Village Communities in Russia
In order to form a clear idea of the collective ownership of the soil, which is vested in the Russian village even at the present day, we must picture to ourselves the social organization of the tribe among the Nomads, from whence the Russian system is obviously derived.
The following is the description given of this organization by an accurate and thoughtful economist, M. Le Play, who has made a careful study of the system of property among various pastoral nations, and especially among the tribes on the Asiatic side of the Urals. Among these Nomads, the members of the same group or community join together their agricultural implements, and collectively cultivate their land, and manage the capital -- that is the cattle -- destined to make it productive. There the system of common property is a direct consequence of the pastoral life and the family organization.
"A group of tents is always the characteristic of a society of shepherds, whether the flocks belong to a great proprietor, or are joint property. Every individual forming part of this group has always an interest in the profits of husbandry; he is entitled, in all cases, to a share of the produce, the maximum of which is fixed by the nature of his wants.
"Among the Nomads, the direct descendants of one father generally remain grouped together; they live under the absolute authority of the head of the family, in a system of community. We may say that nothing is the subject of separate ownership except their clothing and weapons. When the increase of a family no longer admits of all its members remaining united, the head of the family directs an amicable separation; and determines the portion of the common possessions that should be given to the branch which is separating from the stem. On the other hand, the community often holds together after the death of the head of the family. In this case, the collateral relations, even though connected only in distant degrees of relationship, remain united under the direction of the member who can exercise the patriarchal authority with most influence.
"The principle of community is equally adapted to the organization of tribes with settled abode... Among the semi-nomadic tribes subject to Russia... the arable land, although generally cultivated by each family on an independent title, is mainly owned in a species of indivisibility.
"Among the Bachkirs, nothing of the nature of individual property is seen, except as applied to the dwelling-houses and their immediate dependences"(1)
The agrarian organization of the Russian village is exactly similar to that of the Tartar tribe, except that the land is improved by agriculture instead of being merely worked under the pastoral system.
In all Russia, that is to say in the immense territory which extends to beyond the Dnieper and contains a population of from thirty to thirty-five millions; the land, which does not belong to the Crown or to the lords, is the collective, undivided property of the commune. The law of February 19, 1861, defines collective property in the following terms. "Enjoyment in common (obshtshinnve polzovanie) is the mode of enjoyment regulated by custom, by virtue of which the soil is divided or allotted from time to time among the peasants, either by head, by tiaglo, or otherwise, joint responsibility being imposed upon all for the fulfilment of the obligations attached to the occupancy."
The commune is the constitutional atom of the Russian nation. It forms a civil person, a juridical corporation, endowed with a vitality very powerful and active, even very despotic. It alone is proprietor of the soil, of which individual members have but the usufruct or temporary enjoyment. It is jointly responsible to the lord for his rent, and to the state for taxes and recruits, in proportion to its population. It governs itself far more independently than the commune of France or Germany. For all purposes of administration it enjoys as complete a self-government as the American township. The ukase of February 19, 1861, has conferred on it a real, and it is said even an excessive, autonomy.
The heads of families, assembled in council under the presidency of the starosta or mayor, whom they have elected, discuss and regulate all the affairs of the commune, just as the vestrymen do in England, or the landesgemeinde in the primitive cantons of Switzerland. The starosta is the chief of police; he also has jurisdiction over lesser offences. He can pronounce sentence to the amount of one rouble fine and two days' hard labour.
The union of several villages forms the volost, a sort of large commune or district, resembling the township of the United States, or the concelho of Portugal. The volost has from three hundred to two thousand inhabitants. The administrative chief of the volost is the starshina, who is assisted by a council, composed of the starostas of the villages in his district. In concert with them, he regulates all that relates to taxes, recruits, roads or the corvée. For important affairs, he summons the great council of delegates from the villages, each of whom is named by a group of ten families. This council elects from four to ten judges or jurymen, who meet in succession, three at a time, to hear civil cases up to the amount of one hundred roubles, and to punish misdemeanours.
