Mind and Labor on the Farm in Black-Earth Russia, 1861-1914

Author: 
ISBN: 
978-963-9116-94-8
cloth
$59.95 / €49.95 / £40.00
*Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2002*
Publication date: 
2000
491 pages

Did Tsarist Russia's political and industrial backwardness result from its rigid and archaic agrarian structure? Did the Russian revolution stem in large part from a parasitical elite's exploitation of an enormous peasant class? Was the Russian peasantry itself backward and 'dark' as a result? The attention contemporaries and historians have lavished on these questions has enshrined them as fundamental issues in Russian history. Mind and Labor on the Farm in Black-Earth Russiaendeavors to recast our understanding of the agrarian problem by uncovering the history of both the physical and the mental dimensions of agriculture. Employing Russia's unparalleled resources of literary, agronomic and statistical information on peasant labor and culture, this book also offers new and haunting perspectives on the limitations of traditional agriculture to adapt to a rapidly changing economic geography, such as that of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russia.

Historians have long agreed that Russia's agricultural sector was incapable of rapid increases in productivity, and thus doomed to stagnation and poverty. Obstacles imposed by the communal organization of agriculture, the scarcity of education, the oppressive power of landlords and the lack of non-agricultural employment are recognized as having shackled peasant farming in centuries-old backward routines. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and Stalin's brutal collectivization of agriculture at the close of the 1920s are commonly understood to have been natural outcomes of these frustrating circumstances.

By taking a ground-level view of the evolution of Russian agricultural technique, the author arrives at a very different understanding of the agrarian problem. The book identifies both the achievements and the limitations of peasant farmers in adapting farming practices to the economic and technological challenges of the half-century preceding the Revolution. Most importantly, the book delves deeply into peasant life and culture to demonstrate how and why farming improvements did not pass determinable levels.

LIST OF FIGURES

LIST OF TABLES

LIST OF MAPS

INTRODUCTION: THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM AS A HISTORY OF WORK
A Note on Sources
Notes

PART I. FARMING THROUGH THE PEASANT’S EYES. THE EVOLUTION OF LABOR, 1861-1914

Methods of Cultivation
Sokha Tillage
The Tillage Line
Distractions
Obstacles
Soil Relief
Corrections
Turning Around
Why Till?
When to Till
How Deeply to Till
An Agrarian System under Stress
Green Fallow and Other Shortcomings
Agronomist’s Criticism of Peasant Tillage
Harrowing
Agronomist’s Criticism
The Evolution of Tillage Regimes
The Fallow Field
The Spring Field
Conclusions
Agronomist’s Criticism
Intesification, or Over-Intensification?
The Plow and the Sokha
Peasant Reception of the Plow
Use of the Plow
Types of Plow
Growing Grain
Sowing
When to Sow
How Densely to Sow
Selection of Seed Grain
Covering the Seeds
Technological Advance in Sowing: The Seed Drill
Reaping
Fundamentals of Reaping
The Binding and Drying of Grain
The Treshing, Winnowing, and Sorting of Grain
Threshing
Other Threshing Systems
Winnowing
An Important Crossroads of Technology: The Spade, the Winnowing Machine, and the Sorter
Notes

PART II. TOWARDS A HISTORY AND UNDERSTANDING OF AGRONOMIC APTITUDE

The Peasant Farmer and Soil: The Four Stages of Comprehension
Stage 1: Tillage as a Mixed Blessing
Stage 2: Working the Surface of the Soil
Stage 3: First Steps to Intensify Tillage
Stage 4: Theoretical Understanding of Soil Structure
Profit Maximizing, Utility Maximizing, or Something Else?
Agriculture and the Magico-Religious world View
The Ebbing—and Returning—Tides of Ritual and Superstition
Intellectual Consequences of the Magico-Religious World
Levels of Material Optimizing—Active Experimentation vs.the Passive Accumulation of Experience
Self-Reliance and the Overcoming of Traditional Sources of Knowledge
Technical vs. Allocative Inefficiency
Fatalism
The Work Ethic in Rural Russia
The Consequences of Cultural Condescension
Geography, Climate, and Technological Acumen
Language Acquisition, and Childrearing Practices
The Unavailability of Schooling and Literacy
Conclusion: From Faith in Routine to Belief in Agency
The Faith in Routine
The Rise of a New Type in the Village
Notes


