Northern Illinois University Press

Ruling Peasants

Village and State in Late Imperial Russia

Corinne Gaudin

“Richly detailed and thoroughly researched. A must-read for those interested in peasant studies, the courts, and administration in late Imperial Russia.”—Canadian Journal of History

“A commendable and careful reading of a variety of published and archival sources, including documents from a number of provinical archives, supports the book's argument. Students of Russian history or the history of peasant societies in general will benefit greatly from the book's impeccable penned interpretation.”—The Russian Review

"Deeply researched, well-written. Key reading for all who teach late imperial history."—Slavic Review

Who ruled the countryside in late Imperial Russia? On the rare occasions that tsarist administrators dared pose the question so boldly, they reluctantly answered that the peasants ruled. Historians have largely echoed this assessment, pointing to the state’s failure to penetrate rural society as a key reason for the tsarist government’s collapse.

Ruling Peasants challenges this dominant paradigm of the closed village by investigating the ways peasants engaged tsarist laws and the local institutions that were created in a series of contradictory legal, administrative, and agrarian reforms from the late 1880s to the eve of World War I. Gaudin’s analysis of the practices of village assemblies, local courts, and elected peasant elders reveals a society riven by dissension. As villagers argued among themselves in terms defined by government, the peasants and their communities were transformed. Key concepts such as ‘custom,’ ‘commune,’ ‘property,’ and ‘fairness’ were forged in such dialogue between the rulers and the ruled.

By the end of the 19th century, the framework of dialogue between the peasants and the state no longer worked. The more peasants used the institutions and laws available to them, the more they solicited the authorities, and the greater the obstacles to communication grew. Villagers’ rising expectations for assistance foundered in the face of inconsistent state policies and arbitrary legal responses. Ironically, the success of often contradictory reforms—a success unrecognized by administrators themselves—contributed to undermining the state’s legitimacy.

(2007) 281 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-370-8
cloth $40.00

Corinne Gaudin is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Ottawa.

Table of Contents

List of Tables
1. Ideologies of Authority and Institutional Settings
- Rural Administration under the Emancipation Statute
- Shortcomings and Critiques of Indirect Rule
- Autocratic Authority Refurbished: The Land Captain Statute of 1889
- Contradictions of the Late Imperial Bureaucratic Order
2. Land Captains, Peasant Officials, and the Experience of Local Authority
- The Land Captain at Work
- Volost Administration
- The Volost Scribe
- Elected Peasant Officials: Village and Volost Elders
3. Volost Courts and the Dilemmas of Legal Acculturation
- The Evolution of Volost Court Activity
- Government Regulations and Peasant Use of the Courts
- Types of Cases before the Volost Courts
- Defining the Boundaries of Law and Custom
- The Appeal Process
4. The Village Assembly and Contested Collectivism
- The Skhod and the Land Captain: The Case of Verkhne-Beloomut
- Miroedy, Unanimity, and the Theater of the Assembly
- Participation and the Right to Land
- General Land Repartitions
5. The Challenges of Property Reform, 1906–1916
- Tenure Changes and the Commune
- Communal Land Redistributions after 1906
- Arguing Claim Rights and Property Rights before the Authorities
- Property and Custom in Inheritance Strategies
Selected Bibliography

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-370-8
cloth $40.00