The aggregation of inhabitants of a village possessing in common the land attached to it, is called the mir.(2) This word, which appears to belong to all Slavonic dialects, and is found in Tzectic and Silesian documents of the thirteenth century, answers to the idea rendered in the names commune, gemeinde, communitas; but, in its primitive sense, it denotes something venerable and holy, for it also signifies the universe, like the Greek word kosmos. The Baron de Haxthausen quotes a great number of Russian proverbs, shewing the profound respect which the mir inspired in the people: "God alone is judge of the mir; -- All that the mir has decided, ought to be done; -- A breath of the mir shivers the rock; -- The mir is the bulwark of the country." It is, in fact, the primordial institution of the nation, "The original phenomenon" of the genius of the Slav nations, as the "old Russians" say.
Each male inhabitant of full age is entitled to an equal share of the land of which the mir is proprietor. In primitive times, there was no partition of the soil. The land was cultivated in common, and the produce divided among all, in proportion to the number of labourers in each family. At the present time, in the midst of the forest districts, among the Roskolniks, some communes, bearing the name of skit, are found, where this system is still in force. It is also said to be met with in certain isolated districts of Bosnia; but the fact is disputed. At a later period, a partition of the soil was effected every year, or every three years, after each triennial rotation; and in some parts this ancient custom is still maintained. The period of partition varies at the present day in the different districts. In certain localities partition takes place every six years; in others, every twelve or fifteen years: every nine years is the most usual period. At every public census, a new division is regarded as obligatory. These general re-divisions have not been made at regular intervals. Since 1719, there have been ten of them, the last of which occurred in 1857.
The peasants, though faithful to the principle of community, do not readily assent to this operation of partition, because the parcels which they have occupied return to the common mass, and the new allotment frequently assigns others to them. According to the report of M. de Haxthausen, they call the general re-division "the black partition," tschernoi peredell. In many communes, the hay meadows are divided afresh every year.
Everything that concerns the period and manner of partition, the regulation of the number of couples who are entitled to a share, the disposition of lots falling vacant, and the granting of land to new households, is decided by the peasants themselves, assembled under the presidency of the starosta. At this assembly, at least half their number must be present. Two-thirds of their votes are necessary to pronounce the dissolution of the community, and to divide the soil into permanent, individual property. to effect a new partition and to expel or hand over to the government "vicious and incorrigible" persons.
The dwelling-house, izba, with the land on which it stands, and the garden attached to it, form a private, hereditary property. The owner, however, may not sell it to a person who is a stranger to the mir, without the consent of the inhabitants of the village, who have always a right of pre-emption. When a family dies out this private property returns to the common stock: and a family, on leaving the village, has for six months a right of removing the house, or rather the materials, which being only wood are easily carried away.
In the village communities of all countries, especially in the German mark, a similar custom exists. It admits of easy explanation. The commune is not merely an administrative unit: it is rather a patriarchal association, an extension of the family, in which the ties are so close, and the joint responsibility so strict, that a stranger cannot be admitted without the consent of the majority. Even at the present day in Switzerland, the freedom of a commune is not obtained by mere residence; it can only be acquired by purchase or grant with the consent of the body of freemen. In the middle ages it was the same everywhere. In the Russian commune there is, then, no landed property completely absolute: that which exists is still subject to the trammels of the eminent domain residing in the community.
The Russian village is composed of a number of houses constructed of beams laid one on another, like the American log-house or Swiss châlet. The gable facing the street is ornamented with a balcony; and the roof, which projects, is decorated with ornaments in carved wood. The dwellings never stand alone in the middle of the fields belonging to them, as in Flanders, England, Holland, and in all the countries where the soil has for centuries been divided into hereditary patrimonies. The name of the Russian village, derevnia, has the same root as the German dorf, the Scandinavian trup, the Anglo-Saxon thorp, and the French troupe, troupeau. It signifies, as M. Julius Faucher remarks, union, aggregation, with a view to mutual protection.(3) Men, in primitive ages, have to group together for common resistance against the attacks of enemies and beasts of prey, as well as to cultivate the soil by the association of hands and the cooperation of individual forces.
To effect the partition, surveyors, appointed by the commune, proceed to the measurement and estimation of the various parcels of land, and to the formation of lots. According to the account of M. de Haxthausen, in certain localities they make use of consecrated rods or wands, of unequal length; the shorter ones being reserved for the lands of better quality, so that the lot may be smaller in proportion to its fertility.
