, from which
the landed gentry could not hold entirely aloof.

So far I have dwelt on the dark shadows of the picture, but it is
not all shadow. In the last forty years the production and export
of grain, which constitute the chief source of revenue for the
Noblesse, have increased enormously, thanks mainly to the improved
means of transport. In the first decade after the Emancipation
(1860-70) the average annual export did not exceed 88 million puds;
in the second decade (1870-80) it leapt up to 218 millions; and so
it went up steadily until in the last decade of the century it had
reached 388 millions--i.e., over six million tons. At the same
time the home trade had increased likewise in consequence of the
rapidly growing population of the towns. All this must have
enriched the land-proprietors. Not to such an extent, it is true,
as the figures seem to indicate, because the old prices could not
be maintained. Rye, for example, which in 1868 stood at 129 kopeks
per pud, fell as low as 56, and during the rest of the century,
except during a short time in 1881-82 and the famine years of 1891-
92, when there was very little surplus to sell, it never rose above
80. Still, the increase in quantity more than counterbalanced the
fall in price. For example: in 1881 the average price of grain per
pud was 119, and in 1894 it had sunk to 59; but the amount exported
during that time rose from 203 to 617 million puds, and the sum
received for it had risen from 242 to 369 millions of roubles.
Surely the whole of that enormous sum was not squandered on
luxuries and unprofitable speculation!

The pessimists, however--and in Russia their name is legion--will
not admit that any permanent advantage has been derived from this
enormous increase in exports. On the contrary, they maintain that
it is a national misfortune, because it is leading rapidly to a
state of permanent impoverishment. It quickly exhausted, they say,
the large reserves of grain in the village, so that as soon as
there was a very bad harvest the Government had to come to the
rescue and feed the starving peasantry. Worse than this, it
compromised the future prosperity of the country. Being in
pecuniary difficulties, and consequently impatient to make money,
the proprietors increased inordinately the area of grain-producing
land at the expense of pasturage and forests, with the result that
the live stock and the manuring of the land were diminished, the
fertility of the soil impaired, and the necessary quantity of
moisture in the atmosphere greatly lessened. There is some truth
in this contention; but it would seem that the soil and climate
have not been affected so much as the pessimists suppose, because
in recent years there have been some very good harvests.

On the whole, then, I think it may be justly said that the efforts
of the landed proprietors to work their estates without serf labour
have not as yet been brilliantly successful. Those who have failed
are in the habit of complaining that they have not received
sufficient support from the Government, which is accused of having
systematically sacrificed the interests of agriculture, the
mainstay of the national resources, to the creation of artificial
and unnecessary manufacturing industries. How far such complaints
and accusations are well founded I shall not attempt to decide. It
is a complicated polemical question, into which the reader would
probably decline to accompany me. Let us examine rather what
influence the above-mentioned changes have had on the peasantry.



The Effects of Liberty--Difficulty of Obtaining Accurate
Information--Pessimist Testimony of the Proprietors--Vague Replies
of the Peasants--My Conclusions in 1877--Necessity of Revising
Them--My Investigations Renewed in 1903--Recent Researches by
Native Political Economists--Peasant Impoverishment Universally
Recognised--Various Explanations Suggested--Demoralisation of the
Common People--Peasant Self-government--Communal System of Land
Tenure--Heavy Taxation--Disruption of Peasant Families--Natural
Increase of Population--Remedies Proposed--Migration--Reclamation
of Waste Land--Land-purchase by Peasantry--Manufacturing Industry--
Improvement of Agricultural Methods--Indications of Progress.

At the commencement of last chapter I pointed out in general terms
the difficulty of describing clearly the immediate consequences of
the Emancipation. In beginning now to speak of the influence which
the great reform has had on the peasantry, I feel that the
difficulty has reached its climax. The foreigner who desires
merely to gain a general idea of the subject cannot be expected to
take an interest in details, and even if he took the trouble to
examine them attentively, he would derive from the labour little
real information. What he wishes is a clear, concise, and dogmatic
statement of general results. Has the material and moral condition
of the peasantry improved since the Emancipation? That is the
simple question which he has to put, and he naturally expects a
simple, categorical answer.

In beginning my researches in this interesting field of inquiry, I
had no adequate conception of the difficulties awaiting me. I
imagined that I had merely to question intelligent, competent men
who had had abundant opportunities of observation, and to criticise
and boil down the information collected; but when I put this method
of investigation to the test of experience it proved
unsatisfactory. Very soon I came to perceive that my authorities
were very far from being impartial observers. Most of them were
evidently suffering from shattered illusions. They had expected
that the Emancipation would produce instantaneously a wonderful
improvement in the life and character of the rural population, and
that the peasant would become at once a sober, industrious, model

These expectations were not realised. One year passed, five years
passed, ten years passed, and the expected transformation did not
take place. On the contrary, there appeared certain very ugly
phenomena which were not at all in the programme. The peasants
began to drink more and to work less,* and the public life which
the Communal institutions produced was by no means of a desirable
kind. The "bawlers" (gorlopany) acquired a prejudicial influence
in the Village Assemblies, and in very many Volosts the peasant
judges, elected by their fellow-villagers, acquired a bad habit of
selling their decisions for vodka. The natural consequence of all
this was that those who had indulged in exaggerated expectations
sank into a state of inordinate despondency, and imagined things to
be much worse than they really were.

* I am not at all sure that the peasants really drank more, but
such was, and still is, a very general conviction.

For different reasons, those who had not indulged in exaggerated
expectations, and had not sympathised with the Emancipation in the
form in which it was effected, were equally inclined to take a
pessimistic view of the situation. In every ugly phenomenon they
found a confirmation of their opinions. The result was precisely
what they had foretold. The peasants had used their liberty and
their privileges to their own detriment and to the detriment of

The extreme "Liberals" were also inclined, for reasons of their
own, to join in the doleful chorus. They desired that the
condition of the peasantry should be further improved by
legislative enactments, and accordingly they painted the evils in
as dark colours as possible.

