We would expect the Russian peasantry to receive better treatment under the Communists rather than the Tzars because the Communists philosophy is that all society should be equal with no different classes and that the workers get the reward. On the other hand the Communists want industrialisation which means bad conditions for the working class and workers who are involved in industrialisation; this of course includes the peasants who account for 90% of the population. Whereas the Tzars viewed the peasants as true Russians and tradionalists.
With the Tzar family going back over 300 years made them feel strongly about tradition and therefore the treatment of the peasants. Firstly the peasants’ freedom is an element of their treatment; therefore their freedom needs to be evaluated. Their freedom in terms of personal, political, religious all vary over the 101 years. In 1855 there were 50 million peasant serfs, Serfs were basically slaves and lacked all forms of freedom. However this improved with Alexander II’s reforms and improved their freedoms with local government reforms.
These local councils called Zemstvas gave more personal freedom to the peasants as they elected the members on the council. The most drastic of Alexander II’s reforms was end of serfdom. This radically changed the treatment of peasants as they had much more personal freedom as they weren’t owned. Also freedom of movement as after the abolition of serfdom peasants could move and sell crops at the market, marry who they want and own property. In 1906 Stolypin was appointed Minister of the Interior and fundamentally improved the treatment of the peasants.
He made all state and crown land available to be purchased by peasants. Also peasants were now allowed to withdraw from their ‘mir’ without needing consent first. On the other hand the peasants weren’t still truly free has they had to pay for their freedom in the form of taxation, these taxes had to be paid for 49 years including an interest of 6%! Also the peasants owned 20% less land than they previously farmed meaning less food to eat and sell. Another argument to support bad treatment by the Tzars was Alexander III un-doing many of the reforms his father completed.
The result of this was it pushed Russia further backwards and the peasants’ treatment worsened as the Zemstvas were reduced and the peasant representatives were appointed and no longer elected. Under the communists with Stalin in charge the peasants faced no kind of freedom, with forced collectivisation meaning peasants had no freedom to be independent. This caused the terrible famine that killed millions pf farmers in the richest farming regions. The previous independent peasants where known as Kulaks and were used as escaped goats for Stalin. Over one million kulaks were sent to labour camps.
So further freedoms were taken away with labour camps forcing peasants to work to death in extreme temperatures and dreadful conditions, this suggests peasants received worse treatment under the Communists. However under the communists with Lenin he introduced the New Economic Policy (N. E. P), this reintroduced the free market, in which peasants where able to sell surplus crops. In 1922 the government introduced a new currency this gave peasants an incentive to sell food and other goods again. Under Khrushchev there were large increases in production of fertilisers and farm machinery.
Also Khrushchev’s ‘Virgin Lands’ scheme was an overall failure but did have certain years of success, but at least he tried to improve the lives of the peasants. This shows that the treatment of peasants wasn’t always as ruthless under the Communists as it was with Stalin. Overall I feel that the treatment of the Russian peasantry in terms of freedom was better under the Tzars than under the Communists because of the abolition of serfdom and other reforms which improved the freedom of peasants; where as under the Communists there was a sheer lack of any kind of freedom especially under Stalin.
Another element of their treatment is the peasant’s standard of living. Under Tzar Alexander II the standard of living increased with economic development. Also a large increase in oil and coal produced and now a railway. This made it easier for the peasants to get to markets to sell any surplus crops. Also there was a growing market for manufactured goods because of Russia’s growing population. In 1906 Stolypin was made Minister of Interior by Nicholas II. He improved peasant’s standard of live by creating a new class of peasants that would be able to try new agricultural methods and techniques.
He also put an end to redistribution and allowed peasants to grow what they wished. By the outbreak of war the 2 million peasants had left their commune, drastically improving their standard of live. On the other hand the Tzars treatment of the peasants left something to be desired. Under Alexander III peasant treatment worsened from Alexander’s father with the 1891 famine. It was a bad harvest that year, to raise much needed revenue the government heavy taxed consumer goods. This meant peasants were forced to sell more and more grain leaving them no reserve in case of a bad winter.
This is poor treatment of the Russian peasantry; aid should have been given them not tax. Also under Alexander III the peasants were beginning to move into city outskirts because of the industrialisation of Russia. The conditions they had to face where atrocious, including an average of size per room, cesspools, human manure and polluted water supply. Under the Communists and Lenin War communism was implemented this took control of economic life. This forced peasants to work extra hard and in 1918 the government order grain to be seized.
Many reacted by growing only enough crops to feed themselves also refusing to join state collect farms. In 1919-1920 grain was seized again from the peasants but this time not only surplus grain and crops but the food to feed the peasants. This was extremely harsh treatment of the peasants and the result was that up to 5 million peasants starved. Under Stalin the standard of the life of the peasants unsurprising fell drastically. In 1927 – 1928 the government had difficulty purchasing land so had to resort to seizing it from the peasants again.
