Lives of the Peasants 1855-1964

living conditions, working  conditons, education and political representation

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Living Conditions of the Peasants

  • Remained universally bleak throughout the period
  • Alexander II emancipated the serfs in 1861 meaning they were no longer possessions meaning they could earn money for themselves although high redemption payments meant continuity was more significant than change
  • Alexander III reduced redemption payments and established the Peasants Land Bank in 1883 allowing them to purchase land
  • Nicholas II expanded the Land Bank and offered the opportunity of land in Siberia meaning by 1909, 2 million peasants had resettled there
  • Lenin - NEP bought short-term improvements (could sell surpluses) however also imposed War Communism and conscription which lowered living standards
  • Stalin started collectivisation which involved grain requisitioning and strict 5 YPs restricting peasants from improving their income
  • Khrushchev introduced more social housing to try and improve the overcrowding in many areas but the houses were poorly built and didnt lead to much improvement
  • Continuity more significant than change as any improvements made were either undone by the next leader or were not sustainable.
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Working Conditions of the Peasants

  • Some leaders only focused on improving industry rather than agriculture
  • Alexander II had similar aims to Khrushchev, the emancipation in 1861 aimed to improve working conditions but not very successful as his assassination in 1881 meant his progress was undone
  • Alexander III put industry before agriculture, believed Russia could be saved through rapid industrialisation
  • Nicholas II similar to Alexander III
  • Lenin did increase productivity but actually made conditions worse - he introduced requisition squads causing resentment
  • Stalin successfully used peasantry to boost industry as had money to provide equipment - did go some way to improving working conditions as saw need to do this in order to improve industry. However grain requisitioning meant peasants were working against Stalin e.g. burning crops
  • Khrushchev came from peasantry himself and put agriculture at the centre of debate for the first time. The Virgin Lands Scheme started in 1954 did imprie the working conditions by cultivating fresh land in Kazakhstan ,eaming that by 1956 half of crops came from the scheme and wages doubled
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Educational Opportunities for Peasants

  • In general there was an improvement to education over the whole period
  • Alexander II had encouraged education through the creation of the Zemstva in 1864 - the first time education was available to peasants
  • Alexander III introduced chruch schools to improve primary education, a continuation of Alexander II's work through the creation of the Zemstva in 1864. 
  • Lenin started a more regulated education system with 4 years of compulsory education for peasants - very different to the Tsarist system
  • Stalin bought in a more uniformed school system based upon Communist ideology
  • Before 1917 less than 30% of peasants were literate but by the end of the period around 80% were
  • Communist education very different to the Tsars system has there was strict control over text books and teaching methods to ensure that communism was being correctly taught whereas Tsars had based education on religion
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Political Representation for Peasants

  • Continuity more significant than change as generally no representation for peasants under any of the leaders
  • Alexander II created the Mir which was like a village council where peasants could express their opinions and this could then be expressed to government although the Mir had little influence in government - this was the only time peasants had any way of expressing opinions
  • Under Nicholas II after the 1905 revolution and the creation of the Duma there was a small amount of representation but was mainly the bureaucracy and workers who were represented
  • Under the Provisional Government  it was similar to under Nicholas II, there was slightly more representation as soviets were electing groups of workers however this was mostly based in urban areas meaning peasants still had little influence
  • Under Communist leaders peasants had no representation like everyone else in Russia, the dictatorship meant that only members of the Communist Party had any representation and under Stalin even they had no influence
  • Political representation actually worsened for peasants throughout the period
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