Thus, from various reasons, the majority of the educated classes
were unduly disposed to represent to themselves and to others the
actual condition of the peasantry in a very unfavourable light, and
I felt that from them there was no hope of obtaining the lumen
siccum which I desired. I determined, therefore, to try the method
of questioning the peasants themselves. Surely they must know
whether their condition was better or worse than it had been before
their Emancipation.

Again I was doomed to disappointment. A few months' experience
sufficed to convince me that my new method was by no means so
effectual as I had imagined. Uneducated people rarely make
generalisations which have no practical utility, and I feel sure
that very few Russian peasants ever put to themselves the question:
Am I better off now than I was in the time of serfage? When such a
question is put to them they feel taken aback. And in truth it is
no easy matter to sum up the two sides of the account and draw an
accurate balance, save in those exceptional cases in which the
proprietor flagrantly abused his authority. The present money-dues
and taxes are often more burdensome than the labour-dues in the old
times. If the serfs had a great many ill-defined obligations to
fulfil--such as the carting of the master's grain to market, the
preparing of his firewood, the supplying him with eggs, chickens,
home-made linen, and the like--they had, on the other hand, a good
many ill-defined privileges. They grazed their cattle during a
part of the year on the manor-land; they received firewood and
occasionally logs for repairing their huts; sometimes the
proprietor lent them or gave them a cow or a horse when they had
been visited by the cattle-plague or the horse-stealer; and in
times of famine they could look to their master for support. All
this has now come to an end. Their burdens and their privileges
have been swept away together, and been replaced by clearly
defined, unbending, unelastic legal relations. They have now to
pay the market-price for every stick of firewood which they burn,
for every log which they require for repairing their houses, and
for every rood of land on which to graze their cattle. Nothing is
now to be had gratis. The demand to pay is encountered at every
step. If a cow dies or a horse is stolen, the owner can no longer
go to the proprietor with the hope of receiving a present, or at
least a loan without interest, but must, if he has no ready money,
apply to the village usurer, who probably considers twenty or
thirty per cent, as a by no means exorbitant rate of interest.

Besides this, from the economic point of view village life has been
completely revolutionised. Formerly the members of a peasant
family obtained from their ordinary domestic resources nearly all
they required. Their food came from their fields, cabbage-garden,
and farmyard. Materials for clothing were supplied by their plots
of flax and their sheep, and were worked up into linen and cloth by
the female members of the household. Fuel, as I have said, and
torches wherewith to light the izba--for oil was too expensive and
petroleum was unknown--were obtained gratis. Their sheep, cattle,
and horses were bred at home, and their agricultural implements,
except in so far as a little iron was required, could be made by
themselves without any pecuniary expenditure. Money was required
only for the purchase of a few cheap domestic utensils, such as
pots, pans, knives, hatchets, wooden dishes, and spoons, and for
the payment of taxes, which were small in amount and often paid by
the proprietor. In these circumstances the quantity of money in
circulation among the peasants was infinitesimally small, the few
exchanges which took place in a village being generally effected by
barter. The taxes, and the vodka required for village festivals,
weddings, or funerals, were the only large items of expenditure for
the year, and they were generally covered by the sums brought home
by the members of the family who went to work in the towns.

Very different is the present condition of affairs. The spinning,
weaving, and other home industries have been killed by the big
factories, and the flax and wool have to be sold to raise a little
ready money for the numerous new items of expenditure. Everything
has to be bought--clothes, firewood, petroleum, improved
agricultural implements, and many other articles which are now
regarded as necessaries of life, whilst comparatively little is
earned by working in the towns, because the big families have been
broken up, and a household now consists usually of husband and
wife, who must both remain at home, and children who are not yet
bread-winners. Recalling to mind all these things and the other
drawbacks and advantages of his actual position, the old muzhik has
naturally much difficulty in striking a balance, and he may well be
quite sincere when, on being asked whether things now are on the
whole better or worse than in the time of serfage, he scratches the
back of his head and replies hesitatingly, with a mystified
expression on his wrinkled face: "How shall I say to you? They are
both better and worse!" ("Kak vam skazat'? I ltche i khdzhe!")
If, however, you press him further and ask whether he would himself
like to return to the old state of things, he is pretty sure to
answer, with a slow shake of the head and a twinkle in his eye, as
if some forgotten item in the account had suddenly recurred to him:
"Oh, no!"

What materially increases the difficulty of this general
computation is that great changes have taken place in the well-
being of the particular households. Some have greatly prospered,
while others have become impoverished. That is one of the most
characteristic consequences of the Emancipation. In the old times
the general economic stagnation and the uncontrolled authority of
the proprietor tended to keep all the households of a village on
the same level. There was little opportunity for an intelligent,
enterprising serf to become rich, and if he contrived to increase
his revenue he had probably to give a considerable share of it to
the proprietor, unless he had the good fortune to belong to a grand
seigneur like Count Sheremetief, who was proud of having rich men
among his serfs. On the other hand, the proprietor, for evident
reasons of self-interest, as well as from benevolent motives,
prevented the less intelligent and less enterprising members of the
Commune from becoming bankrupt. The Communal equality thus
artificially maintained has now disappeared, the restrictions on
individual freedom of action have been removed, the struggle for
life has become intensified, and, as always happens in such
circumstances, the strong men go up in the world while the weak
ones go to the wall. All over the country we find on the one hand
the beginnings of a village aristocracy--or perhaps we should call
it a plutocracy, for it is based on money--and on the other hand an
ever-increasing pauperism. Some peasants possess capital, with
which they buy land outside the Commune or embark in trade, while
others have to sell their live stock, and have sometimes to cede to
neighbours their share of the Communal property. This change in
rural life is so often referred to that, in order to express it a
new, barbarous word, differentsiatsia (differentiation) has been

Hoping to obtain fuller information with the aid of official
protection, I attached myself to one of the travelling sections of
an agricultural Commission appointed by the Government, and during
a whole summer I helped to collect materials in the provinces
bordering on the Volga. The inquiry resulted in a gigantic report
of nearly 2,500 folio pages, but the general conclusions were
extremely vague. The peasantry, it was said, were passing, like
the landed proprietors, through a period of transition, in which
the main features of their future normal life had not yet become
clearly defined. In some localities their condition had decidedly
improved, whereas in others it had improved little or not at all.
Then followed a long list of recommendations in favour of
Government assistance, better agronomic education, competitive
exhibitions, more varied rotation of crops, and greater zeal on the
part of the clergy in disseminating among the people moral
principles in general and love of work in particular.