All the arable land of the commune is divided into three concentric zones, which extend round the village; and these three zones are again divided into three fields according to the triennial arrangement of crops. More regard is paid to proximity than to fertility, as this varies very little in the same district in Russia. The zones nearest the village are alone manured, every three, six, or nine years, in the sandy region; while in the region of the black soil the use of manure is unknown. Each zone is divided into narrow strips, from 5 to 10 metres broad, and from 200 to 800 metres long. Several parcels are combined, care being taken that there should be at least one in each zone and in each division of the rotation. Portions are thus formed, which are distributed by lot among the co-partners.
All the inhabitants, including women and children, assist at the drawing of lots, on which depends the determination of the parcel of ground, which each has to cultivate until the next period of partition. The drawing gives rise to but few complaints, because the shares, being composed of several small parcels, the values of which compensate one another, are for the most part equal. If any one can shew he is injured, he receives an additional portion, taken from the land remaining unappropriated.
Formerly the peasants held the forest and pasture in common, certain services being reserved for the lord. The meadows were divided into lots every year and each family mowed its own parcel, or else the whole was mown in common and the hay divided. The act of emancipation of 1861 assigned exclusive ownership of the meadow and forest to the lord, contrary to the ancient law, as originally they belonged to the mir. It is an injustice, and an error in an economic point of view. If the ancient communities are preserved; everything essential to their commodious existence should be granted them. They should seek their model in Switzerland, in the villages where the system of Allmends procures for the usufructuaries "pasturage, forest, and field," -- Weide, Wald und Feld. The forest being assigned to the lord, the peasants are made dependent on him, and the results of emancipation are, in a measure, nullified. The system of collective property can only bear its full fruit, when it is applied in its integrity and the cultivators are free citizens completely independent.
On the lands of the Crown, where there is no want of space, the mir generally holds in reserve a portion of the land, that it may always have some for the new households that are formed; meanwhile these unallotted parcels are let for rent. By this means the necessity of a new partition is rendered less frequent.
On the Crown domains, the division is carried out according to the number of souls. A certain number of dessiatines(4) is fixed on for each member, doucha, and every father of a family obtains as many of these parts as he has individuals subject to him.
On the lands recently dependent on the lords, the division is effected by tiaglos. The meaning attached to this word tiaglo, which represents the unit of labour, varies. Formerly it denoted a group of two or three labourers in each family; at the present time, the word is used to denote each married couple, so that if several couples live in the same house and labour in common, each of them is entitled to a share. Under the system of serfage the unit for the corvée to be performed or for the payments to be made to the lord was the tiaglo. This word, coming from the Russian verb tianut, to draw , is from the same root as the German ziehen, and signifies "a person who draws," that is, who drives the plough or cultivates. It was to the lord's advantage to multiply the tiaglos, as each of them owed him a certain number of days' labour per week. The patriarchal families, which united several couples under the same roof, represented several tiaglos, according to the number of working hands at their disposal. The corvée due to the lord being assessed according to tiaglos, it was natural that the land should be divided in the same proportion. Under the first system, the allotment was by the number of heads; under the second, by the number of married couples or of adult labourers.
As the various parcels assigned to each household were intermixed, it followed that all had to be cultivated at the same time and devoted to the same crop. This is what the Germans call Flurzwang, or "compulsory cultivation." One-third part of the arable land is sown with winter grain, wheat or rye; one-third with oats; and the remaining third lies fallow. Each family tills the ground, sows and reaps separately and on its own account; but there is nothing to mark the boundary of the parcels. The whole section occupied by one of the divisions of the triennial rotation seems only to form a single field. The several agricultural operations must be performed at the same time by all; because, there being no roads or ways of approach, no one can get to his parcel of ground without passing over those of his neighbours. The assembly of inhabitants of the commune determines the time of sowing and harvest, just as we see them do in the south, in Switzerland, in Italy, and in France itself, for the time of vintage. It is another of the cases in which individual initiative is fettered by the authority of the mir.
Before the abolition of serfage, the lord granted to the peasants about half the arable land, and kept the remaining half for himself, which he had cultivated by means of the labour supplied by the corvée. The serf had to work three days in the week for his master. The forest and waste lands supplied the cultivators with wood and pasturage, for which certain supplementary services were reserved.
