Social Developments to 1914 (NII)


Developments in working and living conditions in t

In Russia's major cities, the arrival of new large factories, in addition to the growing numbers of smaller workshops, swelled the urban population. There were 2 million factory workers in Russia by 1900, and 6 million by 1913. The empire's urban population quadrupled from 7 to 28 million, and this was mainly due to the influx of peasants looking for work in the cities. 

Some settled temporarily, retaining their land and returning to the villages to help out their families for the harvest. By 1914, 3 out of every 4 people living in St Petersburg were peasants at birth. The situation in Moscow was very similar. 

The facilities needed to provide for this growing urban class were inadequate. Workers often found themselves living in barrack-like buildings, owned by the factory owners, and dangerously overcrowded and lacking in adequate sanitation. These workers had to wash in communal bathhouses and eat in canteens. Private housing was no better with 40% of houses in St Petersburg had no running water or sewage system. 1908-09 30,000 people died of cholera.   

The demand for work and accomodation was such that rents remained high, often taking half a worker's wages. Those who could not afford rent simply lived on the streets or slept in the factories. 

Workers' wages varied massively, according to whether they were skilled or unskilled, the occupation followed, and the amount of overtime put in, or, the amount deducted by fines. Conditions were at their worst during the industrial depression of 1900-08. However, even when industry began to revive, the wages of industrial workers failed to keep pace with inflation. 

1 of 7


  • 1885- Prohibited night-time employment of women and children
  • 1886- Decreed that workers had to be employed according to contracts overseen by factory boards. 
  • 1892- Employment of children under 12 forbidden and female labour banned in mines
  • 1897- Hours of work decreased to 11 and a half
  • 1903- More efficient systems of factory inspection
  • 1912- Sickness and accident insurance for workers

Education also spread. There was an 85% rise in primary school provision between 1905 and 1914 and the government promoted the development of technical schools and universities. Investment in education was far less than in railways and only 55% of children were in full time education by 1914. 

2 of 7

Developments in working and living conditions in c

Conditions for peasant farmers did not improve. ***** farming persisted on 90% of land and there was still widespread rural poverty. The gap between the richest and poorest form of poverty increased as the Kulaks (wealthier peasant entrepreneurs) took advantage of the less favoured. 

Increased numbers were forced to leave their farms and join the bands of migrant labourers looking for either seasonal farming work or industrial employment. A minority migrated to Siberia, encouraged by government schemes from 1896 to sponser emigration from the over-populated rural south and west to the new agricultural settlements opened up by the Trans-Siberian Railway.

However only 3.5 of 97 million of the peasant population were able to take advantage of this and the scheme was clearly inadequate to relieve the pressure of a growing population on resources. Living standards varied in different parts of the country. The continuation of nobles' landowning and backward farming methods were mainly concentrated in the Russian heartland. 

Despite improvements in health care provided throught the Zemstva, a large proportion of peasants were turned down as unfit for military service. Mortalitiy rates in Russia were higher than those in any other European country and there were too few doctors for the large rural population. Teachers were also in short supply. Few recieved much more than the basic elementary education 

3 of 7

Social Divisions

The Nobility

The position of the nobility as a whole had suffered as a result of the emancipation, but some had thrived on the favourable arrangements for land distribution or involvement in industrial enterprises and financial speculation. Others, prehaps serving in government office or with strong military connections, retained much of their former influence and lifestyle. Around 1/3 of all nobles' land was transferred to townsmen or peasants between 1861 and 1905, and there were nobles who struggled to meet debts, and failed to understand modern money management, investment for the future and the need for adjusting living standards accordingly.

However, there was no redistributive taxation (rich people taxed to allow for welfare benefits to be given to poorer members of society). Nicholas encouraged noble influence and was keen to see their power within the local zemstva retained. The nobility were regularly appointed to provincial governorships and vice-governorships and each province and district of the empire also had its own noble assembly, which met once a year. 

4 of 7

Social Divisions

The middle classes

The traditional legal structure had been based on 4 groups- nobles, merchants, clergy and peasantry- but this structure was challenged by the emergance of a small but influential middle stratum (layer) that expanded as the pace of economic change quickened. 

This group grew as a force as management and professional positions became more in demand in the increasingly complex industrialising society. There were plenty of opportunities for enterprising. The growth of education and the demand for more administrators also fuelled a growing middle class.

The growing middle classes found their natural home on the councils of the zemstva, and in the town and state dumas, where they exerted an influence in their size.

5 of 7

Social Divisions

Workers and Peasantry

Population growth and economic development most affected the workers and peasantry. In the countryside, social adjustments were taking place. Although most pesant protest before 1914 was the result of traditional grieviences- a failed harvest or unfair land allocation - the slow process of awakening the peasantry from their inertia (resistance to change) to political activism was already underway by 1914.

In urban areas, former peasants, allienated from their families and their roots, gradually lost something of their former identity and began to associate with others who lived and worked in close proximity, sharing grievances (complaints). Here they became an easy target for the political agitators (people who urge others to rebel). 

6 of 7

Cultural Changes

Culturally, Russia in 1914, might have appeared little change. The fundamental 'patriarchal' (male dominated) structure of Russian society remianed untouched. However, economic and political developments had brought some new opportunities and aspirations for women. Although Alexander III and Nicholas II tried to cut back on women's educational opportunities, increasing numbers of women found greater independence through factory work. 

The growth of education also brought about change. Government expenditure on primary education grew from 5 million roubles in 1896 to over 82 million by 1914. There was still 40% illiteracy in 1914, but a basic level of education increased a sense of self-worth among the literate. The numbers of books and publications proliferated (increased rapidly). There were 1767 newspapers being published at least weekly by 1914.

Secondary and higher education remained elitist (led by the elite). However, between 1860 and 1914 the number of university students in Russia grew from 5000 to 69,000. 

The years 1894 to 1914 brought social changes in both the towns and countryside. While it was not obvious at the time, changes in the position of the M/C, workers and peasantry in particular were to have political consequences during the war years.

7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Russia - 19th and 20th century resources »