Not greatly enlightened by this official activity, I returned to my
private studies, and at the end of six years I published my
impressions and conclusions in the first edition of this work.
While recognising that there was much uncertainty as to the future,
I was inclined, on the whole, to take a hopeful view of the
situation. I was unable, however, to maintain permanently that
comfortable frame of mind. After my departure from Russia in 1878,
the accounts which reached me from various parts of the country
became blacker and blacker, and were partly confirmed by short
tours which I made in 1889-1896. At last, in the summer of 1903, I
determined to return to some of my old haunts and look at things
with my own eyes. At that moment some hospitable friends invited
me to pay them a visit at their country-house in the province of
Smolensk, and I gladly accepted the invitation, because Smolensk,
when I knew it formerly, was one of the poorest provinces, and I
thought it well to begin my new studies by examining the
impoverishment, of which I had heard so much, at its maximum.

From the railway station at Viazma, where I arrived one morning at
sunrise, I had some twenty miles to drive, and as soon as I got
clear of the little town I began my observations. What I saw
around me seemed to contradict the sombre accounts I had received.
The villages through which I passed had not at all the look of
dilapidation and misery which I expected. On the contrary, the
houses were larger and better constructed than they used to be, and
each of them had a chimney! That latter fact was important because
formerly a large proportion of the peasants of this region had no
such luxury, and allowed the smoke to find its exit by the open
door. In vain I looked for a hut of the old type, and my yamstchik
assured me I should have to go a long way to find one. Then I
noticed a good many iron ploughs of the European model, and my
yamstchik informed me that their predecessor, the sokha with which
I had been so familiar, had entirely disappeared from the district.
Next I noticed that in the neighbourhood of the villages flax was
grown in large quantities. That was certainly not an indication of
poverty, because flax is a valuable product which requires to be
well manured, and plentiful manure implies a considerable quantity
of live stock. Lastly, before arriving at my destination, I
noticed clover being grown in the fields. This made me open my
eyes with astonishment, because the introduction of artificial
grasses into the traditional rotation of crops indicates the
transition to a higher and more intensive system of agriculture.
As I had never seen clover in Russia except on the estates of very
advanced proprietors, I said to my yamstchik:

"Listen, little brother! That field belongs to the landlord?"

"Not at all, Master; it is muzhik-land."

On arriving at the country-house I told my friends what I had seen,
and they explained it to me. Smolensk is no longer one of the
poorer provinces; it has become comparatively prosperous. In two
or three districts large quantities of flax are produced and give
the cultivators a big revenue; in other districts plenty of
remunerative work is supplied by the forests. Everywhere a
considerable proportion of the younger men go regularly to the
towns and bring home savings enough to pay the taxes and make a
little surplus in the domestic budget. A few days afterwards the
village secretary brought me his books, and showed me that there
were practically no arrears of taxation.

Passing on to other provinces I found similar proofs of progress
and prosperity, but at the same time not a few indications of
impoverishment; and I was rapidly relapsing into my previous state
of uncertainty as to whether any general conclusions could be
drawn, when an old friend, himself a first-rate authority with many
years of practical experience, came to my assistance.* He informed
me that a number of specialists had recently made detailed
investigations into the present economic conditions of the rural
population, and he kindly placed at my disposal, in his charming
country-house near Moscow, the voluminous researches of these
investigators. Here, during a good many weeks, I revelled in the
statistical materials collected, and to the best of my ability I
tested the conclusions drawn from them. Many of these conclusions
I had to dismiss with the Scotch verdict of "not proven," whilst
others seemed to me worthy of acceptance. Of these latter the most
important were those drawn from the arrears of taxation.

* I hope I am committing no indiscretion when I say that the old
friend in question was Prince Alexander Stcherbatof of Vasilefskoe.

The arrears in the payment of taxes may be regarded as a pretty
safe barometer for testing the condition of the rural population,
because the peasant habitually pays his rates and taxes when he has
the means of doing so; when he falls seriously and permanently into
arrears it may be assumed that he is becoming impoverished. If the
arrears fluctuate from year to year, the causes of the
impoverishment may be regarded as accidental and perhaps temporary,
but if they steadily accumulate, we must conclude that there is
something radically wrong. Bearing these facts in mind, let us
hear what the statistics say.

During the first twenty years after the Emancipation (1861-81)
things went on in their old grooves. The poor provinces remained
poor, and the fertile provinces showed no signs of distress.
During the next twenty years (1881-1901) the arrears of the whole
of European Russia rose, roughly speaking, from 27 to 144 millions
of roubles, and the increase, strange to say, took place in the
fertile provinces. In 1890, for example, out of 52 millions,
nearly 41 millions, or 78 per cent., fell to the share of the
provinces of the Black-earth Zone. In seven of these the average
arrears per male, which had been in 1882 only 90 kopeks, rose in
1893 to 600, and in 1899 to 2,200! And this accumulation had taken
place in spite of reductions of taxation to the extent of 37
million roubles in 1881-83, and successive famine grants from the
Treasury in 1891-99 to the amount of 203 millions.* On the other
hand, in the provinces with a poor soil the arrears had greatly
decreased. In Smolensk, for example, they had sunk from 202 per
cent, to 13 per cent. of the annual sum to be paid, and in nearly
all the other provinces of the west and north a similar change for
the better had taken place.

