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Agriculture Timeline


Past Questions

 Old Course

Exam Season


June 02

In the period 1855 to 1956 did the Russian people receive better treatment under the Tsarist or Communist governments ?

Jan 03

How far did the living and working conditions of the Russian peasants remain uniformly poor through the period 1855 to 1956 ?

June 04

Examine the view that, throughout the period 1855 to 1956, Russian government regarded the peasantry more as a burden than a help to the development of the state.

June 06

How far do you agree that life for peasants was uniformly bleak in the period 1855 to 1956 ?

June 07

Assess the view that no Russian ruler in the period 1855 to 1956 succeeded in improving the lives of the peasants.

 New Course

Exam Season



How different socially and economically was Tsarist Russian (1855-1917) from CommunistRussia(1918-1964) ?

Jan 10

Assess the view that the lives of the peasants inRussiadid not improve in the period from 1855 to 1964.

Jan 11

Assess the view that economic change inRussiawas more successful under Stalin than any other ruler in the period from 1855 to 1964.

June 11

Assess the view that the condition of the peasantry inRussiawas transformed in the period 1855 to 1964.


Useful Evidence


  • Nicholas I “evil, palpable and oblivious to everyone”
  • 80-90% of Russians serfs
  • KD Kavelin, Russian professor 1856 “the garden knot which ties together all our afflictions”
  • 51 million serfs in Russia not citizens but property –  no rights, forcing them to marry, be beaten, bought and sold and exiled at the landlord’s discretion
  • Terrible system: number of incidents. Armed force used 185 times between 1856 and 1860


  • Alexander II “it is better to begin abolishing serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin abolishing itself from below”
  • Peasants farmed 20% less land after emancipation
  • Army service 27 years before, 15 after emancipation, 6 on active service
  • Count Tolstoy “Tsar Liberator”
  • Historian Westwood “with the possible exception of Khrushchev, no other Russian ruler did so much to reduce the suffering of the Russian people”
  • Mosse “Alexander proved himself a disappointing liberal and a inefficient autocrat”
  • JAS Grenville “a cruel joke”
  • Failure for the landowners: 248 million roubles used on debts
  • Redemption cost in black soil roubles was 341 for land value of 289
  • redemption payments over 49 years, by 1870 only 55% even be able to begin paying
  • 1861: 449 serious incidents of rioting
  • 1861- 1905 average land owned by nobles fell by 41%
  • 700 000 former manorial and military serfs received no land at all


  • Rural population rose from 50 million to 103 million between 1860 – 1914, 1 million a year growth
  • Durnovo attributed the slogan “we shall export and go hungry” to him
  • Colypin: 400 000 deaths
  • Bromley: 4 million
  • Grain exports increase by 18%
  • 850 000 moved to West Siberia between 1895 and 1905
  • Alexander III: Land captains to oversee the mirs


  • Land held by peasantry in 1877 31%, 1917: 47%
  • 1907 – 1916 2.5 million households left the repression of the mir
  • Number of households becoming independent: 1907: 48 271 1908: 508 344
  • Machinery appears: 66 000 reapers in Russia, 36 000 in western Siberia
  • Factory production increases from 13 million roubles to 60 million between 1900-1913
  • Trebilcock: increased the purchasing power of 160 million peasants by 15%
  • Wanted to create a “conservative bulwark of the status quo” according to R Hugley
  • Stolypin “the government has wagered on the strong and sensible”
  • Migration encouraged, 2 million migrate between 1906-1909
  • Political power further restricted by electoral changes to the Duma
  • Increase in production of some 27% between late 1890s and period 1909-1913

First World War

  • 9, 150 000 killed, 76.3% of those mobilised vast majority are peasants
  • First decree of Sovnarkhum 6th Nov 1917: 540 million acres of land given to peasants from landowners
  • Lenin wrote “we must give complete freedom to the peasants to proceed with agrarian revolution in their own way”

War Communism

  • Pravda: 25 million below subsistence levels
  • Figes “the people’s tragedy”
  • Lenin “crusade of iron detachments” to get grain, some as large as 45 000 men
  • Between 1913 and 1922
  • Grain harvest 80.1 – 50.3 millions of ton
  • 50% still farm by hand, 20% with wooden plough
  • Figes “by March 1921 soviet power in much of the countryside had ceased to exist”
  • Crop area fallen by 20%


  • Acton “golden age of the peasant”
  • Grain production 1920: 58% to 1926: 96% of 1913 level and few rural disturbances
  • Peasant co operatives grew from 14 – 18 million members indicating greater efficiency