In 1861, in Russia proper, 103,158 proprietors owned 105,200,108 dessiatines, with twenty-two millions of serfs, who had a usufruct of one-third of the whole surface, or of some 35,000,000 dessiatines; which allowed rather more than two-and-a-half dessiatines a head, or about seven dessiatines for each family.
In the region of the "black" soil, the population was denser, and the share of each was consequently less. This share was called the nadiell. The nadiell served as the basis of partition between the peasants and the lords, decreed by the act of emancipation. The lord was bound to leave as the property of the enfranchised serfs a portion of the soil, reserving a money rent always redeemable.(5) The amount varied with local circumstances; but in every village a minimum is fixed for each male inhabitant. This minimum varies. In the steppe regions, it is from three to eight dessiatines; in the industrial districts, it is smaller; thus, in the province of Moscow, it is as low as one dessiatine. In the region of the "black" soil, it averages from two to three dessiatines. Practically, the portion of land, which the enfranchised serfs have obtained, corresponds very closely with the nadiell, or the share which they previously had to cultivate.
This is the position of an ordinary peasant family in the province of Novgorod. It cultivates about 20 hectares, or 49 English acres, of which half is arable, the rest hay or pasture land. The triennial rotation of crops is generally practised in Russia, so that one-third of the arable is sown with rye, the second with oats, and the remaining one is fallow. The stock insists of two horses, three cows, and four or five sheep. It pays to the lord seventy francs for the rent, or about a franc and a half per acre; to the state, a tax of twelve francs for each male, or about thirty francs in all on the average; and to the priest another six or seven francs.(6)
So far from the emancipation laws proving the deathblow of the collective existence of the mir, the new communal organization established by the ukase of February 19, 1861, has rather strengthened it. For it has confirmed the principle, which made each commune a corporation, jointly responsible for the exact payment of all taxes due to the state, to the province or to the commune from its inhabitants individually. The heads of families, united in general assembly, may introduce individual property and put an end to the system of community; but to determine this transformation, a majority of two-thirds is necessary.
It is asserted that, if the decision could be taken by a mere majority, the communities would have soon ceased to exist. Observed facts do not seem to confirm these predictions. The peasants do not so readily abandon ancient customs; and it is only by gradual and insensible changes, that old institutions are modified under the influence of new ideas and new requirements.
Here is a curious example, which shews how strongly the Russian peasants are attached to the agrarian organization of the mir. Some years ago, on a property in the district of Peterhof, the proprietor wanted, in the interests of the serfs, to introduce the agrarian system of western countries. He divided the land into independent holdings, on which he built at his own expense separate houses for each family. Scarcely was the abolition of serfage decreed, when the peasants hastened to re-establish the primitive community, and to rebuild their houses on the old spot, in spite of the very considerable mount of labour which this entailed. There were public rejoicings to celebrate the return to the old customs of the mir. One peasant alone refused to give up his separate holding: he was dishonoured and declared a traitor by the whole village.(7) In the eyes of the Russian peasant every attempt to withdraw from the bonds of the community is a desertion, a theft, a crime for which there can be no pardon.
What is a still more curious fact, is, that the German colonies established in Russia have spontaneously adopted the periodic partition of the land. In the village of Paninskoï, near the Volga, peopled by colonists from Westphalia, M. de Haxthausen states that the commune effects a new partition of the soil every three, six or nine years, according to the increase in the number of inhabitants. The other German colonies in the government of Saratoff have also demanded and obtained permission to adopt the same system. Tartar agriculturists practise this Russian method of partition. It is also found among the people of Little Russia, in the district of Voronege and in Bessarabia.
