An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

AN account has been given in the foregoing book of the gradual economical and legal development of land and personal bondage. We must now address ourselves to the tasks of examining the conditions of the bonded peasantry at the conclusion of this process, and of examining the projects and laws devised for the modification of these conditions, which were promulgated with increasing frequency from the middle of the eighteenth century until the middle of the nineteenth. The significant circumstance about the projects is that the advocates for the interests of each class--that of the landowners or pomyetschiki and that of the peasants or krestyanie-- vie with one another in devising safeguards against rapacity or misconduct on the part of the other class, as if such lapses from virtue were fully to be expected. In almost all the projects and in all the laws it is assumed that each class must pursue its own interests inevitably and remorselessly; and that it is necessary that the Throne should at least affect to hold the balance between the conflicting interests, and to prevent one class from overreaching the other.

The most severe critic of Russian autocracy must allow that Nicholas I and Alexander II both strove most arduously to solve the agrarian problem. Their successive labours extended over the whole period of thirty-six years which elapsed between 1825, when Nicholas I came to the throne, and 1861, when Emancipation was carried into effect. Yet the details of the discussions which follow show that the conditions which were presupposed as fundamental to the solution were such as to compromise the solution itself. Both of the reforming Tsars attempted a task which was in the nature of things impossible of accomplishment. They wished to benefit the peasants without in any way curtailing the privileges of the landowners; and, in addition, they desired to effect the economic emancipation of the peasants without exciting in their minds desires for political liberty or for political power. The system

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