These and many other figures which I might quote show that a great
and very curious economic revolution has been gradually effected.
The Black-earth Zone, which was formerly regarded as the
inexhaustible granary of the Empire, has become impoverished,
whilst the provinces which were formerly regarded as hopelessly
poor are now in a comparatively flourishing condition. This fact
has been officially recognised. In a classification of the
provinces according to their degree of prosperity, drawn up by a
special commission of experts in 1903, those with a poor light soil
appear at the top, and those with the famous black earth are at the
bottom of the list. In the deliberations of the commission many
reasons for this extraordinary state of things are adduced. Most
of them have merely a local significance. The big fact, taken as a
whole, seems to me to show that, in consequence of certain changes
of which I shall speak presently, the peasantry of European Russia
can no longer live by the traditional modes of agriculture, even in
the most fertile districts, and require for their support some
subsidiary occupations such as are practised in the less fertile

* In 1901 an additional famine grant of 33 1/2 million roubles had
to be made by the Government.

Another sign of impoverishment is the decrease in the quantity of
live stock. According to the very imperfect statistics available,
for every hundred inhabitants the number of horses has decreased
from 26 to 17, the number of cattle from 36 to 25, and the number
of sheep from 73 to 40. This is a serious matter, because it means
that the land is not so well manured and cultivated as formerly,
and is consequently not so productive. Several economists have
attempted to fix precisely to what extent the productivity has
decreased, but I confess I have little faith in the accuracy of
their conclusions. M. Polenof, for example, a most able and
conscientious investigator, calculates that between 1861 and 1895,
all over Russia, the amount of food produced, in relation to the
number of the population, has decreased by seven per cent. His
methods of calculation are ingenious, but the statistical data with
which he operates are so far from accurate that his conclusions on
this point have, in my opinion, little or no scientific value.
With all due deference to Russian economists, I may say
parenthetically that they are very found of juggling with
carelessly collected statistics, as if their data were mathematical

Several of the Zemstvos have grappled with this question of peasant
impoverishment, and the data which they have collected make a very
doleful impression. In the province of Moscow, for example, a
careful investigation gave the following results: Forty per cent.
of the peasant households had no longer any horses, 15 per cent.
had given up agriculture altogether, and about 10 per cent. had no
longer any land. We must not, however, assume, as is often done,
that the peasant families who have no live stock and no longer till
the land are utterly ruined. In reality many of them are better
off than their neighbours who appear as prosperous in the official
statistics, having found profitable occupation in the home
industries, in the towns, in the factories, or on the estates of
the landed proprietors. It must be remembered that Moscow is the
centre of one of the regions in which manufacturing industry has
progressed with gigantic strides during the last half-century, and
it would be strange indeed if, in such a region, the peasantry who
supply the labour to the towns and factories remained thriving
agriculturists. That many Russians are surprised and horrified at
the actual state of things shows to what an extent the educated
classes are still under the illusion that Russia can create for
herself a manufacturing industry capable of competing with that of
Western Europe without uprooting from the soil a portion of her
rural population.

It is only in the purely agricultural regions that families
officially classed as belonging to the peasantry may be regarded as
on the brink of pauperism because they have no live stock, and even
with regard to them I should hesitate to make such an assumption,
because the muzhiks, as I have already had occasion to remark, have
strange nomadic habits unknown to the rural population of other
countries. It is a mistake, therefore, to calculate the Russian
peasant's budget exclusively on the basis of local resources.

To the pessimists who assure me that according to their
calculations the peasantry in general must be on the brink of
starvation, I reply that there are many facts, even in the
statistical tables on which they rely, which run counter to their
deductions. Let me quote one by way of illustration. The total
amount of deposits in savings banks, about one-fourth of which is
believed to belong to the rural population, rose in the course of
six years (1894-1900) from 347 to 680 millions of roubles. Besides
the savings banks, there existed in the rural districts on 1st
December, 1902, no less than 1,614 small-credit institutions, with
a total capital (1st January, 1901) of 69 million roubles, of which
only 4,653,000 had been advanced by the State Bank and the Zemstvo,
the remainder coming in from private sources. This is not much for
a big country like Russia, but it is a beginning, and it suggests
that the impoverishment is not so severe and so universal as the
pessimists would have us believe.

There is thus room for differences of opinion as to how far the
peasantry have become impoverished, but there is no doubt that
their condition is far from satisfactory, and we have to face the
important problem why the abolition of serfage has not produced the
beneficent consequences which even moderate men so confidently
predicted, and how the present unsatisfactory state of things is to
be remedied.

The most common explanation among those who have never seriously
studied the subject is that it all comes from the demoralisation of
the common people. In this view there is a modicum of truth. That
the peasantry injure their material welfare by drunkenness and
improvidence there can be no reasonable doubt, as is shown by the
comparatively flourishing state of certain villages of Old
Ritualists and Molokanye in which there is no drunkenness, and in
which the community exercises a strong moral control over the
individual members. If the Orthodox Church could make the
peasantry refrain from the inordinate use of strong drink as
effectually as it makes them refrain during a great part of the
year from animal food, and if it could instil into their minds a
few simple moral principles as successfully as it has inspired them
with a belief in the efficacy of the Sacraments, it would certainly
confer on them an inestimable benefit. But this is not to be
expected. The great majority of the parish priests are quite unfit
for such a task, and the few who have aspirations in that direction
rarely acquire a perceptible moral influence over their
parishioners. Perhaps more is to be expected from the schoolmaster
than from the priest, but it will be long before the schools can
produce even a partial moral regeneration. Their first influence,
strange as the assertion may seem, is often in a diametrically
opposite direction. When only a few peasants in a village can read
and write they have such facilities for overreaching their "dark"
neighbours that they are apt to employ their knowledge for
dishonest purposes; and thus it occasionally happens that the man
who has the most education is the greatest scoundrel in the Mir.
Such facts are often used by the opponents of popular education,
but in reality they supply a good reason for disseminating primary
education as rapidly as possible. When all the peasants have
learned to read and write they will present a less inviting field
for swindling, and the temptations to dishonesty will be
proportionately diminished. Meanwhile, it is only fair to state
that the common assertions about drunkenness being greatly on the
increase are not borne out by the official statistics concerning
the consumption of spirituous liquors.

