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Stolypin's Land Reform

The Revolutionary Masses

As an alternative to the radical and liberal proposals, in November 1906 the tsarist government enacted its own kind of agrarian reform.  This reform was connected, first of all, with the name of Peter Stolypin (1862-1911), the last  leader of notable talent to serve Nicholas II. In 1906 he was first appointed Minister of the Interior and then Chairman of the Council of Ministers (i.e., prime minister).  


As Minister of the Interior, Stolypin waged a merciless struggle against the revolutionary movement, suppressing any remaining discontent by force. Under him the government tried oppositionists in courts martial and made free use of the hangmanís noose, known as ĎStolypinís necktieí. Nevertheless, he realized that there were genuine reasons which fuelled revolutionary attitudes in society and that reform was the only way to stamp out revolution completely. A hereditary landowner and convinced monarchist  himself, Stolypin, nevertheless, clearly saw the impossibility of going back to the old order - the autocratic system - with the landed gentry as its main pillar.

As a result, Stolypinís policies as prime minister were of a contradictory nature. He sought to give maximum prerogatives to the ruling bureaucracy, yet he also found it necessary to preserve the elected Duma. While protecting the property rights of the landed gentry, he at the same time tried to widen the social base of the regime by enlisting the support of the big bourgeoisie and of more well-to-do groups of the peasantry.           

Stolypinís land reform was his most important policy, as it promised to have a far-reaching effect on the internal life of the country. It followed a clear and concrete objective of creating in the Russian village a powerful layer of well-to-do peasants who would become new reliable supporters of the government. They would form a new class of independent, economically viable proprietors in the countryside who would be attached to the principle of private property, and therefore better coexist with the manor system and act as a bulwark against any future revolution in the village. The essence of Stolypinís approach was epitomized by his famous slogan: a Ďwager on the sturdy and the strongí.            

From the landlordsí point of view, the main attraction of Stolypinís plan was that it did not require the surrender of their land. The creation of a new propertied class of small landowners was to be achieved at the expense of other sections of the peasant population. A way had to be devised to speed up the disintegration of the egalitarian village commune to allow this new class of small capitalist farmers to emerge. Thus the destruction of the peasant commune became the cornerstone of Stolypinís agrarian reform.

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