Demise of the Aral Sea

A wild ninth post has appeared!

The Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right)

The Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right)

Previously considered to be one of the largest lakes in the world, in modern times the Aral Sea has shrunk to less than 10% of its original size of 68,000 square kilometers. Just this past August, satellite images from NASA has the eastern basin of the sea has completely dried up, and is now called the Aralkum desert. The shrinkage of the Aral Sea is considered to be one of the worst man made environmental disasters in history.

The two rivers that fed the Aral Sea are the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. In the 1960’s the Soviet  government decided to divert these two rivers in order to irrigate surrounding desert in order to grow food crops and cotton, and the Aral Sea suffered for it. During the 1960s, the Aral Sea’s water level decreased by an average of 20cm per year. During the 1970s, this average bloomed to 50 to 60 cm a year. By the 1980s, the water level of the Aral Sea was dropping by 80 to 90cm per year. The canals that they had built to divert the water were massively inefficient, leading to much wasted water.

Aral Sea and its two rivers

Aral Sea and its two rivers

The officials in the Soviet government knew of the eventual disappearance of the Aral Sea due to their project, but deemed it was no concern of theirs. By 1998, the sea lost 60% of its surface area and 80% of its volume. Its salinity, or salt content, increased from 10 grams per liter to 45 grams per liter. By now the Aral Sea had split into two seas, the North Aral Sea and the South Aral Sea. Not only that, but the sheer amount of pesticides and fertilizers utilized in the crops were seeping into the sea as runoff, damaging the sea even more with pollution and creating health problems. On the other hand, cotton production in this area doubled. Woo.

By 2014 the sea was only 25% of its original size and 10% in 2007. The high salt content has killed off nearly all of the sea’s plant and sea life. The salt content of the South Aral sea reached over 100 grams of salt per liter. Though the North Aral Sea has been saved via the construction of a dam, the South Aral Sea has turned into the Aralkum desert.

The Aral Sea loses Its Eastern Lobe in August 2014

The Aral Sea loses Its Eastern Lobe in August 2014

The people living near the sea today suffer from severe health problems, including cancer, lung disorder, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and anaemia. The area suffers from a high child mortality rate, 75 in every 1,000 newborns. The dust storms and salt kill off any and all crops in the region. So much for that cotton. The Aral fishing industry, once employing 40,000 people, is now nonexistent. There are many abandoned ships in the seabed-turned-desert.

Abandoned Ships in Aral

Abandoned Ships in Aral

However, people can learn from their mistakes, some of them anyway. In the 1970s the Soviets attempted to divert rivers in the Siberia to irrigate lands in Central Asia. The project was abandoned after heavy opposition from the Russian population and party members, aware of the abundance of problems in the Aral Sea. A short-term solution became a long-term crisis.


Posted in December, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chernobyl Disaster


An article praising the Chernobyl plant was published in February 1986 stating that “the odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years.” 2 months later, one of the world’s largest nuclear disasters occurred in that very same plant. The Chernobyl Disaster was a classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the highest level possible. The Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster are the only two nuclear disasters in history to receive the highest level of classification.


At 1:23 a.m. on 26 April 1986, two power surges occurred in reactor four, leading to steam explosions, subsequently causing the graphite in the moderator to ignite when exposed to air. The wind carried the radioactive fallout throughout western Russia and Europe with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus being the most contaminated. Volodymyr Pravik and his crew of firefighters were one of the first to arrive at the plant to fight the fires. By 6:35 a.m. the firefighters extinguished all the fires except for those in reactor 4 which continued for several days. Pravik died on May 9, 1986, due to severe radiation sickness; the firefighters were not told that this was a nuclear explosion with dangerous levels of radiation in the air.

Abandoned City of Pripyat

In Pripyat, a nearby city, neither explosion nor evacuation were announced, but just mere hours after the explosion people were reported having severe headaches, fits of coughing and vomiting, and of having metallic tastes in their mouths. The order to evacuate Pripyat was not given until noon the next day, April 27. On April 28 at 9:00 in the evening, the Russian population was informed of the nuclear disaster with a short 20 second announcement that underplayed the severity of the situation. The supposed 3-day evacuation ended up being permanent; Pripyat is now an abandoned city and many of the articles left behind from the evacuation are still there.


