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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/164

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156
RUSSIAN VILLAGE COMMUNITIES.

has not sufficient working-power to cultivate it. Obliged to let to others the superfluous amount, he receives for it only a small rent, for his neighbors know the position in which he is placed, and do not give him its fair value. Besides this, in some places where land is abundant, there is no one to rent the superfluous portions, so that the unfortunate peasant who receives too much land is obliged to leave his share partly uncultivated, and consequently sinks to ruin."

To prevent these evil consequences, many communes have adopted an expedient at once simple and effective: in the allotment of the land and of the burdens, each family receives a share not in proportion to the number of males which it contains, but in proportion to its working-power.

This expedient has for the moment the desired effect, but the natural course of events in the form of births and deaths renders it necessary to modify from time to time the existing arrangements, so as to restore the equilibrium between land and working-power. First, there is the natural increase of population. To provide for this some communes keep a number of reserve-lots, which the young members receive as soon as they become capable of bearing their share of the communal burdens. Other communes make no such arrangements. Whether such a provision is made or not, it inevitably happens that in the course of a few years the old evils reappear. Some families increase, whilst others diminish or die out, and a general redistribution of the land and taxes becomes necessary. In the Steppe region, where the soil is even in quality, and possessed of such natural fertility that it requires no manure — where consequently it is easy to divide the land into any number of portions equal to each other in size and quality, and no one has a special interest in particular lots, for the simple reason that one lot is as good as another — the general redistributions are frequent. Under such conditions, annual redistribution is by no means uncommon. In the north and west, on the contrary, where the inequalities of the soil render it difficult to divide the land into lots of equal quality, and where the practice of manuring gives to each family a special interest in the lot which it actually possesses, general redistributions produce an economic revolution in the commune, and are consequently made at much longer intervals.

As these periodical redistributions of the land form the essential peculiarity of the Russian communal system, and tend to illustrate its real nature, I shall endeavor to convey to the reader an idea of the way in which they are affected. Let us take first a case in which the operation is comparatively simple.

All over European Russia, except in the outlying provinces, which may for the present be left out of consideration, the arable land of the communes is divided into three fields, to suit the triennial rotation or three-field system of agriculture universally practised by the peasantry. The first field is for the winter grain (rye or winter wheat); the second for the summer grain (oats, buckwheat, millet, etc.); and the third lies fallow. When a redistribution has been resolved upon, each of the three fields is divided into an indefinite number of plots, according to the quality of the soil, and each plot or each category of plots — if there are several plots of equal quality — is then subdivided into a number of long, narrow strips, corresponding to the number of "revision-souls" (males inscribed in the revision or census lists) in the commune. Thus each family receives at least one strip — and perhaps several strips of different quality — in each field. This complicated bit of land-surveying, in which both the quality and quantity of the soil have to be considered, is performed by the peasants themselves, with the help merely of simple measuring-poles, and is accomplished with an accuracy which seems to the stranger truly marvellous. The shares are distributed among the members either by general consent or by casting lots.

This is the method commonly employed in the fertile and more densely populated regions where each family desires to have as much land as possible, and demands a number of shares corresponding to the number of "revision-souls " which it contains. In districts, on the contrary, where the land is barren and the population scant, considerable modifications have to be introduced, in order to obviate the evil consequences above described. Here the chief question is, not as to how much land each family shall receive, but as to what share of the communal burdens each family ought to bear; and for the deciding of this question the revision-lists supply only very imperfect data. It may be, for instance, that a family appears in the revision-list as containing four males, and consequently as entitled to four shares of the land and burdens, but on examination it is found that the household consists of a widow and four little boys. To impose