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In the early 19th century Russia was still a typical pre-modern society. A century later it had been transformed. The main changes that effected the Russian community took place in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Although the country was prospering in terms of economy, 80 per cent of the population were classified as peasant who lived in small farming villages that were using primitive farming methods. At the beginning of the 20th century, half the Russian population was illerate.
This may have been due to the fact that until the 1860’s the peasants had not been set free, although the Emancipation Act was attempting to correct this, not much had changed. Industrial growth after the abolition of serfdom did not really help progress the economy. One school of thought expected that the abolition of serfdom would create a spontaneous upsurge in industrialisation. The Emancipation act did nothing to stimulate a sudden upsurge in industrialisation, but it did not entirely block economic progress either.
Though the size of peasant allotments did remain roughly equal, the amounts they actually farmed did not, because poorer households, with insufficient labour or livestock to farm their own allotments, rented them to wealthier peasants who could farm extra land. Industrial production did not grow rapidly, and by the 1900 Russia had a well-established base for further industrial development and an extensive railway network. The record for the agricultural sector was unimpressive, even though agriculture remained by far the largest sector of the economy. Growth was thus rapid but unbalanced.
While industry expanded, the living conditions of large sections of the peasantry declined. Industrial development was therefore felt for the most part as a decline rather then a rise in material living standards. The problem for most people was how to cope with deteriorating economic conditions. The increased tax burden was combined with growing land shortage. Between 1860 and 1900 the average allotment per male peasant had declined about 46 per cent. At the same time, a growing number of poor peasants did not have the livestock necessary to work and manure their land.
Declining land holdings and rising taxes had a profound effect on the peasantry. They meant the peasants who in the past had been able to support themselves mainly from the land, now had to adopt one of two strategies, either sell their grain for cash, or seek monetary incomes/wages. Russian industrial development favoured not the manufacture of consumer goods, but that of producer goods such as iron. In other words it did little to increase the availability or cheapness of consumer goods or increase material living standards.
On the contrary, it affected people above all through an increase in the taxation necessary to pay for industrial development. Although the country was prospering in terms of economy, eighty per cent of the population were classified as peasant who lived in small farming villages that were using primitive farming methods. At the beginning of the 20th century, half of the Russian population was illiterate. This may have been due to the fact that until the 1860’s the peasants had not been se free, although the Emancipation Act was attempting to correct this, not much had changed.