After drunkenness, the besetting sin which is supposed to explain
the impoverishment of the peasantry is incorrigible laziness. On
that subject I feel inclined to put in a plea of extenuating
circumstances in favour of the muzhik. Certainly he is very slow
in his movements--slower perhaps than the English rustic--and he
has a marvellous capacity for wasting valuable time without any
perceptible qualms of conscience; but he is in this respect, if I
may use a favourite phrase of the Social Scientists, "the product
of environment." To the proprietors who habitually reproach him
with time-wasting he might reply with a very strong tu quoque
argument, and to all the other classes the argument might likewise
be addressed. The St. Petersburg official, for example, who writes
edifying disquisitions about peasant indolence, considers that for
himself attendance at his office for four hours, a large portion of
which is devoted to the unproductive labour of cigarette smoking,
constitutes a very fair day's work. The truth is that in Russia
the struggle for life is not nearly so intense as in more densely
populated countries, and society is so constituted that all can
live without very strenuous exertion. The Russians seem,
therefore, to the traveller who comes from the West an indolent,
apathetic race. If the traveller happens to come from the East--
especially if he has been living among pastoral races--the Russians
will appear to him energetic and laborious. Their character in
this respect corresponds to their geographical position: they stand
midway between the laborious, painstaking, industrious population
of Western Europe and the indolent, undisciplined, spasmodically
energetic populations of Central Asia. They are capable of
effecting much by vigorous, intermittent effort--witness the
peasant at harvest-time, or the St. Petersburg official when some
big legislative project has to be submitted to the Emperor within a
given time--but they have not yet learned regular laborious habits.
In short, the Russians might move the world if it could be done by
a jerk, but they are still deficient in that calm perseverance and
dogged tenacity which characterise the Teutonic race.

Without seeking further to determine how far the moral defects of
the peasantry have a deleterious influence on their material
welfare, I proceed to examine the external causes which are
generally supposed to contribute largely to their impoverishment,
and will deal first with the evils of peasant self-government.

That the peasant self-government is very far from being in a
satisfactory condition must be admitted by any impartial observer.
The more laborious and well-to-do peasants, unless they wish to
abuse their position directly or indirectly for their own
advantage, try to escape election as office-bearers, and leave the
administration in the hands of the less respectable members. Not
unfrequently a Volost Elder trades with the money he collects as
dues or taxes; and sometimes, when he becomes insolvent, the
peasants have to pay their taxes and dues a second time. The
Village Assemblies, too, have become worse than they were in the
days of serfage. At that time the Heads of Households--who, it
must be remembered, have alone a voice in the decisions--were few
in number, laborious, and well-to-do, and they kept the lazy,
unruly members under strict control. Now that the large families
have been broken up and almost every adult peasant is Head of a
Household, the Communal affairs are sometimes decided by a noisy
majority; and certain Communal decisions may be obtained by
"treating the Mir"--that is to say, by supplying a certain amount
of vodka. Often I have heard old peasants speak of these things,
and finish their recital by some such remark as this: "There is no
order now; the people have been spoiled; it was better in the time
of the masters."

These evils are very real, and I have no desire to extenuate them,
but I believe they are by no means so great as is commonly
supposed. If the lazy, worthless members of the Commune had really
the direction of Communal affairs we should find that in the
Northern Agricultural Zone, where it is necessary to manure the
soil, the periodical redistributions of the Communal land would be
very frequent; for in a new distribution the lazy peasant has a
good chance of getting a well-manured lot in exchange for the lot
which he has exhausted. In reality, so far as my observations
extend, these general distributions of the land are not more
frequent than they were before.

Of the various functions of the peasant self-government the
judicial are perhaps the most frequently and the most severely
criticised. And certainly not without reason, for the Volost
Courts are too often accessible to the influence of alcohol, and in
some districts the peasants say that he who becomes a judge takes a
sin on his soul. I am not at all sure, however, that it would be
well to abolish these courts altogether, as some people propose.
In many respects they are better suited to peasant requirements
than the ordinary tribunals. Their procedure is infinitely
simpler, more expeditious, and incomparably less expensive, and
they are guided by traditional custom and plain common-sense,
whereas the ordinary tribunals have to judge according to the civil
law, which is unknown to the peasantry and not always applicable to
their affairs.

Few ordinary judges have a sufficiently intimate knowledge of the
minute details of peasant life to be able to decide fairly the
cases that are brought before the Volost Courts; and even if a
Justice had sufficient knowledge he could not adopt the moral and
juridical notions of the peasantry. These are often very different
from those of the upper classes. In cases of matrimonial
separation, for instance, the educated man naturally assumes that,
if there is any question of aliment, it should be paid by the
husband to the wife. The peasant, on the contrary, assumes as
naturally that it should be paid by the wife to the husband--or
rather to the Head of the Household--as a compensation for the loss
of labour which her desertion involves. In like manner, according
to traditional peasant-law, if an unmarried son is working away
from home, his earnings do not belong to himself, but to the
family, and in Volost Court they could be claimed by the Head of
the Household.

