250th Anniversary of the Free Economic Society of Russia

The Free Economic Society of Russia is the Oldest Civil Society Institution of the Nation

The Imperial Free Economic Society that existed from 1765 to 1919 dealt with resolving day-to-day socioeconomic issues of the country: it initiated the abolition of serfdom and the introduction of universal primary schooling, it established Russian statistics gathering and was engaged in spreading new agricultural crops across the country, developing soil science, national cheese-making industry and fighting against smallpox.

In its recent history the Free Economic Society (restored as an academic association of economists in 1982 with its historic name returned in 1992) became a forum for shaping Russia’s economic thought. The members of the organization aim for the efficient reforms of the Russian economy, their efforts are focused on searching for practical solutions of improving the socioeconomic situation in the country and on formulating a well-considered and balanced strategy of Russia’s rapid development.

The VEO of Russia is one of the most active disseminators of economic knowledge. It publishes the Transactions of the VEO of Russia, holds large-scale forums, conferences, congresses, round tables, exhibitions, and other events paying special attention to the development the creative potential of the youth.

The year 2015 marked the 250th anniversary of VEO. This year the emphasis was laid on the promotion of the VEO of Russia’s ideological and spiritual legacy. This is a social mission of the VEO of Russia, especially taking into account the task of developing the intellectual potential of the nation, reviving patriotism and improving the human capital quality.

The Free Economic Society of Russia Brings Together Nation’s Intellectual Elite

In the post-industrial society research and development and research schools inevitably concentrate in research centers bringing together (with a certain degree of bias) researchers that share each other’s worldview.

The VEO of Russia is a body uniting all the economists on the professional basis, regardless of their belonging to a particular school of economic thought and gives them an opportunity to meet, cooperate and debate at ease.

Constructive discussion here is facilitated by the Society’s extensive experience in the field of accumulating and analyzing different opinions, stances and views, programs and suggestions for reforming the government.

In the past the following outstanding economists, scientists, enlighteners and statesmen played an important role in the activity of the Free Economic Society. These include N.F. Annensky, F.F. Bellingshausen, A.M. Butlerov, S.Yu. Witte, Count R.I. Vorontsov, Samuel Gmelin, G.R. Derzhavin, V.V. Dokuchaev, A.F. Kerensky, V.G. Korolenko, I.F. Krusenstern, M.I. Kutuzov, D.I. Mendeleev, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, N.S. Mordvinov, A.A. Nartov, Senator A.V. Olsufiev, Prince G.G. Orlov, A.N. Radishchev, P.P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, M.M. Speransky, P.A. Stolypin, A.S. Stroganov, A.B. Struve, L.N. Tolstoy, M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky, Count I.G. Chernyshev, Leonard Euler and many other world-famous figures of Russian science and culture.

The latest VEO’s history is also related to the names of such outstanding researchers and public figures as L.I. Abalkin, S.D. Bodrunov, S.Yu. Glaziev, R.S. Grinberg, A.A. Dynkin, S.P. Kapitsa, A.L. Kudrin, A.D. Nekipelov, V.S. Pavlov, G.Kh. Popov, E.M. Primakov, Yu.V. Roslyak, S.N. Ryabukhin, D.E. Sorokin, S.V. Stepashin, E.S. Stroev, G.A. Tosunyan, V.S. Chernomyrdin, M.A. Eskindarov, Yu.V. Yakutin, etc.

Agriculture as a Key Branch of Economy

In the middle of the 18th century Russia was an agrarian country with agriculture being the main economic branch. In its turn, agriculture rested on two pillars – landlord ownership of land and serfs’ forced labor. The peasants traditionally used their own primitive home-made tools to cultivate both their own and landlord’s plots. The forced labor impeded the country’s industrial development and was a reason for the low quality of goods and their high prices.

Catherine II clearly realized that low productivity in agriculture was the main economic problem of Russia. “There cannot be either skilful fancywork or well-established trade where land cultivation is neglected or conducted uneconomically,” she wrote in her notes. However, she made a point herself that in some countries “farmers cannot be set free as this will result in their escaping and the land will become neglected.”

The economic growth was mostly based on the exploitation of serfs – increasing the number of corvee days, expanding landowners’ plots by means of expropriating the land from peasants and shifting the latter to the monthly allowance basis. The increase in the income from gavel peasants was achieved through increasing the amount of gavel. If a serf was engaged in any seasonal work or was allowed to leave for earning money elsewhere, he was assigned an even higher amount of gavel.

Forced labor rested on the power of landowner who was entitled (without referring to the state prosecution) to punish peasants for their one-time misconduct by swishing (up to 40 swishes), sticking (up to 15 hits), or imprisoning them (up to 2 months). If someone tried to hold the landowner to account, a new punishment was immediately imposed – starting from 1767 peasants were prohibited from filing complaints about their owners to government bodies.

The low-productivity labor of serfs, primitive tools, and low crop yield regularly led to famine for the population and arrears for the state budget. The need to take the Russian agriculture out of stagnation and to provide adequate support to nobility’s households was the key reason for the creation of Russia’s Imperial Free Economic Society.

Opinion on the Foundation of the State Collegium of (Rural) Territorial Arrangement by Mikhail Lomonosov as a VEO’s Predecessor

Today the term “Territorial Arrangement” could well be replaced by a more meaningful yet identical term of agro-industrial complex. In the 18th century it included growing crops, raising cattle and the issues related to technical, research and financial aspects providing for these activities.

I value one experience higher than a thousand opinions born solely out of imagination…
Mikhail V. Lomonosov

Empress Catherine the Great also considered the development of agriculture in Russia an issue of national importance. In the autumn of 1763 she ordered a so-called “agriculture class” be created at the Academy of Sciences. This unit was supposed to engage in the issues of modernization of landowners’ and peasants’ households. However, they did not manage to study the matter – the scientists decided this unit should be established outside the Academy of Sciences.

M.V. Lomonosov was aware of the fact that the Academy was full of bureaucrats and pseudo-patriots. Thus he decided that “merging with the Academy will do no good” and drafted his own proposal of the Collegium of (Rural) Territorial Arrangement. The three pages it contained were a precise plan for the non-governmental body concept that involved “the members of the whole nation,” i.e. corresponding nobility and managers of “state and palace villages.” Their task was to describe their practical managerial experience and send their papers to the Collegium.

The organization was supposed to bring together progressive-minded and highly educated people. Lomonosov’s idea was to attract professionals from different fields, including physics, mechanics, chemists, geologists, botanists, doctors, as well as practitioners, e.g. foresters, gardeners and tenants, to work as advisers at the organization.

Studying the latest foreign research and generalizing the Russian practice of agricultural production, the State Collegium of Territorial Arrangement had to regularly “by the end of the year” publish scientific and practical papers and to accumulate its own library of agricultural books that could be used both by the organization’s members and any other person interested in the field. Thus, Lomonosov saw the solution to the task to intensify Russia’s agriculture set by Catherine II lie “in the combination of research and practice” and “in spreading the most advanced domestic and foreign husbandry experience” as his descendants put it. Besides, the scientists believed that the State Collegium had to become one of the main collegiums in the country.

Lomonosov’s project was not completed in his lifetime; however, the ideas found in the project of the Collegium were implemented in the plans, tasks and the statute of the Imperial Free Economic Society.

Enlightened Absolutism in Russia

The French Enlightenment thinkers considered Catherine II a perfect “enlightened monarch,” which definitely flattered the Russian empress who eagerly studied the works of Rousseau, Montesquieu, and D’Alembert in her youth and who later was a correspondent of Voltaire, welcomed Diderot in Petersburg and was sincerely fascinated by their ideas. “I would like my country and my people to be rich, … to obey laws,” she wrote even before her ascension to the throne. It took Catherine two years to work out a program of her reign and she completed it in 1767 presenting it as her Directive for the Commission dealing with the creation of a new Code of State Laws.

The very fact of summoning the Commission to create a new Code of State Laws representing all the estates of the Russian society, apart from serfs, was a solid argument for the Europeans to believe that the empire headed by Catherine II was shifting towards the “common good,” a new social contract – a single and clearly defined code of laws binding for everyone. “The monarch is sovereign as no other power except the one personified by him can be commensurate with the vast spaces of this great land,” wrote the empress and put in considerable effort reforming the government bodies in the interest of the whole nation, as she believed. At least on the surface, Catherine II aspired to pursue the radical reform path similar to those described by Voltaire and Rousseau. In her Directive she solemnly declared the ideas of natural law and common good, freedom of trade and entrepreneurship, accessibility of education and equality of all citizens before the law.

Catherine II was constantly pondering over the ways to direct her subjects’ actions to “gaining the maximum benefit from all” for the sake of obtaining common good. She gradually came to the conclusion that “farming is the first and foremost activity that has to be encouraged among people.” It was the nobility that Catherine assigned with the leading role in modernizing Russia’s agricultural production as she considered it the economic, political and military backbone of the nation.

After the 1762 February Manifesto by Peter III on granting freedom to the Russian nobility, the latter was exempt from mandatory state service and could leave it on their discretion. Upon her ascension to the throne in July 1762 Catherine II affirmed the nobility’s monopoly on owning serfs and in 1765 she issued an order on general land demarcation that formalized the privileged estate’s title to the land.

The majority of Russian landowners perceived these granted privileges as a license to freely increase the number of corvee days, to expropriate the peasants’ land plots and to increase the amount of rent payments. However, these tough or at times cruel measures failed to significantly increase the income from the landed property. The most advanced and educated nobles began using up-to-date appliances in their estates and trying new methods of soil cultivation and crop growing. The most significant factor contributing to it was the establishment of the Free Economic Society for Encouraging Farming and Construction in Russia in 1765.

Reformer on the Russian Throne

Having come to power, Catherine II continued the policy of establishing a strong absolute monarchy in Russia initiated by Peter I. She carried out the judicial and administrative (province) reforms that determined the territorial arrangement of the nation till 1917. The territory of Russia was expanded due to the annexation of fertile southern lands of the Crimea and the Black Sea area. The population virtually doubled with Russia becoming the largest European nation (accounting for 20% of Europe’s population). The exports of Russian goods to other European countries increased significantly; however, raw materials and semi-finished goods made up the majority of these exports, while imports were dominated by manufactured goods. The future sovereign came to Russia at the age of 15. She adopted orthodoxy almost immediately and began to study Russian culture and language, which earned her recognition and respect among the representatives of the Russian establishment. In contrast to his spouse, Peter III failed to either love or get to know the nation he was supposed to rule. His impetuosity and love of everything Prussian and open contempt to Russian national customs combined with the absence of statesman’s vision scared Russian nobles and deprived them of the feeling of certainty – both at the personal and at the national level. When Peter III became emperor after the death of Elizabeth I, the worst apprehensions came true: there were rumors about his intentions to replace the Orthodox Church with the Protestant one spreading about the country. No sooner had he ascended the throne, a plot began to shape around him headed by his spouse Catherine. It was her popularity among the Russian nobility that led her to power after the 1762 palace coup. In her ascension manifesto Catherine II justified the fact that she was chosen to take the throne instead of her son Paul by “the obvious and non-hypocritical wish of all loyal subjects.” In her memoires the empress described the situation in the country at the beginning of her reign as follows: “Finances were meager. The army had not been paid for 3 months. Trade was in decline as many of its branches were given to monopoly. There was no proper system in the national economy. The defense ministry was heavily indebted; the marine ministry was hardly active as it had been totally neglected.” The clergy were dissatisfied with the exemption of land. Justice was traded and laws were obeyed only in those cases they proved favorable to the strongest party.” Meanwhile, in the second half of the 18th century the West went through the industrial revolution; however, Russian industry remained patriarchal and based on serfdom, which preconditioned its lagging behind the Western one. Catherine II gave the nobility the leading role in modernizing the Russian economy as she considered this estate to be the national economic, political and military backbone. Her reign was marked by the exhaustive expansion of the nobility’s privileges and maximum enslavement of peasants.

Founders of the Free Economic Society

To mark the 240th anniversary of the VEO of Russia, painters A. Shilov, A. Shershnev and M. Morozov created a Portrait Gallery featuring the Presidents of the Free Economic Society. The work took 8 years. It was possible to reconstruct only an insignificant part of 63 images using the photographs. Many portraits were recovered on the basis of pieces of documentary evidences and descriptions left by contemporaries and rare preserved engravings of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The constituent board of the future society comprised 15 persons. These were characterized by “nobility and scholarly achievements,” many were welcomed at the imperial court and enjoyed a favorable attitude of the Empress. As one of them put it, “none aspired to obtain any personal benefit or to conceitedly reveal one’s aptitudes. The only motivation was the will and desire to be useful to one’s motherland.” All of them signed in person a proposal for the Patriotic Society to Encourage Farming and Economy in Russia (this was the name originally created for the Society). Each of them signed a separate sheet stating “Taking up this venture, I pledge to give all my powers to be useful in the projects by the patriotic society.”

The picture features (standing from left to right):


Society’s Linchpin

At the first meetings (held from May 1765) the VEO’s founders referred to the body as The Patriotic Society to Encourage Farming and Economy in Russia. In October they came to the conclusion that it would be more sensible to call the Society “economic” as a tribute to the then-popular movement among physiocrats who considered rational management in agriculture the main source of progress and presented themselves as “economists” only. The word “free” in the name of the Society emphasized its independence from the existing government bodies and was similar in the sense to today’s notion of “non-governmental organization.”

In terms of structure and organization, the Patriotic Society was not dramatically different from the Collegium designed by M.V. Lomonosov. It was governed by the president and vice president, had two secretaries and involved scholars and professionals in the field, who had to have a good command of the Russian language. Its meetings were scheduled once a week from 4 to 6 pm. The relationships among the members of the organization were free from “all disputes regarding ranks and seniority and each member could take whichever seat at his convenience.” During the meeting each member could order and enjoy “a decent liberty of having a cup of tea or coffee.”

The Preliminary Notification on the society establishment declared that “The Society solely includes persons having no intention to obtain any personal benefit or to conceitedly display their aptitudes. Their only motivation is the will and the desire to be useful to their motherland.”

The first charter of VEO stipulated that its members shall:

If “someone has not provided any benefit to the Society for a year, the Society will consider it a token that this person is no longer willing to be a member and will thus exclude this person.”

Another interesting fact is that the Charter of the Free Economic Society approved on October 31, 1765 established the position of a treasurer who had to, upon the election of every new president, present “the account of his revenues and expenses.” It may seem ordinary, however, according to the same Charter, president was elected every four months, and thus the treasurer had to report to the supreme body once every four months.

The Imperial Free Economic Society fields of activity

In the first decades of its activities, the Imperial Free Economic Society’s priorities consisted in seed cultivation and spreading new cultures in Russia, including potatoes, sunflower, beetroot, different forage grasses. The organization members paid much attention to breeding highly-productive cattle breeds in Russia, to developing dairy and cheese manufacturing industries and to introducing alternate farming in households.

For many years, VEO patronized a mechanical workshop producing advanced (for that period) tools, farming instruments and various appliances.

VEO collected data on the condition of trade in bread, forestry, bee farming, cattle selection, cotton farming, soil condition, etc. It published The Transactions of VEO (over 280 volumes in 1766-1915), supplements to them and other periodicals.

VEO began its activities by holding competitions on political and economic and applied agricultural and technical problems: in 1765-1865 243 practical competition tasks were announced with the authors of the best proposals receiving gold and silver medals and their works published in The Transactions of the Free Economic Society of Russia.

Address to the Empress and Reply by Catherine II (October 31, 1765)

At the general meeting held on October 12, 1765 the founders discussed a draft letter to Catherine II. Apart from asking for her benevolence and patronage, it contained a request to use in the correspondence the Empress’s personal motto featuring a beehive and bees soaring around it, with the word “Useful.” This was supposed to grant the Society a token of special favor of the monarch. Another point was exemption of the economists from postal duties on their correspondence within the country.

The economists received an answer three weeks later. The letter said, in particular, that “your undertaking to improve farming and territorial arrangement is very pleasant to Us, while its outcomes will be a direct proof of your real zeal and love of your country. We approve of your plan and the charter that you have bound each other with and thus We gracefully confirm that you call your organization Free Economic Society. Be sure that We will accept this organization under Our auspices. Concerning the stamp, not only We allow you to use Our coat-of-arms in all cases, but to place our motto inside with a bee bringing honey into the beehive and the word “Useful.” Moreover, We provide the society with six thousand rubles to purchase a decent house fit both to hold your meetings and to establish a library containing books on economics. Your labor will be awarded with the help of God and you and your descendants will enjoy its benefits, while We will continue to reveal our benevolence in proportion to the zeal you demonstrate.”

The date of the letter – October 31, 1765 – became the starting point in the history of the Free Economic Society of Russia.

Ascending the throne, Catherine’s II descendants invariably proved their special patronage of the organization, though the proposals put forward by the society often contradicted the official economic policy of the government. But it was established as ‘free’ to critically evaluate the existing economic condition in the country and to support the authorities in their search for the most efficient ways of improving it.

Free as Independent from Civil Servants

What was the sense of the word “free” that the founders used in the name of the organization? In the 18th century, apart from independence, this notion included the ability to personally determine the field of activity and the amount of effort necessary for its completion. The German law that most VEO founders and the Empress herself were undoubtedly familiar with added a touch of strict political neutrality to the name of the Society, which was later enhanced by the “imperial” status.

The medieval European law included the concept of “free city” (freie stadt in German) implying a territorial and political unit (mandatorily demilitarized and neutralized) that obtained a privilege from the Holy Roman Empire for self-governing, own tax and judicial systems and independence from the bishop’s power.

Today the word “free” in the meaning of the 18th century is no longer in use in the Russian language. It has been replaced by other aspects of the meaning.

The word “free” in the name of the Society serves as a reminder of the original meaning of “independent and strictly neutral” for today’s Russian economists. This is what the organization has remained. It does not associate itself with the government in general or with any particular branch of power. The Free Economic Society channels its activities into the development of the Russian economy, the growth of national welfare and the prosperity of the Russian nation as a whole.