In spite of the periodic partition, inequality has been introduced into the mir, and many peasants have no land. First, certain inhabitants of superior intelligence or influence, by means of brandy, acquired a larger share. The mougik calls them the "consumers of the mir" (miroiedy). Others were too poor or too idle to cultivate a share; they live by wages. In a very instructive work of Prince Vasiltchikof, partial statistics from a province are given, from which it appears that out of 1,193,000 households, 75,000 have no land at all, and 7,400 have only preserved the hereditary enclosure.(8)
The patriarchal family is the basis of the commune; and the members of the mir are generally considered as descended from a common ancestor. Family ties have maintained a force among the Russians, as also among the Slavs of the Danube and the Balkan, which they have lost elsewhere. The family is a sort of perpetual corporation. It is governed by a chief called "the ancient," with almost absolute authority. All property is in common. There is usually neither succession nor partition. The house, the garden, the agricultural implements, the stock, the produce -- moveables of every description -- remain the collective property of all the members of the family. No one thinks of claiming a separate share. On the death of the father of a family, his authority and administration devolve on the eldest member of the house: in some districts, on the eldest son; in others, on the eldest brother of the deceased, provided he live under the same roof. In some parts, too, the members of the family themselves elect the new chief. If all the survivors are under age, a relation establishes himself with them and becomes a co-proprietor. The head of the family is called Khozain, which signifies "the administrator," or Bolshak, that is, the "great one."(9)
When, on a death, a division of property takes place, which is less rare than in former times, it is not made according to the degrees of relationship, but each adult male living in the house takes an equal share. An orphan cannot succeed for his father by representation; and those who have left the paternal roof have no right of succession. The females remain in the charge of one branch or other of the family, and receive a portion on their marriage.
In the north, the house passes to the eldest son. In the south, the youngest inherits it, because, ordinarily, the eldest has set up a separate establishment during the lifetime of his father. It is not blood, or descent, which gives the title to succeed, but a much more effective title, co-operation in the labour which has produced the property whose division is in question. The adult uncle, nephew, and cousin, have laboured together; they shall take an equal portion. The young girl and the child have contributed nothing to production: their wants will be provided for, but they have no right to a share in the inheritance.
In the Russian family as in the Russian state, the idea of authority and power is confused with that of age and paternity. The word starosta signifies "the old;" the word starshina is in the comparative, "older." The emperor is the "father," -- the "little father." This is the real principle of the patriarchal system.
Since the emancipation the old patriarchal family has tended to fall asunder.(10) The sentiment of individual independence is weakening and destroying it. The young people no longer obey the "ancient." The women quarrel about the task they have to perform. The married son longs to have his own dwelling. He can claim his share of the land; and, as the Russian peasant soon builds himself a house of wood, which he shapes, axe in hand, with marvellous facility, each couple sets up a separate establishment for itself.
The dissolution of the patriarchal family will perhaps bring about that of the village community, because it is in the union of the domestic hearth that the habits of fraternity, the indifference to individual interest, and the communist sentiments, which preserve the collective property of the mir, are developed. Formerly, the method of overcoming the resistance of obstinate members or of getting rid of incorrigible idlers was to hand them over for the conscription. The fathers of families, in conjunction with the starosta, thus purged the community of all recalcitrants. It is the habit of submission to the despotic authority of the father which has given the Russian people the spirit of obedience, of self-denial, and gentleness, characteristic of them.
How marked is the contrast between the Russian and the American! The latter, eager for change and action, a thirst for gain, always discontented with his position, always in search of novelty, freed from parental authority in his earliest years, accustomed to count on no one but himself and to obey nothing but the law, which be has himself helped to make, is a finished type of individualism. The Russian, on the contrary, resigned to his lot, attached to ancient tradition, always ready to obey the orders of his superiors, full of veneration for his priests and his emperor, and content with an existence, which he never seeks to improve, -- is perhaps happier and more light-hearted than the enterprising and unsettled Yankee, in the midst of his riches and his progress.
Animated discussions have been raised recently as to the origin of the community of lands, which is the actual basis of the mir. The Russian Patriots see in it "the primordial institution" of the great Slavonic race. This opinion, propagated in Europe by the writings of the Baron de Haxthausen, was admitted without dispute, until Tchitcherine and Bistram(11) lately maintained a directly opposite theory. According to them, the peasants, up to the end of the sixteenth century, were free and independent owners of the land they cultivated. They made terms with the lord as to the rent to be paid, and sold, inherited, let or bequeathed their holdings, without any interference of communal or seignorial authority. Community of land and periodical partition were unknown. The commune exercised no supervision over its members. The independence of the peasants, however, suited neither the sovereign, who wanted taxes and soldiers, nor the lords, who required hands to cultivate their land. Ankase of Czar Fedor Ivanovitch, in 1592, attached the peasants to the soil. The lords established registers, in which were enrolled all the labourers living on the land, which they regarded as their domain; and the peasants were forbidden to remove without permission. Later laws of Boris Godunof introduced serfage definitely. Under Peter I the poll-tax on every male inhabitant, the joint responsibility of the commune for the payment of taxes and for providing recruits, and the census, induced the peasants to put their lands in community, and to divide them in proportion to the working hands, that each might be in a position to contribute to the communal expenses, in proportion to his strength. "Agrarian community," says M. Tchitcherine in conclusion, "was the product of slavery; it will disappear with it before liberty."