Occasionally, it is true, the peasant judges allow their respect
for old traditional conceptions in general and for the authority of
parents in particular, to carry them a little too far. I was told
lately of one affair which took place not long ago, within a
hundred miles of Moscow, in which the judge decided that a
respectable young peasant should be flogged because he refused to
give his father the money he earned as groom in the service of a
neighbouring proprietor, though it was notorious in the district
that the father was a disreputable old drunkard who carried to the
kabak (gin-shop) all the money he could obtain by fair means and
foul. When I remarked to my informant, who was not an admirer of
peasant institutions, that the incident reminded me of the respect
for the patria potestas in old Roman times, he stared at me with a
look of surprise and indignation, and exclaimed laconically,
"Patria potestas? . . . Vodka!" He was evidently convinced that
the disreputable father had got his respectable son flogged by
"treating" the judges. In such cases flogging can no longer be
used, for the Volost Courts, as we have seen, were recently
deprived of the right to inflict corporal punishment.

These administrative and judicial abuses gradually reached the ears
of the Government, and in 1889 it attempted to remove them by
creating a body of Rural Supervisors (Zemskiye Natchalniki). Under
their supervision and control some abuses may have been
occasionally prevented or corrected, and some rascally Volost
secretaries may have been punished or dismissed, but the peasant
self-government as a whole has not been perceptibly improved.

Let us glance now at the opinions of those who hold that the
material progress of the peasantry is prevented chiefly, not by the
mere abuses of the Communal administration, but by the essential
principles of the Communal institutions, and especially by the
practice of periodically redistributing the Communal land. From
the theoretical point of view this question is one of great
interest, and it may acquire in the future an immense practical
significance; but for the present it has not, in my opinion, the
importance which is usually attributed to it. There can be no
doubt that it is much more difficult to farm well on a large number
of narrow strips of land, many of which are at a great distance
from the farmyard, than on a compact piece of land which the farmer
may divide and cultivate as he pleases; and there can be as little
doubt that the husbandman is more likely to improve his land if his
tenure is secure. All this and much more of the same kind must be
accepted as indisputable truth, but it has little direct bearing on
the practical question under consideration. We are not considering
in the abstract whether it would be better that the peasant should
be a farmer with abundant capital and all the modern scientific
appliances, but simply the practical question, What are the
obstructions which at present prevent the peasant from ameliorating
his actual condition?

That the Commune prevents its members from adopting various systems
of high farming is a supposition which scarcely requires serious
consideration. The peasants do not yet think of any such radical
innovations; and if they did, they have neither the knowledge nor
the capital necessary to effect them. In many villages a few of
the richer and more intelligent peasants have bought land outside
of the Commune and cultivate it as they please, free from all
Communal restraints; and I have always found that they cultivate
this property precisely in the same way as their share of the
Communal land. As to minor changes, we know by experience that the
Mir opposes to them no serious obstacles.

The cultivation of beet for the production of sugar has greatly
increased in the central and southwestern provinces, and flax is
now largely produced in Communes in northern districts where it was
formerly cultivated merely for domestic use. The Communal system
is, in fact, extremely elastic, and may be modified as soon as the
majority of the members consider modifications profitable. When
the peasants begin to think of permanent improvements, such as
drainage, irrigation, and the like, they will find the Communal
institutions a help rather than an obstruction; for such
improvements, if undertaken at all, must be undertaken on a larger
scale, and the Mir is an already existing association. The only
permanent improvements which can be for the present profitably
undertaken consist in the reclaiming of waste land; and such
improvements are already sometimes attempted. I know at least of
one case in which a Commune in the province of Yaroslavl has
reclaimed a considerable tract of waste land by means of hired
labourers. Nor does the Mir prevent in this respect individual
initiative. In many Communes of the northern provinces it is a
received principle of customary law that if any member reclaims
waste land he is allowed to retain possession of it for a number of
years proportionate to the amount of labour expended.

But does not the Commune, as it exists, prevent good cultivation
according to the mode of agriculture actually in use?

Except in the far north and the steppe region, where the
agriculture is of a peculiar kind, adapted to the local conditions,
the peasants invariably till their land according to the ordinary
three-field system, in which good cultivation means, practically
speaking, the plentiful use of manure. Does, then, the existence
of the Mir prevent the peasants from manuring their fields well?

Many people who speak on this subject in an authoritative tone seem
to imagine that the peasants in general do not manure their fields
at all. This idea is an utter mistake. In those regions, it is
true, where the rich black soil still retains a large part of its
virgin fertility, the manure is used as fuel, or simply thrown
away, because the peasants believe that it would not be profitable
to put it on their fields, and their conviction is, at least to
some extent, well founded;* but in the Northern Agricultural Zone,
where unmanured soil gives almost no harvest, the peasants put upon
their fields all the manure they possess. If they do not put
enough it is simply because they have not sufficient live stock.

* As recently as two years ago (1903) I found that one of the most
intelligent and energetic landlords of the province of Voronezh
followed in this respect the example of the peasants, and he
assured me that he had proved by experience the advantage of doing

It is only in the southern provinces, where no manure is required,
that periodical re-distributions take place frequently. As we
travel northward we find the term lengthens; and in the Northern
Agricultural Zone, where manure is indispensable, general re-
distributions are extremely rare. In the province of Yaroslavl,
for example, the Communal land is generally divided into two parts:
the manured land lying near the village, and the unmanured land
lying beyond. The latter alone is subject to frequent re-
distribution. On the former the existing tenures are rarely
disturbed, and when it becomes necessary to give a share to a new
household, the change is effected with the least possible prejudice
to vested rights.

The policy of the Government has always been to admit
redistributions in principle, but to prevent their too frequent
recurrence. For this purpose the Emancipation Law stipulated that
they could be decreed only by a three-fourths majority of the
Village Assembly, and in 1893 a further obstacle was created by a
law providing that the minimum term between two re-distributions
should be twelve years, and that they should never be undertaken
without the sanction of the Rural Supervisor.

A certain number of Communes have made the experiment of
transforming the Communal tenure into hereditary allotments, and
its only visible effect has been that the allotments accumulate in
the hands of the richer and more enterprising peasants, and the
poorer members of the Commune become landless, while the primitive
system of agriculture remains unimproved.

