This photo depicts farm workers harvesting their hay fields. According to the Library of Congress’ Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record, the location of the photo is unknown but is likely close to Cherepovets in north central Russia. Farmers and farm workers like the ones pictured here made up much of the peasant class in early twentieth-century Russia. I was first drawn to this photograph because it reminds me of my home, a rural farm town. When this photo was taken, around 1909, farming was still a major part of the Russian economy, as it had been for decades. Simply put, farming was (and still is, in many cases) a way to get food on the table and potentially make additional money along the way, if one was lucky enough to have the excess land, manpower, and ability. Prior to the photograph, serfdom had ended thanks to the Emancipation Reform of 1861, brought on by Alexander II. However, not all problems between the peasantry and the elite were fixed automatically. Near the turn of the century, as much of Europe was industrializing, Russia wanted to keep up. This drew disdain from farmers as well as those living and working in the cities. For example, Sergei Witte, the Minister of Finance from 1892-1903, along with his predecessor, Ivan Vyshnegradskii, passed policies that made it extremely difficult for farmers and grain producers, much like the ones pictured above, to obtain cheaper tools and fertilizers abroad; they also made these producers sell their grains at lower prices, only to seem more Western and modernized, to keep up with Western Europe. These policies were initiated to help domestic businesses and industries by charging more for imported goods and less for their domestic equivalents, but they often ended up hurting small farmers in the long run, some policies even having catastrophic consequences, like the famine in 1891-92 that took hundreds of thousands of rural lives.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Photo: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Haying Near the Resting Place, 1909. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04422 (38.1)
Great post and interesting take on the farming culture of early 20th century Russia. The status of farmers in Russia seemed to have moved from a peasant class to a more appreciated class of workers once Russia began to industrialize and fight scares of famine. The unity of the agrarian working class was something that the Soviet Union focused on to promote extensive output, similar to their stance on industrial workers.
This is a nice post. I know what youre saying about this picture reminding you of home. Im also from a rural place where a lot of people still put up hay. Probably why my post was also about agriculture. Nice transitions from personal to factual information.
This post succinctly and efficiently connects traditional peasant agriculture to the broader economic challenges faced by state officials and the policies they developed to deal with them. I like that the photograph reminds you of your own farming community!