The theory of MM. Tchitcherine and Bistram was strongly opposed by Professor J. Belazew in the Russkaja Besseda. -- According to this writer, the Russian commune with periodic partition of the soil has existed from the earliest times, being in conformity with the genius of the Slav race. Families, which could cultivate more land and pay higher taxes had a larger portion allotted to them. No doubt, as Tchitcherine shews, private property did exist; it even predominated in certain parts of Russia. But we must not therefore conclude that it was the ordinary system. Common property was the rule. Professor Hergei Ssolowzew(12) has lent the support of his authority to Belazew's opinion; and now it is generally admitted in Russian literature, that collective property did exist in ancient Russia. The more accurate knowledge of the primitive history of the Russian commune is chiefly due to the researches of Professor Leschkow.(13) Originally the organization is found to be exactly the same as in the Germanic mark, under the name of werw in Southern Russia, and of pogost or guba further North. In the Werw, the elders, or "centeniers," administer justice and maintain order. But the partition of the collective domain, and all questions of importance, are decided in a general assembly. After the appearance of the Warègue princes, a territorial aristocracy sprang up; it usurped many of the lands occupied by poor cultivators, who remained free, but were bound to certain services. The most ancient law of Russia, the Ruskaja Prawda, contains six articles to protect this class of occupiers from the exactions of their lords, and to regulate their condition. By the side of the cultivators, or co-partners of the mark, and the tenants of the seignorial lands, were a large number of independent proprietors, who sprang into existence in the following way. The extent of unoccupied soil being very great, the settlers who brought it into cultivation acquired a life ownership, and, in fact, even a kind of hereditary right in it. The same right exists in Java, where the system of collective property is in force under the same conditions as in Russia. The mode of cultivation employed by the settlers was that always practised when primitive forests are reclaimed. They built themselves a rough log-house, made so as to be moveable. They then set fire to the surrounding forest, and cultivated the soil until it was exhausted; then they migrated further. In consequence of this nomadic cultivation a great number of small hamlets were formed, which were not subject to the rules of the mark. The necessity of periodic partition did not make itself felt, until the population was permanently fixed and become so large as to make the system of intermittent cultivation insufficient. This explains how the lot of each family, the Utschastok, was at first the subject of a life ownership, or even of hereditary ownership, and how partition was only introduced at a later period. Exactly the same process is being carried on, even at the present day, among the Cossacks.
In the fourteenth century, we find the wolost, with its council of elders, comprising several villages (selo), each with their chief (golovi), their "centenier" (sofskie), and their elders (starostis). In the sixteenth century, the communes still, enjoy great independence. The code of 1497, and that of 1550, recognize and protect their privileges in the face of the nobles and the representatives of the prince. Soon after, however, under John IV, and still more under his successor Feodor, the taxes become excessive, and, in order to check emigration, a ukase of 1592 attaches the peasants to the soil, and in return grants them a right in the soil which they cultivate. The ancient communal system differed, in some respects, from that which is in force at the present day. Every member of the commune obtained as much land as he could cultivate. This portion was called Udel, Utschastok, and also Sherebi, a word corresponding to the Loosgüter, the lots, and recalling the drawing by lot. The whole of a peasant's property, with the right of enjoyment attached to it, was the Dwor. The Dwor comprised the house and garden, or orchard (usadba), the cultivated land (obsha), of an average extent of 9 to 15 dessiatines, the meadows, the pasturage, the wood, the marsh, and the river for fishing. It was precisely the German Bauergut, or Hube. There was however some difference between the Germanic and Russian mark. The latter remained more democratic; -- the right to a lot of land being recognized in every one, even in the strangers, who could be adopted into the families without difficulty. Among the Germans the mere inhabitants, Beisassen, were excluded from the partition; and at a very early period some families had usurped a larger share, while others had allowed their right to perish. In the middle ages the Germanic mark, with the large village in the centre, was a fixed organization, closed and, so to speak, crystallized; while in Russia the Werw, with its immense extent of uncultivated land, its widely scattered houses, and its cultivators always extending the area of their nomadic cultivation, was still in process of formation.