“An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl Atomic Power Station; one of the nuclear reactors has been damaged. Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Aid is being given to the victims. A government commission has been established.” [1]


In the few months after the explosion, Russian citizens were critical of how the government was dealing with the situation. Some were frustrated with how little information was given to them: “We have many evacuees here in town. Perhaps some individuals have helped them out privately. But you only hear about these things from acquaintances or neighbors-you can’t find out anything at all from our newspapers or local radio reports.” [2] Though special focus was given to evacuating children, some expressed difficulty in evacuating their children. [2] A newspaper article written one month before the explosion stated that “construction technology was not being adhered to, almost all orders were being underfulfilled, and equipment was arriving in an incomplete or, worse yet, clearly defective condition.”[3] Such reports damage the reputation of the USSR as the plant was under their direct jurisdiction.

Red Forest

The Red Forest

The after-effects of the disaster are as wide-spread as they are well-known. The trees of a nearby pine forest soon died and the forest was named the Red Forest after that. Though many domestic animals were evacuated, horses that were left on a nearby island soon died due to the radiation destroying their thyroid glands. As someone with hyperthyroidism, that was particularly interesting to read. In 2005 it was reported that the main health impact was thyroid cancer, reported to affect over 6000 children and adolescents who were exposed to the fallout. In 1991, the first radiotrophic fungus, which use melanin to convert gamma radiation into energy, was discovered growing on the walls of the Chernobyl plant. It is estimated that the exclusion zone, an area extending 30 kilometers in all directions from the plant, will not be safe for human inhabitation for 20,000 years.





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Posted in December, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Soviet Union Around the World


The USSR was actually involved in all the countries in this image.

In the 1950s and 1960s, relations between Communist and Russia, former allies against western imperialism, began to deteriorate.There were several causes behind this. The biggest factor was conflict over nuclear weapons. China wanted to develop nuclear weapons similar to Russia, but Khrushchev was hesitant to help China. Additionally, China was appalled by Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization reforms, and thought that Russia was ‘too peaceful’ in regards to Western imperialism. The deterioration of the two biggest Communist nations led to a schism in the Communist world between Pro-Soviet and Pro-Chinese communism. Though Soviet Communism, with its use of military and economic aid, would come to be the bigger influence.

Also during this time, the USSR began a campaign to spread its influence countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Despite China’s attempt to supersede the USSR as the leading Communist nation, Khrushchev achieved many foreign policy successes due to his willingness to provide Third World countries with military and economic aid. The most significant of these being the close ties established with the Castro government after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Cuba’s sudden turn towards Communism after the revolution eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis that caused the world to hold its breath.

On the other side of the world in Vietnam, the USSR was engaged in a hot conflict against the United States. Vietnam, torn in two, was receiving aid from both the USSR in the north and from the United States in the south. The USSR was to eventually win this battle over the United States, who went into Vietnam to contain the growing Communist threat. Divided Vietnam was reunited under a communist government while the United States fell into an anti-war disillusionment.

Elsewhere in Asia, The USSR was also engaged in the conflict between India and Pakistan in 1966. In what was later to be known as the Second Kashmir War, the cause of the conflict between India and Pakistan was territorial disputes over the Kashmir region. The conflict led to India shifting its allegiance towards the Soviet Union, who supplied India with much of its military armaments, and away from the United States, who did little to aid India despite its assurances that it would do so. On the other side, Pakistan shifted its alignment towards China, who, mirroring the USSR and India, supplied Pakistan with military weapons and technology. Despite the conflict being ended by a ceasefire ordered by the United Nations, it’s widely considered that India emerged as the victor.


The Soviet Union wasn’t as successful in the Middle East, where it was a supporter of the Arab states against their conflict with Israel. Israel had won by a landslide and took control of territories in the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967. In 1973, Israel,with the support of the United States, once again decisively won over Egypt and Syria in the 19-day Yom Kippur War. This conflict led to a near-conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, both of whom heavily aided their respective countries and led to high tensions between the two nations. Tensions rose as the ceasefire ordered by the United Nations on October 22 quickly broke down under the growing tensions between the US and the USSR. However a second ceasefire was issued on October 25 which successfully ended the war. Egypt, enduring two losses despite the support of the Soviet Union, moved away from the Soviet sphere, though Syria still choose to be allied with the Soviets.

