Obshchina or Mir ) or Selskoye obshestvo ( ("Rural community", official XIX-XX century term) were peasant communities, as opposed to individual farmsteads, or khutor
Khutor or khutir is usually taken to refer to a single-homestead rural settlement of Eastern Europe.In Cossack-settled lands that encompassed today's Ukraine, Kuban, and the lower Don river basin the word khutor was used to describe new settlements which had detached themselves from stanitsas...

s, in Imperial Russia. The term derives from the word о́бщий, obshchiy (common).

The vast majority of Russian peasants held their land in communal ownership
Open field system
The open field system was the prevalent agricultural system in much of Europe from the Middle Ages to as recently as the 20th century in some places, particularly Russia and Iran. Under this system, each manor or village had several very large fields, farmed in strips by individual families...

 within a mir community, which acted as a village government and a cooperative. Arable land was divided in sections based on soil quality and distance from the village. Each household had the right to claim one or more strips from each section depending on the number of adults in the household. The purpose of this allocation was not so much social (to each according to his needs) as it was practical (that each person pay his taxes). Strips were periodically re-allocated on the basis of a census, to ensure equitable share of the land. This was enforced by the state, which had an interest in the ability of households to pay their taxes.


Communal land ownership of the Mir predated serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

, surviving emancipation and even the Russian Revolution (1917).

During the serfdom period the mir could either contain serfs or free peasants. In the first case lands reserved for serf use were assigned to the mir for allocation by the proprietor.

Even after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, a peasant in his everyday work normally had little independence from obshchina, governed at the village level (mir) by the full assembly of the community (skhod). Among its duties were control and redistribution of the common land and forest (if such existed), levying recruits for military service, and imposing punishments for minor crimes. Obshchina was also held responsible for taxes underpaid by members. This type of shared responsibility was known as krugovaya poruka, although the exact meaning of this expression has changed over time and now in Russian it has a negative meaning of mutual cover-up.

In 1905, repartitional tenure didn't exist in the Baltic provinces but was used by a quarter of western and southwestern peasants, two thirds of steppe peasants and 96.9% elsewhere.

The institution was effectively destroyed by the Stolypin agrarian reforms
Stolypin reform
The Stolypin agrarian reforms were a series of changes to Imperial Russia's agricultural sector instituted during the tenure of Pyotr Stolypin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers...

 (1906–1914), the Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

 and subsequent collectivization of the USSR.


Peasants in these communities became reliant upon each other in times of need. With the Russian climate being so harsh and unpredictable, it wasn’t uncommon for peasants to suddenly lose all of their crops or livestock. In times of famine, one farmer might lose everything and his adjacent neighbor could lose nothing at all; because of this, the villagers set up a system in which they would support one another in times of need. This system however also set up a sense of “ceiling and floor” within the obshchina. Members of the obshchina who were prospering the most would usually be the ones looked upon to help others in their times of need; creating a form of “ceiling”. When other families were experience rough times, others in the village were forced to step in and help; creating a sense of “floor”, and preventing any one family from falling under in the community.

Peasants (i.e. three-quarters of the population of Russia) formed a class apart, largely excepted from the incidence of the ordinary law, and governed in accordance with their local customs. The mir itself, with its customs, is of immemorial antiquity; it was not, however, until the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 that the village community was withdrawn from the patrimonial jurisdiction of the landowning nobility and endowed with self-government. The assembly of the mir consists of all the peasant householders of the village. These elect a Village Elder (starosta
Starost is a title for an official or unofficial position of leadership that has been used in various contexts through most of Slavic history. It can be translated as "elder"...

) and a collector of taxes, who was responsible, at least until the ukaz of October 1906, which abolished communal responsibility for the payment of taxes, for the repartition among individuals of the taxes imposed on the commune. A number of mirs are united into a volost
Volost was a traditional administrative subdivision in Eastern Europe.In earlier East Slavic history, volost was a name for the territory ruled by the knyaz, a principality; either as an absolute ruler or with varying degree of autonomy from the Velikiy Knyaz...

, which has an assembly consisting of elected delegates from the mirs.

The Mir was protected from insolvency by the rule that the families cannot be deprived of their houses or implements necessary for agriculture; nor can the Mir be deprived of its land.

View on Obshchinas

It was in the mid-19th century that Slavophiles "discovered" the mir. Romantic nationalists
Romantic nationalism
Romantic nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs...