Up to this point I have dealt with the so-called causes of peasant
impoverishment which are much talked of, but which are, in my
opinion, only of secondary importance. I pass now to those which
are more tangible and which have exerted on the condition of the
peasantry a more palpable influence. And, first, inordinate

This is a very big subject, on which a bulky volume might be
written, but I shall cut it very short, because I know that the
ordinary reader does not like to be bothered with voluminous
financial statistics. Briefly, then, the peasant has to pay three
kinds of direct taxation: Imperial to the Central Government, local
to the Zemstvo, and Commune to the Mir and the Volost; and besides
these he has to pay a yearly sum for the redemption of the land-
allotment which he received at the time of the Emancipation. Taken
together, these form a heavy burden, but for ten or twelve years
the emancipated peasantry bore it patiently, without falling very
deeply into arrears. Then began to appear symptoms of distress,
especially in the provinces with a poor soil, and in 1872 the
Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry, in which I had the
privilege of taking part unofficially. The inquiry showed that
something ought to be done, but at that moment the Government was
so busy with administrative reforms and with trying to develop
industry and commerce that it had little time to devote to studying
and improving the economic position of the silent, long-suffering
muzhik. It was not till nearly ten years later, when the
Government began to feel the pinch of the ever-increasing arrears,
that it recognised the necessity of relieving the rural population.
For this purpose it abolished the salt-tax and the poll-tax and
repeatedly lessened the burden of the redemption-payments. At a
later period (1899) it afforded further relief by an important
reform in the mode of collecting the direct taxes. From the
police, who often ruined peasant householders by applying distraint
indiscriminately, the collection of taxes was transferred to
special authorities who took into consideration the temporary
pecuniary embarrassments of the tax-payers. Another benefit
conferred on the peasantry by this reform is that an individual
member of the Commune is no longer responsible for the fiscal
obligations of the Commune as a whole.

Since these alleviations have been granted the annual total
demanded from the peasantry for direct taxation and land-redemption
payments is 173 million roubles, and the average annual sum to be
paid by each peasant household varies, according to the locality,
from 11 1/2 to 20 roubles (21s. 6d. to 40s.). In addition to this
annuity there is a heavy burden of accumulated arrears, especially
in the central and eastern provinces, which amounted in 1899 to 143
millions. Of the indirect taxes I can say nothing definite,
because it is impossible to calculate, even approximately, the
share of them which falls on the rural population, but they must
not be left out of account. During the ten years of M. Witte's
term of office the revenue of the Imperial Treasury was nearly
doubled, and though the increase was due partly to improvements in
the financial administration, we can hardly believe that the
peasantry did not in some measure contribute to it. In any case,
it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them, under actual
conditions, to improve their economic position. On that point all
Russian economists are agreed. One of the most competent and
sober-minded of them, M. Schwanebach, calculates that the head of a
peasant household, after deducting the grain required to feed his
family, has to pay into the Imperial Treasury, according to the
district in which he resides, from 25 to 100 per cent, of his
agricultural revenue. If that ingenious calculation is even
approximately correct, we must conclude that further financial
reforms are urgently required, especially in those provinces where
the population live exclusively by agriculture.

Heavy as the burden of taxation undoubtedly is, it might perhaps be
borne without very serious inconvenience if the peasant families
could utilise productively all their time and strength.
Unfortunately in the existing economic organisation a great deal of
their time and energy is necessarily wasted. Their economic life
was radically dislocated by the Emancipation, and they have not yet
succeeded in reorganising it according to the new conditions.

In the time of serfage an estate formed, from the economic point of
view, a co-operative agricultural association, under a manager who
possessed unlimited authority, and sometimes abused it, but who was
generally worldly-wise enough to understand that the prosperity of
the whole required the prosperity of the component parts. By the
abolition of serfage the association was dissolved and liquidated,
and the strong, compact whole fell into a heap of independent
units, with separate and often mutually hostile interests. Some of
the disadvantages of this change for the peasantry I have already
enumerated above. The most important I have now to mention. In
virtue of the Emancipation Law each family received an amount of
land which tempted it to continue farming on its own account, but
which did not enable it to earn a living and pay its rates and
taxes. The peasant thus became a kind of amphibious creature--half
farmer and half something else--cultivating his allotment for a
portion of his daily bread, and obliged to have some other
occupation wherewith to cover the inevitable deficit in his
domestic budget. If he was fortunate enough to find near his home
a bit of land to be let at a reasonable rent, he might cultivate it
in addition to his own and thereby gain a livelihood; but if he had
not the good luck to find such a piece of land in the immediate
neighbourhood, he had to look for some subsidiary occupation in
which to employ his leisure time; and where was such occupation to
be found in an ordinary Russian village? In former years he might
have employed himself perhaps in carting the proprietor's grain to
distant markets or still more distant seaports, but that means of
making a little money has been destroyed by the extension of
railways. Practically, then, he is now obliged to choose between
two alternatives: either to farm his allotment and spend a great
part of the year in idleness, or to leave the cultivation of his
allotment to his wife and children and to seek employment
elsewhere--often at such a distance that his earnings hardly cover
the expenses of the journey. In either case much time and energy
are wasted.

The evil results of this state of things were intensified by
another change which was brought about by the Emancipation. In the
time of serfage the peasant families, as I have already remarked,
were usually very large. They remained undivided, partly from the
influence of patriarchal conceptions, but chiefly because the
proprietors, recognising the advantage of large units, prevented
them from breaking up. As soon as the proprietor's authority was
removed, the process of disintegration began and spread rapidly.
Every one wished to be independent, and in a very short time nearly
every able-bodied married peasant had a house of his own. The
economic consequences were disastrous. A large amount of money had
to be expended in constructing new houses and farmsteadings; and
the old habit of one male member remaining at home to cultivate the
land allotment with the female members of the family whilst the
others went to earn wages elsewhere had to be abandoned. Many
large families, which had been prosperous and comfortable--rich
according to peasant conceptions--dissolved into three or four
small ones, all on the brink of pauperism.