The tendrils of Soviet Union influence was felt not only in the Caribbean, Asia, and the Middle East, but in Africa as well. In Ethiopia, the Soviet Union supported a marxist military council in their overthrow of their Emperor, Haile Selassie. Later on, the USSR would aid Ethiopia in their war against Somalia, who would come to be backed by the United States, in 1977. The Soviet Union also aided Angola and Mozambique, colonies of Portugal, in their war for independence.

Closer to home, Soviet intervention in the Prague Spring reforms in Czechoslovakia resulted in political disaster. Alexander Dubcek, who was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, sought to give more rights to the citizens and more freedom to the media in Czechoslovakia, partial decentralization of the economy, and to divide the country into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The reforms did not sit well with the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent in 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks to occupy the country. The occupation led to protests not only in Czechoslovakia, but in other countries, Communist parties, and within Russia.The actions of the Soviet Union caused a third schism to appear in the Communist world. The communist groups in western Europe, disillusioned by the actions of Soviet Russia, decided to break away from Soviet communism and form their own ‘Eurocommunist’ ideas.

1968. During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague. Photo from "CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting"

1968. During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague.
Photo from “CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting”

The conflict between the United States and Russia was truly a global conflict that touched nearly every part of the world. The Soviet Union sought to spread Communism by aiding those countries that were engaged on conflicts of their own. Where one went, the other followed: The Soviet Union, trying to spread Communism, and the United States, trying to stop its spread. Later on, the United States would take advantage of the deteriorated relationship between China and the Soviet Union, and establish their own relations with China to counter Soviet Communism, the bigger of the two evils between pro-Russia and pro-Chinese Communism.



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Posted in November, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Akademgorodok, or ‘Science City’

Capital Sigma - symbol of Akademgorodok; It reflects diversity and unity. From: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Capital Sigma – symbol of Akademgorodok; It reflects diversity and unity.
From: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Hidden away in the frozen forests of Siberia and away from the eyes of the bureaucracy resides a city built for the scientist and the researcher. It was believed that Akademgorodok would be the harbinger of scientific breakthroughs that would put Soviet Russia at the forefront of academic achievement, and, more importantly, ahead of western science. Though few would view the frozen Siberian wasteland as appealing, Russian scientists flocked to Akademgorodok for the opportunity to conduct research free from the red tape.

The living conditions here surpassed even those of Moscow’s. The shops were well-stocked and the apartments were well-furnished, a far cry from the shoddy ‘Khrushchev barracks’ that were hastily built to combat the housing shortage in the traditional cities. Those who obtained a doctorate were given a ‘special food delivery service,’ which provided them with a wider selection of food than the average person could normally acquire.

Main street of Akademgorodok (Early 1980s.) Source: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Main street of Akademgorodok (Early 1980s.)
Source: Akademgorodok: Town of Science in Siberia. 1995.

Akademgorodok isn’t just a research institute, it’s an entire city, complete with housing, stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, cinemas, clubs, libraries, 35 research institutes, and even a sports complex. The House of Scientists, which served as the social center for the city, contained over 100,000 volumes of not only Russian literature, but American, British, French, German, and Polish works as well. It was estimated that 30,000 scientists and their families would move in upon its completion in 1958. Akademgorodok, dubbed, ‘Science City,’ also had kindergartens and nurseries to accommodate upwards of 2800 children and schools to accommodate 6000 students. (Edit: This statement in particular refers to another ‘Academic City’) Later on, 65,000 scientists and families called this city their home. Akademgorodok was a small utopia residing within the failed reforms of the Khrushchev era.

In the end, Akademgorodok couldn’t live up to the hopes of the Soviet Union. At best the city achieved mixed results. Successes in the field of physics was coupled with failures in genetics and cybernetics. However within its confines existed an openness that didn’t exist elsewhere in Russia, especially during the repression of anti-Stalin or anti-Soviet sentiments. Topics that couldn’t be discussed in the streets of Moscow could be freely discussed in Akademgorodok.

Aerial view of the city. Source:

Aerial view of the city.