However this time it was seized from better off peasants Kulaks, the treatment of this group of peasants decreased. With the forced collectivisation with 93% of peasants in collect farms by 1937 the standard of life of the peasants was awful. T involved back-breaking work with no reward because particularly all the grain would be taken away. There was also mass famine while collectivisation was occurring , families died lying outside warehouse full of grain under armed guard, the death toll is thought to be 4-5 million.
The standard of life on these farms was very bad, factory workers lived much better, ‘you can’t buy clothes here and the kolkhozniks go round badly dressed… You can’t get any lower than the village’ This is a peasant elder talking about life on a collect farm. Stalin’s five year plans also forced peasants to work in industry, amongst the harshest conditions. Extreme conditions and forced to work to exhaustion in order to receive enough rations to survive the next day. Terrible inhumane treatment of the peasants in terms of their standard of living. However the Communists didn’t always treat the peasants this badly.
Their treatment was improved under Lenin’s N. E. P this stopped the requisitioning of grain. This policy eventually put a stop to the resistance in the countryside. This improved the Russian peasantry standard of life. Overall I feel the treatment of the peasants in-terms of their standard of living was far supreme under the Tzars than the Communists because Stolypin’s reforms did mildly improve their standard of life, where as under Stalin the most awful conditions and standard of live had to be faced, survival was the best a lot of peasants could hope for!
Another element of the treatment of the Russian peasantry is their opportunities in life. Under Khrushchev there were opportunities to work in the ‘Virgin Land’ schemes for peasants and with the cost-cuts in taxes peasants had the opportunity to afford better farming equipment and increase their standard of living. Education in the 1930’s under Stalin was increased significantly with primary education made compulsory for all, this extended to illiterate adults who were encouraged to attend school. Even 80% of collective farms had a school.
There was also an increase of students in higher education however the state introduced fees in 1940 which meant of course that no peasant could afford to attain forcing them to lead the lives of their parents, bitter back braking farming in appalling conditions. Under Tzar Nicholas II, Stolypin made a marked impact on peasant’s opportunities with giving incentives to peasants to take out a loan from the state and privately own their own land. This created the better off peasant ‘Kulak’ this amounted to 10% of the peasant population.
Also in Tzarist time Alexander II’s educational reforms provided a rapid increase in private schools, however the syllabus was controlled and schools regularly inspected. To attend gymnasia (Secondary school) pupils had to pay this was out of the question for normal peasants so not really an opportunity for them but for the Kulaks and their family. These reforms improved opportunities for peasants unfortunately they were immediately stopped when Alexander III came to power. Overall I think opportunities for peasants were a lot more equal under both the Tzars and the Communists.
However overall I think that there were more opportunities under Stolypin’s for the peasants with the opportunity to own their own land and make profits from there crops and grain. Another element of the treatment of the Russian peasantry was their religion. Under the Tzars was encouraged shown by domes and churches still standing today. The Orthodox Church was the only religion in the view of the Tzars, with it’s believe in define rights of kings which supported the Tzars absolute power position.
However under Tzardom rule other religions where allowed; Jews were prone to attack but this was the case in the rest of Europe. Also Muslims were generally tolerated by the Tzars as long as they kept themselves to themselves. Under the Communist this was a completely different case. Unsurprisingly as Communists believed religion was a distraction for poor classes in hope of happiness in an after life. Therefore religion needed to be abolished in order for true Communism to be achieved.
Lenin ordered the execution of several top bishops; this in the grand scheme of the communist rule is mild. Under Stalin many churches where closed and their priests deported to Labour camps. By 1939 1 in 40 churches were still functioning and only 7 bishops were available in the whole of Russia! Worship could only take place when registered with the government; this went to the extent of borrowing silver from the state for worship and had to be returned immediately.
It wasn’t just the Orthodox religion that was targeted it was also Islam, in 1941 only 1300 mosques where still open compared to 26,000 in 1917. However religion was still very much practiced in secret, by 1937 57% of peasants were still believers despite Stalin’s efforts to destroy there beliefs. Overall it is clear that the treatment of the Russian peasantry in terms of their religious freedom was a lot superior under the Tzars than the Communists. The Tzars strongly encouraged the Orthodox religion which was the national religion, but also tolerated other religions.
Where as the Communist party did the best they could to eradicate all religions with methods including persecution, executions and destruction of religious buildings. In conclusion, I feel the Russian peasantry receive better treatment under the Tzarist government compared to the Communist government. The Tzarist government granted more freedom for the peasants with the abolition of serfdom, better standard of living compared to Stalin’s collective farms and labour camps.
Better opportunities with Stolypin’s reforms for peasants to own their own land and finally more freedom of their religious beliefs. I do note that the Communists did provide the peasants with opportunities in education that the Tzars never really did however this isn’t nearly enough to justify there atrocious treatment in practically every other aspect of life. The Communist government was far too repressive in general with the rapid industrialisation costing millions and millions of needless peasant lives.