Stolpin and land reform (1906 - 1914)


Reactionary Counter Terror

  • As a ruthless provisional governor before coming to the duma, Stolypin was well-prepared to use violence to deal with opposition in the years following 1905.
  • Faced with an increase in radical violence in 1907 - with 3,000 killed by terrorists - Stolypin responded by carrying out over 1,000 death sentences.  He also put pressure on trade unions and newspapers, and by 1908 these policies seemed to have worked with considerably less political assassinations recorded
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Agricultural Reform

  • Stolypin was aware that beyond violent repression, reform was essential if the tsardom was to be maintained, and where Witte had looked to industry Stolypin attempted to get to grips with the deep-rooted problems of Russian agriculture. 
  • The idea underlying Stolypin’s reforms was that the best way to strengthen support for the regime was to create a class of prosperous peasants.  The key problems that he needed to address were: i) negative effect of the mir on economic development, ii) ineffective land usage in the village leading to inefficient agriculture and iii) the ever-present ‘land hunger’ among peasants. 
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Reform Measures

  • Redemption payments to the mir cancelled, giving peasants free ownership of their land and giving them the option to leave the mir and become individual landholders.
  • Cheap loans offered by ‘Peasants’ Bank’ to allow more capitalist peasants to buy strips of land from their neighbours and consolidate into larger, more efficient holdings.  These ‘kulaks’ could then effectively withdraw themselves from the village community and be more independent. 
  • Peasants who sold their land could either become wage labourers, move to the new cities or take a government grant to populate uncultivated Siberia.
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  • Agricultural production increased, leading to record harvests in 1913 - though some historians claim this has more to do with the weather than reforms, and output was still low compared to Western standards.
  • By 1916 24% of households in European Russia owned their own land, and more were in the process of doing so.  By 1914 over 1/3 of peasants had left the mir. 
  • Over 1.5 million migrated to Siberia between 1907 and 1909, which helped to broaden the base of Russian agriculture.
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  • Huge tracts of the best land was still owned by the Tsar and the gentry - and only 10% of peasants had managed to consolidate their land into a larger farm by 1914.
  • Reform did not address problem of overpopulation and the ‘land hunger’ this generated.
  • The reforms produced a growing class of alienated poor peasants, some of whom drifted into cities to work, others who became discontented farm labourers.  This was a dangerous class of people, who lacked much in the way of material wealth and stability and were therefore susceptible to revolt and radicalism. 
  • Stolypin’s attempt to construct a middle ground of ‘enlightened conservatism’ ended up giving him enemies on both sides of the political spectrum, conservative and radical alike, before he was assassinated in 1911 by a left-wing radical with connections to the Secret Police (!!!). 
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