The collapse of the Soviet Union did not mean collapse of this city, though many of Russia’s scientists were reduced to poverty after the Soviet collapse. In the 1990’s when economic reforms allowed private investment in Russia, Akademgorodok saw $10 million in private investments. This grew to $150 million in 2006. The software company Novosoft, whose chief client was IBM, was founded here, and Intel have done some of their work here as well.

In Russian, the name is Академгородо́к, a combination of академия (akademiya, or academy) and город (gorod, or city).

City lies on the Ob Sea, 30 miles from Novosobirsk, a city in southwest Russia.

City lies on the Ob Sea, 30 miles from Novosobirsk, a city in southwest Russia.

Edit: It has come to my attention that there were not just one, but multiple of these ‘Academic Cities,’ with the one in Novosobirsk being the most prominent. The dlib eastview source refers to another one of these cities, in Minsk.


Posted in October, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Katyn Forest Massacre

View of the exhumations from the air. Recovered bodies are laid in rows. In the background, the main road.

View of the exhumations from the air. Recovered bodies are laid in rows. In the background, the main road.

In 1943, Nazi Germany announced the discovery of a mass grave site in the Katyn Forest. They announced that they discovered a ditch “28 meters long and 16 meters wide, in which the bodies of 3,000 Polish officers were piled up in 12 layers.” The Polish government, who were at the time exiled and residing in London, asked the International Red Cross to do an investigation. The Soviet Union denied involvement up until 1990, when Gorbachev admitted that the executions were ordered by Stalin and carried out by the NKVD, the Russian secret police, on March 5, 1940. The number of victims were tallied at 22,000 Polish officers.

Nazi propaganda poster depicting executions of Polish military officers by the Soviets, with caption in Slovak: "Forest of the dead at Katyn"

Nazi propaganda poster depicting executions of Polish military officers by the Soviets, with caption in Slovak: “Forest of the dead at Katyn”

The massacre, executed in 1940, was the result of the partitioning of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. The Soviet Union claimed that it was liberating the Ukrainians and Belorussians from their oppressive Polish rulers. The Soviet Union arrested Polish landlords, officials, intellectuals, and officers, who were then sent to prison camps. The number of arrests ranged in the tens of thousands. Lavrentii Beria, head of the NKVD, considered it inconvenient to feed and safeguard such a high number of prisoners, and thus ordered the executions of some 22,000 of them.

Memo from Beria to Stalin, proposing the execution of Polish officers

Memo from Beria to Stalin, proposing the execution of Polish officers

In the memo that proposed the executions, it was stated that these imprisoned Polish officers were members of the Polish counter-revolutionary resistance groups, and that they possessed a hatred for the Soviet system. It also claimed that these Polish officers were carrying out counter-revolutionary acts in the prison camps. It was recommended that they were to be executed at gunpoint. In 1941 when the Polish general Wladyslaw Anders was organizing his army and requested information regarding the missing Polish officers, Stalin reassured them that all the Poles were freed, but not all could be accounted for because they “lost track” of them in Manchuria.

One historian, Gerhard Weinberg, believed that Stalin signed the executions because he wanted to make Poland weaker, since many of the officers also comprised Poland’s technical and intellectual elite. Stalin foresaw a potential future where a hostile Poland would border eastern Russia. Stalin endeavored to weaken Poland to discourage any hostilities.

In 1990 when it was reveal that the massacre was indeed carried out by the Soviet Union, it was also revealed that Katyn was only one of the sites where the Polish officers were buried. The other burial sites are Piatichatki, Bykivnia, and Mednoye. The Polish officers were massacred not only in Katyn, but in Kharkov, Kherson, Kiev, Minsk, and Tver.

Map of massacres and burial sites.

Map of massacres and burial sites.

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Posted in October, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Socialist Realism


Komar and Melamid: The Origin of Socialist Realism (1982)

Socialist Realism was the name of the game in Soviet Russia. It was art with a purpose. The goal of this state-sponsored art form, according to Lenin, was to create an entirely new type of human being: The New Soviet Man. Artists and authors that pioneered this new cause were dubbed “engineers of the human soul.”

