Chapter One. The Roots of the Poverty
The next milestone in the development of organizational structure of Ukrainian agriculture was associated with the reform deservedly named after a Russian Prime Minister Peter Stolypin (1906-1911), who in fact succeeded in achieving remarkable changes in the organization and productivity of agriculture. The positive results of the reform were apparently passed over by the Soviet historians for ideological reason. Stormy events such as the World War I, the October Revolution, and Civil War overshadowed this period. Nevertheless it played a principal role in the agrarian history of Ukraine.
In spite of the obvious progressiveness of the Stolypin's reform it always was criticized by both right and left political forces of the society. Landlords and their defenders found the reform too radical, reducing their key role in rural life and, of course, the benefit from the retained vestiges of the serfdom. All kinds of left parties blamed Stolypin for stratification of the peasantry, spreading of private-owner ideology, supporting only prosperous farmers, etc.
Social democrats (the future Communist party) especially came out against Stolypin's innovations. It could be explained that the reform distracted the attention of the peasantry from the social upheaval which was actively developing, and proposed thesolution of agrarian problem by the consolidation psychology of peasant individualism and the institution of private property, which were both incompatible with the Marxism theory. After the revolution of 1917 even up to recent time the official point of view remained very prejudiced against Stolypin's personality and his reform. As an example, the Concise Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia published in 1968 gives this definition of the term "Stolypin's reform":
"A number of the tsarist government's deeds were directed towards the strengthening of the kurkuls [prosperous peasants] as a social support for tsardom in the countryside. In accordance with the edict of November 9 (22), 1906, every peasant had been given the right to receive his piece of land as private property, to sell this land, or to go out with the land for khutir [type of consolidated holding with fields and cottage enclosed] or vidrub [type of consolidated holding with fields only enclosed]. It made it possible to buy up the land of poorer peasants. In Ukraine during 1906-1912 263 thousands of peasant households sold their plots..."1
Soviet propaganda suppressed the real significance of the reform. However, Stolypin's name again became popular only at the end of 1980s because the market economy transformation in the Soviet agriculture sounded very similar to the Stolypin's ideas: to support peasants in their intention to leave collective dependence, to create economically strong private family farms and to reinforce the market orientation of agriculture. What did Stolypin actually do in order to have several attempts on his life, finally to be mortally wounded, to be almost forgotten, and then to be triumphally revived in his ideas ? The phenomenon of Stolypin's reform consists in its fundamental transformations which touch the essence of agrarian problem:
- it stopped the dependence of peasants
on landlords, which wasn't done completely by the formal emancipation
- it was destroying the "holy of hollies" of the Russian Empire - the traditional structure of rural life as a basis of rigid peasants' conservatism;
- it formed strong private peasant farms as primary units or cores for advanced agriculture;
- it created the basis of governmental market regulation in agriculture which favored both farmers' and the state's interests.
One might find it strange but the emancipation of the peasants in 1861 was followed by a stagnation in agriculture. High redemption payments led agricultural producers to a lack of capital and kept their means of production on a relatively undeveloped level. The achievements of agronomy and development of farm technique were beyond the financial possibilities of the vast majority of rural people. Agriculture urgently needed product diversification, more intensive farming methods and easier access to markets. Because of the small size of their own plots, peasants had to look for land elsewhere. It became known, historically, as the "land hunger" [Macey, p.18]. The situation was worsened by the considerable growth of rural population as an immediate result of emancipation. Objectively, Ukrainian agriculture (especially in black soils regions) didn't need such a large labor force.
Continued dependence on landlords was only one serious trouble of peasants. Another one was connected with a conflict situation inside of village commune. In fact, as the result of the reform of 1861, peasants were given allotments cultivated under serfdom not directly but through the village commune. The background for establishments was the earlier serfdom period when the landlords preferred to deal with the village a whole rather than with each peasant individually. The commune was an object of communal taxation. Its main functions were to distribute and to collect the tax according to the numbers of "mouths to feed" and size of plots, to organize joint exercise of labor duties and dispensation of vacant plots. Within the commune there was the mutual responsibility for the payment of taxes and fulfillment of duties by its members. But the commune didn't have any right to own, distribute or redistribute land. It also wasn't engaged in system of local management and justice [iconomov, p.35].
Originally, there were no communes in Ukrainian country settlements [Seton-Watson, p.8; Atnnson, p.17] and villages didn't engage in land redistribution [Yaney, p.169] in contrast to Russia where village communes always played a very important role in rural life and even were assimilated with a model of primitive socialism [Radkey, p.io-ii]. The appearance of communes in Ukrainian villages was connected with the spreading of serfdom and its Russian regulations. After the reform of 1861 communes were introduced even in the places where they previously unknown [Bilimovich, p.312] and became an obstacle for further organizational transformations, first of all in densely populated regions which prevailed in Ukraine.
