Russian Peasants and Politicians: The Political Economy of Local Agricultural Support in Nizhnii Novgorod Province, 1864-1914
This paper explores the local political economy of early agronomic efforts in Tsarist Russia by undertaking a two-part analysis of the role of the zemstvo -- a 19th century institution of local self-government -- in improving local agricultural conditions. First, we investigate the agronomic activities of various levels of government in Russia over the last fifty years of the Tsarist era. After discussing the relatively limited role played by the central ministries and peasant institutions of self-government, we follow Nafziger (2011) in undertaking a qualitative and cross-district empirical analysis of how variation in economic conditions and the political structure of the zemstvo assemblies may have motivated zemstvo expenditures on agriculture. This exercise finds evidence suggesting that the peasantry -- the population most likely affected by agronomic efforts -- had an influence on the policies of the zemstvo, despite rarely holding majority positions in the assemblies. To explore the mechanisms underlying these results, we turn to a case study of agricultural development and zemstvo policies in Nizhnii Novgorod province. We draw on archival records, contemporary publications, and newspaper accounts to document these factors, both at the provincial level and for one relatively non-agricultural district (Semenov). Our findings suggest that the policy preferences of the local elites and of leaders of the executive committees of the institution likely mattered more than the composition of the zemstvo assembly for the resulting outcomes. By shedding light on the political mechanisms behind local public support for agronomic efforts, this chapter makes an initial step towards a fuller account of the early stages of Russia's agrarian transformation.
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