"P. A. Stolypin: the Last Reformer of the Russian Empire". This is the title of a new book put out by the publishing house of Samara State University. The author of the monograph, Dr. Pyotr Kabytov, has delved into reams of archival documents,many of which are promulgated for the first time. He has perused numerous literary sources and eyewitness accounts about Pyotr Stolypin, an eminent Russian statesman, who, at the dawn of the 20th century, shouldered the burden of pulling this country out of crisis and turmoil on toward reform and progress.
Pyotr Stolypin has elicited attention from several generations of scholars and journalists since 1906 as he, quite unexpectedly at that, was appointed Russia's Minister for Internal Affairs. A most controversial figure even in our day and age exciting contradictory emotions and judgements, some of them poles apart - from the bathos of scathing criticism to the high pitch of superlatives. Dr. Kabytov, the author of the new study on Pyotr Stolypin, is quite objective and dispassionate in his inquiry and forthright, too.
Data on the origins of the Stolypin kin vary. Judging by the genealogical tree published in 2002 by the P. A. Stolypin Heritage Fund and the A. S. Pushkin Museum, the first mention of the Stolypin family name dates back to 1425. According to other sources, such evidence goes back to the late 16th century. We are more in the know about Pyotr Stolypin's ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries-men of the service class (the gentry, clerks and other persons bound by obligations of service, esp. military service, to the Russian state), many of whom made a brilliant career and climbed up to the upper crust of the nobility thanks to their connections, high cultural backgrounds and sound family traditions. By the maternal line of descent the Stolypins were related with the offspring of the famous Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov (1730 - 1800), the great poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1841); they had relations among the Gorchakov princes, and the Obolenskis, an influential clan of the nobility.
Pyotr Arkadievich Stolypin was born on the second of April, 1862, in Dresden, Germany. Soon after, their family moved to Vilno (today Vilnius, Lithuania) and then to Orel, a city in central Russia. In 1881 the bright young man graduated with honors from a local gymnasium, or grammar school. H is broad mind and forceful character won him great respect among the classmates. But, unlike many of the Stolypin gender, he was unable to embark on a career of the professional soldier because of a hand injury; instead, he entered the Natural (Physics and Mathematics) Department of St. Petersburg University.
The curriculum included chemistry, geology, botany, zoology and the agricultural science, the disciplines in which the future reformer of Russia's agriculture showed much interest. His graduation paper dealt with tobacco crops of Southern Russia. His daughter, Maria, recalled: he studied natural disciplines "with abandon". One of his examiners, she said, was the famed Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev, corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and the author of the Periodic Law. "Listening to the brilliant replies of my father, the great scientist was carried away - so much so that he started going ever deeper and deeper, and asking more questions, one after the other, questions on subjects not studied at the university and dealing with problems that puzzled scientists. All of a sudden, Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev remembered, 'O my, that will do, excellent, excellent!'" And gave Stolypin an A, or "five", a top grade in Russia...
In 1884, before his graduation, the capable student got a job at the Ministry for Internal Affairs. It was a key governmental office that controlled the activities of provincial governors and institutions, local government assemblies, too. However, Pyotr Stolypin filed a solicitation begging for a transfer to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Industry at the Ministry of State-owned Estates. Once there the young civil servant could see at first hand the patchwork guilt of the economy in our vast country with its climatic and soil differences, and differences in the mode of life and culture of so many indigenous tribes and nationalities. Trying to gain a deeper understanding of the complicated and contradictory laws of agrarian capitalism still at the incipient stage in Russia, Stolypin began reading up on the matter, including works of the eminent economists of the day, such as Professors Alexander Skvortsov, Alexei Fortunatov and Ivan Stebut, who came to influence his world outlook.
In 1889 Stolypin made a sudden decision and returned to the Ministry for Internal Affairs. He served as marshal of the nobility first at the district and then at the provincial level at Kowno (now Kaunas, Lithuania), the stepping-stones of his subsequent carrier as a government officer. Brimming with energy, he showed his paces and, as his daughter Maria recalled, "would always invent something new... The idea of an agricultural society... was his brainchild" visualized as a body providing agronomical assistance to the rural population and organizing versatile activities toward modernization.
The enterprising marshal of the nobility gained prestige and authority among local folks. And he gained some experience in managerial skills by getting to know the performance of consolidated farmsteads still alien to the majority of the Lithuanian peasantry in the 1870s. Besides, throughout the 13 years of his stint at Kowno Stolypin was never tired of self-education - he improved his mind by private, independent studies of law, finances, social insurance and agriculture, first and foremost. Next, Stolypin was promoted - he became governor of Grodno (today the Republic of Belarus) and then of Saratov.
As a landowner Stolypin had several estates in his possession. He displayed broad erudition and competence in problem solving, and learned from his land-owning neighbors by way of experience. He was never shy of consulting can-do stewards as well. He could have hardly coped without such aides: the family estates inherited from parents lay too far apart in different provinces.
