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Ecological Environment and Climate

 

The influence of the harsh and inhospitable climate on the life of the people inhabiting the vast expanses of the snow-bound Eurasian landmass is recognized by most commentators who have studied characteristics of the Russian historical process. Historians note, for instance, that in Central Russia which constituted the historical core of the Russian state, the annual cycle of agricultural work was unusually short: just 125-130 working-days from mid-April to mid-September.

 

Woman Plowing, by A. Venetsianov

The soil was poor and required careful cultivation, for which the Russian peasant simply did not have enough time. Constrained by time, weather and primitive agricultural methods, the peasant had to work day and night with little sleep or rest, using the labor of all available members of his family, including children, women and the elderly.

And even at the best of times the soil yielded a harvest  which barely covered his basic  needs. By contrast, his Western European counterpart enjoyed the advantage of a much longer farming season. The winter break in farming in some countries of western Europe was  fairly short (December-January), and therefore the arable land could be cultivated more thoroughly.

This fundamental difference in farming conditions between Russia and western Europe prevailed throughout the centuries until modern times. Poor crop yields and the dependence of peasant labor on the weather conditioned the extraordinary tenacity of communal institutions in the Russian countryside, which provided a collectivist safety net and guarantee of survival for the mass of the rural population. Centuries-long experience of life and work in such adverse conditions had taught peasants to devise a whole set of measures to help those members of the peasant community who were on the brink of ruin. Together, as a community, it was easier to find protection from natural calamities, or to meet obligations imposed by the squire and the State. It was advantageous for the village to have common pasture and woodland, a common place for watering the cattle.  The village community looked after orphans and childless old people. At regular intervals the land was redistributed among the peasant households in the village to ensure that each family had the amount of land commensurate with its size.

"Join Our Collective-Farm!" Soviet poster

The measures of collectivist relief of this kind survived in the countryside right into the early twentieth century. They outlived the tsarist regime which collapsed in 1917. Rural egalitarian traditions still existed in the 1920s and up to the start of Stalins forced collectivization of agriculture at the end of that decade. Stalins collectivization drive itself, with its imposition of the collective- and state-farm system on peasants, was achieved partly owing to the sheer brutally and terror with which it was enforced by the State and partly due to the survivals of communal traditions and egalitarian attitudes in the countryside.

 
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Pre-Petrine Russia

Origins of Kievan Rus
Emergence of Muscovy
Imperial Expansion
Key Historical Factors
Environment and Climate
Geopolitical Factor
Religious Factor
Social Organization
"Service State"
Consolidation of Serfdom
Vast Powers of the State
Traditional Society
Political Regime

 

Tsarist Russia

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Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
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The Revolutions of 1917
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The End of an Empire
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