Landownership in European Russia

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The famine that has effected thirty million peasants has again revived the question of the condition of the peasantry in Russia. In discussing this question people usually over look the main point, namely, the interrelation between the existence of large landed estates, primarily in the hands of the nobility, and the condition of the peasantry. It is to this main point that we wish to draw the attention of the reader.

In 1907, the Ministry of the Interior published a volume of Statistics of Landownership in 1905. From these official data, which can under no circumstances be suspected of partiality for the peasants, we can obtain a fairly accurate idea of one of the main causes of the famines.

The government statistics put the amount of land in the fifty gubernias of European Russia at 395 million dessiatines. But this figure does not represent the real state of affairs, since it includes more than 100 million dessiatines of state land in the far north, in the Archangel, Olonets and Vologda gubernias. Most of this land is unsuitable for farming, being the tundra and forests of the far north. Reference to this land is usually made for the sole purpose of obscuring the actual distribution of the cultivable land.

If we deduct this land, we obtain a total of 280 million dessiatines (in round figures) of usable land. Out of this total 101 million dessiatines are listed as privately owned, and 139 million dessiatines as allotment land. It is necessary to distinguish between the land in the possession of the big landlords and that owned by small peasants.

As regards the large estates, government statistics provide the following data:

Privately-Owned Land in European Russia

Size of estatesNumber


Total land



per estate (dessia- tines)

Over 500 to 2,000 dessiatines . . .21,74820,590,708947
Over 2,000 to 10,000 dessiatines . . .5,38620,602,1093,825
Over 10,000 dessiatines . . .69920,798,50429,754

These figures are incomplete, because they do not include the lands belonging to the crown, to big commercial companies, etc. Nevertheless, these figures give us an idea of the main feature of Russian landlordism. Seven hundred landlords own 21 million dessiatines, i.e., nearly thirty thousand dessiatines each.

Less than 28 thousand landlords own 62 million dessiatines of land, i.e., an average of 2,200 dessiatines per estate. To this should be added the crown lands—their total is estimated to exceed five million dessiatines—and more than three and a half million dessiatines belonging to 272 “commercial, industrial, factory and other” companies. The latter are undoubtedly big estates, most of them in Perm Gubernia, where nine such companies own nearly one and a half million dessiatines of land (the exact figure is 1,448,902).

Consequently, the total land area in the hands of the biggest owners is certainly not less, and most likely more, than 70 million dessiatines. The number of such big landlords is less than 30 thousand.

Now take the land owned by the peasants. According to government statistics, the peasants with the smallest allotments had the following amounts of land:

Allotment Land

Size of allotmentsNumber of


Total land


Average per


Less than 5 dessiatines . . .2,857,6509,030,3333.1
5 to 8 dessiatines . . .3,317,60121,706,5506.5
8 to 15 ” . . .3,932,48542,182,92310.7
Total . . . .10,107,73672,919,8067.0

Consequently, ten million peasant families, out of a total of about 13 million, own 73 million dessiatines of land. The average per household is seven dessiatines. To this should be added the small privately-owned estates. The number of owners of farms of less than 10 dessiatines each is placed at 409,864, and they own a total of 1,625,226 dessiatines of land, i.e., less than four dessiatines per house hold. Consequently, we have a total of approximately ten and a half million peasant families with 75 million dessiatines of land.

Now we can place side by side these principal figures, which are very often forgotten or misrepresented in arguments about the peasant problem:

Large landed estates—30 thousand owners, 70 million dessiatines of land.

Small peasant farms—ten and a half million owners, 75 million dessiatines of land.

To be sure, these are the gross figures. For a more detailed study of the condition of the peasants and the role of the big estates, it is necessary to take the figures for the various regions or districts, sometimes even for the individual gubernias. But the economists of the government, the liberal and even, to a certain extent, the Narodnik camps very often obscure the essence of the land problem by referring to individual regions or to particular aspects of the problem. To get at the root of the land problem and of the condition of the peasants, we must not lose sight of the main figures cited above; we must not allow the main point to be obscured by particulars.

In our next article,[1] we shall cite instances of this kind of obscuring. For the present, we will make the first fundamental summary.

The land in European Russia is so distributed that the big landlords, those owning more than 500 dessiatines each, hold 70 million dessiatines, and the number of such landlords is less than 30 thousand.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the peasants, namely, ten and a half million families out of 13 million peasant families, own 75 million dessiatines of land.

The average large landed estate is 2,200 dessiatines. The average size of a small peasant farm is seven dessiatines.

If the land of the thirty thousand big landlords were transferred to ten million peasant households, the land held by these households would be nearly doubled.

In our next article, we shall discuss the economic relations between the landlords and the peasants resulting from this distribution of the land.

  1. ↑ See pp. 73–77 of this volume.—Ed.