Transactions of VEO as a Chronicle of Russian Economy since 1765

All the economic problems of the country were prompted by the reality, so they were reflected in the activities of the Society one way or another. The Imperial VEO was not only a center of theoretical research; the majority of its activities, especially in the first decades, was clearly practice-oriented. “A person enlightened with sciences and experience will do more good” said the Preliminary Notification to the Free Economic Society Plan.

The members of the Imperial VEO were bound by the Charter to conduct experiments in all spheres of the national economy in their estates. These were real pieces of field research that occasionally lasted for several years. Their outcomes were thoroughly documented and then published in the Transactions of the Free Economic Society.

By the end of the 19th century, VEO’s library contained over 200,000 volumes (after the October revolution this library became part of the Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library). Another article of the Charter bound all the members to monitor technical innovations and submit for VEO’s consideration new inventions in mechanics and rural architecture.

Thanks to the Transactions by the Imperial Free Economic Society we can restore today the annual development of potato, flax, sunflower, maize, and beetroot cultivation, bee mastering, cattle breeding, dairy and cheese manufacturing, cotton fabric and hemp rope production, agricultural appliances and fertilizers. The Imperial VEO made an invaluable contribution to the establishment of these fields of agriculture.

Before the 1917 revolution, the Imperial VEO published 280 volumes of its Transactions. In 1994 these publications were resumed. Since then approximately 200 more volumes have been published.

Opposing Views Most Vividly Represented in the Works by A.P. Sumarokov and A.Ya. Polenov

In 1767-1768 the outcomes of the competition held by VEO clearly demonstrated the mindset of Russian landowners. The “representative sample” was made up of over 160 answers to the following question: “which is more useful to the society – that a peasant owns land or only personal belongings – and how far their rights for both should extend?” The so called “pieces,” i.e. the works sent to the Society as part of the competition were written in Russian, French, German and even in Latin.

The opposing opinions were most vividly presented in the works by A.Ya. Polenov, a lawyer and a legal scholar, and A.P. Sumarokov, a famous social commentator. The latter found the peasants’ freedom detrimental, though his argument was rather peculiar: “Does the canary bird that entertains me need freedom or does she need a cage? Does the dog that protects my house need a chain? The canary is better off without any cage while the dog is better off without any chain. However, one will fly away and the other will bite people. In the same way one is necessary for the peasant whereas another is for the sake of the nobles. Now we have to figure out which is better for the public benefit… Here both the sons of the nation and the slaves of the nation as well will tell us that the lesser evil is for the peasants not to have their own land since this is impossible as all the land belongs to the nobility… What will the nobility own when they are deprived of both peasants and land?” However, to the credit of the VEO members it should be noted that the letter by A.P. Sumarokov was sent to the archive without any further discussion.

The essay by A.Ya. Polenov received the second prize from VEO. It was called “On the Serfdom Condition of Peasants in Russia.” The author blamed the nobility for being ungrateful for the labor of their serfs and for despising the people who produce all the goods for them, for torturing and offending them. “Certainly, oppression is not only harmful to the society, it is also dangerous,” Polenov emphasized. “This condition is unnatural and could lead to bloodshed at any point in time.” The phrase proved prophetical. In the 10 years from 1762 to 1772 there were 40 major peasant uprisings in Russia, the main one being the rebellion headed by Yemelyan Pugachev.

Letter by an Anonymous Person to Free Economic Society Dated October 1766

Dear sirs,
having neither time nor ability to compose a letter for the public good and send them to the respected Economic Assembly, I still consider it my duty to contribute my modest skills for the benefit of my motherland. I have become aware that you are in need of money to provide fees for the publications you distribute as well as for the fees for your translators and copyists. Thus I am asking you to accept a thousand rubles that I am enclosing for the purposes you consider sensible. It will be my pleasure to see this money used as an award for a person who would clearly formulate a solution to the following task: what is the property of the farmer – does it consist in the land he cultivates or in the movable property? And what right should he have for any of these to obtain the greatest public good?

I am privileged to be the same person who wrote a letter to the respected Assembly last year signing the piece of correspondence in the same way as E.C.

Freedom, Equality and Fraternity in the Work by Russian Author No.71

Among the unpublished replies to the question of the right of the working population to possess “movable and immovable property” there is an essay by an anonymous writer No.71 in the archives of VEO. This essay, like many others sent for the jury’s consideration, was not signed and differed from the rest by the abrupt and unconditional proposal to resolve the issue of land ownership in favor of peasants. The essay presented the ownership of one’s own estate and property rights as prerequisites for the development of the society: a peasant deprived of the land “becomes careless, thinks little about farming and falls into poverty” and “being poor himself, leads the society into poverty, too.”

The author acknowledged that peasants had all the civil rights and boldly stated that everyone had to work equally in the society and that everyone could possess only the outcomes of one’s own labor. The essay also claimed that civil laws should make all the people on the Earth equal in their rights, including their right for land ownership. “As for the movable property, when a person acquires it through his own manual labor without harming any other people, he has a right to own it freely.” The anonymous well-wisher, as the author was referred to back then, suggested granting rights to peasants through issuing special laws rather than through the wiliness of landowners, as other contenders suggested.

Having carefully studied this essay and analyzed the manner of statements, some researchers of the VEO activity have come to the conclusion that this essay may have been written by young Aleksandr N. Radishchev who began to be interested in socio-political issues very early. The rising peasant movement in the second half of the 18th century for the abolition of serfdom provided vast data for observation and speculation.

A little over 20 years later the “rebel worse than Pugachev” published his novel A Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow and was sent to Siberia for 10 years in exile in the Ilym Ostrog. Even though Catherine II was brought up on the ideas of French Enlightenment thinkers, she proved unprepared to either the revolutionary events in France in 1789 that frightened her considerably or to the peasant uprisings, the most significant one being headed by Pugachev. The Empress shifted from liberalism to tough reactionary policy.

First 65 Questions on Russian Economy

In the first year of its existence, the Imperial Free Economic Society created a questionnaire containing 65 economic questions. It was sent throughout the country inviting governors and lower-ranking officials as well as all those interested to provide their answers and send them back to the Free Economic Society. Judging from the wording of the questions (that at times were closer to speculations or an attempt to find proof to the already existing experience), their sequence and content, one could never claim that at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries the elite was “terribly far from its people.”

The economists were primarily interested in the land available in the provinces, the types of grain cultivated there and the amount of space given to wheat. They also asked if potatoes, cabbage, peas, lentils, millet, or buckwheat were planted or if these cultures were totally unfamiliar in the region. There were questions on cattle breeding, trade and transportation tariffs, health and customs of the local population, peasants’ day-to-day activities and household practices, etc.

These economic questions depict the epoch in its minute details – canvases and hemp ropes, wheat in barrels, merchant boats on the rivers, well-cared fields and meadows, cows coming back home, noisy markets and a strange version of saying “how much” that existed in the 18th century. The content of the questionnaires preserved not only the atmosphere of living in remote rural areas, but also reflected an action plan of the Society itself and its requirements (and expectations) of the Russian economy.

Soon the Society started to receive “economic answers” from different regions. The first persons to send back the questionnaire with their extended answers were A.T. Bolotov, a writer and a scholar, one of the founder of Russian agricultural science (he sent back the information on the Kashira District) and A.V. Oleshev, a future president of VEO, head of Vologda nobility (his answer featured a detailed description of the economic life of Vologda and its surroundings).

These works were published in the first volumes of the Transactions of VEO in 1766. All in all in 6 years the Society received 14 descriptions of provinces of the huge Russian Empire. This modest number of replies cannot be called a fully-fledged statistical research, yet the statistics as a discipline was only being shaped and the format and methods of questionnaires were still being developed.

Reasons for Pugachev Uprising

The main drivers of the 1773-1775 Pugachev war were the Yaik Cossacks that had been losing privilege after privilege during the 18th century. Their memory still had images of full independence from Moscow and the Cossack democracy. The elimination of the elected nature of the Cossack chieftain position did not allow them to replace him even if he was found guilty of embezzlement. Cossacks were referred to the Military College back under Peter I. At first this body approved and then appointed its chieftain. After 1730 there began a breach between the seniority and the military groups.

The situation was further exacerbated by the 1754 czar decree establishing the monopoly on salt. The economic life of the Cossacks rested on selling fish and caviar where salt was a strategic product. The ban on free extraction of salt and the appearance of salt tax collectors resulted in dramatic stratification among the Cossacks. From the year 1763 that witnessed the first major outburst of public indignation till the beginning of the uprising in 1772 Cossacks wrote repeated petitions and sent delegations to Orenburg and Saint Petersburg. Sometimes the chieftains were replaced, yet in general the situation remained the same.

The tension additionally grew because of the spirits of the non-orthodox population of the Ural and Volga regions. The active exploration of the Ural region that began in the 18th century and colonization of the Volga region as well as building and establishing the militarized borderline, expanding the Orenburg, Yaik and Siberia Cossack army with granting them lands that used to belong to the indigenous nomad tribes, intolerant religious policy of the government led to numerous cases of unrest among Bashkirs, Tatars, Mordva, Chuvashes, Udmurts, Kazakhs, and Kalmyks. The majority of the latter having burst open the borderline relocated to Western China in 1771. Catherine II demanded a pursuit be organized, yet the Yaik Cossacks did not obey the order. This was a direct disobedience, whose investigation was delegated to General Trautenberg. The outcome of his trip was the Yaik Cossack uprising of 1772, during which the rebels hanged General Trautenberg and the Army Chieftain Tambovtsev. The troops under the command of General Freymann were sent to put down the revolt. The rebels were defeated and the government military forces garrison was established in the town of Yaik. Never before the punishment of the instigators had been so violent – never before had the Cossacks been taken out their tongues or branded. Many hid in the remote villages and lay still. Their condition was similar to that of the compressed spring.

There were uprisings flaring up throughout the nation. The size of rent and corvee days increases, and so did the state duties. Peasants were sold by the whole villages, families were split up for sale. Violent tortures upon the whim of the landowner and exiles to Siberia were common. This resulted in more frequent murders of landowners and their managers.

This is when Yemelyan Pugachev appeared. He claimed he was Peter III who had miraculously escaped death.

The Day of Wrath of Peasant Uprising

Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev (1742-1775) was a Don Cossack born in Zimoveyskaya village (a compatriot of Stepan Razin), who took part in the Seven-Year War and resigned from military service in the rank of cornet. He introduced himself to future rebels as Peter III who had miraculously escaped death.

On September 17, 1773 the first manifesto by Pugachev was read out to the gathering. It was a 3-page manuscript written in Arabic letters in the Tatar language by a certain secretary Malik. In the first manifesto Pugachev officially claimed he was Peter III and promised to give people peace and freedom: “I would like the entire population to be free. So I grant freedom to people of other religions as well. I eliminate the princes’ power over them and I order they elect their leaders from their circle, whoever they wish. Cossacks, Kirgizs, Bashkirs, Tatars, Chuvashs, and Cheremisses may already make use of my promise.”

Hiding his illiteracy, Pugachev never signed his manifestos. There remained only one paper containing his “autograph” – it is an imitation of a written document that he described as Latin to his literate associates. Naturally, he enjoyed the support of all the lower classes. Apart from the Yaik Cossacks, workers and peasants belonging to the Ural plants took an active part in the uprising. They were also joined by Tatars, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Udmurts, Cheremisses, Chuvashes, Mordva, Kalmyks, etc.

The second manifesto appeared at the end of July 1774 after many workers had joined the uprising. There Pugachev granted “freedom and liberty” to the people, abolished military recruitment, per capita and other monetary taxes, granted “forests, meadows, fishing spaces and salt lakes without purchase or rent” and freed peasants and the whole population from duties and fees “previously imposed by evil nobility and corrupt city judges.”

Pugachev intended to take away villages from the nobility and pay them allowance instead. It was rumored among the population that Emperor Peter Fyodorovich “measured land and approved the borders, only the fences were not built yet.”

He promised to all the indigenous peoples of the Volga and Ural regions to return the lands expropriated by Russian landowners, to grant them the right to free hunting and to exempt them from an unbearable “yasak” duty. He also pledged they would receive weapons, fuel, salt and clothes (“I’ll clad you from head to foot”).

At some locations Pugachev ordered the poor receive free food, salt and money taken from the government bodies. For example, in Penza he distributed 20,000 pudy of salt that belonged to the government and in Saratov he distributed 19,000 quarters of flour and oats.

Pugachev introduced local government institutions instead of those that reported to the emperor. These institutions were similar to the Cossack circle as they involved all adult male population. Local elected bodies dealt with military issues, the arrangement of food supplies and maintaining order. In the army itself strict discipline was maintained, military training was conducted, and allowance was paid. Divisions had their own banners usually featuring an old-believer eight-point cross. Yet all these measures failed to help a badly-trained and badly-armed Cossack army that had to face the regular Russian army. In winter 1774 the army of rebels was defeated under Orenburg. As a result of his associates’ treason, Pugachev was arrested and soon sentenced to death.

Serfdom Strength

In 1736 landowners were allowed to define the penalty for their serfs’ escaping at their own discretion. In 1760 they received the right to send their serfs to exile in Siberia for misdeeds or to the regular army as recruits (for lifetime). From 1763 serfs were to maintain military squads sent to repress peasant uprising. Under Catherine II serfdom was institutionalized in the government and legal norms. From 1765 landowners were allowed (for singular misdeeds) to swish their peasants (up to 40 swishes), beat them with the stick (up to 15 sticks), arrest (for up to 2 months) and even send them to forced-labor camps (katorga).

From 1767 peasants were forbidden to file complaints against their owners to the government bodies. For the “false accusation” serfs were sent to the life-long exile in Siberia (only in the first 5 years after the publication of this decree over 20,000 peasants were sent in exile to the Tobolsk and Enisey provinces).

There has remained a significant amount of evidence of landowners making their peasants work incessantly or “excessively using peasant labor for their own purposes.” The corvee of 4-5 days a week became a norm in the 18th century. Almost in all estates landowners made peasants work for them “daily,” even on Sundays and major holidays. Some landowners did not give their serfs any day off until all the landowner’s crops were harvested and all the hay was mown and stacked. This intense labor did not allow the peasant to timely finish works at their own plots: their hay became rotten in the fields and their wheat shattered.

The landowner set not only the number of corvee days, but the working hours as well. In 1780 landowners agreed on the “standard” working days for their serfs: in April and September it lasted 11-13 hours a day, in the summer months it was 14-16 hours. In the words of P.I. Rychkov, an Imperial VEO member, “this evil was wide-spread and deeply rooted.”

Execution of Yemelyan Pugachev as the Last Public Execution in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow

Catherine II contemptuously wrote to Voltaire: “Marquis Pugachev that you are mentioning again lived like a villain and finished his life like a coward. He proved so timid and weak in prison that he had to be carefully prepared to the sentence as there were concerns he may die of fear.”

It is unclear how truthful Catherine was, but judging from the description of his execution by a witness, Pugachev was not a coward. On the execution day, while the manifesto was read out, Pugachev stood at the scaffoldings and crossed himself looking at the cathedral. “Then he started to bid farewell to the people: he looked dazed, he bowed to all sides saying intermittently ’Forgive me, the orthodox people, and absolve me of my sins, if I have done you harm’” (A.S. Pushkin. Pugachev’s Story).

Catherine issued a decree stating that “Pugachev is to receive capital punishment by means of quartering: his head be placed on a stick, his limbs be delivered to four parts of the city, put on wheels and later on burnt on the same places.” However, there was a secret order of the Empress delivered orally that first his head was to be cut off and then his arms and legs. This is the way it was carried out.

“I’d say, help everyone learn moderation in the number and the way of execution of criminals. I’d be very sorry to have it the other way. It is improper to be violent, even though we are dealing with barbarians,” she wrote to Prince M.V. Volkonsky, Governor General of Moscow.

Anyway, the “easy” quartering of Pugachev and his associate Perfiliev was the last official quartering execution in Russia and the last public execution held in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

After the end of the Pugachev riot, Catherine II issued a manifesto declaring “eternal oblivion and profound silence” for this rebellion. She ordered the Yaik town be renamed as Uralsk and the Yaik river became the Ural river. Zaporozhian Cossack Army was eliminated and the Volga Cossack Army was dissolved. The name of Yemelyan Pugachev’s birthplace was eliminated as well. According to the supreme decree, Zimoveyskaya village was relocated to the other bank of the Don river and was hereinafter referred to as Potyomkinskaya. Pugachev’s house was burnt down.

Those Who Honestly Earn Their Bread will Figure Out What Each One Has to Do…

The Empress also prepared a letter to the July 1767 assembly of the Code of Laws Committee entitled “Speculation on Manufacturing.” It was based on the Western European liberal principles. The theses of this letter state that “there is nothing more dangerous than the will to create regulations for everything,” while “numerous manufacturing plants is not something to be afraid of as insufficient demand will curb further development on its own. On the contrary, profitable enterprises will multiply, and the government will not have to take care of them.” The main rule of the Manufacturing College activity should be formulated as follows: “those who honestly earn their bread will figure out what each one has to do.” In the early 1770s all those willing were allowed to obtain weaver looms, having presented their claim to the Manufacturing College and having paid the fee.

The 1775 Manifesto was the key “liberal” achievement of Catherine II. It facilitated entrepreneurial development. The representatives of all estates, including serfs, were granted the right to “obtain machinery and equipment for crafts” without asking any permission or without any registration procedures. This triggered fast development of peasant crafts and cottage industries. All those willing could engage in industrial production. This notably accelerated the development of “unordered” plants and factories, i.e. those started without any particular permission and based on employed labor.

