The Emergence of Modern Russia, 1801-1917

By Sergei Pushkarev; Robert H. McNeal et al. | Go to book overview

7
Social
and Economic Affairs on the Threshold
of the Twentieth Century

The Administration of the Peasantry

The statute of February 19, 1861, promised to give the peasants who were emancipated from the landlord's authority "the personal and property rights of free rural citizens," but this promise was only partly fulfilled. Emancipated from the authority of the landlord, the peasant was now subjected to the authority of the village mir and its administrative organs. He was attached to his rural community by "registration," the land allotment system, and the collective responsibility of the mir. He could obtain release from the commune only with great difficulty. When leaving the commune he had to renounce his land allotment, and if he received either secondary or higher education, entered the civil service, or became a merchant, he ceased to be a member of the peasant class altogether. In this way the most educated and well-to-do elements left the peasant estate as soon as they rose above the gray mass of the rural population.

The guardians of the rural communes were at first the arbitrators, but after the abolition of this office in 1874 there were no organs of state authority left in the village except for the police. After Alexander III ascended the throne, Pobedonostsev and Tolstoy were quick to recognize what they thought was a deplorable absence of authority in the village and saw to it that new organs of authority were created, organs that were to be personal, "firm," and "close to the people."

On July 12, 1889, the statute on "superintendents of the peasantry" (zemskie nachal'niki) was issued, establishing new judicial

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