Topic:Peasantry under Tsarist and Communist Russia

Essay by sxgal February 2004

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Q.'How far do you agree that the economic position of the peasantry in Russia was stronger in the period between the Emancipation and the Revolution than it was under Lenin and Stalin?'

My answer:

From 1856 to 1953 Russia was a country of great change, moving from Tsarist to Communist rule under Stalin. A central part of the reasons for Russia's change was agriculture and this essay explores the impact of those changes upon the peasants.

For those wanting change, the reign of Alexander II saw him in 1861 issue his 'Emancipation Manifesto', that proposed seventeen legislation acts that would free only the privately owned serfs in Russia. Alexander announced that personal serfdom would be abolished and all peasants would be able to buy land from their landlords. The State would advance the money to the landlords and would recover it from the peasants in forty-nine annual sums, known as 'redemption payments'.

In some ways, Emancipation can be seen as being successful for the peasantry, and it was the most important reform that Alexander brought in, as it allowed the peasants to own property and set up businesses of their own. The Emancipation of the Serfs was a fundamental change in Russian society and the economy, as it involved over forty million people and it was inevitable that other reforms would follow. For some this was a clear opportunity to change their economic position.

However, Emancipation can also be seen as not benefiting the peasantry, as the peasants had less land than they originally had, and were having to pay a redemption tax that was higher than the land was worth. The landowner often reserved the best land for himself. When the growth of population is taken into account, and the redistribution of land, that inevitably followed this...