Socialist Realism first came into being during the First Congress of Soviet Writers meeting of August 8, 1934 and sponsored by the Union of Soviet Writers. At its head was Maxim Gorky, who coined the term Socialist Realism Gorky declared at literature and art should depict the ‘New Soviet Man,’ which is as follows: “A new type of man is springing up in the Soviet Union. He possesses a faith in the organizing power of reason….He is conscious of being the builder of a new world, and although his conditions of life are still arduous, he knows that it is his arm and the purpose of his rational will to create different conditions and he has no grounds for pessimism.”

Socialist-Realist sculpture in Vilnius

Socialist-Realist sculpture in Vilnius

During the First Congress meeting, four rules were established that defined what was to be considered Socialist realist art. The work had to be:

  1. Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
  2. Typical: scenes of every day life of the people.
  3. Realistic: in the representational sense.
  4. Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.

The aim of the Union of Soviet Writers was to gain government control in the field of literature. For those wishing to publish anything, membership into the Union was virtually required, as opportunities for publication was much more limited for non-members. In Soviet Russia, the only patron of the arts was the State itself; artists and authors became state employees, promoting socialism and communism in their works. Artists who were members of the Union were well provided. They were given high-end clothing, foreign delicacies, and even country houses, or dachas. However, artists who strayed from the socialist realism movement were cut off from publication and best and severely punished at worst.

Aleksandr Kuprin: Baku Oil Rigs (1931)

Aleksandr Kuprin: Baku Oil Rigs (1931)

Soviet art at this time was often positive and optimistic. Sculptures and paintings depicted happy, muscular peasants working in factories and farms. Industrial and agricultural landscapes were also common, honoring the achievements of the Soviet economy. There were very little that was abstract in Soviet art. Many paintings and sculptures focus on the simple peasant carrying his tools. In literature, the common peasant was often glorified as a ‘hero of labor.’ Literature was more heroic and romantic, reflecting the ideal rather than the realistic.



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Posted in October, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Provisional Government

The Provisional Government
Dual Power

“In what does this dual power consist? In the fact that side by side with the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, there has developed another government, weak and embryonic as yet, but undoubtedly an actually existing and growing government — the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.”-Vladimir Lenin, A Dual Power

When Michael, Nicholas’ brother, refused to take the throne, two groups were left to guide the country, The ‘Provisional Duma Committee’ was formed by Duma deputies, and respresented propertied society. On the other hand, the soviet ‘Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies’ represented workers, peasants, and soldiers. The soviet group agreed to let the Duma Committee form the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government aimed to govern based on democratic or liberal principles: to guarantee civil rights, to establish the rule of law, and to grant more autonomy for minorities. But most of all, they wished to decentralize the power and authority invested solely in the tsar, and make it more reachable to the people. Committees sprung up like grass, and tsar governors  slunk away in the shadows. Even peasants formed their own unions. This call to action was short lived however as the Provisional Government led by the Duma Committee quickly lost support with their Declaration on War Aims, and the Petrograd Soviet had to step in to help.

“The whole country must be covered with a network of Soviet organizations, which must be in close relation to one another. Each one of these organizations, including the smallest, is absolutely autonomous in questions of local character, but their decrees must be of a character corresponding with the decrees and laws of the larger Soviet organizations and the decrees of the Central power, of which they are a part. Thus is being organized a united uniform state — the Republic of Soviets.”

Even before the coming of Lenin, there were radicals in the Petrograd Soviet who wanted to overthrow the ‘bourgeois Provisional Goverment,’ but were kept in check by the party’s leaders. Lenin augmented this radicalist belief with his April Theses that demanded the fall of the dual power of the Provisional Government, and instead establish a soviet government. This left a schism between socialism and liberalism in the government.

Posted in September, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sergei Witte-Fortune’s Favorite or Great Politician?

Dude liked his railroads.

Sergei Witte’s rise to power was an unusual one. As an young adult, Witte was more interested in physics and mathematics rather than politics. All that changed, however, when he accepted a position at a railroad company, where he steadily rose in the ranks.

One compelling incident occurred during Witte’s career as a railroad technician. A train wreck occurred in 1875 on a railway line that Witte was in charge of. The wreck killed several people, and he was summoned to provide evidence for the investigation. During his time there, he made such an impact on the officials of the Ministry of Finance that they offered him a government position. An event that could have ended his career as a railway technician ended up being the nudge he needed to start his political career.

