To what extent had the Russian economy been successfully modernised by 1914?

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To what extent had the Russian economy been successfully modernised by 1914?

When examining the extent to which the Russian economy had been successfully modernised by 1914 one must consider change and continuity within the Russian economy between 1856 and 1914.  It can be seen that Russia was a backward, agrarian economy in which the peasants were an exploited underclass on who the economy relied.  There were some changes attempting to release the break on the economy, for example, Witte’s Great Spurt, which fuelled industry, what he believed was the key to economic stability, and the emancipation which aimed to increase mobility of labour forces and incentives.  Whilst this was a successful period in economic, and industrial growth within Russia that can be seen as a period of economic transition moving toward a modern industry, however, by 1914, Russia was ultimately unsuccessful compared to the western economies.  Ultimately, the fact that the Tsar was fearful of social change, which would occur under industrial modernisation, and above all wished to maintain autocracy, meant that any economic modernisation was limited by this antiquated political system.

The government attempted to modernise agriculture in order to support industry and move away from its backward, agrarian based economy.  In 1856, the agrarian based economy in Russia was reliant on the serfs and the peasants, which made up 90% of the population.  The rural community was made up of landlords, who owned the land on which the serfs worked.  The strips of land on which the serfs worked were given out amongst the commune by the Mir.  This primitive farming technique, coupled with the poor quality of the land, meant that farming was inefficient and backward.  Furthermore, the serfs were hugely discontented as they felt that the land should be owned by those who worked it, and as this was not the case, there was a lack of entrepreneurial spirit.  Furthermore, there was no incentive for agricultural investment, which did not allow for agricultural development or progression.  This was partly because the majority of serfs had no money to spend, let alone invest, and were unable to prosper economically.  Consequently, it can be seen that in 1856 serfdom was a break on economic development.  This was understood by the Tsarist government, and they aimed to remove this break through various reforms, such as the emancipation of the serfs, which would provide an incentive for investment, support industrialisation, and create a mobile work force.  These reforms would allow them to compete with the west and increase exports, creating a prosperous peasant class, which would develop the Russian economy.  The introduction of the Peasant Land Bank in 1883 gave peasants loans from the government, which allowed the peasants to buy land from the landowners.  However, these seemingly positive loans were actually crippling to the peasants; as the interest of the redemption payments were a massive 6% over 49 years and consequently the redemption payments ended up being more than the value of the land, which left the peasants with huge debts, which would pass on through generations.  Furthermore, any advantages of these loans are undermined by the presence of a Noble Land Bank, which offered loans at a lower rate to those the peasants received, which allowed the nobles easier access to land.  This highlights the Tsars wish to maintain the traditional Russian hierarchy, which can be seen as something they valued over the development of the economy.  The nobles were also able to decide which part of their land they would give up and consequently the peasants got the worst land, and the landlords often only gave up one thirds of their land to the peasants.  Many peasants, were therefore reduced to buying small strips of land which yielded little food or profit.  Consequently, there was no fundamental change in yield and in 1878 only 50% of allotments made a surplus, and the peasants were reduced to a hand to mouth existence.  Moreover, often the land was given to the commune and not individual peasants, and the commune was then responsible for distributing the land between the peasants.  The result of this was that the peasants were bound to the land, as they needed to pay redemption payments to commune.  Ultimately, whilst from 1877 to 1905 there was a growth in peasant owned land from 6 million hectares to 21.6 million hectares, it can be seen that the peasants remained an exploited underclass on who the economy relied.  This limited economical modernisation because the peasants were crippled by huge debt and often received inadequate land that gave rise to low yields.

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Stolypin’s reforms in November 1906 can be seen as an attempt to offer the peasantry a greater incentive and create a prosperous peasant class, which Stolypin believed was the key to economic and political stability.  He believed that if a conservative and prosperous peasantry were created, autocracy would be strengthened due to the reduction of peasant discontent and the increased stability and strength of the economy.  Stolypin wanted to encourage private ownership by allowing the peasantry to break away from commune by establishing independent household ownership and by removing Mir control.  However, these reforms were not implemented quickly ...

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