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.