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Effects of Stolypin's Policies

The Revolutionary Masses

Stolypinís land decrees came into effect in late 1906, although they acquired full legal force only when they were passed by the Duma in 1910-11. The new laws abolished compulsory communal land-tenure, and turned the land into private property of the male heads of households, rather than the collective property of the commune. The new individual owners could now demand the consolidation of their scattered allotment land into a single block to form a separate farm. Thus, individually owned farmsteads could now be established which were Ďcut outí of the collective, communal land. These measures were designed to encourage the appearance of small-scale capitalist farming. The government also set up special Ďland settlement commissionsí, which helped negotiate and implement the complex rearrangements of communal landholdings into private farmsteads. 

 
 

It is difficult to gauge the success of Stolypinís reform since it was interrupted by the Great War and the revolution. What is clear, however, is that the process of the disintegration of the commune remained slow, and a new class of wealthy and independent peasants did not arise overnight. By 1915, about 30 percent of all peasants households had requested individual ownership of the land, and 22 percent had received it. Most of the new farms appeared in the empireís western and southern provinces where peasants were already familiar with individual land-holding. 

The reforms had least effect in the overpopulated central regions, where the problem of land shortage was particularly severe. In these areas, the village commune provided considerable protection to destitute peasants, and most households clung desperately to this support.

Stolypinís policies certainly benefited some of the richer peasants (kulaks) but did very little to alleviate the distress of the poorer villagers still suffering from shortage of land. The major deficiency was, however, Stolypinís failure to tackle the agrarian problem as a whole.  His legislation dealt only with peasant land and did nothing to touch the property interests or the private estates of the landed gentry.  This was an issue which the peasants themselves were to address by direct action in the turmoil of 1917.                                                           

Stolypin has received much praise from some analysts who believe that the determined prime minister was in fact saving the empire and that, given time, his agrarian reform would have achieved its major objective of transforming and stabilizing the countryside. They contend that Stolypin also planned a broader program of reforms in which the agrarian reform played a pivotal role. It was to be complemented by the improvement of local zemstvos: these representative institutions were to be extended to the regions of the empire which for various reasons still did not have them. Stolypin also planned to address the deficiencies of the judicial system which had been put in place by Alexander II but was later distorted by retrograde measures of  Alexander III. He had plans to boost popular education in order to close the cultural gap between the illiterate masses and the educated classes. Finally, Stolypin considered the introduction of measures of social protection, such as mandatory insurance of workers against illness and work accidents.

If Russia could have several decades of peace and stability, and Stolypinís reform program had been implemented in full, this group of analysts argues, then it is possible that the projected bulwark against an agrarian revolution in the shape of the politically conservative rural society might have been created, and future historians would have hailed the period when he was at the head of the Russian government as a second, after Alexander IIís reign, era of  the ĎGreat Reformsí.

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