Proficient in his husbandry, Stolypin married venerable tradition and innovation so as to keep farm production going with an eye to natural conditions and geography. His incomes kept growing from year to year, with enterprises of his tenants making a contribution, too. One of them, a Kolchurin, built a match-making factory. Stolypin was full of admiration on visiting this enterprise. "This is a town in its own right... he [the tenant] had put up a house for himself and is living on factory grounds. In his laboratory he makes a mixture for match-heads with his own hands... A new, strong and go-ahead Russia is rising!"
As shown by his correspondence, Stolypin was a tender husband and family man. Falling in love with Olga Borisovna, his destined bride, still in his salad days, he never
wavered in his faithfulness during the many years of their marriage. Even a brief absence from his wife on business made him feel sick at heart. On such leaves he wrote to his consort, and her reply letters cheered and pepped him up. As a father of six children (five daughters and a son) Stolypin showed a loving care for them and spared neither money nor efforts to keep them in good health and well-educated; he was good at household husbandry, too.
Appointed as governor of the Saratov Province, Stolypin arrived there in November 1905. A special envoy met him at the railway station and broke sad news: Anastasia Bitsenko, a female terrorist, had shot dead General Sakharov dispatched by Emperor Nikolai 11 "for an inquiry into disorders in the province". Those were the fitful days of revolutionary turmoil and anarchy that swept all of Russia. Pyotr Stolypin acted firmly to restore order. To begin with, he tried to establish contact between the authorities and the community, and win over to his side intellectuals from the liberal intelligentsia. Meeting with leaders of the opposition, he tried to caution them against the ruinous consequences of radicalism. But when his words had no effect, he resorted to reprisals - dismissals, arrests and banishments. Hence the hatred from the left-wingers (according to some biographers, as many as 18 attempts on his life were made).
Facing danger, Stolypin showed the best of his courage and sang-froid. His daughter recalled: "A man standing next to him pulled out a revolver and pointed it at him. My father, looking him straight in the face, threw open his coat and... said, 'Go ahead!' The culprit lowered his hand, dropping the revolver to the ground." This incident is no exception, not at all. Stolypin was a good mind reader: he understood the psychology of a mob and an individual alike, a feature that helped him to handle crowds at rallies and cool hotdeads.
In April 1906 came a new appointment: Emperor Nikolai II (Nicholas II) appointed Stolypin Minister for Internal Affairs. In many ways it was an extraordinary decision to appoint a provincial governor to a key government post. There was much rumor and hearsay: nepotism, high connections and all that. The truth of the matter is that the Czar knew him in person as a high-principled man of lofty integrity, outspoken and straightforward. Such was the motive. Stolypin came to be an acceptable figure for the country's appeasement and a course of liberal reforms.
Three months after came another surprise appointment - as prime-minister (the official title: Chairman of the Council of Ministers). This is how Stolypin described his new position in a letter to Leo Tolstoy: "I was brought upwards on the crest of the wave - for just one moment, apparently! I want to use this moment to the best of my abilities, mind and feelings for the people's good, for the good of my country that I love, the way they loved her in old days." The Czarine Dowager, Maria Fyodorovna, supported Stolypin who, in his fortitude, put her in mind of her late spouse, Emperor Alexander III (reigned in 1881 to 1894).
The first move of the newly appointed premier was an attempt to form a coalition government representing a cross section of political forces. But this attempt was dashed: public figures of the day refused to go along. Thus, the leaders of the Constitutional Democrats (CADETS) had an axe to grind but overplayed their hand in attempts to set up a government of their own. Other public personalities whom Stolypin invited to share power likewise demurred for fear of forfeiting their prestige and influence.
Addressing the Second State Duma (lower house of the State Assembly)* that opened on 20th February 1907, Premier Stolypin tried to strike up a dialogue with deputies as government partners. He worked out a reform package, "Renovated Russia", aimed at speeding up the modernization of political processes in this country and ultimately, evolution of its body politic from an autocracy to a constitutional monarchy. Simultaneously, Stolypin initiated the edition of important decrees on a new deal in agrarian policies - the issue brooked no delay.
The reformist deal of the government head incorporated a complex of proposals advanced previously. This is how Stolypin outlined his stand on the agrarian issue to the State Duma: "What we need is not a disorderly distribution of land, and pacification of riot by give-aways - riot is quenched by force; what we need is a recognition of the inviolability of private ownership and, as a sequel to that, institution of small personal ownership, and a real right of leaving the commune." Stolypin meant the village commune of peasants traditionally wielding great influence in the countryside. On
* See: O. Bazanova, "At the Source of Russian Democracy", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2005. - Ed.
this point Russian landlords upheld the policy course suggested by Stolypin, for it enabled them to retain their landed estates, eroded the village commune and prepared the ground for farmsteads owned by peasant farmers no longer hamstrung by the commune and its collective guarantee.