The last cause of peasant impoverishment that I have to mention is
perhaps the most important of all: I mean the natural increase of
population without a corresponding increase in the means of
subsistence. Since the Emancipation in 1861 the population has
nearly doubled, whilst the amount of Communal land has remained the
same. It is not surprising, therefore, that when talking with
peasants about their actual condition, one constantly hears the
despairing cry, "Zemli malo!" ("There is not enough land"); and one
notices that those who look a little ahead ask anxiously: "What is
to become of our children? Already the Communal allotment is too
small for our wants, and the land outside is doubling and trebling
in price! What will it be in the future?" At the same time, not a
few Russian economists tell us--and their apprehensions are shared
by foreign observers--that millions of peasants are in danger of
starvation in the near future.

Must we, then, accept for Russia the Malthus doctrine that
population increases more rapidly than the means of subsistence,
and that starvation can be avoided only by plague, pestilence, war,
and other destructive forces? I think not. It is quite true that,
if the amount of land actually possessed by the peasantry and the
present system of cultivating it remained unchanged, semi-
starvation would be the inevitable result within a comparatively
short space of time; but the danger can be averted, and the proper
remedies are not far to seek. If Russia is suffering from over-
population, it must be her own fault, for she is, with the
exception of Norway and Sweden, the most thinly populated country
in Europe, and she has more than her share of fertile soil and
mineral resources.

A glance at the map showing the density of population in the
various provinces suggests an obvious remedy, and I am happy to say
it is already being applied. The population of the congested
districts of the centre is gradually spreading out, like a drop of
oil on a sheet of soft paper, towards the more thinly populated
regions of the south and east. In this way the vast region
containing millions and millions of acres which lies to the north
of the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian, and Central Asia is
yearly becoming more densely peopled, and agriculture is steadily
encroaching on the pastoral area. Breeders of sheep and cattle,
who formerly lived and throve in the western portion of that great
expanse, are being pushed eastwards by the rapid increase in the
value of land, and their place is being taken by enterprising
tillers of the soil. Further north another stream of emigration is
flowing into Central Siberia. It does not flow so rapidly, because
in that part of the Empire, unlike the bare, fertile steppes of the
south, the land has to be cleared before the seed can be sown, and
the pioneer colonists have to work hard for a year or two before
they get any return for their labour; but the Government and
private societies come to their assistance, and for the last twenty
years their numbers have been steadily increasing. During the ten
years 1886-96 the annual contingent rose from 25,000 to 200,000,
and the total number amounted to nearly 800,000. For the
subsequent period I have not been able to obtain the official
statistics, but a friend who has access to the official sources of
information on this subject assures me that during the last twelve
years about four millions of peasants from European Russia have
been successfully settled in Siberia.

Even in the European portion of the Empire millions of acres which
are at present unproductive might be utilised. Any one who has
travelled by rail from Berlin to St. Petersburg must have noticed
how the landscape suddenly changes its character as soon as he has
crossed the frontier. Leaving a prosperous agricultural country,
he traverses for many weary hours a region in which there is hardly
a sign of human habitation, though the soil and climate of that
region resembles closely the soil and climate of East Prussia. The
difference lies in the amount of labour and capital expended.
According to official statistics the area of European Russia
contains, roughly speaking, 406 millions of dessyatins, of which 78
millions, or 19 per cent., are classified as neudobniya, unfit for
cultivation; 157 millions, or 39 per cent., as forest; 106
millions, or 26 per cent., as arable land; and 65 millions, or 16
per cent., as pasturage. Thus the arable and pasture land compose
only 42 per cent., or considerably less than half the area.

Of the land classed as unfit for cultivation--19 per cent. of the
whole--a large portion, including the perennially frozen tundri of
the far north, must ever remain unproductive, but in latitudes with
a milder climate this category of land is for the most part
ordinary morass or swamp, which can be transformed into pasturage,
or even into arable land, by drainage at a moderate cost. As a
proof of this statement I may cite the draining of the great Pinsk
swamps, which was begun by the Government in 1872. If we may trust
an official report of the progress of the works in 1897, an area of
2,855,000 dessyatins (more than seven and a half million acres) had
been drained at an average cost of about three shillings an acre,
and the price of land had risen from four to twenty-eight roubles
per dessyatin.

Reclamation of marshes might be undertaken elsewhere on a much more
moderate scale. The observant traveller on the highways and byways
of the northern provinces must have noticed on the banks of almost
every stream many acres of marshy land producing merely reeds or
coarse rank grass that no well-brought-up animal would look at.
With a little elementary knowledge of engineering and the
expenditure of a moderate amount of manual labour these marshes
might be converted into excellent pasture or even into highly
productive kitchen-gardens; but the peasants have not yet learned
to take advantage of such opportunities, and the reformers, who
deal only in large projects and scientific panaceas for the cure of
impoverishment, consider such trifles as unworthy of their
attention. The Scotch proverb that if the pennies be well looked
after, the pounds will look after themselves, contains a bit of
homely wisdom totally unknown to the Russian educated classes.

After the morasses, swamps, and marshes come the forests,
constituting 39 per cent. of the whole area, and the question
naturally arises whether some portions of them might not be
advantageously transformed into pasturage or arable land. In the
south and east they have been diminished to such an extent as to
affect the climate injuriously, so that the area of them should be
increased rather than lessened; but in the northern provinces the
vast expanses of forest, covering millions of acres, might perhaps
be curtailed with advantage. The proprietors prefer, however, to
keep them in their present condition because they give a modest
revenue without any expenditure of capital.

Therein lies the great obstacle to land-reclamation in Russia: it
requires an outlay of capital, and capital is extremely scarce in
the Empire of the Tsars. Until it becomes more plentiful, the area
of arable land and pasturage is not likely to be largely increased,
and other means of checking the impoverishment of the peasantry
must be adopted.


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