To what extent was Stolypin effective in stabilising Russia between 1906 and 1911? The period previous to 1906 was one of great instability in Russia, 1905 saw a failed revolution after long term tensions. Stolypin was effective yet ruthless in his peasant control in the 1905 revolution and due to this he soon became chairman of ministers in 1906. He introduced many new policies in an attempt to stabilise Russia, though as to if these were effective remains debatable. Stabilising Russia would surely mean a stronger economy, few or no uprisings, modernised methods in both government and agriculture and workers in towns and the country would see an improvement to their lives.
Many of Stolypin’s reforms were made to the field of agriculture (no pun intended), he encouraged the peasant land bank, which opened on the 15th November 1906, and provided incentives and government loans so that they could buy their own land, or exploit land in Siberia. On new year’s day 1907, redemption payments were abolished, meaning that it was easier for peasants to become more prosperous.
His hope was that farming would become more efficient so that more peasants would move to the city to fill the demand for workers there. He also made it easy for peasants to leave their commune, they no longer had to get the majority of the Mir’s permission, and any Mir that had had no land redistribution since the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 were dissolved. This had the effect of encouraging the reluctant peasants to modernise and encouraging a wealthier class of peasants to emerge who were more loyal to the Tsar.
In 1915 50% of peasants owned land, compared to 1906 when only 20% owned land and agricultural production rose from 45.9 million tonnes in 1906 to 61.7 million tonnes in 1913. Both figures show that he was in one way effective in stabilising Russia as the increased efficiency of farming meant that there was less famine. As the outcome of their crops was the main thing that rural peasants contented themselves with, they would’ve felt less dislike towards the Tsar.
However these reforms cannot be considered totally effective in stabilising Russia as the emergence of the wealthier class of peasants, lead the other poorer peasants to become resentful. They were also still largely backwards meaning that the majority (75% didn’t want to leave between 1906 and 1914) of them didn’t want to leave their commune, thus not modernising agriculture as effectively as had been done in the West. The number of households opting to set up farms had fallen after the initial peak from 1908-1910, showing that this reform would not have long term impact, but merely short term changes.
From this view, the reforms to agriculture may have helped some peasants, but it made others feel that they were worse off because now they could compare themselves to the wealthy peasants. This under class would’ve felt even more resentful towards the Tsar as so many were killed on Stolypin’s orders for the peasant uprisings that happened every year. Such was the extent of his killing that the noose was nicknamed ‘Stolypin’s necktie’.
Though some may look at the division between the peasants as a positive thing for stabilising Russia, as a group divided is a group that’s easier to conquer in the event of an uprising (this was shown in the control of the yearly peasant uprisings). However this is not a long term way to stabilise Russia, and it would’ve been better to have a contented nation that didn’t need to be supressed rather than a nation that was easier to supress. Though Stolypin had made many agricultural reforms, little was done to improve the lives of those living in the towns and cities. Conditions in workplaces were still very poor and despite the increase in the production of food, food prices remained high meaning that famine was still common.
This meant that the urban workers were a threat to the stability of Russia, they had little to lose and were more mobile than the peasants in the country side meaning that strikes could be organised more quickly and efficiently. One strike that highlights the failure of Stolypin’s attempts to stabilise Russia was the Lena Goldfield massacre of 1912, this was a group of workers were striking in Siberia and the police opened fire. Many strikes like this continued until 1914. The fact that there was enough industrial unrest that a strike occurred, even though it was a year after Stolypin was shot, shows that Russia was not truly stabilised.
This unrest in the cities lead to an influx of members into the revolutionary movements such as the social revolutionaries and the social democrats. Stolypin tried to control revolutionary opinion by killing liberals and anyone else that dared to rise up. This may have stopped certain individuals from being able to rise up against the government but it also highlighted the ruthlessness of the government and left the Russian people feeling that the government was going against its own people.
Lenin saw Stolypin’s reforms as a potential threat to gaining support from peasants in any future revolutions, this shows that the revolutionary leaders were worried by his reforms. Though this may have driven them to be more radical in their methods. Although radical parties were still dissatisfied with the autocratic nature of Russia, under Stolypin’s reign, a step was taken towards democracy in the form of the Dumas. The Duma was the first elected body that Russia had seen, with members including those who weren’t just royalty or noblemen, some members of revolutionary groups even joined.
The first Duma was boycotted by the social revolutionaries, even though it was on broad franchise, the main groups that it included were the Trudovics, a loose peasant supporting group and the Progressevists, a group consisting of mainly middle class businessmen. However they wanted too much reform in demanding the release of political prisoners and further land reform, they were quickly dissolved. The second Duma had less Kadets, due to the Vyborg manifesto, though some social revolutionaries and social democrats gained seats. This group was also dissolved, after only three months this time, as they criticized the way the Tsar was running the army.
This lack of cooperation between the Duma and the Tsar shows that the Duma wasn’t really a parliament, it had no real power as the fundamental law stated that the Tsar had final say and that he could dissolve them when he wanted. This may have stopped revolutionaries going underground at first, if they felt that they could talk to the Tsar and that they were having a say in political issues. Though as the Tsar kept dissolving the Dumas, the revolutionary groups became aggravated, and dissatisfied with this method of trying to change things, leading to them resenting the Tsar even more.
However the third and firth duma did manage to make some changes. They were voted in, no on broad franchise this time but by the richest 30% of the male population, this excluded most of the revolutionary support so the men voted in were more likely to be royalists, meaning that the Tsar would only listen to them more this time because their ideas adhered to his own views.
Their reforms included such things as health insurance being introduced to workers, justices of the peace replacing land captains and a plan to have all boys in primary education in ten years. In this way the Dumas did have an effect on stabilising Russia in that they gave the Russian people small things to look forward to such as their children being able to go into education and health insurance should they be injured at work.