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Book Review

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Revolutionary Russia


The provincial, particularly the rural and agrarian, aspects of Russian history have received renewed attention of late. In many ways, the book under review fits well with two other recent publications by Catherine Evtuhov and Tracy Dennison (Tracy Dennison, The Institutional Framework of Russian Serfdom [Cambridge, 2011]; Catherine Evtuhov, Portrait of a Province: Economy, Society and Civilization in Nizhnii Novgorod [Pittsburgh, 2011]), contributing greatly to our understanding of provincial life and peasant economy in imperial Russia. Miller’s thorough study puts Kursk province under a microscope in search of an explanation of the socio-economic causal factors that contributed to violent peasant rebellions in Kursk province during the course of the 1905 Revolution. Making use of a wide variety of provincial and central archival sources, as well as the statistical studies published by the provinces zemstvo, Miller teases out an explanation of why some villages erupted in violence throughout 1905 and 1906, and why others, despite their poorer economic position, did not (indeed, as he points out, some of the villages that rebelled were by no means the most economically disadvantaged in the province). Villages that resorted to violence in 1905-6 tended to be the province’s ‘big villages’, to contain more younger households integrated with, and dependent upon, off-farm employment and—most importantly—villages in which the pre-Emancipation servile ‘norms of reciprocity—rooted in the past—in the interaction between lord and peasant, their personal “face to face” component, and the predictability in the concrete benefits that they ensured for both parties’ (45, original emphasis) had been destroyed. In this, Miller’s analysis of Kursk province confirms the hypotheses on the origins of rural unrest first articulated by James Scott in 1976 (James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia [New Haven, 1976]). In this case, Miller shows that the dissolution of the mutual ties of economic integration linking the economic fates of peasant and pomeshchik alike (particularly in regard the large latifundia of Kursk province where absentee lords shifted management of their estates to regimes of more market oriented techniques, e.g., requiring cash rents for plowland and access to other resources, renting to non-locals, shifting production to cash crops, etc.) were a major determining factor in whether or not a village resorted to violence or remained calm. It was these villages, where modernity had raised the consciousness of peasants via education and heavy reliance on outside labor markets, and at the same time increased the risk associated with peasant agrarian life by destroying mutual economic ties, that violence aimed at the property and person of pomeshchiki and local officials viewed as their supporters (land captains, police officers) was most heated and sustained during 1905-1906.

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The document available for download is the author's accepted manuscript, provided in compliance with the publisher's policy on self-archiving. Differences may exist between this document and the published version, available using the link provided. Permission documentation is on file.

Citation information for the book: Miller, Burton Richard. Rural Unrest during the First Russian Revolution: Kursk Province. Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, 2013.


Taylor and Francis





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