In the same year of 1775 merchant guilds were restored with a high entrance property qualification. However, having got into the guild, the merchant received certain benefits, in particular, he was exempt from military service and per capita tax that was replaced by the tax on turnover. In the legislator’s view, these measures, together with the elimination of monopoly in manufacturing and opening Russian consulates in major marine ports abroad, the development of banking, boosting money supply were supposed to give an incentive to trade and manufacturing, and therefore, accelerate the process of the third estate shaping. Besides, the beginning of melting iron on coal, the newly emerged manufacturing centers were connected with the sea by means of canals. These were the years when the spinning machine, steam engine and highly-productive looms appeared.

Reforms by Catherine II

In spring 1775 Moscow was engaged in the preparation of the most important reform of the government bodies – new province institutions were to be introduced. Despite the fact that Catherine wanted this reform as an experiment conducted in Tver only, “flattering courtiers started to beg her to immediately turn this benefaction into law” and on November 7th, 1775 the supreme Establishment for Governing Russian Empire Provinces was issued. The main purpose of the reform was to adapt a new administrative structure to fiscal and police matters.

Before 1775 guberniyas in the Russian Empire were divided into provinces and the latter into districts called “uezd.” According to the new order, guberniyas were immediately divided into uezds. The division was conducted without taking into account any geographical, national or economic characteristics. The sole criterion it was based on was the number of population, which was purely quantitative. According to the new order, each guberniya included 300-400 thousand people, while the uezd population amounted to approximately 30 thousand people. The guberniya was headed by the governor appointed and replaced by the monarch. After the Pugachev uprising, the Zaporozhian Cossack Army was eliminated with the majority of Cossacks relocating to the Kuban area.

As a result of the adoption of the 1775 province reform, the judicial system underwent a complete change. It was based on the estate principle – there was an elected court serving each estate. An attempt was also made to separate courts from the local authorities, yet it failed: governors retained the right to suspend sentences, some sentences (e.g. death penalties) were approved by the guberniya head only.

The reform also led to the elimination of Colleges, apart from the Foreign, Military and Admiralty. The functions of colleges were shifted to local authorities found immediately in guberniyas. The system created by this reform was in place up to 1864, while the administrative and territorial division existed up to the 1917 October coup.

On March 17, 1775 the manifesto On Supreme Favors Granted to Different Estates on Account of the Peace Concluded with Turkey. This manifesto contained an article that dishonored citizens and ascribed to those having less than 500 rubles of capital to be called bourgeois rather than merchants and to keep on paying “per capita” tax. The merchants of all the three guilds were exempt from “per capita” tax and had to pay 1% of “what they have declared in all fairness.” As the Empress herself wrote, this manifesto deprived her of 1.5 million a year in revenue.

The implementation of the reform was accompanied with some measures to strengthen the power of nobility in the center and in the periphery. The Russian legislation saw the first document defining the activity of local government authorities and courts. The so-called “Charter to Russian Towns” issued in 1785 actually determined the two urban estates – the merchants and the bourgeoisie. These classes received a few basic self-governing powers – once in three years the meeting of the “town community” was called. It included only the wealthiest citizens. There was another constantly operating urban body called “General Town Duma” involving the head of the town and six delegates. The elected urban judicial bodies were magistrates – the bodies of estate-based town self-governing.

Adam Smith (1723-1790), a Scottish economist and philosopher, the founder of today’s economic theory, wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations, his fundamental research on economics in 1776. It was avidly read by all the progressive-minded people, including the leaders of the European nations.

A. Smith was born in a small Scottish town of Kirkcaldy in 1723. He received brilliant education and entered the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. By the time he was 17 he had already earned the reputation of a scholar, though with a weird personality (his contemporaries marked that he could all of a sudden get absorbed into his thoughts among the noisy company and start talking to himself neglecting all the rest). By the age of 29 he received the title of professor and spent nearly all his life at the universities. In his book An Inquiry into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations Smith put forward an idea that seemed revolutionary at the period. He claimed that the ability to create wealth was infinitely more significant than wealth itself, while increasing “the income and capital” of each person implies the growth of national wealth.

In Adam Smith’s view, in order for the nation to become rich, each individual must be encouraged to develop so that they have a motivation to work more and better, and therefore, to get richer. The main emphasis of his work is laid on the concept of economic liberalism: “The source of national wealth is an annual product of its members’ labor,” he claimed. Each person can at his own discretion freely pursue his interests competing by his labor and capital with any other person within the limits of the laws of fairness. Concurrently, the “price of each product for the person who owns it with a view to exchanging it for other products rather than using it or consuming personally should equal the amount of labor he may buy for it or obtain in his possession. Thus labor becomes a real measure of the exchange value of all goods.”

It was Smith who first suggested unleashing personal egotism for free economic spaces and thus create free and natural competition, where “the invisible hand of the market” should complete the business and lead the nation to prosperity.

The main piece of work by the Scottish thinker reached Russia rather quickly. It became popular not only with academics, but also with the representatives of educated Russian intelligenzia. Even a hero of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin read the book by Adam Smith:

Adam Smith was more his tome, where
Deep in all things economic
The wealth of nations was his topic;
On what the state relies, he told,
Of how it lives, the what and why
With staple products its supply,
No need to keep reserves of gold.

The First House of Free Economic Society

Despite the 6,000 rubles sent by Catherine II with the adscript to buy “a decent house for both your gatherings and the Economics Library,” the Free Economic Society literally knocked about the world for rather a long period of time. Taking into account the members of the organization, the “world” here implied the palaces of the courtiers – for seven years the meetings were mostly held on Vassilyevsky Island in the former Shtegelman House that belonged to count Grigory Grigorievich Orlov. For 18 months the meetings were held at count Roman Illarionovich Vorontsov’s upon the invitation of the host who was “a zealous member” of the organization. For a while VEO’s President Alexander Ivanovich Cherkasov hosted the meetings. From 1773, “with the change of the president” (that took place every 4 months) the location of the meetings changed as well. Then for nearly four years the meetings and the library occupied a rented space.

It took eight years to build the mansion of the Free Economic Society. The building designed by architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe (who also designed the buildings of the Academy of Arts, Maly Hermitage, and Large Shopping Arcade) is still found at the corner of the Nevsky Prospect and Admiralteyskaya Square (its official postal address being Nevsky 2). Currently this house is occupied by the General Staff of Armed Forces, while at the end of the 18th century, apart from VEO, this building housed a Lared confectionary popular with Petersburg residents. Having bought ice cream with biscuits or some other treat delivered from Paris, its visitors enjoyed sitting there reading newspapers, including the Russky Invalid, Hamburg Correspondent or Saint Petersburg Vedomosti.

Photo: Saint Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect, 2. Currently the building of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, from 1775 to 1844 – the building of Free Economic Society.

A Household Plot on Petrovsky Island

Alexander I, “willing to facilitate the spread of managerial and agricultural knowledge in Russia” granted a part of Petrovsky Island in Saint Petersburg that belonged to the royal family and contained an old palace to the economists in gratis use. After the plot was cleaned up from shabby constructions and wild shrubbery, the Society established its first proper experimental household there “with a view to conducting new agricultural experiments and producing forage grasses and other vegetable and fruit plants useful in agriculture.”

As early as two years later, in 1803, there were over 300 both Russian and foreign fruit and crop trees, forage and dye plants growing on the plot. On the hill there was a conservatory with a gardener’s house nearby surrounded by well-groomed fields and long rows of strong young trees and bushes.

The garden, the fields and the vegetable garden of the Petrovsky Island were annually checked by the VEO board members in person. At one of the field sessions held in August 1812 it was even decided to pay a bonus to the managers of the household plot as the senior officials of the organization were very impressed with the cleanliness, order and good condition of experimental crops.

At the beginning of the 19th century the space of the plot on Petrovsky Island allowed VEO members to conduct “comparative tests of different fertilizers” and to publish the outcomes in the Transactions of VEO. In order to compensate the expenses incurred from maintaining rather a large household in 1830 the Society built several summer cottages on the plots next to the crops and let them to citizens as dachas. But the perfect natural recreational spot in the growing capital did not exist for long. In 1836 the Emperor’s family took back Petrovslky Island and VEO had to start a new experimental plot.

Non-implemented Reforms by Alexander I

Alexander considered himself a “happy occurrence” on the czar throne and regretfully spoke about “the condition of barbarity in which the nation found itself because of serfdom.” For a month after his ascension to the throne the new sovereign granted pardon to 156 prisoners (including Alexander N. Radishchev, who had been sent in exile by Catherine II), lifted the ban on importing various goods into Russia (including musical scores), restored nobility elections and monetary allowances for keeping the leading research institutions of the country banned by Paul I, including the Imperial Free Economic Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences, restored the validity of Charter to the Nobility and Towns, abolished the Secret Chancellery, etc.

In his decrees and in private conversations the young emperor formulated the main rule that was supposed to become his guiding principle: to consistently implement strict abiding by the law instead of the “tyranny of personal governing,” to develop fundamental laws that were virtually non-existent in Russia.

In an attempt to weaken serfdom, the emperor’s close friends established a Private Committee headed by the emperor himself that in 1803 prepared a Decree on Free Farmers. Later on peasants of the Baltic regions were freed from serfdom (there the measure caused less resistance from the local nobility), the Poles and the Finns received their Constitutions.

In Russia, the reforms were not that radical for the social structure despite the fact that Alexander entrusted a gifted legal expert Mikhail M. Speransky with reforming the empire. At that time a ministry reform was conducted and a proposal for the global reorganization of the empire was developed. The latter included creating an elected representative body and distribution of powers. However, this proposal was received with antagonism by senators, ministers and other top officials. The example of the father eliminated by the elite that he stubbornly opposed influenced the choice made by the son. By 1812 his interest in reforming the government, introducing the constitution and the abolition of serfdom weakened considerably. He postponed the implementation of Speransky’s proposal “to better days” and sent the author of the proposal in exile in Nizhny Novgorod on the eve of the 1812 war.

Alexander I died on December 1, 1825 (aged 47) “from fever and brain inflammation” in Taganrog. Later on there appeared a legend that Alexander was tortured by the qualms of conscience for the murder of his father and he thus staged his death to retreat from public services. He went on to become a hermit by name Fyodor (and died in 1864 in Tomsk). This legend still attracts researchers and finds new proofs, though it remains an unproven hypothesis.

What Grew in the Vegetable Gardens of 18th-early 19th Centuries?

Some VEO members engaged in spreading fruit and vegetable cultivation among peasants. They talked about growing different types of vegetables. A.T. Bolotov, the author of The Village Reflection, a peculiar economic encyclopedia for peasants, advised that “for a change in the food and as a seasoning” (for the taste) they should plant onions, garlic, peas, simple and Turkish beans, ground turnip and the “over-ground” one, i.e. kohlrabi, different types of cabbage as well as parsley, parsnip, chervil, etc. Naturally, some of these vegetables and herbs had already been found in peasants’ vegetable gardens, yet they were rather rare.

It may seem at first glance that vegetable cultivation was as important a branch of peasants’ activity as farming, however, its role was not the leading one. As the most part of the Russian peasant labor went into the work in the field that involved a tough cycle of labor-intensive periods in spring, summer and autumn, cultivating vegetables in the village was largely a task for women and children. Peasants’ own vegetable gardens were very small and vegetables they grew there were consumed solely in the household. Most often these were carrots, beetroots, baby gold turnips, cucumbers, grey (leaf) cabbage, onions, garlic, peas, Turkish beans, turnip, parsley, parsnip, and chervil (a herb). Pumpkins, radishes, melons and watermelons were rarer found, even though the latter “did not stand any competition with those grown in Astrakhan or Tsaritsyn.”

At the end of the 18th century the efforts of the Imperial VEO resulted in potatoes appearing in peasant vegetable gardens. It was often referred to as “ground apples.” However, it was frequently planted in pots and placed on window-sills as the plant was considered inedible, yet rather beautiful. Planting gardens, let alone making flowerbeds in the street for the sake of aesthetic pleasure, was not a popular pastime with peasants. They simply did not have enough time or effort for that.

At the end of the 18th century peas, cabbage, radish and beetroot remained the main staples in Russia. Maize, referred to as “wheatie” was planted in few districts very seldom. The choice of vegetables was especially limited in the Northern provinces. On the left side of the Dvina river in the Archangelsk province carrots, onions, garlic, red, white and “usual grey” (leaf) cabbage as well as parsnip were cultivated. In the Kholmogory district cabbage, beetroots, carrots and onions were grown sporadically. Beans, peas, parsley and celery did not yield crops annually. Hop grew in very few locations. In Mezensk, Shenkura and Onega districts only cabbage, radish and turnip were found in the vegetable gardens, yet cabbage did not yield crops everywhere.

In the Vologda province grey field peas, field and vegetable garden beans grew only on the left side of the Dvina river, yet they developed thick coating and “rather minute fruit.” In the northern part of the province onions, potatoes, radish and horse-radish were planted. Other vegetables were cultivated only occasionally. Even though cabbage grew ripe here, it did not yield seeds, similar to turnip, radish and baby gold turnip. Seeds were obtained from Yaroslavl.

First Museum Created by VEO Devoted to Agricultural Appliances

The first Museum of Agricultural Machines established by the Imperial VEO could offer a curious visitor not only the description of the purpose and the characteristics of a particular piece that had appeared in the world, but gave a chance to “eye-witness” the work of various agricultural appliances and their smaller replicas.

This was probably one of the most vexatious areas of VEO’s activity. The file of the Museum of the Free Economic Society in the Russian State Historic Archive includes almost 1000 pages. It spread from one room to another, it received exhibits from microscopes to straw handicraft items, wood saw cuts, plant seeds, fabric samples, ploughs, spades, seeders, fishing tools and brick samples, paper presses and fire hoses. The collection of the economic “museum of wonder field” was completed both by private donations and objects contributed (with the permission of the Imperial Majesty) by ministries and gifts by the Emperor’s Family. In 1824 the Interior Minister notified VEO on donating the museum with all the models and machinery “related to agriculture” from the Department of Public Economy and Public Buildings.

Originally the exhibits were divided into several areas: rural and urban economy, “crafts and arts,” forestry, navigation and hydraulics. Later on the exposition expanded so much that even after all the “extra” items (that the designated building of the Museum failed to accommodate) was once again redistributed among different agricultural schools or sent to experimental farms belonging to VEO itself, a printed catalog containing the description of all the exhibits proved to be a solid volume featuring hundreds of items.

The Sunflower History

The cultivated sunflower is man-made. There is nothing in the wild nature that would resemble this slender one-stem plant that can grow up to 2.5 meters high with a basket-shape flower, whose diameter can reach up to 30 cm. Originally this was a bush with small bright yellow flowers that followed the sun. It was found in America. In Europe this plant was cultivated while in Russia the oil-bearing type was developed. First the idea to produce oil from sunflower seeds appeared in Europe. There is even a British patent dated 1716 that describes the whole process. However, it was in Russia that the large-scale production of sunflower seed oil began, which is something to be proud of.

The industrial manufacturing of sunflower seed oil was mastered in 1828 by Daniil Bokaryov, a serf of count Sheremetyev, living in the Voronezh province. In 1828 he obtained a considerable amount of crops from the seeds received from VEO. Instead of husking them on the bench together with the neighbors or selling them at the market, he decided to put them under the press as was done in the production of hemp or linseed oil. Thus he received tasty and fragrant sunflower seed oil.

The outcome impressed not only the inhabitants of the area, but the VEO members alike. The Transactions of VEO featured several articles on obtaining oil from the seeds of the sunflower. The oil quickly gained huge popularity in Russia, largely due to the fact that its consumption was allowed during the Great Lent, which, by the way, explains its second name in use in Russia – the Lenten oil.

In 1833 Borakyov built the first plant that produced sunflower seed oil. By the middle of the 19th century, the whole district was engaged in oil production. It is of interest that at this moment the backward migration of the sunflower began – it was brought back to South America, its historical place of birth. It is in Russia that the sunflower was turned into a strong plant with a large heart of seeds whose oil put a serious competitive pressure on the “wood” (olive) oil on the market. This is the reason why sunflower began to be produced for industrial purposes first in Europe and then in America as well.

Roots of Potato Riots in 19th Century

The imperial peasant serfs were the first to rebel (1834) because of the mass poisoning caused by potatoes that they called “devil’s apples.” It is common knowledge that potato tubers turn green being stored exposed to sunlight due to increase in solanine concentration. The consumption of one unpeeled green tuber may lead to serious poisoning. However, the peasants living in the 19th century did not know about it, and this unawareness led to mortality among them and mass protests.

The period of 1840-1844 saw the outbreak of several serious uprisings involving 449,000 state peasant serfs from Russia’s northern provinces, as well as Ural and the Volga regions (it is interesting that the riots broke out in the regions, where Pugachev’s Rebellion had raged on some 100 years before). The reason for the riots lay in coercive introduction of potato cultivation.

The event that prefaced the “riots” was a large-scale cereals crop failure of 1839, which had embraced all regions of the Black Earth Belt. In 1840, the authorities in Saint Petersburg started receiving reports saying that winter grain sprouts were ruined almost everywhere, the local districts were hit by famine, while crowds of people wandered about robbing the travelers, attacking the landlords’ estates and demanding bread. So, the government of Nicholas I decided to expand potato plantation areas, as potato received the name of “alternative bread” by that time, having fitted in not only in Russia’s southern regions, but in Siberia and northern part of the country as well, thanks in no small part to the initiative of the Free Economic Society.

The period of 1840-1842 saw the fastest expansion of potato plantation areas. It happened after the issue of supreme order ruling to organize public potato plantations in all state-owned villages in order to supply peasants with seeds, and develop guidelines explaining how to cultivate, store and consume potatoes. It was prescribed to plant potatoes in the amount enough to get four measures of potatoes per capita. Wishing to please their superiors the local officials started allocating the best plots of arable land to potato plantations, often taking these plots away from the peasants, which eventually caused the riots.

On February 24, 1841 the government issued one more decree titled “On Measures for Enhancing Potato Cultivation.” Under this document, 30,000 copies of free guidelines containing the instructions for planting and growing potatoes were issued and distributed all over Russia. The governors were obliged to inform Saint Petersburg about the process of potato cultivation annually.