The problem was in fact that the cultivated plots given to peasants were divided to land around house and communal land. The latter was a subject of debates and periodical redistribution. The family share in communal land was variable because it was determined by the number of commune members. When children got married it was necessary to divide land in both places. New families had to live with their parents. A head of the peasant family couldn't pass a fixed allotment in heritage- Peasants' plots became smaller and smaller. The size of the land strips was very often 3 feet wide (sometimes to 28 inches) and 600 to 900 feet long [Medvedev Zhores, p.il].
Communes tried to equalize the rights of families in quality of soils and distance from the villages. That's why the system of redistribution was so complicated that one family could have up to 10 strips of land sometimes located at a distance of several miles from one to another [Yaney, p.164]. Another negative factor was the same crop rotation for each holding. It was a low productive, very confused but compulsory system. The absolute evidence was the fact of urgent structural transformation. Peasants were to have compact tenure, independent crop rotation, and better agricultural knowledge.
It should be mentioned that the forthcoming Stolypin agrarian reform was associated with several central government decrees reducing dependence of peasants on landlords and mutual dependence on communes. In 1903 the commune members' joint responsibility for duties and taxes was ended, in 1906 half of the redemption dues were forgiven and finally in 1907 they were canceled all together for the peasants. Liberation of peasants, started in 1861, at last was completed [Rogger, p.243].
In accordance with the decree initiated by Peter Stolypin in 1906 (later adopted as a law) the process of systematical redistributing of land among peasants families within communes was stopped. A peasant family was given a certificate to private land. If the actual size of an allotment was bigger than the standardized (average for the commune) one a peasant had to buy up the surplus of land but at the price of 1861 which was of course considerably lower than market prices. The limit for land purchase by one individual was six standardized allotments. The communal property was replaced by a private one. But for the village as a whole this replacement was a function of the village assembly. A peasant family could also apply for compact holding either with living inside of the village (vidrub) or outside with habitation on privatized land (khutir). Both types of holdings were called enclosed. The regional and local land commissions were established in order to conduct the reform and to be arbitrators. Membership of the commissions staff consisted of both members elected by, the peasants and members nominated by the state.
An important role in the agrarian reform belonged to the State Peasant Bank founded in 1882 with the primary objective being the granting of credits to peasants, both individuals and communes, for the purchase of land. But its operations were on a very small scale because of peasants' poverty, high rates of interest, and rapid repayment schedule. In the end of the century the bank charges had been reduced and some diminished completely. The Bank was permitted to purchase land on its own account and resell to peasants at the advantageous prices. A certain amount of state money was allocated for that. The peasants' purchase activity was growing. But "land hunger" still existed and an even bigger scale of land transactions occurred.
Animated land demand raised market prices
on land, making it profitable for landowners to sell the land. To make
land purchase reasonable for peasants through theBank and also to save
its availability for the indigent peasants some additional steps were
undertaken. It was authorized to advance the full value of the purchased
land for landless peasants, to grant loans on the mortgage basis and again
to reduce interest rates. It looked to be an efficient incentive for the
rapid growth of the peasants' purchase activity (Figure 1). To give land
to peasants and money to landlords was a good political reason for the
government, of course, but cost 140,000,000 rubles of state subsidies1
during 1906-1916 [Bilimovich, p.319].
Figure 1. Average area purchased per year by peasants through the State Peasant Bank in 1883-1913 (Russian Empire in a whole).
Data from: Bilimovich, Alexander D. 1930. "The Land Settlement in Russia and the War". Russian Agriculture During the War. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 321, 353.
Due the favorable government policy, Ukrainian peasants left the communes on a mass scale. The number of families who left communes for khutir or vidrub at that time according different sources of information was close to a half of million, or about 15%. During 1907-1916 the share of enclosed holdings was essentially higher than in rest of the Russian Empire (Table 1). These higher percentages could be explained by the acuteness of land tenure problems in populous regions, the alien nature of communes for Ukrainian peasants, and their inherent urge towards independence. The peasants' decision was not much influenced by significantly higher market prices on land in Ukraine than in other regions of the Empire [Shmarchuk,p.ll6]. Acquiring the long-awaited land as private property was idolized by peasants. Their care for land didn't dissolve during the redistribution; they worked for themselves, their children. On practical lines, they tended to increase cattle and poultry numbers, to produce larger crops, and to be more receptive to innovation. Reform was one of the more significant incentives to increase agricultural productivity in Ukraine history. Unfortunately agricultural statistics for Ukraine are not available for that period, but even general figures for the Russian Empire, where Ukraine always played the role of "food basket", reflected notable growth of agricultural productivity during Stolypin's reform (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Index of annual average crops yield in the Russian Empire during Stolypin's reform (1901-1905 = 100%)
Data from: Antsiferov, Alexis N., Alexander D. Bilimovich, Michael O.Batshev, and Dimitry N. Ivantsov. 1930. "Russian Rural Economy During the War". Russian Agriculture During the War. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 53, 63, 64, 67.
