The Economic History Review

Communal property rights and land redistributions in Late Tsarist Russia

Volume 69 Issue 3
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Pages: 773-800Authors: Steven Nafziger
Published online: October 6, 2015DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12167

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Communal property rights have long symbolized the apparent backwardness of rural Russian society in the late nineteenth century. Drawing on newly compiled data and qualitative sources, this article summarizes the institutions and practices of rural property rights in late Imperial Russia and shows that there was substantially more heterogeneity in what constituted peasant property rights than is commonly assumed. Archival and documentary accounts suggest that the emblematic practice of repartitioning communal land occurred relatively infrequently and, when undertaken, was generally managed in low-cost ways. Econometric evidence from Moscow province implies that repartitions were driven more by concerns over the distribution of associated tax burdens than the desire to reallocate productive assets. Along with an analysis of cross-sectional data on property rights and grain yields from European Russia, these findings suggest a weaker causal link between communal land practices and agricultural productivity than is typically asserted.