The document prescribed “…to start cultivating potatoes in all villages having public plough lands. In the areas, where public plough lands were missing, potato plantations were to be organized on the volost (administrative subdivision) administration’s land, using at least one dessiatine (2.7 acres) of it.” The crops were to be distributed among peasants for subsequent planting free of charge or at a low price. The state peasants, however, had to grow potatoes on these land plots also free of charge, which they perceived as being turned into landlords’ serfs and therefore raised several revolts during the period to 1844.

Nevertheless, by late 19th century potato had settled on Russian plough fields as one of the main crops. The people increasingly took interest in this plant, which soon outstripped in popularity the favorite root crop of Russian peasants – turnip. In early 20th century potato accounted for over 1.5 hectares of arable lands and became one of the main food products in Russia.

The Imperial Free Economic Society and Spread of Potato in Russia

During the first decade of the Free Economic Society’s existence, many names were used to describe potato in the Transactions of VEO: “kartofel” (potato), “tartofel,” “tartyufel,” “earth apple” and “patetos.” In 1756, only few landlords knew this root crop, and almost nobody consumed it as food product. At the beginning, the tubers did not suit the taste of Europeans either, as they tried to eat them raw. However, the plant was valued for beautiful flowers, both in Russia and Europe.

The propaganda of planting potato in Russia had become one of the first major initiatives of the Free Economic Society. On the order of Empress Catherine II, the parcels holding this root crop, as well as printed guidelines for cultivating and consuming it, were distributed all over the country, while the Free Economic Society was regularly publishing articles containing hints as to handling this plant, methods of fighting Colorado beetle (which, contrary to the myth popular in the soviet times, was brought to Russia back in early 19th century), and even information about the dishes that could be cooked with potatoes. Thanks to the initiative and insistence by the Free Economic Society, the plantations of this new crop were gradually spreading in Russia’s European part, Siberia and even Yakutia.

The first successful experiments dealing with planting potatoes took place in 1766 in Olonets, Kargopol and northern areas, where the harvests of cabbage and cucumbers so popular with Russian peasants were poor. Governor of Novgorod province Yakov Sivers, who was enthusiastic about novelties and one of the first among governors to join the Free Economic Society, ordered to plant some 40 kg of potatoes on the lands under his rule and, having gathered rich harvest of it, notified the Society about his success. His report said that “…in all places, where potato had been planted, people of all classes were satisfied with the new root crop, yet the harvest size was not enough to consume it in large quantities….”

However, to nail down the success the Free Economic Society had to intensify its efforts to educate the people in how to store potatoes correctly, extract starch from tubers and fight plant diseases. For these purposes, the Society started publishing popular leaflets with information about starch and syrup production, as well as methods of making flour and starch out of frozen tubers.

In 1844 the civil governor of Irkutsk province and other supporters of new crop, who took interest in cultivating potato in the eastern regions of the country, addressed the Free Economic Society with a request to render aid in obtaining potato seeds, which were rather expensive at that time. The Society fulfilled this request, so 2 pounds of seeds were forwarded to Irkutsk province with instructions on how to gather a rich harvest of tubers.

Though the new root crop failed to do well in some regions due to either unfavorable climatic conditions, or negligence on the part of growers, this planting campaign gave impetus to the spread of potato, which started conquering the vast areas of Siberia and the Far East.

Under the order of Yakutia province governor 10 pounds of potato seeds were purchased through the Free Economic Society and shipped to Yenisey, Tomsk, Tobolsk and Yakutia provinces in 1857. The reports coming to the Society after the harvest had been gathered showed that the people in Siberia had successfully learned how to grow potatoes.

First Steps of “Alternative to Bread”

Till mid-18th century the potato (or “tartufel,” as it was often referred to) was planted mostly on garden beds. The dishes cooked with it were offered as dainties during the balls and eaten with sugar, instead of salt. However, the attempts to organize mass production of tubers and make potato a popular food product encountered stubborn resistance on the part of local population in many areas. One can find that hard to believe, but 250 years ago, our ancestors referred to the “alternative to bread” as “devil’s apple” due to frequent outbreaks of poisoning. Moreover, there was a popular belief among Russian peasants that potato grows with head and eyes, like a human being, so to eat it means eating human souls. Old Believers were the most passionate opponents of the new crop. They preached that consuming potato as food product was a sin for any Christian: “Potato is damned, tea is damned twofold, while coffee and tobacco threefold.”

Agronomist Andrey Bolotov, member of the Free Economic Society, was one of the founding fathers of potato farming scientific school. Having retired from the army in captain’s rank, he settled in his family estate Dvoryaninovo in Tula province and started growing potatoes. “The business I went in for living in my new house dealt with handling potato tubers that had grown in large quantities,” he wrote.

In 1770, he published his study Some Notes about Potatoes or Earth Apples in collection of articles issued by the Free Economic Society. In this paper, he highlighted the agricultural principles of potato tubers reproduction, offered useful advice in the field of cultivating and harvesting this root crop. By the way, it was he, who first used the method to promote the crop among peasants. During the day, he would set a guard around the potato fields, but remove it at night. The peasants started stealing tubers out of sheer curiosity, which eventually made it popular among them.

There were other enthusiasts as well. One of them was I.M. Komov, Russian scientist, agronomist, author of research paper On Arable Farming. In this study, he wrote that “out of all vegetables potato is the most useful and healthy, as it serves as substitute for bread.”

However, the Potato Riots showed that by the mid-19th century the peasants had not yet accepted potatoes, as they did not know how to store them (people died from poisoning, having eaten tubers that turned green being exposed to sunlight). The Imperial Free Economic Society published many books and brochures devoted to the issues of growing, storing and processing potatoes. These books were popular enough to go through several editions.

It was due to the aid on the part of Free Economic Society as well that seed grower and gardener from Saint Petersburg Yefim Grachev, person of natural gifts and crop breeder, succeeded in his activities. He demonstrated his plant varieties at the Universal Shows in Vienna, Cologne, and in Philadelphia. Ye. Grachev was awarded with 10 gold and 40 silver medals for the development of vegetable farming and elected a member of Paris Academy of Agricultural Sciences. On his land plot, he planted and tried over 200 varieties of various vegetables, including potato. After that, he would choose the best species and distribute them all over Russia. After Grachev’s death his son – V.Ye. Grachev – kept up the ball rolling for some time. In 1881, he demonstrated 93 varieties of potato at an exhibition of the Free Economic Society.

History of Agricultural Education in Russia

The first educational establishment for disseminating advanced knowledge in the field of agriculture among peasants and training specialists for landlords’ farms was founded in Russia back in the early 18th century.

The School of Applied Agriculture was opened in 1797 near Saint Petersburg on command of Emperor Paul I. The length of training course was just three years. Along with students of Moscow University and theological schools, as well as orphanage alumni, this school enrolled the children of peasant serfs’ families and adult state peasant serfs in the age of 20-35 years. By analogy with recruiting duty, those belonging to the two latter categories were chosen by the peasant community in numbers required. Thus, the peasants treated their fellow villagers leaving for school accordingly: “…the relatives were crying believing these people to be lost forever; the wives of some of them married again thinking that their husbands would never return; the others’ houses were sold as vacant; while the future students themselves were leaving for school determined to forget the new rules.” It is clear that the educational establishment “failed to have favorable impact on farming,” yet cost a pretty penny to the state (200,641 rubles for the period of five years). Therefore, the school was closed in 1803 for the sake of “saving the state’s revenues and ensuring peace among peasants.”

30 years later the State Property Ministry organized eight model farms in various regions of the empire for training peasants and arranging their mode of life. Count P.D. Kiselev, the project’s author, justly believed that one cannot improve agriculture “otherwise than by way of training young peasants for the latter to acquire due knowledge and subsequently found model farms on their lands….” The due knowledge included such subjects, as Religious Education, Russian grammar, arithmetic fundamentals, basic principles of farming, police manual sections devoted to obligations of country folk and information about “treating cattle with simple methods.” These farms functioned for almost three decades and released about 2,500 literate and competent farmers. However, none of them would run the farm using “improved” methods after training! They failed to become role models in terms of farming, yet turned into the so called “field bosses” – managers of landlords’ estates. Yet even such position, very promising in terms of salary, failed to inspire peasant serfs to sending their children to those model farms for getting education. As soon as the “duty” to send students to farms was abolished, the peasants stopped doing that, as there were no those willing to lose four years to get education among them. Thus all model farms had been closed by 1862.

In the long run, it is rather owing to enthusiasts than state officials that substantive and impressing results were still achieved as to disseminating progressive knowledge in the field of farming among peasants. Their personal commitment and initiative, backed by public forces, represented by the Free Economic Society and later its regional agricultural organizations, would yield fruit.

Countess Stroganova’s School

In 1824 Countess Sofia Vladimirovna Stroganova, owner of a large family estate in Perm province (Stroganov Majorat), famous for her active participation in the Free Economic Society’s activities, submitted to the VEO council a project of Private Mining and Metallurgical School that she intended to found in Saint Petersburg.

Sofia Vladimirovna wrote in her report to the Society: “The key objective of the new school in Saint Petersburg lies in training young peasant serfs living in my estate, both male and female, yet predominantly male, chosen from among orphans.” Subsequently young men from “other landlord’s and free peasant families” started being admitted to this school. 11 years later, it was renamed into the School of Farming, Mining and Forestry Sciences.

Stroganova’s school consisted of two departments – theoretical one in Saint Petersburg and the one of applied science in the village of Maryino, where the countess’s estate was located. 50 peasant orphans from Stroganova’s estate became the first students of the educational establishment. The mining department in Saint Petersburg admitted the boys, who had successfully completed a five-year training course at schools under Stroganov plants in the Urals. The Free Economic Society granted two scholarships, 1,000 rubles a year each, to support orphans studying at school.

The classes were held during the spring-summer season. The school had at its disposal a territory including 61 hectares of arable land, 38 hectares of meadows, 490 hectares of forest, as well as an orchard and a vegetable garden. Under the educational establishment, there also were several workshops for manufacturing farming utensils and machines, the samples of which were bought in Europe. The teaching staff included mostly the graduates of Moscow Farming School (founded in 1822 for training peasant serfs who were to become estate managers and surveyors), and later the graduates of Saint Petersburg school, who had completed training and internship courses in Europe. For some classes the administration invited university professors.

The level of training was so high that the countess’s friends even sought to send their relatives and foster children to this school. Many graduates left good memory of them in the form of valuable research papers and socially useful activities, even having failed to get further education.

The school functioned for 19 years, while the costs of running it amounted to over a million rubles. The investment effect lay in hundreds of competent specialists, who later worked as managers and administrators, craft supervisors, estate managers and accountants, mining surveyors, foresters and agronomists at the farms and enterprises owned by the countess. It is interesting that each peasant, school graduate, would gain up to 33 hectares of arable land, meadows and forest on lease after having married.

The Free Economic Society awarded Countess S.V. Stroganova with a gold medal for implanting this project, while her bust monument was installed in the Society’s conference hall.

Shortly before her death, the Countess closed the school and sold all of its property. The news about school’s closure caused deep regret among the residents of her estates in the Urals. One of the graduates later wrote in his memoirs: “First, the closure of Saint Petersburg school did not upset me much. However, when my brother Yakov returned from school in 1845 after having completed the training course at mining department, I would listen to his stories and appreciate his knowledge… Feeling his physical and mental superiority, I developed a passion for learning and grasped the irrevocable loss that all of us suffered after the Saint Petersburg school had been closed.”

President N.S. Mordvinov’s Program

“Count Mordvinov was devoted to public activities with abandon. He threw his heart into them, when it came to making something useful for his beloved Motherland, sparing neither efforts nor property,” historian of the Imperial Free Economic Society A.I. Khodnev wrote.

It was one of the most bright and busy periods in the activities of the Free Economic Society. For his presidential term that lasted for 17 years N.S. Mordvinov had personally drawn up some guidelines specifying the organization’s key mission and objectives: “Implementing for general use the methods of creating national wealth, derived from three primary sources: land, crafts and industry. To achieve these objectives the Society has decided to adopt the following types of activities:

      Awards for solving problems successfully, invention and upgrade of methods and rules leading to Russia’s prosperity in agriculture, arts and industry.
        Annual exhibitions displaying the samples of advanced handwork products for subsequent general distribution among factories, plants and crafts.
          Testing newly invented utensils and machines that facilitate the labor of human workforce.
            Producing such utensils and machines at the Society’s expense and implementing these into general use.
              Making available to general public all research results and discoveries proven to be useful on the basis of experience.
                Ordering the models of various useful utensils and machines that can serve as samples for those wishing to utilize them at their enterprises.
                  Establishing a special workshop for manufacturing the aforementioned models and distributing them among provinces.
                    Drawing up manuals for those willing to undertake activities that serve the purposes of Free Economic Society.
                      Encouraging public readings in physics, mechanical science, chemistry and mineralogy as technological sciences, delivering training courses at a price lower than the existing one to disseminate information as to the aforementioned sciences.
                        Establishing mutually beneficial cooperation between the scientists and those who put into practice their useful discoveries and inventions - namely between chemists, mechanics, mineralogists, biologists, on the one hand, and housekeepers, manufacturers and industrialists, on the other hand – as close relationship between these two groups leads to implementation of various improvements and advanced methods, which serves the Society’s purposes.”

Between the Devil and the Deep Sea

Throughout the rule of Nicholas I that lasted for 30 years, there was much tension around the so called “peasants’ issue.” It was during that period that the number of peasant serfs reduced drastically – according to different estimates, from 57-58 % of Russia’s population in 1811—1817 to 35-45 % in 1857—1858. Thus, they were no more in the majority in the country. The two key reasons behind it obviously lay in putting an end to the practice of “handing out” peasant serfs with land that had been popular during the rule of previous tsars and the start of spontaneous peasant’s liberation process.

A year after the Decembrist Revolt, on December 6th, 1826 the Emperor founded a secret committee for preparing important state reforms to be carried out on the basis of the late Emperor Alexander I projects. The reform in the field of control over state villages had become the new committee’s first step. In 1837, the authorities founded the State Property Ministry that managed to streamline the system of control over the state peasants, levying tributes and recruitment. Schools and hospitals started being opened in Russian villages. Peasant communities having not enough land began to move to free lands in other provinces. At that time, various settlements released from community charges for some time started emerging on the country’s map. Such a settlement was called “sloboda,” and that is how word “freedom” (“svoboda” in Russian) appeared in the Russian language.

However, at that point the reforms went into a skid, as the landlords were dissatisfied with them. They believed that the measures intended for raising the peasants’ living standards make their serfs inclined to become state-owned ones. The historians say that during the rule of Nicholas I the serfdom changed in nature – from the institution of slavery it turned into the one of natural rent, which protected the peasants’ rights to some extent. Several laws improving their way of living were adopted. It was forbidden to sell peasant serfs (without land) and deport them for hard labor (which had been common practice before). The peasant serfs gained the rights to own the land and run a business. Moreover, they obtained relative freedom of movement.

Thus, a category of “peasant capitalists” appeared among the poor and deprived serfs and started growing in number at a swift rate. These dealt with retail and wholesale trade, usury and invested money in industrial production. Some rich peasants turned into major industrialists, who would buy their freedom and open factories, thus pushing back the landlords’ enterprises. Such business dynasties, as the ones of the Morozovs, Prokhorovs, Garelins, etc. can serve as vivid examples of this trend.

However, the agriculture was developing at a slow rate, unlike the industry. Some landlords tried to streamline their farms. These would buy machines and utensils from abroad, introduce new methods of farming and breed pedigree cattle. In some provinces, the landlords even started using hired labor. Yet, these new developments did not come into widespread acceptance due to lack of free workforce. The majority of landlords saw corvee and rent tribute as the only measures to raise their revenues. Such practice led to smashup of peasants’ farms and serfs’ revolts.

The discontent among upper classes along with peasants’ uprisings led Emperor Nicholas I to the conclusion that, though serfdom was evil, the attempts to abolish it immediately would pose a threat of protest on the part of all social classes and groups.

Economic Background of Decembrist Revolt

As is known, Emperor Alexander I refused from carrying out liberal reforms after the Patriotic War of 1812. The policy he pursued resulted in a split between the people and authorities. Some members of nobility went into opposition to the tsar’s regime. They demanded the abolishment or at least some relaxation of serfdom. The serfdom-based system impeded the process of state upgrade and renovation, slowed down production development and hindered capitalist relations that were gradually forming up. The extension of commodity-money relations and use of hired labor, as well as technical modernization of the industry, had to coexist with conventional elements of self-subsistence farming and patriarchal way of life.

Manufactories could serve as a vivid illustration of how the serfdom hindered the country’s normal development. Unrelated to the state, these enterprises worked for the market (first and foremost, the one of textile industry, which enjoyed having mass buyers) and used hired labor. They belonged to former peasants, who had turned rich, while the employees were hired among those peasants, who had left farming for an occupation in the industry. The future belonged to this very system of production, yet the owners of these enterprises were serfs and had to give a sufficient part of revenues to their landlords as tribute. The workers also belonged to landlords and therefore looked forward to coming back to their families and farms after having paid the tribute. The sales market was relatively narrow, which hindered production growth. At the same time, it was almost impossible to make the market wider, as the population consisted mostly of peasant serfs, who could not dispose of their labor products and therefore enjoy high purchasing capacity.

Thus, the tension was mounting both among upper classes, and common people. Radical nobility including many officers, who had taken part in the Patriotic War and foreign campaigns, was losing hopes for peaceful reforms. Publicist A.A. Bestuzhev wrote that the soldiers, having come back home from war, would say: “We have spilled our blood during the war, but now we are forced to work up a sweat again! We have protected our Motherland from the foreign tyrant, while the landlords are grinding us by their tyranny!”