(14) The Russian commune was based on the same principles as that of the Germans and other nations, but external circumstances, and particularly the more primitive system of cultivation, modified their practical application. Even now, in the steppes of the South, the agrarian organization has hardly advanced to the point which it had reached in Germany in the days of Tacitus. Mr Mackenzie Wallace has observed a custom there which was in force in Germany at the most remote period. When the boundaries are traced between two neighbouring marks, children are brought to assist at the operation, and smartly beaten, that, the fact being impressed on their memory, they may be able to give evidence on the matter all their lives. In the fourteenth and fifteenth century, when the increase of population made it necessary to keep the soil in permanent cultivation by the triennial arrangement of crops, the compulsory rotation, or Flurzwang, became general. The idea that the land of the commune belonged to all the inhabitants collectively was part of the juristic instinct of the people; but, originally, there was no necessity for the application of the principle, because every family could cultivate as much of the steppe, or forest, as it required. We can thus grasp the very important phase in economic progress and in the evolution of landed property, where periodic partition is preceded by the free power of occupation, the clan's right of eminent domain being however never lost sight of. The transformation is going on even in our own day. In the colonies established in this century on the steppes in New Russia, there was at first the system of free occupation: every one took as much land and meadow as he required: but as the population increased disputes arose, to put an end to which periodic partition was introduced, and became general in the provinces of Kerson, Tauride, Woronesh, and Ssamara.
The same was also the case among the Don Cossacks. Originally every one might cut down timber, cultivate land, or depasture cattle at will; and all the territory was the undivided property of the whole nation. Subsequently the territory had to be divided among the Stanitsas. The domain of each Stanitsa, called jart, was subject to the right of free occupation. The population, however, increasing, it was necessary to have recourse to periodic partition, which was finally regulated in 1835. These partitions are made per head. Every male over seventeen years of age is entitled to 15 dessiatines of arable land. Mr Mackenzie Wallace states that this system has put an end to disputes, and, by re-establishing equality, has improved the condition of the poor. The meadows are mown in common, and the hay divided. Among the Cossacks of the Oural the right of occupying the meadows is regulated in this way: On a fixed day every member is entitled to appropriate all the grass within the circle that he can trace out with the scythe between morning and evening. In Switzerland, in the mountain cantons, we find a very similar custom. On the thirteenth of August, the "Wild mower" (Wildheuer) at sunrise occupies one of the grassy ridges which are to be seen on the summit of the rocks, in almost inaccessible spots, and is entitled to make the hay on it, which he afterwards ties into bundles and throws into the valley below. In Siberia, in consequence of the extent of land unoccupied, the peasants transmit by descent the lands which they cultivate. But they may not alienate them out of the family, and the eminent domain of the commune is recognized, for already in many localities, especially Slovina and Tobolsk, where inequality had increased with the population, periodic partition has been introduced.(15)
Some towns still have common lands, which they distribute. Thus the town of Mologa, in the province of Jaroslaw, possesses a pasturage, which is divided into eleven parts; and each of the eleven sotnis, or groups of burgesses, successively obtains each part, so that, in eleven years, each sotni has occupied all the lots. These sotnis recall the Rhodes of Appenzell.
From the facts collected by Von Reussler, it would appear that in ancient Russia the right of every one to an equal share of the communal domain was not as general as it is to-day. The substitution of an individual poll-tax for the old land-tax has given this right extension and increased vigour. As every one had to pay the tax and the commune was responsible for it, it was to the interest of the latter to provide every one with sufficient land to enable him to pay his share of the sum total due, and this share being the same for all, the lot of land was also made equal.
When we find village communities among all Slav nations, among the Germans, and the nations of antiquity, in America, in China, India, Java, in all societies, in a word, when they quit the nomadic and pastoral state and adopt the agricultural system, it is impossible to admit the theory that in Russia this institution, which survives to the present day, was introduced simply in consequence of the laws of Fédor, of Boris Godunof, or of Peter I. The principle of collective property existed from the first in Russia, as it did everywhere else. But the vast extent of unoccupied land was favourable to the dispersion of families and the establishment of several ownership. Periodic partition was not introduced generally, as we now see it, until the growth of the population made it no longer possible for every one to take at his will a vacant lot in the forest or the steppe. The poll-tax and the joint responsibility of the commune accelerated the movement, because every one, in order to be able to pay his share of the tax, required his parcel of ground.