In addition, the "Renovated Russia" program provided for reforms in local administration, courts of law and district self-government; such reforms were an important part of the agrarian legislation. Landlords were to be stripped of their administrative powers which were to be exercised by government-appointed civil officers; economic and managerial responsibilities were to be vested with councils and assemblies elected by local residents regardless of their social or property qualifications. On this point, however, the landed nobility was naturally hostile to such innovations and did their utmost to frustrate them. Negative sentiments rebounded on Stolypin the premier, too.
He was a hard-liner what concerned revolutionaries and terrorists, and opted for harsh measures. Stolypin fumed up in his resolve after an explosion on his summer estate near St. Petersburg in August 1906 that carried off 28 lives and injured 24. One of his daughters, Natalia, was among the casualties (she had several surgical operations afterwards), and his only son, Arkady, too. Yet Pyotr Stolypin did not interrupt his work not for a day - quite the contrary, he showed more vigor and determination in steering his line. According to many of his subordinates, Stolypin's prestige at His Majesty's court increased still more, and "he became an example of moral vim to all of us."
Meanwhile the government head could see it for himself that radical mass-meeting moods were getting the upper hand among the Second State Duma deputies. Failing in his attempts to enlist them in creative work, Stolypin drafted a manifesto on the dissolution of the Duma and filed provisions for an early election to a Third State Duma; in fact it was a new electoral law. Many historians here and abroad view these moves as a coup. But Dr. Kabytov, the author of the Stolypin monograph, begs to differ in regarding the above
steps as a prelude to a transition to a progressive political system with checks and balances for the supreme power (Czar), parliament (Duma) and the Council of Ministers (government).
In 1908 the new, Third, Duma opened discussions on the ukase of 1906 (that allowed every member of the village commune to acquire title to the strips of communal land to which he had a right and to consolidate such strips into a contiguous holding in a farmstead). The new course known as the Stolypin Land Reform was set in motion between November, 1906, and May, 1911. The aim of this obvious reversal of the previous government policy was twofold: to eliminate the village commune as an obstacle to agricultural progress; and to create in Russia an economically healthy class of small farmers-known as kulaks - who would act as a bulwark against every form of extremism and make the land reform process irreversible. Such innovations modernized traditional land ownership and adjusted it to capitalist relations; on the other hand, they largely catered to the interests of landlords and kulaks. Their number was rapidly on the rise, and local agronomy was making good progress: for one, agriculture shifted to a crop-rotation system involving seven or eight fields. As a result, the productivity of grain crops went up. These and other factors laid a solid groundwork for an updated farm industry in Russia between 1906 and 1914.
But ultimate success depended on many conditions, first and foremost, on the Emperor's support. He hoped that the new electoral law would consolidate absolute monarchy and that the State Duma would be a cat's paw in implementing his orders and injunctions. The Czar was outraged when deputies, contrary to Stolypin's assurances about their loyalty to the Crown, put the sovereign's historical title of autocrat to the vote, his powers sealed by the legislation of 1906. Nikolai II grew cool towards his favorite in the course of Duma debates encroaching on the monarch's prerogatives. Even though the premier still showed much fortitude in defending His Majesty's interests, the monarch blamed the "liberal" attitudes of the representative organ on Stolypin.
Nikolai II eyed with jealousy the rowing popularity of Stolypin in government quarters, in the State Duma and among society at large, eclipsing the image of the "anointed sovereign" himself. The Czar would side with the reformer's opponents ever more often. Things came to a head during the government crisis of 1909 touched off by an intrigue instigated by Pyotr Durnovo, the right-wing leader in the State Council (upper chamber of the State Assembly, versus the Duma, the lower chamber) and Count Sergei Witte*, a former premier, against Stolypin. To add insult to injury, Stolypin was dead set against the court minion Grigori Rasputin who had ingratiated himself with the Czar's family as a quack "seer" and "healer". Stolypin ordered to chase Rasputin out of the capital city, St. Petersburg.
The monarch's "cooling" towards Stolypin undercut his prestige as head of the government and had a negative effect on the political consolidation process. The line-up offerees within the Duma, too, was counterproductive to the work of the government and further reforms. The constitutional crisis of the spring of 1911 ended in an actual break between Nikolai II and Stolypin. It was all over. Making tours of the country, Stolypin tried hard to repair his guns and endear people to his cause by more openness. But all in vain...
Ill-wishers in political quarters and in the press unleashed a smear campaign against the premier and wrote him off as a lame duck. That foreshadowed the end as Bogrov, a secrete police agent, shot at Stolypin on a visit to Kiev, inflicting a mortal wound (1911). Vassily Rozanov, an eminent Russian prose writer and philosopher, went to Kiev to attend the funeral. He summed up his feelings in these words: "Stolypin was immaculate: not a single blot on his escutcheon. Something awfully rare and hard for a political personality." No champions measuring up to his stature stayed in the monarchy's field any more. The sands were ainning out. The countdown had begun.
* See: S. Pshirkov, "Dedicated Patriot and Reformer", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000. - Ed.
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