The peasants’ uprisings against the landlords rose in number in 1820, when some parts of the country were seized by hunger. The most serious revolts took place in the Don river region. The worker serfs also protested demanding to raise wages, change the system of job rates, replace foremen, and improve the system of food supplies. The first quarter of the 19th century saw over 64 such uprisings. 27 of them broke out in the period of 1800-1813, while the period of 1814-1825 accounted for 37 revolts. The overwhelming majority of them (62 out of 64) were excited by peasant serfs working at manufactories. The revolts in villages and at the plants often lasted up to over two months, and troops were used to put them down.

The Theses of Nationwide Manifesto Drawn up, According to S.P. Trubetskoy, by K.F. Ryleev and him on December 13, 1825

  1. Liquidation of the former state system.
  2. Constitution of a temporary rule for the period until the election of a new governance system.
  3. Freedom of press and therefore liquidation of censorship.
  4. Free celebration of divine services for all religions
  5. Liquidation of ownership of people.
  6. Equality of all estates before the law, and therefore liquidation of martial-law courts and special commissions. All cases from the latter are to be handed over to civil courts.
  7. Every citizen should have the right to choose the occupation he wants. Thus members of all classes and social groups – nobility, merchants, bourgeoisie and peasants – should equally be entitled to choose military or civil service, and deal with retail or wholesale trade, paying the set taxes and duties. They should also have equal rights in terms of buying property, like land plots and houses in the cities and villages, as well as litigation in court.
  8. Cancellation of all capitation taxes and respective arrears.
  9. Liquidation of monopolies for salt, sales of alcoholic beverages, etc.; free alcohol distillation and salt production with payment of respective duties on the basis of produced salt and vodka quantities.
  10. Abolishment of recruitment system and liquidation of military settlements.
  11. Reduction of military service term for soldiers and sergeants and making it equal for all classes and social groups.
  12. Resignation for all soldiers and sergeants who have served for 15 years.
  13. Constitution of district, regional and provincial governments and procedure of electing their members, who are to replace all officials appointed by the state administration.
  14. Publicity of judicial proceedings.
  15. Introduction of jury trial in the systems of criminal and civil justice.

Sixteen-Field Farming System

Here is a description of crop rotation in sixteen-field farming system, as exemplified by planting and cropping on one field:

1st year: land was laid fallow with planting annual grasses for feeding cattle or haymaking. After spring ploughing, the field was used for seeding oats mixed with bean crops, like peas, vetch or lentils. Autumn fallow was also practiced – the land was ploughed only in autumn before frosts, while in summer the field was used as pasture, as long as grasses and weeds were growing there. Both in first and second cases, the field was either ploughed or cultivated for seeding winter crops, like rye and wheat, in August. In early spring, the peasants would seed clover on the field still covered with snow crust along with rye. The clover would grow there during the 4th, 5th and 6th years, while on the 7th year the clover was mowed down to make fodder for horses, at the same time the field was used as pasture for cattle. In autumn, before frosts, deep ploughing took place on the field with overturning flags. During the next year (8th) the field was prepared for seeding barley, oats and spring wheat, as well as, after additional processing, buckwheat. On the 9th year, the field was used for planting arable crops, like potatoes or beetroots. The land was prepared for planting as follows: the field was ploughed before planting potato tubers or seeding beet, the young crops were earthed-up, while after harvesting the field was ploughed again. On the next (10th) year, the field was used for seeding flax or other technical crops, as a rule. On the 11th year, the land was used for seeding buckwheat after spring plowing. Next year (12th) or in autumn perennial grasses, like catmint, medic, etc. were seeded. After that, the land was used for growing perennial grasses for 3-4 years. During the last year, the fields with perennial grasses were used only as pastures, though during the previous years they were always used for cattle grazing. On the 16th-17th year the cycle would repeat – the field was laid fallow. The only exclusion was made for the fields with depleted soils that were withdrawn from crop rotation, as a rule. These were used only as pastures.

Free Economic Society Moves to New House

In early 1840s Emperor Nicholas I ordered to carry out the reconstruction of the group of buildings that hosted the General Staff. The house of Free Economic Society was located next to this group of buildings. Thus, in March 1844 the building located at 2 Nevsky Avenue was ceded to the military ministry within the framework of a respective deal. The economists started looking for a new house and moved to new premises in summer of the same year.

Galchenkova’s House looked “perfect for the Society.” It was located at the corner of Obukhovsky Prospekt and 4th Izmaylovsky Regiment Street (now the intersection of Moscovsky Prospekt and 4th Krasnoarmeyskaya Street), some 3.5 kilometers from the former building. The suggestion to move from the city center to an unattractive district full of barracks was met by the members of Free Economic Society with understandable discontent. Such feelings are common for people, who have to move from, say, Manezhnaya Square in Moscow to Southern Butovo, for instance. However, after some strong and scarcely disguised pressure on the part of Duke Peter of Oldenburg, president of the Free Economic Society at that time, the Society still had to move to the new premises. In 1846, the second story was added to the building’s wing, 13 Utermark heating furnaces (a round brick stove faced with iron sheets, popular at that time) and a gas device were installed in the new premises. Thus, both the Free Economic Society and Galchenkova’s House started a new life.

As secretary of the Imperial VEO S.S. Dzhunkovsky wrote, “along with conference halls, library and museum the new building includes premises for the workshop of Department 4 and a chemical laboratory, for which special apartment had been rented before at a price of 900 rubles a year. Moreover, a librarian, who is the house supervisor at the same time, museum curator, clerk of Department 1, and attendants live there. The house also hosts a seed depot and several vacant rooms reserved for possible increase in the library’s collection. The new building meets the Society’s requirements in terms of interior design elegance and comfort of the premises, which each member can verify by way of personal examination.”

It was in Galchenkova’s House that the Imperial Free Economic Society celebrated its jubilees – 100th, 120th and 150th anniversaries. Letters and telegrams of congratulations were coming from all parts of Russia and foreign countries. At the celebration meeting on October 31, 1865 the Chairman read aloud a rescript of Emperor Alexander II that contained the following lines: “Giving full credit to the past activities of the Society, which had proved useful, I am sure that it will continue its fruitful work aimed at yielding benefit to our beloved Motherland in the future as well, and manage to keep our benevolent attitude.”

Private Schools for Peasants

Extract from the report of S.S. Lashkarev, State Councilor in Deed, correspondent member of the Academic Committee under the State Property Ministry, made at the meeting of Free Economic Society on April 24, 1847:

“…There is no doubt that many landlords have already paid attention to the need in educating their brothers, confided by God to their paternal care, that is dictated by way of life… I cannot deprive myself of the pleasure to repeat here the names of some persons, whose valorous labor is marked by the Moscow Society of Agriculture:

Landowner Stremoukhov, living in the town of Lebedin, Kharkov district, had organized a craft vocational school for peasants, both men and women, which had been functioning for 30 years already.

Princes Shirinsky-Shikhmatovy had also been holding a school for religious and moral education of the peasants’ children for 30 years in their estate in Mozhaysk district of Moscow province.

Everybody knows the school for factory workers at Trekhgornaya Manufactory owned by the Prokhorovy that is located near Moscow, as well as the beekeeping school of Mr. Prokopovich located not far from Baturin, Chernigov province. Landowner I.F. Klepatsky from the village of Kulyasy holds for many years a school of literacy and liturgical singing.

Landowner Rebrov from Pyatigorsk is teaching peasants’ children at his own house.

The widow of Major-General M.I. Repninsky, living in Alexandria district of Kherson province, established schools for peasants’ boys in 1842 and girls in 1845 and has been running them since that time.

Several schools were built during the period of 1846-1847. These were established by Prince V.V. Lvov at Podsolnechnaya station on Moscow – Saint Petersburg highway (for peasants’ children, both male and female); by landowner N.P Shishkov in the village of Danki; by P.V. Shabelsky in Kharkov province; and by landowner Lisevich from Maloyaroslavets (the latter’s small school is called “literacy hut”). Princess O.V. Baryatinskaya established an orphanage in Zolotonosha district. Finally, girls from peasants’ families receive training in reading and writing in Lokhvitsa district (estate of Countess M.P. Komarovskaya); in Skopin district (estate of Ye.A. Kurbatova) and Bezhetsk district (estate of Her High Excellence A.Ye. Shipova).

However, no matter how many such schools are, their number is a far cry from what the peasants from landowners’ estates really need. In some 10, 15, 20 years they would seriously fall behind free farmers and state-owned peasant serfs in terms of education. Who will be to blame for it, but the landowners themselves?

Who, but the Imperial Free Economic Society, should take charge of disseminating literacy among peasants by way of delivering religious and moral education, as well as training in either agriculture or crafts, depending upon their place of living?….”

Sergey Lashkarev’s Dream about Schools

Sergey Lashkarev’s life was rather short – just 53 years. A highly-educated and progressive person, he took interest in geography and industrial production, including such exotic industries, as silk farming and saltpeter production, yet the dissemination of education among peasants was, without exaggeration, his lifetime project.

Having graduated from the Faculty of Law at Saint Petersburg University, S.S. Lashkarev worked with the Foreign Ministry for some time, then developed a passion for agriculture, handed in resignation and decided to manage his father’s estate. This experience enabled him to identify a number of problems, common for Russia. He formulated his ideas about agriculture and the peasants’ way of life in the articles that were published in the Journal of the State Property Ministry in 1843 and caused a massive public outcry. The author was invited to assume a position at the Agriculture Department of the State Property Ministry.

Along with economic issues, Sergey Lashkarev was concerned about the problem of total illiteracy among peasant serfs. According to his estimates, only one of 1000 peasants’ children could read and write. The dissemination of popular education became, without exaggeration, his lifetime project.

Being a member of the Free Economic Society, Sergey Lashkarev twice (in 1847 and 1859) came fore with a proposal on organizing a Literacy Committee under the Society.

Revolutions in Europe prevented the Free Economic Society from implementing this project quickly, as Russian reactionaries were afraid of provoking such uprisings in the country as well, perceiving the idea of popular education as a threat to the state’s political system.

However, Sergey Lashkarev would not surrender. He continued to work on the project of establishing the Literacy Committee and published articles devoted to the respective topics in Russian press. He insisted on letting women, along with men, be admitted as members of the Literacy Committee, and supported the idea of ladies’ participation in the educational process in general. At the meetings of the Free Economic Society he would tell about the most interesting developments in the field of popular education, including the project “Society for Dissemination of Literacy and Elementary Education” drawn up by a famous Russian writer I.S. Turgenev.

Eventually, the pains he had taken for 13 years were crowned with success. In 1861, the Imperial Free Economic Society founded the Literacy Committee under its subdivision of supplementary sciences and appointed S.S. Lashkarev its chairman.

Sergey Lashkarev’s term as a chairman of the newly established committee was short – just 3 years – but he continued his activities in this field till his very death. Many respective projects were implemented with his active participation – schools were opened in villages, Saint Petersburg saw the foundation of an educational establishment for girls, who wanted to become school teachers in rural areas, the Free Economic Society would publish Literacy Committee’s Classes magazine, purchase and distribute copies of books among schools (a sufficient part of them was bought at Sergey Lashkarev’s own expense). The educational ideas were becoming popular with the public, people ever more often discuss the ideas of public museums, libraries and theaters.

Education of Peasant Serfs Depends upon Landowners Alone

“The measures taken for the enlightenment of lower classes lag seriously behind the education of other social groups,” State Councilor in Deed, correspondent member of the Academic Committee under the State Property Ministry S.S. Lashkarev would repeatedly say at the meetings of the Imperial Free Economic Society’s Council. According to his estimates, only one of 1000 peasants’ children could read and write. Thus, he suggested establishing a Literacy Committee under the Society that was to “incite landowners to founding village schools in their estates.”

“The president of our Society is His Imperial Highness Duke of Oldenburg, founder and active curator of many educational and humanitarian establishments,” S.S. Lashkarev was saying, “in the positions of vice president and members we see many charitable landowners and high-ranking state officials, who cannot help being willing to promote the idea of a religious and moral education of peasants… There is no doubt that the Imperial Free Economic Society would willingly take part in this noble cause… dealing with disseminating literacy (both religious and civil one) among the peasants’ children, both boys and girls, by way of implementing the project aimed at religious and moral, as well as partially applied economic education.”

The new Committee was to start its activities with collecting information about the existing schools for peasants. According to S.S. Lashkarev, by way of summing up and analyzing the training techniques data, working out programs for private village schools and drawing up lists of books and manuals for popular reading, the members of Literacy Committee could help the landlords in choosing “the methods of establishing orphanage schools for peasants’ children, “literacy huts” or at least Sunday readings in their estates.”

After that the Free Economic Society was to:

  1. Encourage publishing books for peasants in the spirit of religious and moral values, as well as manuals easy to read and understand devoted to all agricultural industries and crafts.
  2. Publish and sell at an affordable price or distribute free of charge these books to landowners, who would establish schools for peasants and notify the Society about it.
  3. Encourage village priests and other personas diligently and successfully teaching the peasants’ children in their activities, awarding them with medals, along with those people vaccinating against smallpox, as advised by the local authorities.

However, S.S. Lashkarev’s idea was implemented only after the abolishment of serfdom in Russia. The Literacy Committee under the Imperial Free Economic Society, founded following his project, started working on April 7, 1861. Until that time, due to revolutions in Europe, the conservative Russian authorities viewed popular education as a key threat to the country’s state system.

Economic Crisis in the Second Quarter of 19th Century

The classic landowner farming system based on serfdom started showing well-marked signs of crisis. First, it was gradually losing the features of subsistence farming and increasingly getting involved in commodity-money relations. Second, the landlords having estates in industrial provinces of Russia’s central part would often practice tithe for their peasants to leave and earn money at factories and plants. By the middle of the century, those paying tithe amounted from 65% to 90% of the peasants’ total number. Third, the landowners were continuously increasing the share of corvee labor and expanding their own plough lands, depriving their peasants of the land and switching over to food product and clothing allowance paid monthly. The aforementioned reasons caused a drop in labor productivity in landlords’ estates and growth in tithe payment amounts.

The serfdom farming system was living out its career. The conditions required for its existence and development (domination of subsistence farming, system of peasant holdings, personal dependence of peasants on landlords, outdated methods of farming) were irreversibly dying away during the first half of the 19th century.

The landowners’ estates would increasingly get involved in commodity-money relations, increasing the marketable surplus of grain, expanding the areas intended for planting potatoes, sugar-beet and other technical crops, introducing grass cultivation and multiple-field crop rotation system, developing cattle breeding, building enterprises for processing agricultural raw materials, etc. The commodity-money relations involved the peasants’ farms as well, especially those located in provinces outside the Black Earth Belt, where tithe had dominated since olden times and small-scale production and seasonal work was popular. The competition between serfdom labor and hired workforce was gradually arising.

During the period of 1830-1840, industrial revolution started in Russia. The first railroads were built, steamships appeared on the rivers, the manufactories were gradually replaced by factories, while manual labor would give way to machines. Russia still retained its traditional socioeconomic system, but the country’s economy was seriously falling behind the ones of developed European states.

History of First Agricultural Exhibition

By the middle of the 19th century, major national fairs, renowned throughout the world, started feeling pressure on the part of growing industry and international trade. With the introduction of commodity exchanges and the system of selling products through retail stores, they were losing their former importance turning into either seasonal sales events or even small-scale agricultural fairs organized to let the peasants sell their products in exchange for goods they required. Russian entrepreneurs were increasingly taking interest in the idea of turning the display of goods at the fair into an event to promote sharing of experience, knowledge, technologies, mastership, craft skills and scientific achievements.

It was at that time that the Free Economic Society came fore with an initiative to hold the first exhibition of cattle and other domestic animals, “bred for the purposes of producing dairy products, wool, etc..” in Saint Petersburg. The respective appeal to the Emperor (the decision on holding the event was to be taken on the highest level) was drawn up personally by President of the Free Economic Society, His Imperial Highness Duke Peter of Oldenburg. However, Emperor Nicholas I was not inspired by the idea, even though the Society was willing to allocate 10,000 rubles for the purposes of building exhibition “pavilions.” By his supreme order dated March 23, 1845, the Tsar recommended to hold exhibitions of “farming products” in places, where “the state of agriculture dictated it.”

Emperor Alexander II assumed more benevolent attitude towards the project on holding the first agricultural exhibition in the capital that had been submitted to his administration in 1849. Noting that “this suggestion looks useful,” he ordered to place the riding house of the Imperial Mounted Guard Regiment in service of the Organizing Committee. For the period of seven years, the economists had managed to think over the idea of holding an agricultural exhibition and finally decided not to limit it with a mere display of oxen, cows, sheep and pigs. Thus, the members of Free Economic Society had prepared a full-featured exhibition of agricultural achievements by 1850.

Duke Peter of Oldenburg: Prince and Philanthropist

Duke Peter of Oldenburg was born several days before the Battle of Borodino in Yaroslavl, where his father, Duke Georgy of Oldenburg was in charge of gathering militia troops, arranged military hospitals, supplied regiments passing through the province with food products and assigned war prisoners to places of confinement. His mother, Grand Princess Yekaterina Pavlovna fitted out at her own expense a battalion that subsequently took part in many battles of the war with Napoleon.

Duke Peter of Oldenburg received education in Germany. He was especially fond of law and logic. After Greece became a sovereign state, he was considered a prime claimant to Greek throne, yet in late 1830 his uncle Emperor Nicholas I invited him to Russia for state service. Once in Russia, he soon found out that the country suffered from severe shortage of state officials with legal education. In 1835, the School of Jurisprudence was established in Saint Petersburg upon the project developed by the Duke jointly with M.M. Speransky. Peter of Oldenburg continued to take care of this educational establishment for almost 50 years up to the point of his death. Shortly before he died, he established the Russian Society of International Law. At the opening ceremony, which was held on May 31, 1880, the Duke expressed the main criterion of civilized international relations: “Where there is no respect for law, peace is missing.”

