Bryan Caplan  

The Bolshevik Czar

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From Stephen Kotkin's new Stalin:
Peasant expectations of a total land redistribution were intense, and the wartime tsarist government had helped spur them, confiscating land from ethnic Germans living in imperial Russia, which was supposed to be redistributed to valiant Russia soldiers or landless peasants. The army, on its own, promised free land to winners of medals, spurring rumors that all soldiers would receive land at the war's end.  Total tsarist government confiscations of agricultural land during the war - which was seized with minimal or zero compensation from some of the empire's most productive farmers, and contributed to the severe shortage of grain in 1916 and the bread riots in 1917 - amounted to at least 15 million acres.
From context, 15 million acres seems to be roughly 15% of contemporary Russian farmland.  I've long known about the many continuities between czarist and Bolshevik policy, but I never before heard that the last Czar of Russia spear-headed massive expropriation of farmers whose only "crime" was membership in a successful outgroup.




COMMENTS (6 to date)
Shane L writes:

That's interesting.

I know that governments fairly often paid their troops in looted land, as Cromwell did in Ireland. Not sure if it was as common to seize and redistribute land from internal groups, but perhaps Catholic and Protestant minorities experienced this during the wars of religion? Certainly England's Henry VIII seized land from the Church in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, though I think he sold it off rather than redistributing.

Ray Lopez writes:

Another book on Stalin? What can we learn? As a useful counterweight to the severe anti-communists like George Robert Acworth Conquest, CMG, OBE, FBA, FAAAS, FRSL, FBIS, et al., this book could be of interest perhaps (not clear). On this last point, it's been said that due to the fact the USSR did not have a price-signaling mechanism, Stalin did 'the best he could' given a top-down command economy. You will note under a lessor iron-fist, like Gorby, the country fell apart. Note: I am not praising the system the man created. I am just saying that if you consider longevity of a flawed system as notable, then Stalin, especially in his war communism phase, did above average (for a tyrant). Ditto to North Koreans' dictatorship and Cuba, as well as the longevity of ancient Egypt and the Byzantine empire.

Stephen Karlson writes:

Yes, one of my distant cousins tape-recorded a reminiscence for her children about being tossed out of Russia in 1915, eventually settling in Milwaukee. Her family was among the Prussian Baptist draft resisters originally recruited into Ukraine by a previous tsar, in the hopes of jump-starting agriculture there with some German techniques. (Is agricultural failure thus something else that didn't start with Communism?)

Bostonian writes:

The Open Borders advocates support immigration that would likely result in confiscation of property in the U.S., in the form of higher capital gains, estate and income taxes. It is already the agenda of a president who has decided not to enforce immigration laws.

Tracy W writes:

I remember studying the Russian Revolution at school. We started of course by looking at Tsarist Russia, and when I was restudying my notes for the final exam I mused that if it wasn't for what had come after, the Tsarist regime would have looked about as bad as it could get.

Miguel Madeira writes:

I think that in "Dead Souls", of Nikolai Gogol (19th century), there is a passage where a landowner had a big property - the serfs had their individual plots, where they worked for themselves, and some days a week they had to work in the lands controled directly by the landowner (i.e., instead of paying a rent for their plot, they payed with labour). Then, the landowner asks why the individual plots of the serfs were much more productive than the lands he explored directly (and were the serfs were forced to work).

This have some similarities with the kolkhozes in USSR, where the individual plots were much more productive that the land worked in common.

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