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The Land Issue

The Revolutionary Masses

After 1905, capitalist development in industry was accompanied by extensive reforms in peasant agriculture. The powerful peasant movement in the years of the First Russian Revolution had demonstrated that the peasants had never fully excepted the new land arrangements institutionalized by the reform of 1861 as a just solution.  

 

They continued to dream, after emancipation, of a new partition of land to be ordered by the kind tsar, once he was able to overcome the resistance of the nobles and his ministers. They looked with increasingly covetous eyes on the broad acres of the nobles’ estates which adjoined their narrow strips, hoping that one day they would be able to lay their hands on this land.

Nevertheless, until 1905 the peasants had, by and large, acquiesced in the conditions of the Emancipation settlement and used legal methods to alleviate their land hunger. They bought some land from landlords, but, more commonly, they leased additional land, often on difficult terms. Decades of hardships and privation had accumulated abundant explosive material for a revolutionary upheaval in the village. The spark was provided in 1905 by the outbreak of the unrest in the cities which soon spread throughout the countryside. In 1906 and 1907 the peasant deputies in Russia’s new parliament, the Duma, clamored for the distribution of estate lands. And, as fifty years before in the days of the Emancipation Reform, the peasants’ demands were generally supported by all progressive elements of Russian society.                           

The most radical solution of the land issue was proposed by Socialist-Revolutionaries, heirs to the nineteenth century’s Narodniks. They advocated the Narodniks’ idea of ‘socialization’ of all privately owned land, by which they understood ‘its transfer from private property of individual owners to public domain and administration by democratically organized communes... on the basis of equalized utilization’. The liberals, such as the Kadets, also agreed that the landowners would have to give up a considerable part of their estate lands in order to increase holdings of the poorer peasants, but argued that the landlords should get a fair compensation. In 1905 even some big landowners were prepared to accept that the compulsory redistribution of some gentry land was the only way to solve the problem of rural discontent.                     

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