The Duke of Oldenburg held positions of honorary guardian and chairman at the Saint Petersburg Board of Trustees, head manager of women’s educational establishments at the Department of Empress Maria, honorary member of various academic and charity associations, chairman of the Russian Society of International Law, patron of the Eye Infirmary. He was curator of the School of Jurisprudence, Saint Petersburg School of Commerce, Emperor Alexander’s Lyceum and Kiev Charity House for the Poor.

On March 10, 1867, the Duke of Oldenburg opened an orphanage for 100 kids in Saint Petersburg on his own money under the name of “The Orphanage of Yekaterina and Maria.” Later, in 1871, it was renamed into “The Orphanage of Yekaterina, Maria and Georgy.” He also took an active part in establishing and financing such educational and medical institutions, as the Women’s Institute of Duchess Theresa of Oldenburg, Child Health Clinic of Duke Peter of Oldenburg, Obukhovskaya, Mariinskaya and Petropavlovskaya hospitals, as well as Saint Trinity Order of Sisters of Mercy.

Gorgeous and Intelligent, Resolute and Noble-Minded

Born in the family of a German prince, Charlotte (future Grand Princess Elena Pavlovna) received education at a boarding school in Paris. She could boast of encyclopedic knowledge and fine sense of beauty. At the age of 14, Charlotte married Russian Grand Prince Mikhail Pavlovich, accepted Orthodox Christianity and Russian name – Elena Pavlovna. In her pursuit of understanding her new motherland, she followed the path of Catherine the Great – she learned the Russian language independently by way of reading books, studied thoroughly The History of Russian State by Karamzin and on the day of her arrival to Russia managed to find welcoming words for each of 200 noblemen meeting her.

Through her whole life Elena Pavlovna was eagerly learning. She would take courses of lectures in forestry, agronomics, military statistics, theology, and history. The Grand Princess took interest in arts as well. She was on friendly terms with Pushkin, Tyutchev, Turgenev, published a complete edition of works by Nikolay Gogol, established the Russian Music Society and Conservatoire having sold her diamonds.

Her most renowned and talked-about initiative dealt with founding the Order of Sisters of Mercy of the Exaltation of Holy Cross during the Crimean War – the prototype of Red Cross Organization. The Princess addressed unmarried women with a call for rendering aid to the wounded soldiers. The high society criticized her for that, believing that it was inappropriate for women to join the army. However the princess ignored the gossip, and eventually over 200 sisters of mercy would dress up soldiers’ wounds in Crimea in 1854-1856 under the command of a great Russian surgeon Nikolay Pirogov. Elena Pavlovna not only rendered financial assistance to the Order, but placed the premises of the Mikhailovsky Palace at its disposal and delivered scarce drugs to military hospitals through her Prussian relatives as well.

Progressive people of that time would often visit her lounge at the Mikhailovsky Palace, where crucial socio-political issues were discussed. The Princess liked to introduce to high-ranked officials and members of the royal family the people, who did not belong to high society, yet had “ideas,” which afterwards would often lead to the implementation of crucial state projects in the field of building railroads or judicial reforms. The future reform dealing with the abolishment of serfdom was also discussed in detail in this very lounge. Elena Pavlovna’s approach to problems was not emotional, but pragmatic – she would order case studies from specialists and listen to their forecasts and reports. Several years prior to the reform, in 1856, the Princess initiated the process of liberating 15,000 peasant serfs in her village of Karlovka, Poltava province, with the Emperor’s consent. Emperor Alexander II used to defer to his aunt’s opinion, calling her “our family scientist.” Later he awarded the Princess with a Champion of Reforms medal for her activities dealing with the liberation of peasant serfs. The Free Economic Society also highly appreciated Elena Pavlovna’s public activities.

The Princess died in Saint Petersburg and was buried in the royal family’s vault at the Cathedral of Peter and Paul. The future generations would remember her, as a person who never let things drift. Being of German origin, she became a real Russian patriot, who devoted all her talents and life in general to the cause of making her new motherland flourish.

Russia’s Special Path in Reforms

The supporters of feudal system argued that Russia was not ready for modernization. The Prussian way of introducing capitalism in agriculture – emancipation of peasant serfs without giving land to them – led to the emergence of capitalist latifundia, while former serfs turned into hired workforce. The path that transformed landowners into oligarchs did not inspire the Emperor. The landlords were not enthusiastic about it either, as instead of hunting and taking trips to the capital and Western Europe resorts they had to deal with farming.

The other way – granting all land to peasants (American variant) – did not suit the Tsar and bureaucracy even more. In this case, farmers could have become the real owners of the country, which would have led to a democratic republic. The absolutism increasingly felt the need in a special Russian path of serfdom abolishment that would guarantee the retention of monarchy.

Naturally, the idea of carrying out such a reform that would put an end to the Tsar’s power did not figure in the plans of Alexander II. That is why the administration suspended from work on this project all those sincerely fascinated by liberalism. Yet, when the bureaucracy would slow down the process, the Emperor had to impose pressure and take fierce actions.

Sophisticated in bureaucratic procedures, the members of reform preparation committee at first decided to bury the project by bureaucratic techniques – they did not refuse from carrying out reforms, yet did their best to slow the process down. Along with sabotage and libels against the supporters of serfdom abolishment, they would often adopt the method of delays, saying that they cannot make a decision and thus had to ask the Tsar to find the solution. Bouncing the documents to the very top, they hoped to demoralize the Emperor overloading him with work.

The reform supporters would find themselves in minority again and again. By March 1, 1861, the project had suffered a number of serious changes introduced for the benefit of nobility. The work resulted in a complex set of documents and very intricate mechanism full of compromises. Thus, the project just could not be implemented without the government’s participation. Capitalism was introduced in Russia by specific methods – very slow and sparing towards outmoded customs. The reform neither made the old life impossible, nor brought about a resolution to the conflict between the old and new, but just delayed it making even more heated. Moreover, the reform was not completed. In other words, the authorities did not proceed with it, as the next stage was obvious – completing the land reform with the liquidation of peasant commune and estates of those landowners who did not want to pass to capitalism, as well as changing the political system by way of switching over to constitutional monarchy.

As for Alexander II, he was willing to forge ahead. He prepared a plan of actions to be taken upon the expiry of a 20-year transition period. Yet on March 1, 1881 – right on the day of the 20th anniversary of the Great Reforms – terrorists killed the Emperor before he could announce a new set of reforming actions.

Alexandr II Nikolaevich (1818-1881) – Russian Emperor (1855-1881), son of Emperor Nickolas I and Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, who went down in history as a great reformer and initiator of serfdom abolishment, for which he was granted a special title of Liberator.

Having succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father, Alexander II inherited a country suffering from serious problems. The defeat in the Crimean War was detrimental for the state system based on serfdom, absolutism and denial of independent public activities. The necessity of fundamental reforms in the state system and public life was obvious.

The first decade of the Emperor’s rule became “an era of great reforms.” In 1861 the peasant serfs were emancipated, 1863 saw the universities having become autonomous, while in 1864 the local territorial self-government system (zemstvo) was introduced. On the same year new court statutes based on the transparency of procedures and separation of judicial power from administrative one were made public. In 1865 the censorship reform followed. Later the state administration upgraded the municipal self-government system (1870) and introduced universal military service instead of recruiting duty borne exclusively by peasants and bourgeoisie (1874). This fundamental state reform was carried out under the influence and with the participation of public forces. Many members of the Imperial Free Economic Society took an active part in it.

The Tsar could not just announce the reform. The actions to be taken had to be prepared and discussed following the rules adopted for other draft laws (for instance, the documents should necessarily be passed through the State Council). Alexander II understood that his power was immense, yet authorities were limited, as the bureaucracy and nobility willing to swallow any kind of tyranny and despotism on his part would never tolerate the entrenchment upon their real interests and rights (the recollections as to the fate of Peter III and Paul I were still fresh in their mind).

In order to be carried out and completed, the reform on serfdom abolishment had to become a private business of the Emperor. Entrusting the task to somebody else would have meant refusing from completing it, taking into account strong resistance on the part of serfdom supporters. Thus, Alexander II deserved the title of Liberator. No reform at all would have been carried out without his active participation. Due to the nature of absolutism, the reform dealing with serfdom abolishment had to be initiated and implemented only by the Emperor himself.

Literacy Committee under Free Economic Society

A very important area of the Free Economic Society’s activities was related to the dissemination of literacy among the Russian people. The Literacy Committee founded under the Imperial Free Economic Society in April 1861 (a month after the abolishment of serfdom) established a school for “women willing to become village teachers,” drew up a list of best books for common people and started collecting, publishing and distributing books free of charge among village libraries (for the period of 20 years, from 1861 to 1881, the Committee managed to distribute about 1,000,000 copies of fiction and training literature for peasants). Though being unable to open general grammar schools due to its limited budget, the Society rendered aid in establishing and running educational establishments, granting temporary financial assistance in the form of subsidies amounting up to 200 rubles (for purchasing manuals or furniture).

The Committee’s unspoken motto said: “Freedom is Inseparable from Enlightenment.” The Free Economic Society developed the first methods guide for training common people – Instructions for Inexperienced School Founders – and thoroughly addressed the issue of making the books for popular reading cheaper, so the people could afford to buy not only manuals, but fiction as well. As the books were distributed all over Russia, the Literacy Committee took trouble to organize bookstores in different Russian provinces (all in all, 120 such temporary facilities for storing books were established).

The financing required to pursue the Committee’s activities was obtained through membership fees and money donated annually by individuals and public organizations.

Expedition of Free Economic Society and Russian Geographical Society Aimed at Studying Cereals Trade

In 1865, on the year of its centenary, the Free Economic Society introduced for discussion the following question: “What measures should be taken to study Russia in economic terms, and how can the members of Free Economic Society and other researchers participate in this process?” This issue was raised at the first congress of Russian landowners. The speakers again complained about lack of information as regards to trade, production and crafts, as well as quantities of agricultural products produced in the provinces. This time they decided to fill in the gaps on the country’s map by way of exploring the cereals trade and labor productivity in agriculture, as the “crucial industry, having direct effect on the economic health as to the living standards of both peasant population and landowners and reflecting the situation in commerce in general.”

The Free Economic Society was not alone in organizing and financing this expedition, as it received assistance from the Russian Geographical Society. Both organizations had allocated 4,000 rubles each for exploration. The State Property Ministry added 3,000 rubles, the Interior Ministry granted 2,000 rubles, while 1,000 rubles more came from the Navy Department (that also sent two of its officers to take part in the expedition).

According to the plan, Russia’s territory was divided into seven areas, each of them being secured to one of explorers. Academician V.P. Bezobrazov, active member of the Free Economic Society and outstanding Russian statistician and economist, was among those who took part in the expedition. The research was mostly carried out in the second half of 1867 and in 1868. The follow-up survey, dealing with specifying and complementing the obtained data, was completed in 1871-1873. The research findings were published in the form of a book titled “Works of Expedition, Organized by the Imperial Free Economic Society and Russian Geographical Society to Study Cereals Trade and Labor Productivity in Russia,” which was much sought after in the country in the 1880s. The book included several chapters, devoted to a detailed description of “the ways and methods of freight transportation from waterway stations located in the lower reaches of Volga to Saint Petersburg,” report on flax production and trade in the northern regions and information about trade in cereals in the Urals area.

Cheese Mountains and Milk Lakes

“It is no exaggeration to say,” secretary of the Free Economic Society A.N. Beketov wrote in 1890, “that patronage over cheese-making has been one of the most successful Society’s initiatives in the field of cattle breeding.” In 1865 Nikolay Vereshchagin addressed the Free Economic Society with a request to render aid to him in financing his project. The young man’s enthusiasm both made an impression on the Society’s Council and put it on the alert. The members believed Vereshchagin and gave him a loan to open three cheese dairies, yet laid down tough conditions. According to one of them, the young businessman was to submit financial reports every four months and grant free access to the members in case they would like to examine the enterprise. It is no wonder, as the founding father of the Russian dairy industry was 25 at that time.

This is what N.V. Vereshchagin himself was writing about his activities in 1901: “I had to perform a great deal of work: 1) teach peasants to process milk together, 2) supply them with appropriate crockery, 3) launch the production of all cheese and butter sorts, 4) organize the sales of products at both domestic market and abroad, 5) introduce the quality control of milk, 6) prove that Russian milk cows are fit for processing improved fodder and can “pay” for this fodder and improved care, 7) disseminate the knowledge obtained all over Russia.”

The first cheese-making partnership was founded in 1865 in Tver province, and after the first year of its work each participating peasant gained 15 rubles of net profit per cow (the amount comparable with the cost of the animal itself!). The news about the success of the newly formed “cooperative” ran like lightning all over the empire. People started sending letters to the Free Economic Society, Tver provincial authorities and N.V. Vereshchagin directly with requests to establish similar enterprises in Yaroslavl, Kharkov, Novgorod, Perm and other provinces.

Starting from 1866, the Society would hand over to Vereshchagin 1,300 rubles annually. This money was to cover expenses for training cheese makers, replacing faulty equipment, and establishing five (annually!) new partnerships. This time the condition was as follows: “cheese-making cooperatives were to be founded in the appropriate areas of other provinces.” Vereshchagin had to attract likeminded people to the project, and, working together, they managed to cope with the task set by the Free Economic Society.

With the assistance on the part of Free Economic Society, the cheese-making cooperatives opened a warehouse in Saint Petersburg, which was used to sell the products directly to consumers in order to remove the mediators from the chain. In the early 20th century, the butter export would bring more gold to the Russia’s Treasure than all Siberian gold mines taken together. Up to 60% of these revenues were owned by the cooperatives.

Tour around N.V. Vereshchagin’s Cheese-Making Factory (extract from an essay by I.I. Kolyshko)

Passing through the inner porch with low ceiling, we entered the first very spacious room and immediately felt the pungent aroma of curd and milk whey. Large tanks with whey standing on the wet wooden floor were folded in steam. A pipe for supplying steam was hanging down from the ceiling. The high and narrow vessels located near the walls were full. Nikolay Vasilyevich explained that they held curdled milk, a raw material for cheese production. This room is intended for producing “lean” or “green” cheese that is very popular among the Russian consumers. The production of it was launched in the country not so long ago. Until quite recently, this process has been a secret of foreigners. The production method is quite simple. The skim milk is poured into copper tanks, which are inserted into wooden vessels in such a way that there is a certain space left between copper and wooden surfaces. This gap is filled in with steam through the pipe hanging down from the ceiling. The steam admission is carried out before milk reaches the boiling point. After the milk has started boiling, a certain quantity of whey is added to it. The milk immediately starts clotting, and the flocks of curd sink to the bottom. The workers mix it and after its transformation into separate grains pour the resulting substance into high vessels together with whey. It is kept in these vessels for several days until the moment all curd sinks to the bottom. After that, the curd is put into barrels, pressed with stones and kept for three months until the required reaction.

The ready-made curd has a specific, pungent taste. It is taken out of the barrels and crumbled up with the help of a huge stone grinder that is brought into action by a horse. Then the workers mix it with some of the blue substance from the bottom that adds a special aroma and greenish color to it. After that, the resulting product is stuffed into molds and placed in a dark and cool room to let it dry out. Several days later, the cheese is ready. This cheese with letters V. Sh. and S. is distributed in large quantities, especially in Asian regions, where the consumers buy it at 0.15 rubles per pound.

The next room is the creamery. Here we see several machines for churning butter. One of them is of American origin. These machines are very simple, featuring a keg brought into action by a handle in horizontal or vertical position. The American device represents a box equipped with soft springs that is moved by simple arm punches. The cream is put into such kegs or boxes, and after an hour of work the butter is ready. N.V. Vereshchagin produces butter using the most advanced method. The adjoining room holds the “refrigerator.” It is a big metal tank full of water with ice. It contains a number of narrow metal cylinders filled with milk. The temperature in the room is visibly lower, up to 10°. The milk settles very quickly, and the cream is collected from top of it with the help of a metal saucer with a handle in the middle. This cream is to settle until the period of first inoculation.

Experiments of D.I. Mendeleev

At that time, everyone was concerned with the matters of grain yield enhancement. The breakthrough in peasant agriculture after the reforms of the 1860s pushed researchers and practitioners to study the effect of various chemicals on the agricultural productiveness of land. Mendeleev proposed that “the first step” should be made, and “the land used to grow grain crops should be fertilized the way it was never fertilized before.” The scientist was not particularly opposed to the use of manure, but due to the poorly developed livestock breeding in Russia, there was simply not enough of that time-tested natural fertilizer for everyone to use in their fields.

The scientist’s idea was to select several test fields in various climatic zones, divide them into experimental sections and use various fertilizers following a pre-defined system. The Society was supportive of the plan, but could not provide the financial resources for its large-scale implementation. Mendeleev planed to work simultaneously in six regions, but in the end, the experiment was carried out in four locations – the VEO paid for the observers’ work, tools, fertilizers and seeds in Smolensk and Simbirsk provinces, a member of the Free Economic Society I.A. Brylkin personally financed the sowing near Saint Petersburg, and Mendeleev himself covered the experiments in his Boblovo estate near Moscow, in the vicinity of Klin. After two years of studies, the scientist has proven that acidic soils require chalking, tested the use of ground phosphate rocks, superphosphate, nitrogen and potassium fertilizers, and tested several mixtures of mineral and organic fertilizers. The work results (which also included the contribution of the young K.A. Timiryazev) were published in the Report of Experiments Conducted in 1866-1869 in Simbirsk, Smolensk, Moscow and Saint Petersburg Provinces to Study the Impact of Fertilizers on the Yield of Oats and Rye. D.I. Mendeleev proved that it was in fact possible to achieve a high grain yield in Russia. The test fields have produced times as much grain as the surrounding fields.