Stalin’s collectivisation

  • 2 million tons short of grain required to feed the cities
  • Party conference of October 1927 “decisive offensive against the kulaks” “liquidate the kulaks as a class”
  • Stalin “the collective farm policy was a terrible struggle… it was fearful. Four years it lasted”
  • Issac Deutscher “the first man made famine in history”
  • Stalin “Transformation of our country from an agrarian to an industrial one”
  • Robert Conquest: 15 million deaths
  • 1929: 75% peasants, 1960s: 30%, massive social change
  • Number of pigs falls from 26 to 13.6 million in between 1928 and 1930
  • Russian female peasant  “you won’t have it the flames will have it” from account of Victor Kravchenko
  • AGR Smith “second serfdom”
  • Chris Ward “no one could challenge the assertion that collectivisation was a tremendous national tragedy”
  • Consumption of meat per person fell from 25 kilos to 13 whilst cattle fell from 70 to 34 million in between 1928 and 1932
  • Lynch “a large proportion of the Soviet people were sacrificed on the altar of Stalin’s reputation”
  • Grain enjoyed a 9% growth rate 1939-1941


  • Mc Cauley 70 000 Mir/Kolkozy destroyed, 1/3 under Nazi rule – 8 million die
  • Death rate for 8 nations. 47% for deported nations, ½ million died
  • Gestapo killed 90 000 at reprisal at Odessa
  • Greater destruction that the First World War
  • 1945: 100 million acres less than before outbreak of war


  • 32 million acres under collectivisation by 1955 in Siberia/Kazakhstan
  • 1956 – 50% of total grain harvest
  • Sympathised with farmers, talked to them, first peasant born leader
  • 30% of produce from 3% of privately owned land
  • 40% of population still worked land, far more in other countries
  • Higher prices paid for produce and effort to eradicate rural poverty
  • 500 000 volunteers went West with huge mechanised resources, very different to Stalin and Lenin.
  • 1963 harvest failure in Kazakhstan and traditional grain growing areas

Useful Lecture Notes

Were the Peasants ever free really free ? 2003

Useful terms




– a labourer not allowed to leave the land where he works. Do not use the term slave as interchangeable.


Mir/ Obschina


– peasant land communes. The Mir (a “world”) was the name given to the peasant community. Collective decisions about land use were made by the peasant elders who were also responsible for the community’s redemption payments and obligations to the state.


War Communism


– the combination of policies the Bolsheviks introduced to meet the needs of the Civil War was retrospectively labeled a “War”.  The result  was that the countryside was stripped of its harvest and the 1921 famine followed.


NEP (New Economic Policy)


– Introduced by Lenin in 1921, it replaced War Communism by allowing private trade amongst peasants. Ownership of small industrial businesses was also allowed. It was seen as a betrayal of the revolution by hard-line communists but it was a necessary short term solution to appease a riotous countryside and stimulate the economy after the Civil War. As Lenin himself stated, it was “one step backwards, for two steps forward.”




-a term (of abuse originally – like Puritan in our Elizabethan course) derived from the word a “fist”. Kulaks were originally those wealthier than the average peasant because they owned small pieces of land or produced enough to sell for profit or hire labour. Under Lenin these men were sometimes known as NEPmen. Stalin would later use the term to describe any peasants who resisted his drive for collectivisation in the countryside.




– Also known as the “Ural-Siberian method”, this was Stalin’s quest to have the Kulaks ˜liquidated as a class” and their property seized by the state. As many as 25 million Kulaks were bludgeoned into new collective farms while others were deported or executed. It was the first purge of Stalin’s rule.




– a collective farm under Stalin’s rule




– an agricultural worker. Not be confused with the proletariat, who are specifically the urban working classes. The peasants make up the majority of Russia’s population until Stalin’s rapid industrialisation (and thus urbanisation) in the 1930s.





6 Responses to Agriculture

  1. Roslyn Lezon says:

    I must declare I’m impressed. Very seldom do I encounter a weblog that’s both educative and amusing. Just want to let you know that you have most definatly hit the nail on the head. Your concept is fantastic. Thanks is all I can say !!

  2. Shalim says:

    very useful evidence

  3. luke flory says:

    this page on agriculture is very helpful and gives alot of useful information

  4. Nick says:

    I broadly agree with the timeline, with two exceptions.

    (i) Stolypin’s agrarin reforms were not as effective as the diagram suggests. By 1914, only a tenth of land was consolidated, slackening the improvements in agricultural efficiency intended. Indeed, I would argue the 3,000,000 people that migrated to Siberia (Oxley) to start farming had a greater impact on the countryside than Stolypin’s main policy.

    (ii) The decline in the peasants’ welfare was more substantial during the Second World War. The peasantry undoubtedly were the rump of the 22,000,000 killed during the conflict (Traynor), while those that survived did so along with severe shortages, deportations to the Urals and the arbitrary murder conducted by the Nazi army.

  5. Josh says:

    I largely agree with this timeline. From Vyshnegradskii to War Communism to Collectivisation the extent of peasant suffering worsened. This is shown in the famines that followed, as the number of casualties went from around 2 million in 1891 to 5 million in 1921 to a possible 15 million in 1932-33. However, I regretfully agree with Nailboy that Stolypin’s reforms are not as effective as suggested by the diagram. The few peasants who set up their own farms became prosperous(Kulaks) but life for many of the poorer peasants life was no different to that under the Mir, as they just ended up working for the Kulaks instead.

  6. Elliott says:

    Some highly useful evidence here, even for those of us with little understanding of the Russian course as yet.

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