Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/168

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The causes of the phenomenon were briefly these. As the population increased and no new land was obtained there was naturally formed a class of Cossacks without land. In a young British colony there would be nothing abnormal or inconvenient in the existence of a class of men possessing no landed property, for such men could act as servants to the possessors of the soil, or they could remove to some other district where land could be obtained. But neither of these alternatives could be adopted by the Cossack. Agricultural laborers are to be found only in conjunction with regularly organized farming, and are rarely used by small peasant proprietors; and even if the Cossack could find employment as a laborer he could not in that capacity fulfil his obligations to the State. On the other hand he could not remove to another district, for the military organization attached him to the locality in which he was born, and was practically almost tantamount to the glebæ adscriptio. Thus, we see, the periodical redistributions of the land were the result of conditions which do not exist in a primitive state of society.

In a short article like the present, I cannot attempt to describe the analogous phenomena which I have observed in other districts; but I may say briefly that a prolonged study of communal institutions in this and other outlying provinces of Russia, and a careful examination of the documents relating to the mir in former times, have led me to the following general conclusions: —

1. Where land is very plentiful the enjoyment of the communal land may be left entirely unregulated.

2. From this unregulated enjoyment of the communal land two transitions are possible: (a) a direct transition to private or family property; (b) a transition to the system of periodical redistribution.

3. The chief causes which tend to produce the latter transition in preference to the former are: (a) restrictions on migration; (b) a system of direct taxation imposed not on property but on persons; and (c) mutual responsibility among all the members for the taxes of each.

That the latter transition has taken place in Great Russia — in Little Russia the principle of hereditary personal property prevails — is to be explained, I believe, by the glebæ adscriptio, by the adoption of the poll-tax system of taxation and by the introduction of communal responsibility in taxation. If this explanation be correct then it must be admitted that the periodical redistributions are a relatively modern institution — a view that is strongly supported by all the older documentary evidence which we possess.

Thus we see that what may be called the communal epoch in the history of landed property comprises two distinct periods: the primary period, in which the usufruct of the land rests on the unregulated jus primæ possessionis; and the secondary, in which regulated terminable usufruct is created by communal decrees. It does not, however, necessarily follow that all tribes and nations have passed through this secondary period. Indeed we know of many instances where a direct transition has been made from unregulated communal usufruct to complete personal property. All that we can venture to say in general is, that where the two periods have successively existed the primary is the older of the two. In this, as in many other instances, there is a strong analogy between social development and geological structure. Strata always occur in a certain fixed order, but it rarely happens that all the members of the series are actually present.

It is sometimes supposed that these periodical distributions of the land indicate a tendency in the Russian peasantry towards communism in the socialistic sense; and it must be confessed that the resignation with which the peasant submits to communal infringements on his personal rights and to various restrictions on his personal liberty of action seems at first sight to confirm this supposition. It would be unsafe however to draw from these facts any sweeping general conclusion. The Russian peasant, so far at least as my observations extend, has very little sympathy with communistic ideas beyond the narrow sphere to which he is accustomed, unless when they take the form of a religious doctrine. His conceptions as to the boundary line betweeen the meum and the tuum are certainly in some respects extremely vague, but when a confusion occurs it will always be found to result in favor of the meum. Towards his former master, for instance, he is quite ready to adopt the principle: "What is yours is mine but he always accompanies it with the mental reservation, "but what is mine is my own." "You are our father," he will say to the landed proprietor, to whom he was formerly a serf, "and you should let the land to us cheaper than to others." But if the proprietor should reply: "You are my children, and therefore you should work for me cheaper than