“The achievements of the Society are invaluable, and it is an immense benefit both for the state, and for individual land owners,” Mendeleev would later say. And in the late 1860s, a fascinating accident tied together the name of the great Russian scientist, his great discovery and his work in the Economic Society. He drafted his Attempt at a System of Elements Based on Their Atomic Weight and Chemical Affinity – the first variant of his Periodic Law – on a letter from the Free Economic Society. The letter commended Mendeleev’s experiments in animal breeding and dairy production. “It is an astonishing, yet historic fact,” wrote one of the historians of the VEO S.S. Khizhnyakov. “Mendeleev invented his periodic system of elements, but entrusted his assistant to announce the discovery because he was too busy: as assigned by the Free Economic Society, he was milking cows and studying cheese-making and butter-making technologies...” Indeed, his famous report Relationship between the Properties and the Atomic Weight of the Elements was read to the Russian Chemical Society by N.A. Menshutkin.

Prokopovich’s Apiary

Prokopovich’s apiary in the Chernigov province was home to over 10 thousand bee colonies – a world record at that time. To “teach the common people the theoretical knowledge about bees and rational apiary management” with the support from the VEO, in 1828 P.I. Prokopovich opened the first Russian specialized beekeeping school at his own apiary. Enrollment was open to governmental and private peasants, men aged 16 to 40, and their training lasted two years, during which Prokopovich’s students had to study the art of beekeeping, and learn how to read and write. After completing their training, graduates would obtain good positions in their landowners’ estates. One of such young men was appointed to manage the apiary of the Free Economic Society at the Okhta farm. The training program at the beekeeping school was developed by P.I. Prokopovich himself, and he published regular reports on the establishment’s operations and on his experiments in the Society’s Transactions. In 1832 he was awarded a gold medal of the Society.

In the 1840s the Free Economic Society offered a 10 rubles award to “the peasant who can prove to have started the most beehives.” The industry was in decline. On the one hand, the demand for honey plummeted: due to the fast-growing popularity of vodka and wine, honey was losing its role as an ingredient for alcoholic beverages. Another significant contribution to the decline of beekeeping was the development of the sugar industry. By 1848 there were over three hundred beet sugar refining plants in Russia. The number of beehives in Russian apiaries dropped 6-10 times.

Alexandr Mikhailovich Butlerov (1828-1886) was a head of the Apiary Commission of the Imperial Free Economic Society, a Russian chemist, creator the theory of chemical structure of organic substances, apiarian scientist, and Rector of Kazan Imperial University in 1860-1863. In 1871 the scientist became the head of the VEO Apiary Commission, and in January 1873 he published his detailed paper On the Bee Disease – Foulbrood in the Transactions of the VEO. In his paper, he described in great detail and from the perspective of an ordinary bee keeper the visible signs of the disease that was wiping out entire beekeeping operations, spreading from beehive to beehive, from apiary to apiary. The scientist provided the smallest detail of the ways the infection was spreading, and offered recommendations on countering it. The Butlerov’s paper garnered a great number of grateful responses from beekeepers from all over Russia.

Butlerov brought about the technical and technological reinvention of beekeeping. He was among the first to discuss the scientific framework of bee stock breeding, he introduced the concept of rational beekeeping, rationalized the use of artificial comb foundation and designed a beehive that made the beekeeper’s work easier and faster. At its meeting on March 21, 1886, the VEO Apiary Commission recognized his method as a model apiary operation. A beehive had to have movable frames, a detachable bottom, two entrances, a large space inside and frames with side bars.

Another contribution of A.M. Butlerov in the development of beekeeping was his practical classes and demonstrations at training apiaries and his participation in exhibitions. He was always concerned with promotion of the principles of rational beekeeping, of which he was a strong advocate. In 1886 the scientist arranged the publication of the Russian Apiary Bulletin, and became its first editor. His books were very popular among beekeepers: The Bee, Its Life and the Key Rules of Rational Beekeeping, which was re-issued 12 times, and How to Breed Bees, which was re-issued 11 times. The ideas and work of A.M. Butlerov brought the Russian beekeeping industry to a new level.

Following is an abstract from an article in the Russian Apiary Bulletin in memory of A.M. Butlerov: “Is there a single beekeeper in Russia who was not impacted by the outstanding personality of the deceased while reading The Bee and his other writings on beekeeping? Many still remember the fascinating lectures given by Alexandr Mikhailovich at the model apiary at the 1882 Moscow exhibition, where hundreds came to hear him speak. His lectures did an immense good: the knowledge on beekeeping he shared spread across Russia, and even those who never had interest in bees came to love these most beneficial and hardworking insects.”

How Peasants Got Their Land Back

This story is known through a detailed account in G.P. Sazonov’s book Peasant Land Property in Porkhov District. After obtaining statistics from the local municipality, G.P. Sazonov noticed that the lands of ten Porkhov villages in the Pskov province at once (with a total population of about two thousand people) were about to be auctioned off in debt repayment to a commercial bank. It would have been a rather ordinary situation for the time, if not for one special circumstance: the land in the Porkhov district was bought out and signed over to peasants by a local landowner Panteleev back in 1875. In his testament he allocated a million rubles to be used to buy out land for the people of 202 villages (10,000 per capita allotments, or 50,000 dessiatinas). That decision became a much-discussed matter both in print press, and in the society.

The absence of the obligation to make annual redemption payments to the treasury put the Porkhov district peasants at an advantage over their neighbors. And suddenly their land was being auctioned off. Sent by the Free Economic Society, G.P. Sazonov found out what pushed the peasants to deal with the commercial bank. A hailstorm in 1885 destroyed their crops, and they had no seeds to sow in the coming spring. Their crops in the following several years also failed. And the bank fixed a too high interest rate on their loans, placing the peasants in a “grievous position.” After discovering the background of the situation, the VEO petitioned the Ministers of Finance and Internal Affairs to put on hold the auction sale of the land and to transfer the peasants’ debt to the Peasant Land Bank. The government granted the petition, the debtors retained their land, and G.P. Sazonov published his book in 1890.

Agricultural School

The project said: “Agricultural schools accept children of any social background, but founders may place any restrictions in that respect, in accordance with the objectives and financial resources of the school.” The school program took four full years to complete, and the youngest age of enrollment was 14. It was expected that each such institution would be teaching up to 60 people at a time.

The curriculum included the study of the Law of God, the Russian language, reading and orthography, arithmetic, practical geometry and technical drawing, brief Russian history, a course in geography, basic required natural science, and “cattle breeding with practical recommendations on veterinary attendance and hygiene.” Schools were also allowed to include singing, gymnastics and book keeping in their curricula.

On December 27, 1883 the Imperial Regulation on Primary Agricultural Schools became effective in Russia, developed upon a draft prepared by the Free Economic Society. In 1898 there were 110 agricultural schools of all types in Russia, with a total of 4,033 students. However, the project faced the same problem as fifty years ago: having received good education and vocational training, graduates chose to not return to their agricultural lives. At the same time, the immediate purpose of primary agricultural schools was to train smallholding landowners – peasants who could apply their knowledge in their own work and run model operations.

At the All-Russian Congress of Agriculturalists in December 1895 the Director of the Mariino-Gorskaya School N.I. Kotov emphasized that one had to be a hero to put aside the benefits that become available to the graduates of primary agricultural schools and return to their villages, where they would face overwhelmingly hard work, land scarcity, inescapable poverty, and blazing ignorance. If they took the position of a steward or a starosta, they would be entitled to a pay of 100-120 rubles, and as small-sized estate managers they would be making 200-300 rubles. The knowledge alone cannot help the peasant, N.I. Kotov concluded: it should be accompanied by government measures, such as making sufficient loans available to peasants, making government land rentable, allowing the peasants a choice of residence.

The Congress prepared a number of proposals aimed at improving agricultural education. They were partially implemented in 1904, when first specialized schools opened, and the vocational training system was divided into three levels of education. By 1910 there were 243 agricultural training institutions in Russia, with a total of over 20 thousand students.

Bogodukhovo: First Meteorological and Experimental Agricultural Station in Russia

Upon the initiative of D.I. Mendeleev, the Free Economic Society (VEO) arranged for a number of fields to be used for experiments with fertilizers and soil treatment technologies. One of the fields belonged to Count Tolstoy.

Illarion Nikolaevich Tolstoy, a Count from the Tolstoy family, married Alexandra Golitsyna in 1857 and became the owner of land in Bogodukhovo, a village in the Oryol province. In the mid-1880s Tolstoy owned 1700 desiatinas of land in Bogodukhovo. In 1886-1898 he was financing the operations of the experimental agricultural station. A report on station operations indicates that Tolstoy made available “his estate along with the tools and workers to be used to carry out the experiments free of charge.” The agricultural station and its program were developed by members of the Free Economic Society V.V. Dokuchaev, A.V. Sovetov, A.S. Taneev, and I.N. Tolstoy; the station was manned by VEO members as well, and the position of its Head went to researcher and agriculturalist Pyotr Fedorovich Barakov. In 1898 he presented his Master’s thesis on the topic: Study of the Scientific Framework of Field Cultivation in the Forest-Steppe Belt of Europe and Russia, which he based on the findings obtained at the station. The station was managed by F.N. Korolev, whose work in that position won him gratitude and appreciation from the VEO members. The station had several purposes, working as a meteorological, agricultural, and geographical facility. It was used to measure the temperature under the snow and grass cover, in the black fallow and with the snow removed – on the surface and at the depth of 10 cm, 25 cm, 50 cm, 1 m and 2 m; to study the properties of organic fertilizers; to monitor strong winds; to study the soil – the loess formation left by a glacier. It was here that the researchers concluded that the loess formation was the creation of “wind that brought dust from the barren morianic fields, which remained after the retreat of the glacier and were in their harsh continental and desert state.” A great number of experiment reports were published in the VEO Transactions, Meteorological Bulletin, Letters of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, etc.

The Bogodukhovo station continued its operations as an experimental agricultural station till 1890, and after that time it was primarily used for weather observation. In 1913 there were 44 experimental stations operating in Russia, and by 1917 a rather extensive network of experimental agricultural institutions developed in the country, encompassing about 400 stations, fields, farms, nursery gardens, etc. And only one third of those were state facilities.

Deadly Disease Defeated

In 1824, the VEO opened its Department 5 for “the protection of health of humans and domestic animals.” Its first Chairman, State Councilor in Deed V. Golynsky contributed 5 thousand rubles from his own resources for smallpox control. “This deed could mark the beginning of a service of great importance for our Fatherland,” the then-President of the VEO N.S. Mordvinov said of the initiative, and in order “to support the undertaking of our fellow member,” proposed to allocate a one-time contribution of 10 thousand rubles from the capital of the Society to the same cause, and later make contributions of 2 thousand rubles each year for the promotion of vaccination. For several years in addition to these amounts, Department 5 had been receiving personal donations from the Society members. N.S. Mordvinov himself was one of the regular donors. First of all, the Society bought and sent out to the Russian provinces the needles and lancets for smallpox vaccination, and glass slides for collection, storage and transportation of smallpox samples. Second, the VEO recognized the need for and organized the training of surgery specialists and development of surgery guides. Third, there was a need for training facilities – vaccination rooms that would allow simultaneous collection of samples from vaccinated patients, as before 1865 vaccination consisted of transfer of cowpox between humans, and only by the mid-1860s did retrovaccination became a standard, whereby the smallpox substrate was obtained from an already infected animal and then used to vaccinate humans. The first permanent smallpox vaccination station in Saint Petersburg opened in the VEO building in 1846. Two more opened several years later, in the early 1850s. The smallpox vaccination program of the Society thrived in 1824—1857. During that time, by special Imperial decree, each province contributed 1000 rubles annually to the VEO to promote its anti-smallpox campaign. The state treasury also made several contributions of 20 thousand rubles each. As a result of the Society’s efforts, by the middle of 1857, 34 million infants were vaccinated across Russia, including the far-away regions in Siberia. Over a million lancets and valioration needles, about 200,000 glass slides (clean and containing the valioration substance) were sent out to the Russian provinces, and about 400,000 copies of smallpox vaccination guides were printed in 12 languages.

By 1847 over 15,000 people had learned to do protective smallpox vaccination. In 1852 the VEO addressed the Province Smallpox Committees asking to help involve midwives and churchmen in the vaccination campaign. The initiative received support and smallpox vaccination began to be taught in obstetric institutions and some seminaries. In the 1870s the VEO was fully financing its own smallpox vaccination station and a special calf farm where the substrate for cowpox retrovaccination was being produced.

Peasant Movement in Late 19th – Early 20th Century

The radicalism of the peasantry’s attitudes and demands at the turn of the century was new and unexpected. Many protests entailed seizure of landowners’ lands, break-ins to grain warehouses and seizure of grain, arsons in estates, and often escalated into riots with open hostility towards the police and military forces. It became immediately and abundantly clear that the scale and force of the peasant movement increased sharply and that it became radicalized in its nature.

The situation was exacerbated by the poor grain harvest of 1901, which was in no way extraordinary, but proved to be enough to cause a social explosion in the Poltava and Kharkov provinces. The following is a typical description of the peasants’ actions in the telegram sent by one of the affected landowners to the Minister of Internal Affairs (dated April 1, 1902, Poltava province): “For several days peasants have been systematically and openly stealing owners’ grain, the robbers are from the poor. Usually entire neighboring villages come to an estate, bring along carts and bags, accompanied by wives and children, they force their way into estates and demand the keys to warehouses, and if owners refuse, they break the locks, load their carts with grain right in front of the owner, and leave… They do not enter the homes, but they take everything they see in warehouses.” In many places peasants were destroying landowners’ houses. The destruction of landowners’ estates was by no means an act of vandalism. Peasants said they burned homes and agricultural structures to push landowners from their villages at least for two-three years, so that the punitive forces could not be stationed there…

This conclusion about the deep change in the attitudes and behavior of the peasantry, of their “utter detachment” with respect to their “superiors” and the authorities, is confirmed by other accounts, as well as by the events that followed. In 1902 a new peasant openly entered the historical scene – a peasant of the revolutionary era.

A Severely Testing Time

The VEO itself was going through a hard time back then, with its operations effectively banned. Nevertheless, in 1914 the Imperial VEO was still publishing its Transactions (with a run of 900 copies) and sending them out free of charge – 44 copies to its honorary and life members, 232 to its current members, 229 to various governmental, public and research bodies, and in exchange for the periodicals delivered to the Society’s library, a total of 155 volumes. Moreover, 44 paid subscribers received their copies as well. In the second half of 1914 the number of visitors to the library of the Free Economic Society dropped significantly compared to 1913 – from 8,947 to 7,763. The number of books and magazines lent out reduced from 24,016 to 22,865. In the second half of 1914 the Society was not receiving any foreign magazines at all, and had difficulty publishing its own periodicals. In 1915 economists suspended the publication of Transactions, and focused on the monthly Bulletin of the Imperial Free Economic Society. The VEO created its Bulletin to offer a faster response to the rapidly changing situation. While Transactions had 3-4 issues a year, the Bulletin circulated every month. The editors of the Bulletin collected information about local events, filtered it, added detail and published the stories. In 1914 the Bulletin had 11 issues.

Food Crisis Exacerbates

The general hardships of war, which in the peasant Russia had to be borne by the common people, were exacerbated by the food crisis – the forced state procurement of agricultural products. In August 1915 state procurement prices for grain became fixed (for war needs).

In 1914 the Bulletin of the Imperial VEO reported crop failure in 15 provinces. In seven of those, winter grains failed. 14 provinces suffered from poor harvest of spring grains and fodder grass. The latter caused many owners to sell their cattle. The situation was made worse by the reduction or complete loss of income. Many families needed financial aid. Local patrons were organizing cooperatives that acted as intermediaries in the inevitable partial sale of cattle, hay, straw, or structures, helping to sell property with minimum loss and avoid profiteers. One of the functions of such cooperatives was to provide those in need with food and clothing. They paid special attention to the needs of children. There were special feeding stations for children, and children were given warm clothes and footwear. All of that was financed from self-imposed payments. For example, some villages in the Novgorod province were charged a tax at the rate of 10 kopecks from each household. In others, contributions were voluntary. Private charity was being suppressed. Everyone should have fair access to the aid. Women organized into committees under the patronages, where they were sawing clothes for the wounded, helping in the fields during harvest, collecting donations.

In December 1916 the state procurement crisis forced the government to resort to grain assessments. The state requirement of grain was divided between the provinces, settlements and farming operations in the form of grain supply obligation. In the grain-producing regions, the obligation became an overwhelming burden for peasants. The Tambov province rural council demanded that the supply requirements should be lowered: “Finding itself unable to willingly push the people towards riots and famine, this province council cannot see a way to make the supplies in the amount required by the Minister of Agriculture.”

Neither the fixed prices, nor the grain procurement, nor even the special “grain army” could slow down the build-up of the food crisis in the country. Holders of large enough grain stock preferred to speculate, causing uncontrollable price surge, and exacerbating the food shortage that plagued the poor both in cities and in villages. The “Bread for the Poor!” motto became one of the core demands in the Russian revolutions of 1917. Created by the February Revolution, the Provisional Government was expected to start from addressing the food problem by establishing the government grain monopoly, which meant price fixation and transfer of all grain stock (with the exception of grain reserved as food and agricultural resource of its owner) to the government through a special institution of food authorities. A law enacted on March 25, 1917 had quite a Bolshevism-sound to its name: On Transfer of Grain to the Government’s Disposal. But the strong ties with the selfish interests of large landowners and traders, the lack of coherence and resolution on the Provisional Government resulted in its failure to create a state grain monopoly and control the grain stock. Failure to make reserves from the 1917 crops became apparent immediately. On August 20 the Ministry of Food instructed the local authorities: “If grain is not given up voluntarily, use measures of coercion, including the force of arms.” And that force was indeed used against peasants who refused to give up their grain.

By the fall of 1917 the food crisis had spread to nearly all European parts of Russia, including its frontline. The famine became a real and the most impactful factor in the progression of events throughout the country.

Let the Strongest Win

The nature of wars changed in the second half of the 19th century. From short-lived conflicts between two armies, wars evolved into confrontations between states that could last for years, until one of the battling countries runs out of its resources. The First World War that started on August 1, 1914 was that kind of war. Russia had to enter a long, exhausting military campaign that called for a total mobilization of its population and national economy.