1. Le Play, Les Ouvriers Européens.
2. Precise details concerning the Russian commune, especially of a juridical nature, are difficult to collect. The best sources accessible for those who do not understand Russ, are the large work of the Baron de Haxthausen, Études sur la Russie, and his more recent work, Die ländliche Verfassung Russlands, Leipzig, 1866; -- a curious treatise of M. Wolowski in the Revue des Deux Mondes of August 1, 1858, and a study by M. Cailliatte in the number for April 15, 1871; -- Free Russia, by Mr Hepworth Dixon; -- the complete report of Mr Michell on the emancipation of the serfs, in a Blue Book of 1870 (Reports concerning the Tenure of Land in the several Countries of Europe); l'Avenir de Russia , by Schedo Terroti; -- a study by M. Tchitcherine in the Staatswörterbuch of Blutschli (Leibeigenschaft in Russland); -- Kawelin, Einiges über die rusiche Dorfgeminde, Tüb. Zeitschrift für Staatswiss, xx. 1, -- and the appendix by Prof Heiferich on the same subject; -- Van Bistram, Rechtliche Nature der Stadt- und Landgemeinde; -- Adolph Wagner, Die Abschaffung des privaten Eigenthums; Julius Eckart, Baltische und russische Culturstudien (1869) and his Russlands ländische Zustände (1870); -- a paper of M. Julius Faucher, member of the German parliament, in the Cobden Club Essays; -- an article of Mr Wyrouboff in La Philosophie positive; -- J. Ewers, Das älteste Recht der Russen in seiner geschichtlichen Entwickelung; -- Von Reutz, Versuch über die geschichtliche Ausbildung der russischen Staats- und Rechtsverfassung; -- the results of the great agricultural enquiry of 1873, in five volumes (Russ); -- and finally the excellent work of J. von Reussler, Zur Geschichte und Kritik der bäuerlichen Gemeindebesitzes -- J. Deubner, Riga, 1876. This work comprises an analysis and criticism of all the writings which have appeared on the question, whether in the form of books, newspapers, articles, reviews or official reports.
3. See The Russian Agrarian Legislation of 1861, by Julius Faucher of the Prussian Landtag, in the Systems of Land Tenure in various Countries, published by the Cobden Club.
4. The dessiatine is about 2.7 acres.
5. The government makes advances to the peasants to enable them to redeem the rent. The former serfs occupy on the average about an acre, paying a rent of from twenty to twenty-four francs.
6. See the interesting report of Mr Michell in Reports respecting the Tenure of Land in the several Countries of Europe.
7. Eckardt, Russlands ländliche Zustände, § 102.
8. See the excellent article of M. Anatole Leroy Beaulieu in the Revue des Deux Mondes of November 15, 1876.
9. See Mackenzie Wallace, Russia, 1, c. 6; and also, for description of the mir, c. 8 and 9.
10. The report of the commission appointed May 26, 1875, with the Minister of the Domains, Waluzew, as president, contains much information gathered from different provinces, which proves that the family division is being effected on all sides, to the general disadvantage. For the disastrous consequences of the partition, see the work of Von Reussler already quoted.
11. Staatswörterbuch von Bluntschli. Leibeigneschaft in Russland, p. 396-411. Von Bistram, Die rechtliche Natur der Stadt- und Lundgemeinde, St. Petersburg, 1866.
12. See Russkie Vestnik, Lib. 22, p. 289.
13. Russkie Parod i Gosoudarstvo, p. 69-71, etc. M. Von Reussler mentions the chief sources of the history of the agrarian system and the rural slaves in Russia, in his work already quoted, Geschichle des bäuerlichen Gemeindebesitzes, p. 16.
14. According to von Reussler, the name of the village, derewva, from derevo, land newly reclaimed, indicates the onward march of colonization.
15. See Russkaja Resacda, 1860, v. II, p. 119, and N. Flerowski, Polajenic rabotschasvo klassa vi Rossi, Petersburg, 1869, p. 75.