The Russian Peasant in Pre-Revolutionary Times
Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century was riddled with social and economic hardships throughout the countryside and inner cities. The Russian peasant was faced with widespread poverty and poor living conditions throughout their entire life. The economic situation and the living conditions drove the peasants and working class to rebel and begin the Russian revolution that would change the face of the country and impact the world forever.
The peasants were the lowest ranking social group in Russia. Some peasants owned tracks of land that they farmed, while others worked nobles’ land for money and food. Peasants had literally no rights under czarist rule. The nobles bought and sold the peasants as needed. The women usually cooked the food, while the men served the nobles and all of their guests. The peasants ate only a few basic foods, which consisted mainly of dark bread, porridge, cereal, or meal boiled in water.
Peasant families who owned land normally owned strip farms. In strip farming, tracks of land were divided up into different parcels. Each peasant family in a village had control over a certain number of parcels and they could farm it as necessary. This type of farming was ineffective because the different tracks of land were spread about, sometimes at a distance of miles. This resulted in peasants wasting time “needless journeys-to-work, consumed land in boundary furrows and headlands, resulted in fields that were too remote to cultivate properly and prevented innovation” (Pallot, 276). This also created tension between neighbors in disputes over confusing land boundaries. Peasants being forced to live together in small villages also increased the risk of the spread of disease or other safety hazards.
The Ukraine, located in Eastern Russia, was the main agricultural center of Russia. The Ukraine was divided into three different farmable sections. They consisted of the steppe provinces, the left bank, and the right bank. Ninety percent of Ukraine’s arable land was devoted to different types of grains that were exported across rail systems through the port cities on the Black Sea (Edelman, 41). Other crops that were grown were sugar beets, tobacco, hops, and potatoes. Poorer peasant families grew mostly grains whereas plantations had greater success with sugar and other cash crops alongside the grains.
A typical peasant household consisted of immediate and extended family ranging from children to grandparents in the same house. Since the setting up of new households was discouraged, a son would bring his new wife to live with his parents until he inherited the land. The patriarch and landowner of the family was always the oldest male, but upon his death, the land was divided among the sons. The size of the family was also positively proportional to the general income. Children were a drain on the household economy due to their inability to contribute to the work...