Libmonster ID: U.S.-744

The article examines one of the key problems of Russian history - the time of the rise and development of bourgeois relations in the country. This problem is now the subject of discussion by Soviet historians.

Drawing on the materials and conclusions set forth in the recently published work by the Smolensk historian D. P. Makovsky entitled "The Development of Money-Commodity Relations in the Agriculture of the Russian State in the 16th Century," the author maintains that the turn to capitalism in the social and economic development of Russia took place already in the 16th century. The article cites interesting facts on the development of Russian towns, money circulation, 16th century home and foreign trade, the impact of the "revolution of prices" on Russia and the mercantile policy pursued by Ivan the Terrible. All these facts, in the author's opinion, were by no means exceptional or accidental; they signified the initial stage in the process of disintegration of feudalism and fully harmonized with similar processes taking place at that time in the countries of Western Europe.

Contending the opinion that the relations of production at patrimonial and possessional manufactures continued to remain feudal in character, the author holds that any manufacture is the product of bourgeois development. Hence, he does not share the view that the appearance of the first manufactures employing wage or serf labour is the most important sign of the initial disintegration of feudal relationships. The process of disintegration, in his opinion, began earlier in the sphere of agriculture with the extension of its output for the market.

The article devotes considerable attention to the problem of disintegration of the basic natural economy elements in the countryside of feudal Russia. The author believes that the process of transition from duty in kind to money in mid - 16th century led to the extension of peasant trade in farm products, to the ruination of one section of the peasantry and enrichment of another. The social stratification process in the Russian countryside, according to the author, already reached a very considerable degree in the 16th century. With the rise in grain prices the landowners began to realize the benefits and advantages of commercial farming and extended their crop areas at the expense of the peasant plots. This tended to increase the number of the ruined peasants who fled from their masters and swelled the army of people deprived of the means of production and forced to sell their labour power. In this connection the author draws a parallel between the 16th-century agrarian crisis in Russia and the "agricultural revolution" at the turn of the 16th century in England, which ushered in a new era in the development of that country.

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Those historians who reject the view that the 16th century marked a turning point in the social-economic development of Russia usually refer to the institution and protracted existence of serfdom in the country. In the author's opinion, the peasants' gratuitous labour on the landed estates of their masters in conditions of developing commodity production at the end of the 16th and in the 17th centuries merely served the enterprising interests of the feudals. Thus, serfdom only retarded the process of disintegration of feudalism and hampered the development of commodity production, which resulted in a substantial contraction of markets. The author confirms the conclusion of D. P. Makovsky's by analyzing the budget revenue of the Russian State for 1580's and 1680. The author's calculations enable him to draw the conclusion that in the hundred-year period referred to above the revenue derived from the peasant economy dropped nearly 2.5 times.

According to the author's estimates, in the 16th century the peasants had to sell more than 40 per cent of the total grain harvest to pay their quit-rent and taxes, which is a very high marketability rate. Serf labour and corvee undoubtedly served to reduce the amount of farm produce grown for the market as well as the volume of trade between town and country, which is clearly evidenced by a decrease in the sum of customs duties collected throughout the country. The author's calculations show that between 1580 and 1680 the volume of trade in Russia declined by approximately 67 per cent.

The changes that occurred in Russia in the 16th century affected every aspect of national life. It was at that period, too, that wage labour began to be employed extensively, especially in construction. The author cites a graphic example by analyzing the estimate for the construction of the Smolensk Fortress at the close of the 16th century.

The growth of money-commodity relations, disintegration of the basic natural economy elements in agriculture, the appearance on the market of labour power deprived of the instruments and means of production, accumulation of big capitals in trade and the handicraft production, the emergence of isolated and even centralized manufactures-all this testifies to the birth of new, capitalist relations in Russia already in the 16th century. Criticizing those who fail to notice the existence of such relations in 17th- and 18th-century manufactures employing compulsory labour, inasmuch as labour power there did not become a commodity, the author of the article writes that labour power became a commodity already in the 16th century, i.e., prior to the institution of serfdom. The regime established at patrimonial and possessional manufactures was nothing short of hard labour, but the factory-owners were compelled to remunerate the labour of their workers who were deprived of the means of production. Unable to exploit the labour of their workers without the investment of constant and variable capital, the factory-owners were gradually becoming capitalists. The existence of the feudal shell in which these new relations were developing, the author writes in conclusion, gives rise to different opinions concerning the sum and substance of these relations. However, the divergence of opinions on this issue is gradually diminishing in proportion with the progress of research devoted to the genesis of capitalism in Russia.


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S. G. STRUMILIN. Concerning the Genesis of Capitalism in Russia // New-York: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 20.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 04.03.2024).


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