PART III. THE THREE-FIELD SYSTEM AND BEYOND

Systems of Agriculture, Systems of Farming, Crop Rotations. Delineation of Terms
Crop Rotations
The Fodder Crisis. Decay of the Three-Field System?
The Elements of the Fodder Crisis
Winter Fodder
Summer Fodder
Conclusions and Consequences
A System Despised
Propashnaia Farming Systems
The Organization of the Three-Field System
Farm Organization in the Three-Field System: Crop Choices in the Commune
Subsistence Framing and Market Forces
Market Gardening
Root Crops
Multi-Field vs. Three-Field Systems
Weaknesses of the Propashnaia System
Employed Fallow and Improved Three-Field-Based Systems
Conclusion
Systems with Multi-Year Grasses
Four-Field + Grass System
Notes

PART IV. GOVERNMENT’S SOLUTION TO THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM: THE STOLPYIN REFORM IN TAMBOV

What Was the Stolypin Reform?
Results and Limitations of the Stolypin Reform
The Stolypin Reform in Tambov
Peasant Land Organization in Tambov
Land Parcelization within Communes
The Evolution of Land Parcelization
The Disadvantages of Open Fields
The Advantages of Open Fields
Purported Advantages of Open Fields for Purposes of Farming in Particular
Parcelized Holdings vs. Consolidated Plots: Conclusions
The Stolypin Reform and the Configuration of Peasant Lands
Distant Lands and Inaccessible Lands
Land Configuration and Consolidation of Plots
The Stolypin Reform in Action
The Administration Takes the Initiative
The Peasantry’s Response to the Stolypin Reform
Acquisitions of Hereditary Title to Land
The Formation of Consolidated Plots
Peasant Attitudes to Consolidated Plots
Agrotechnical Considerations
Other Considerations
Methods of Forming Consolidated Plots on Allotment Land
Farming on the Consolidated Plots
A Profile of Consolidators: The 1912 Study of Khutors on State Lands
Agricultural Improvement
Conclusion
Notes

PART V. ALTERNATIVES FOR REFORM, PROSPECTS FOR DEVELOPMENT

Introduction
The Pre-History of the Agronomic Aid Effort
The Organization and Ethos of Agronomic Aid
The Agronomic Aid Effort in Tambov
The Second Phase of Agronomic Aid
The Development of the Cooperative Movement
Marketing Operations, Unions of Cooperatives, and Agronomic Education
Agricultural Education
Conclusion
The Achievements of the Agronomic Aid Effort
Intervention and Its Discontents
The Future, as of 1914
Epilogue
Notes
Appendix. Nutrition and Mortality in Tambov, 1880–1914
I. Available Grain and Potatoes
II. Vegetable, Meat, and Dairy Consumption
III. Crude Mortality Rate
IV. Condition of Army Recruits

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ALL BOOKS, JOURNALS, AND ARCHIVES CITED

Abbreviations
Archives
Peiodicals and Newspapers
Interviews
Books and Articles

A Miniature Glossary
Terms Concerning Land
Farm Organization Terms
Some Tillage Terms
Supplemental Categories of Land
A Miscellancy of Other Terms
Note

Some Russian Weights and Measures
Note on Dates

"[readers] ... will be rewarded by a comprehensive description of how peasants in Tambov province farmed in the three-field system before 1914. The choice of province is appropriate: situated in the black-earth belt of central Russia, it was one of the regions that, rightly or wrongly, defined the agrarian question. Using a wealth of published and archival sources, the book includes the only detailed account ... of the entire crop cycle."
"...quite simply a resource that no historian can afford not to read. [recommended to] All academic collections."