Witte’s next stroke of luck occurred in 1888. The train that  Tzar Alexander III and his family was travelling in had derailed. The Minister of Ways and Communication at the time had resigned, and the tzar offered Witte to be the head of the railway department in the Ministry of Finance. In 1893, Witte became the head of the Ministry of Finance.

As the head, Witte pushed out a number of reforms. He stabilized the ruble to the gold standard. He increased taxes to offset the deficit in budget. Witte completed his Trans-Siberian Railway project, and negotiated with the Chinese to build the Chinese-East Railway.

Alexander III held Sergei Witte in high regards, but Nicholas II, the czar who took the throne after Alexander III, didn’t feel the same way. Nicholas II disliked Witte’s stubborn and independent attitude, but couldn’t dismiss Witte’s competence as Minister of Finance. Thus, Witte was able to keep his position.

Though Witte lost his position early in the 20th century, he was determined to return to the political spotlight however. And he did, during the end of the Russian Japanese war. The war was a loss for Russia and he was assigned as a diplomat to negotiate peace talks with Japan. Witte managed to procure minimal losses for Russia, and was given the title of ‘Count’ for his achievements. He also created the 17th October Manifesto during the 1905 revolution, and he was appointed to head of Council of Ministers, the peak of his political career.

Witte had additional plans for Russia during WWI, but, unfortunately, sickness got in the way. He died in 28 February, 1915.

The title comes from the two very different perspective of Witte from the two sources that I used for this post. The New York Times article describes Witte as an extremely lucky man who just stumbled his way onto success. Being at the right place at the right time. The other source, from Russiapedia, describes Witte as an extremely scrupulous person. He capitalized on human weakness and used bribery to get what he wanted, and rumors to remove those above him.


Laparenok, Leonid. “Prominent Russians: Sergei Witte.” Sergei Witte – Russiapedia Politics and Society Prominent Russians. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2014. <>.

Rise of count witte — A romance. (1905, Nov 05). New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from

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Posted in September, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Agricultural Crisis

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Sart Fields, 1911. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04439 (40)

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Sart Fields, 1911. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04439 (40)

The emancipation of the serfdom left profound consequences in its wake. This post will, in particular, focus on the effects that the emancipation had wrought on Russia’s agricultural industry between the years of 1855 and 1890. To compound on this, the world faced a collapse of the world grain market during this time, putting more strain on Russia’s agricultural industry. This post will discuss how these two events led to Russia’s agricultural crisis in the late 1880’s.

With the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian government moved to a form of organization more focused on the community, thus the commune was born. The social and economic responsibilities, including the payment of taxes and allotment of land, was given to the commune.

There were multiple problems with this system however. The first problem was the rapidly growing population. As the population increased, each individual peasant received a smaller and smaller land allotment. Peasants were unable to migrated to the city, since they were tied to their village. This only exacerbated the growing population problem. Second, the individual peasants could not afford technology that would increase their yield, nor could they take advantage of economies of scale, which would decrease the average cost of maintaining the land. Nor were the peasants motivated to improve their ever shrinking land allotments, since the allotments were temporary. The communal system ended up being highly inefficient.

The nobility, though better off, still encountered their own problems. They retained the right to own at least one-third of their original land. In addition to that, they received compensation for land given to the peasants. However, the money that they received in compensation for the lost land went towards paying off the debts that the nobles had acquired. Additionally, nobles now had to pay the peasants for their labor, whereas before the peasants’ labor was free. This proved to be expensive and inefficient.

To compound with the agricultural difficulties wrought by the emancipation of the serfs, a worldwide collapse of the grain market also occurred during this time. New technologies in the form of railroads and higher shipping capacities meant that there was a massive amount of grain coming in to Russia from America and other non-European countries. This caused the price of grain to plummet; peasants and nobles earned less revenue from the agricultural industry. Over time, more peasants were unable to pay taxes owed and more nobles had declared bankruptcy.

Though this crisis was agricultural in nature, it also had economic implications. At this time, 47% of all Russian exports consisted of grain (Freeze 2009, p. 217). The agricultural crisis also became an economic crisis for 19th century Russia.

Source: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.


Posted in August, Uncategorized | 1 Comment