, the Slavophiles hailed the mir as a purely Russian collective, both ancient and venerable; free from what they considered the stain of the "bourgeois" mindset found in western Europe. Not surprisingly, it was but a short step from this to the mir being used as a basis for Slavophilic idealist theories concerning communism, communalism, communal lands, history, progress, and the nature of mankind itself.

By the second half of the 19th century the Slavophiles were challenged by the opposing "Western" faction. Boris Chicherin
Boris Chicherin
Boris Nikolayevich Chicherin was a Russian jurist and political philosopher, who worked out a theory that Russia needed a strong, authoritative government to persevere with liberal reforms...

, a leading spokesman for the Western school, argued that the mir was neither ancient nor particular Russian. The mir, the Western school argued, had arisen in the late 17th to early 18th century, and was not based on some sort of social contract or communal instinct. Rather it was a monarchical creation, created and enforced for the purpose of tax collection. Whatever the merits of either case, both schools agreed that the landlord and the state both played a vital role in the development (if not the origin of) the mir.

"Where (arable) land is scarce, the communal form of tenue tends to prevail, but where ever it (arable land) is abundant it is replaced by household or even family tenue."

The nineteenth-century Russian philosophers attached signal importance to obshchina as a unique feature distinguishing Russia from other countries. Alexander Herzen
Alexander Herzen
Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen was a Russian pro-Western writer and thinker known as the "father of Russian socialism", and one of the main fathers of agrarian populism...

, for example, hailed this pre-capitalist
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 institution as a germ of the future socialist society. His Slavophile
Slavophilia was an intellectual movement originating from 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history. Slavophiles were especially opposed to the influences of Western Europe in Russia. There were also similar movements in...

 opponent Aleksey Khomyakov
Aleksey Khomyakov
Aleksey Stepanovich Khomyakov was a Russian religious poet who co-founded the Slavophile movement along with Ivan Kireyevsky, and became one of its most distinguished theoreticians....

 regarded obshchina as symbolic of the spiritual unity and internal co-operation of Russian society and worked out a sophisticated "Philosophy of Obshchina" which he called sobornost
Sobornost is a term coined by the early Slavophiles, Ivan Kireevsky and Aleksey Khomyakov, to underline the need for cooperation between people at the expense of individualism on the basis that the opposing groups focus on what is common between them. Khomyakov believed the West was progressively...


The European socialist movement looked to this arrangement as evidence that Russian peasants had a history of socialization of property and lacked bourgeois impulses toward ownership.

Russia is the sole European country where the “agricultural commune” has kept going on a nationwide scale up to the present day. It is not the prey of a foreign conqueror, as the East Indies
East Indies
East Indies is a term used by Europeans from the 16th century onwards to identify what is now known as Indian subcontinent or South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania, including the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines...

, and neither does it lead a life cut off from the modern world. On the one hand, the common ownership of land allows it to transform individualist farming in parcels directly and gradually into collective farming
Collective farming
Collective farming and communal farming are types of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise...

, and the Russian peasants are already practising it in the undivided grasslands; the physical lie of the land invites mechanical cultivation on a large scale; the peasant’s familiarity with the contract of artel facilitates the transition from parcel labour to cooperative labour; and, finally, Russian society, which has so long lived at his expense, owes him the necessary advances for such a transition. On the other hand, the contemporaneity of western production, which dominates the world market, allows Russia to incorporate in the commune all the positive acquisitions devised by the capitalist system without passing through its Caudine Forks [i.e., undergo humiliation in defeat].

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

, First Draft of Letter To Vera Zasulich
Vera Zasulich
Vera Ivanovna Zasulich was a Russian Marxist writer and revolutionary.-Radical beginnings:Zasulich was born in Mikhaylovka, Russia, one of four daughters of an impoverished minor noble. When she was 3, her father died and her mother sent her to live with her wealthier relatives, the Mikulich...


See also

  • Repartition
    Repartition was a practice in the Russian Empire of the periodic redistribution of the peasant's arable land by the village community.The traditional household did not permanently hold a particular allotment in the open fields. What the household had was the right, so long as it remained within...

     (periodic strip redistribution)
  • Kolkhoz
    A kolkhoz , plural kolkhozy, was a form of collective farming in the Soviet Union that existed along with state farms . The word is a contraction of коллекти́вное хозя́йство, or "collective farm", while sovkhoz is a contraction of советское хозяйство...

  • Commons

External links

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