Russia’s war against Germany was strongly tied with its desire to break free from its economic dependence on Germany. At the start of the war, Russia was receiving from Germany about half of its total import. 40% of its total trading volume came from its trade with Germany. The war was supposed to rid Russia of this dependency. But until then, Russia’s agricultural sector would have to go through seizure of horses, forced expropriation of pedigree cattle, crops failure, shortage of grain, and famine.

The war had an impact on the situation in Russia after just a month. It badly affected the most important segment of the Russian economy – its agriculture. Its railways could only satisfy the needs of the army. It was impossible to transport the harvested crops over long distances for sale. Export trade became paralyzed. Moreover, it turned out that agricultural cargo had nowhere to be delivered to either: all borders in the west, north and south were closed. Every problem with exports applied equally to imports as well: no agricultural machinery, no fertilizers, no pedigree livestock. At that moment it becomes apparent that all communities, all public organizations had to unite to provide food for the army and develop a program of measures that would help the people send their products and their crops, etc. The Free Economic Society addresses its fellow citizens with such an appeal.

Social Union of Economists is Reborn

Photo: The meeting of Deputy Head of the ERS Organizing Bureau V.N. Krasilnikov and one of the ERS founders, Head of the Economy Management Section G.Kh. Popov

In early 1982 the Economy Research Society, as the reborn organization was now called (no society could be “free” in the USSR, especially not during the height of the stagnation period), began the preparations for its founding congress. It took exactly nine months to organize the primary units, and over 400 thousand people expressed their wish to be involved in the Society’s activities – upon its creation it was already one of the largest professional unions in the country.

The Economy Research Society had a very tight schedule to begin its operations. Trade union committees and scientific and engineering councils of Soviet republics, krais, oblasts, regions, and the Moscow and Kiev municipalities had to form their own organizing bureaus till the end of March, and hold regional conferences within two months – between March 20 and July 15. Simultaneously, the Society was developing its new charter.

Just like their predecessors in the 18th century, members of the Organizing Committee of the new union of economists (25 members led by academician T.S. Khachaturov) wanted to ensure that the local units attracted proactive, respected individuals with great administrative influence. In nine months they created a total of five thousand of primary units of the future Economy Research Society, each of them headed by directors of enterprises or their deputies for economic affairs, by party committee secretaries in district, city and regional units, by vice chairmen of councils of ministers and heads of economic authorities in republics, and by leading scientists.

In the spring of 1982 the primary units held their founding congresses, and regional units held theirs in May—July. On December 9, the MSU Grand Hall hosted a general congress which was attended by the representatives of all Soviet republics and Russian regions. Academician Tigran Sergeevich Khachaturov became the first Chairman of the ERS. T.S. Khachaturov was the head of the Association of Soviet Economists in the USSR Academy of Sciences, and formerly one of the leading experts in the A.N. Kosygin government for development and implementation of economic reforms.

Science-Based Economy Management

The organizational structures of management were the focus of the All-Union Conference Problems of Science-Based Economy Management (Moscow, November 1986), held upon the initiative of the Central Board of the ERS, Committee on Management Problems of the All-Union Council of Scientific and Engineering Societies, the Economics Division of the USSR Academy of Sciences. About a thousand delegates from all over the country came to Moscow, to the Pillar Hall in the House of Unions. The conference was co-organized by the Ekonomicheskaya Gazeta weekly of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The newspaper published seven key speeches made during the conference.

The conference on management (held in 1986) brought together nearly all heads of economic ministries and agencies, representatives of top universities and research institutes, directors and deputies of all major enterprises. There were so many speakers, that, in order to keep within the time limit, it was decided that only theses would be presented during the conference, and full-text speeches would be published in a book of proceedings. When the book was issued, almost all of its press run sold out immediately. It was thanks to the Problems of Science-Based Economy Management Conference that the idea of “full-scale economic accountability” was first discussed at the June 1987 Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The discussion has shown that at the time, there was no singular interpretation of the perestroika and its objectives among the party and state authorities and the scientific community. The official goals of democratization and increased independence of enterprises were interpreted in two ways: either focusing on integration of market self-regulation with the current system for future decentralization and democratization of management; or focusing on democratization of the current system, for example, through extended involvement of workers, but without any drastic enhancement of the role of market in economy management.

The opinion that prevailed at the conference said that the management reform should focus on major changes to price formation, credit and finance mechanism, and procurement, all implemented in an integrated manner.

“Sore Spots” of Economic Experiment

When granting freedom to entrepreneurship, the government had to shift the emphasis in management from administrative measures to economic and financial ones. Market mechanisms had to be integrated in the absolutely statized life of the country.

The Law on Enterprise (Association) changed the scope of planning by introducing target figures, state order, long-term standards and limits. Enterprises would now develop and adopt their own production plans based on the above parameters and orders from their consumers. Full-scale economic accountability and self-financing meant that expenses had to be covered from revenues. The Law entitled enterprises to set their own prices on their products, to sell the products and to purchase physical resources. And if due to the nationwide deficit they failed to do so, it could be the ground for the state order rejection. The staff would become the rightful manager of operations that remained the government's property, and top managers of enterprises were now to be elected. Upon the initiative of one of the active members of the Economy Research Society (and today the Vice President of the VEO of Russia) V.I. Shcherbakov, Kama Automobile Factory became the venue for pilot adoption of full-scale economic accountability and self-financing.

In 1988 the official statistics registered some economic growth for the last time. A multitude of indicators signaled that the adversity was only getting worse. Socialism was far from succeeding in its economic competition with capitalism, judging by the qualitative, and not quantitative results of that competition. The high absolute growth and breakthroughs in individual industries (primarily, the defense industry) were made possible in the USSR not by any theoretical advantages of the socialist model, but simply by overconsumption of resources. Nearly at all times the growth in consumption of physical resources and production assets was ahead of the growth in the net national product.

In June 1988, in his speech at the 19th Party Conference that was later assailed with criticism from the party and economy activists, member of the Central Board of the Economy Research Society, Academician Leonid Abalkin said: the economy failed to develop a radical change, it failed to overcome stagnation, growth in the net national product over the past several years did not reach the level of the previous five-year period, the consumer market was deteriorating, and the core idea of the current five-year period proposing simultaneous quantitative growth and qualitative change was unrealistic.

Russian National Manager of the Year Award

“Our transition from the planning and distribution system of economy to the market economy has been challenging. It was faced with incredible difficulties, the most impactful of them being the 1998 financial and economic crisis. The experience that the country has amassed over these years shows that it is impossible to achieve our end goals without the understanding of the market law, clever application of scientific data, combined principles, forms and methods of production and operational HR management – everything that is included in the concept of management.”

President of the International Academy of Management, Academician of RAS S.A. Sitoryan

It is remarkable that initially, among the Manager of the Year candidates there were industrialists, entrepreneurs, managers of enterprises, heads of collective and state-owned farms and other organizations. At first, the award did not consider state officials and companies that are natural monopolies – all to make sure that the award does not turn into a vanity parade for 20-30 or 60 largest companies in the country that are already quite privileged. Award organizers made a conscious effort to reach out beyond Moscow, aiming to attract the majority of candidates from other regions. A while later, two independent categories were created – Manager of the Year in Banking Sector and Manager of the Year in State and Municipal Administration.

“After President V.V. Putin said that the primary goal in the country should be to build strong, independent, financially sustainable local authorities so that those officials who help the country develop whould be celebrated,” says the First Vice President of the VEO of Russia V.N. Krasilnikov, “we decided to add the category of Manager of the Year in State and Municipal Administration to the framework of our project. It made for a phenomenal competition, an absolutely unique event. And it’s not just a formal give-away of honorary awards to mayors, municipal leaders, etc. Among the winners of our award are first deputies of governors, prefects. Later they were included in the President’s team of one hundred and then promoted to the federal level.”

Research Papers Competition for Youth Economic Growth of Russia

The competition is open to 9—11 grade students of general and profession-oriented schools, university students, research staff, PhD students and candidates from Russian universities and research institutes. The participants focus their creative research on studying and finding the solutions for the pressing issues of social development regarding the Russian regions and Russia as a whole, development projects, analysis of potential for legal framework improvement. Research papers of winners and runners-up are published in a special edition of the Transactions of the VEO of Russia. Many participants of the past competitions work at the regional units and the youth section of the Society.

Statistics shows that winners and runners-up of the competition are among the top students of their universities; they graduate from the best universities of Russia, develop their degree theses and obtain Candidate and Doctor degrees in economics. Since recently, the gala awards ceremony of the Russian National Research Papers Competition for the Youth Economic Growth of Russia has been held in the form of a scientific conference attended by the winners and runners-up, along with the leading Russian scientists, political figures and members of business community. Many papers spark a keen interest in the prominent experts.

Academician L.I. Abalkin used to say that the main prerequisite of progress is that every next generation should be even if a little bit smarter than its predecessors. “I believe that today, this condition is satisfied,” says the Chairman of the Applied Research Council of the VEO of Russia, Prorector for Research of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, corresponding member of the RAS Dmitry Evgenyevich Sorokin. “It is remarkable that the majority of award recipients are not from Moscow, not students of famous, prestigious universities, but they are young people from the regions of Russia. And that is one of the achievements of the Free Economic Society – it offers young people from remote regions an opportunity to explore their own abilities in research, receive feedback from the best Russian academic economists.”

Strategy Results

When in 2010 the results of the Strategy developed by German Gref’s team in 2000 were analyzed, it was found that only 36% of the measures incorporated in the strategy had been implemented, and only three out of ten strategic development goals had been accomplished. The GDP was nearly doubled, the level of poverty was reduced, and its per capita GDP now placed Russia among middle-income countries. “We have successfully improved the national credit status – in 2000 Russia had a massive external debt, and today we are among the countries with the lowest level of public debt,” Vedomosti wrote in June 2010. It was this newspaper that dubbed the past 10 years a “Kudrin’s decade,” after Alexei Kudrin who managed Russia’s super profits from oil wisely, retaining a sizeable portion in the budget reserve. German Gref, who by then had left his position as the head of the Ministry for Economic Development and became President of Sberbank of Russia, was rebuked for failing to diversify and rid the Russian economy of its energy dependence after 10 years. Nor was he successful in beating corruption, strengthening the independence of the judicial system, and ensuring uncompromising enforcement of the law.

Nevertheless, 36% of the only contemporary long-term national development program was implemented. It did fail to achieve the “formation of a culture of education, self-worth and independence of a person,” “formation and development of public institutions,” “efficiency enhancement in local governance,” but it was a real effort to set a common motion vector for development. “We did not pay enough attention to the governance reform and to the formation of the elite and managers who were supposed to be in charge of the reforms,” said G.O. Gref about the economic results of the 2000s. He admits that an essential section covering the government reform was excluded from the official text of Strategy 2000. That section only survived in the expert variant of the program.

The primary objectives of the Russian National Competition for Departments and Academic Programs in Economics and Management are:

  • to identify the best departments of economics in Russian universities through independent and comprehensive expert assessment of their performance;
  • to collect objective feedback on the quality of economy and management training at the competing departments, their alignment with the national and international standards of business education;
  • to summarize and spread the best practices of the leading departments of economics, including their practices in the integration of the academic and research processes, integration with practice, engagement of employers and business in the academic process and graduates’ quality assessment, development and commercialization of innovations, etc.;
  • to summarize and spread innovative educational technologies;
  • to spread the knowledge about the quality of training in economics and management offered by the best degree-granting departments among the general population, employers and professional communities;
  • to summarize and spread the best practices in educational institution management, enhancement of their competitive position in the Russian and international markets of education;
  • to integrate the Russian Higher School in the global educational space, to enhance the competitive position of Russian universities and the international employability of Russian university graduates.

Global Reformation of World Order

In December 2014 the VEO of Russia held the National Research and Practice Conference Global Reformation of World Order within the framework of the Research Section of its Society Board Plenum. President of the VEO of Russia G.Kh. Popov set the tone for the discussion by stressing that over the last 25 years, a variety of international organizations, such as the UN and OSCE, have been striving to establish a world order globally. But their efforts have been based on the operating principles of government bureaucracy and cannot serve the long-term interests of the humankind.

In the meantime, a great number of issues are soon to require global-scale solutions, including the global climate change, nuclear proliferation and use control, epidemic control, depletion of resources in the context of the accelerating population growth, development of science, culture, education, medicine and, to some extent, recreation and tourism.

Russia should be prepared and must participate in the formation of the new world order, first of all, with internal measures, but during its period of reforms, the country has accumulated an immense burden of problems that call for a balanced and comprehensive approach. Business should be encouraged to invest in the development of the economy and restore the strategic management system. “We will be creating a new economic way, developing new technologies, restoring and developing the processing industry and the real economy in general,” said member of the Presidium of the VEO of Russia, President of the Inter-Regional Public Organization Chamber of Tax Consultants, academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences D.G. Chernik.

The global community is beginning to understand the need for a conceptually new civilization, the speakers at the Conference noted. The Vice President of the VEO of Russia, Adviser to the President of Russia, academician S.Yu. Glaziev believes that the model should ideally be a combination of strategic planning and market self-organization. At the same time, in the model “the public interest sets certain limits to the free private enterprise, and the majority of expenses are associated with the reproduction of human capital assets.” That way, instead of a consumer society we will have a life quality society.

“In order to change our position in the world, we must work out a conceptually different economic development model,” agrees the Chief Economics of Vnesheconombank A.N. Klepach. “We can’t lose this battle, but we have not yet worked out an economic development model that would not let Russia get weaker, that would really help it grow stronger.”

In the new world, an active, talented, strong, intelligent person should be on the pedestal. Thinking about the future global world order, the President of the VEO of Russia G.Kh. Popov suggests that the emphasis in its development should be on the intellectual elite united through various public organizations. Only the intellectuals making decisions at the global level can act not for their own benefit, which is typical of bureaucracy, but for the benefit of many. And Russia can fill the niche of the global “intellectual assets foundry.”

Political Economy: Defining the Subject of Studies

Some scientists see political economy as a means for overcoming the global crisis, as it can encourage the people in power to give up on the concept of “market fundamentalism,” which is proving to be utterly insolvent, and to improve capitalism to such an extent that it can even be called socialism. Other scientists believe that it is impossible to overcome the capitalism crisis without overcoming capitalism itself, but they, too, center their hopes on political economy.

The Free Economic Society cannot remain on the sidelines of this discussion. While admitting the rational components of the economic theory, members of the Society suggest the entire structure of teaching economics at Russian universities be arranged in a way that would allow students to develop a comprehensive, systematic understanding of economy and the laws of its development in general.

“I see as much difference between political economy and economics as there is between an architect and a construction engineer,” says Head of the Political economy Sector of the Institute of Economics RAS, Doctor of Economics, Professor M.I. Voeykov. “A political economist is an architect who designs the building based on its purpose, based on the location, climate, traditions, national mentality, etc. And a construction engineer has to make the right calculations for the load of the bearing structures or run the service lines. We all know that architecture in this country died out during the mass-construction of standard-design five-storey buildings. It no longer had any use. If we only want to build standard-design five-storey buildings, then we don’t need architects, we don’t need political economy. But modern civil engineers, proponents of economics, now have their sights set high. They aspire to lay out the entire world order, which they cannot do because all they know is how to make calculations.”

“Today it is the job of political economy to provide the solutions for the biggest challenges of our time, to define the fundamentals of the strategy for social and economic development of the country,” says Vice President of the VEO of Russia, Director of the S.Yu. Vitte Institute of New Industrial Development S.D. Bodrunov. “And in that context, the biggest problem of the modern Russian economy is the industrial revival of the country, creation of high-technology material production integrated with the science and education – it’s not merely about selecting the most efficient industrial structure. It is about shaping a new economic system of Russia, which should be capable of driving technological modernization and industrial growth of the country from the inside.”

However, creation of a long-term development program for Russia and assessment of the opportunities and resources for reindustrialization are only possible after a comprehensive political and economic analysis that should provide theoretical justification for any practical measures taken to shape the new economic system and the new economic policy for Russia.

The ceremonial reception with the head of the Russian Imperial House Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna has been a momentous event for the VEO of Russia. The history of the Imperial Free Economic Society is intimately associated with the history of the Romanovs. The VEO owes its existence to Empress Catherine II, who was not only directing its activities, but was also providing financial support to its initiatives. At various times, the Society counted representatives of the royal family among its members – Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich Sr., Prince Peter of Oldenburg.

Its status as an Imperial Society emphasized the absolute priority of state interests in all economic projects discussed or proposed by it. Upon ascension, every successor of the founder of the Society Catherine the Great confirmed the privileged position of the Imperial VEO, its independence from influential individuals and officials in its analysis of the current social and economic situation in Russia and in its ideas for its improvement.

The Free Economic Society of Russia is a spiritual successor and heir to the traditions of the Imperial VEO, as enacted by the Ministry of Law of the Russian Federation. In its contemporary operations, the VEO of Russia relies on continuity of the best ideas and traditions of service to the Fatherland instilled by Catherine the Great, and remains one of the top civil society institution in the country, dedicating itself to public outreach and development of the applied economic idea.

In his welcome speech, the President of the Free Economic Society of Russia Gavriil Kharitonovich Popov expressed special gratitude to Her Imperial Highness for the great honor and her attention to the operations of the VEO of Russia. Her visit included a grand ceremony where some outstanding representatives of the Free Economic Society of Russia were awarded orders and medals of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov.

“Fortunately, the old, good traditions have become fashionable again,” said Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna in her address to the audience. “And it is up to us to carry them on, to the next generations. That is why today I am here, meeting the best representatives of the Free Economic Society of Russia. The great Empress Catherine II would probably be pleased to see her great-great…granddaughter continue to support her important undertaking. I would like to wish you a happy anniversary and may you find a way to help our country reach a stable level of development that would help every Russian through all the problems of today. God save you!”