The growth of agricultural production
further expanded agricultural export (Table 2). Farm produce supplied
of the principal elements in the Russian foreign trade: crops and processing
crop products - 58% (among them cereals - 40%), animals and processing
animal products -18%, sugar and alcohol - 3% of all exports in 1913. Russia
became one of the largest world exporters of grain capturing about 25%
of world wheat market, 66% of barley market, and 33% for oats market.
The chief customers for Russian grains were Germany, Holland, Great Britain,
Italy, and France. Russian agricultural export was three time larger than
agricultural imports, mostly coffee, cocoa, tea, and luxury goods, etc.
Table 2. The increase of Russian agricultural export during Stolypin's reform
Data from: Antsiferov, Alexis N., Alexander D. Bilimovich, Michael O.Batshev, and Dimitry N. Ivantsov. 1930. "Russian Rural Economy During the War". Russian Agriculture During the War. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 109, 112, 113, 114.
However, the reform was not completed
because of Stolypin's assassination, and the beginning of World War I.
Achievements of pre-war agriculture had only a partial effect on the long
term program, and its real potential remained undiscovered. The ideas
of Stolypin were hardly understood by his contemporaries especially from
the lower social class. One author's opinion was:
"The time given the reform was too short, the number affected too small, the gains too far in the future to change the condition or outlook of most peasants or to give the state and the economy a large enough group of efficient producers who were attached to property and the existing order" [Rogger, p.245].
The fundamental changes in the countryside caused by the reform often were connected with raising social tension. The consolidation of land into more optimal sized units, and social power of certain parts of the rural population came at the expense of other peasants: if there were winners this meant there were to be losers. It was possible to put down to the last group the peasants who lost any benefits from communal distribution, who had got too small plots for normal level of incomes, and mainly who had to sell their allotments for different reasons. The government developed new emigration policy and put it into operation to reduce social tensions created by the agrarian reform. The special legal regulation allowed peasants to migrate into unused lands of Siberia, Middle Asia and Far East. Moreover the Peasants Bank was empowered to grant loans to the settlers. The state budget allocations for this purpose were constantly increasing. Local land settlement organizations were created. Their main function was to prepare available allotments for new colonists. The largest number of people who looked for a new space for living and farming was from Ukraine [Masiov, p. 24]. About one million Ukrainian families removed to Siberia during 1906-1912.
This reform should not be idealized. From a broader than only economic point of view one can state that during its implementation and all the more after a certain period it was easy to recognize the intent of the Russian government as a political strategy, to get the sympathy of wealthy peasants who were the most influential and perspective social group of rural population, and to use their economic power for the exclusion of "useless" labor power from agriculture. That was not always the democratic way. The former peasant families had to leave native places and look for new life in cities, in other regions or even over the ocean. Some typical conflicts remained in the rural community. The ground for the conflicts was the increasing difference in economic possibilities of the Stolypin's reform winners and losers. The largest peasant disturbances took place in Western Ukraine [Yaney, p.189]. A major part of Ukrainian families came back home from Siberia and other places because life there was unacceptable. For these reasons Peter Stolypin was reputed to be a conservative liberal and the most controversial Russian statesman.
The agrarian reform had outstanding
economic importance for the development of agriculture. Conclusions about
its lessons are:
1. The government recognized the existing conservative structure of rural organization (village commune) as imperfect and incorrigible, and stopped supporting it. That was a key point of agricultural policy.
2. The government also clearly knew the answer to the question about what and who was to substitute the dysfunctional system. The peasant segment selected to participate in the reform received comprehensive promotion including credits and favorable laws.
3. The desired structural transformations were achieved by incentives and financial support of the state rather than forcible or even rigid administrative' methods in attitude to agricultural producers. Freedom of choice was always guaranteed for peasants. 4. A special focus was made on the unique nature of peasant family which was to be both the primary production unit in agriculture and a business enterprise. Strong family farms were considered as the foundation of a powerful state.
From this study's point of view, the great importance of Stolypin's reform was constructing the basis for a new organizational structure in agriculture oriented to the market economy. A developed private family farm which might accept new technologies, engineering, any progressive organizational innovations and, of course directed by market incentives, was to become the core of such structure. For the higher productivity, reliable supplies, and successful marketing, new type farmers joined their efforts in the cooperatives.