Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/23

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19
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

smaller, for the mir, as the village community is called, had no means of expanding and taking in new lands. The picture of the Russian peasantry drawn by Tolstoi, Tchekov and others reveals a pathetic state of suffering, misery and discouragement in the wake of what was planned to be a great economic and social reform. Stagnation in the economic life of the people was thus added to political and intellectual stagnation.

Even to-day millions of the Russian peasants are not only too poor to employ any but the simplest instruments of agriculture, but the smallness of their acres make the machinery we are accustomed to out of the question. On the other hand, there are large estates with the finest modern machinery, while the peasant proprietor is gradually overcoming the difficulty by cooperative buying. Six million households were associated with cooperative associations in 1911, and 310 out of the 370 Zemstvos were last year engaged in the sale of agricultural machinery. Long years of experience in the semi-communal dealings of the "mir" have trained the Russian peasants in the qualities necessary for cooperative enterprise.

In the meantime the Zemstvos and the government technical schools are doing all in their power to develop more scientific agriculture and the prospects are good for a thorough reform in agricultural methods in Russia in the near future. Fortunately, a reform inaugurated by the late premier Stolypin in 1905 and now being slowly forced upon a reluctant and conservative peasantry is working a deep and far reaching agrarian revolution. By the application of the Stolypin measure, the Russian peasant can now withdraw from the village community and obtain the consolidation of his holdings, to which he gets the individual title. The larger consequences, aside from better agriculture, are many. The enterprising and thrifty peasant will get on and prosper, while the shiftless will lose what land he has. There will be created in Russia a new class of small but independent farmers on the one hand, and an agricultural proletariat on the other. That the latter will sooner or later find its way to the cities and supply the much needed labor for the steadily growing industrial Russia is also clear. This however is the very reason for the violent opposition to Stolypin's reform by many leading statesmen and economists, who point with pride to the fact that up to the present Russia has not had a class corresponding to the industrial proletariat of western Europe.

For years the appalling losses through fire in the Russian towns and villages was a matter much commented on, but no effort at prevention was seriously undertaken. Stone is scarce throughout Russia for the geological strata are horizontal, hence the houses, barns and other buildings are of necessity constructed of wood, clay, brick and straw. The rural villages present a jumble of thick thatched roofs as inflammable