The Russian fiscal state, 1600-1914 Peter Gatrell School of Arts, Histories and Cultures University of Manchester Second version: 9 July 2008 (8,900 words approx excluding Bibliography but including footnotes)
 
 2
Introduction
 The Russian revolution of February 1917 brought to an end more than three centuries of rule by the Romanov dynasty. However, the abrupt and ignominious collapse of the imperial polity should not obscure the fact that successive Tsars along with state officials and the military enlarged the Russian empire and simultaneously maintained a tight grip on its inhabitants for a prolonged period. How they did so is a question that has important implications for the student of fiscal states. At the same time, the tsarist economy developed only fitfully and fell behind its economically more developed rivals on the European continent. With some intermissions
 – 
 notably the  periods of rapid growth in the early eighteenth century and during the last two decades of the nineteenth century
 – 
 Romanov Russia survived rather than thrived. Russia
’s rulers
 did not succeed in overcoming the fundamental elements of economic  backwardness, and poverty in turn limited the fiscal capability of the tsarist state. The formation and operation of the fiscal system can only be fully understood in the context of the prevailing institutional framework. The Russian empire was governed according to autocratic principles that remained in place for much of the  period. Prior to the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613, the Tsars of Muscovy (Ivan III,
Vasilii III and Ivan IV, ‘the Terrible’) ruled with an iron fist
,  believing themselves accountable to no-one except God. This absolutist tradition  proved durable.
1
 No form of parliamentary scrutiny of government, including its financial operations, emerged until after the revolution of 1905-06 and even then government ministers were accountable only to the Tsar. Property rights remained limited. Elected local councils (
 zemstvos
) and municipal authorities were established after 1860. They had the right to raise revenue, primarily in order to fund primary education and basic health services. But their relationship with central government remained frosty.
2
 
Russia’s
 entire social and political system
was ‘honeycombed with privilege’
.
3
 The subjects of the Tsar belonged by birth to one of several estates or divisions (
 sosloviia
), each of which owed obligations in return for
the Tsar’
s protection. The fundamental concept of ascription to an estate and to state service underpinned the entire political system from 1700 to 1917 and bound the different groups together. The premier estate was the nobility (
dvorianstvo
). Peter the Great (who ruled between 1682 and 1725) required male members of the nobility to serve the state. Catherine II (1762-96) revoked this formal obligation at the start of her reign. The nobility enjoyed important legal and economic privileges in return, notably the right to own serfs as well as land, and the decree of 1762 enabled many of them to devote more time to their landed estates. The other
 sosloviia
 were no less constrained by official regulation. Merchants, for example, were sub-divided into different categories which determined the nature and extent of the business that they were entitled to conduct under license
1
 Maureen Perrie (ed.),
The Cambridge history of Russia. Volume 1, from e
arly Rus’
to 1689
 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
2
 Terence Emmons and Wayne Vucinich (eds.),
The Zemstvo in Russia: an experiment in local self-government 
 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). On  property rights see Olga Crisp and Linda Edmondson (eds.),
Civil rights in imperial  Russia
 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
3
 I take this apposite phrase from Rogers Brubaker,
Citizenship and nationhood in  France and Germany
 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 35.
 
 3 from the government. Artisans constituted the lowest stratum of the urban tax-paying  population.
4
 These arrangements affected the peasantry with particular intensity. For economic as well as administrative purposes, peasants were grouped into two main categories of service, state peasants and seigniorial peasants (serfs), with the remainder dependent upon either the Church or the royal household. State peasants worked primarily on forest land belonging to the state and discharged their obligations in cash and/or in kind. From the fourteenth century onwards peasants were gradually tied to the land and became the property of private nobles to whom they owed service that took the form of labour on the estate and/or a cash payment or quitrent (
obrok 
). The Law Code (
Ulozhenie
) of 1649 formally removed from peasants the last vestiges of their right to move. Even after the emancipation of the seigniorial peasantry in 1861 most serfs did not escape a continued dependence on their erstwhile masters; at the same time the state purchased their freedom in return for levying annual redemption payments. All male peasants, including those working on Church and Crown lands, were liable to pay the poll tax, which was introduced in 1724 and not abolished until 1887; no other social estate faced this obligation.
5
 I examine this issue in further detail later on. Furthermore, peasants were regularly expected to make extraordinary contributions in kind to help cover the costs of military expeditions or construction work. In return they might expect some assistance in times of dire need, as well as some state protection against the more extreme forms of exploitation. The social and political subordination of the serfs provoked intermittent peasant unrest, notably the Cossack revolt led by Stenka Razin in 1670 and the famous Pugachev revolt in 1773-74, inspired in part by the burden of taxation and more generally by the compelling vision of freedom. Nor did the abolition of serfdom bring protest to an end, as the events of 1905-06 demonstrated. The suppression of these disturbances imposed an additional cost upon the Treasury.
6
 
Russia’s natural environment provided the context for t
he creation and extraction of resources by and for the state and the landlords. Much of the empire comprised inhospitable terrain that was not conducive to productive economic activity.  Natural waterways were frozen for months at a time, and the course of its rivers made it difficult to move people and products from east to west. Furthermore, Russia was  periodically afflicted by natural disasters, notably harvest failures, which required  budgetary resources to deal with the consequences. Throughout the period under consideration Russia was a predominantly agrarian economy. This is not to dispute the establishment and durability of long distance trade in furs, forest products, metal wares and some luxury items, nor is to overlook the existence of handicraft activity and the growth of organised manufacturing which brought great wealth to a handful
4
 Dominic Lieven (ed.),
The Cambridge history of Russia. Volume 2, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 
 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
5
 
 N. I. Anan”ich, ‘K istorii otmeny podushnoi podati v Rossii’,
 Istoricheskie zapiski
 94 (1974), 183-212.
6
 
Maureen Perrie, ‘Popular revolts’, in P
errie (ed.)
Cambridge history of Russia
, pp. 600-17; David Moon,
The Russian peasantry 1600-1930: the world the peasants made
 (London: Longman, 1999), pp. 94-7. In practice it is difficult to distinguish the costs of suppressing the revolution from the costs of the war against Japan in 1904-
1905. Both fell into the category of ‘extraordinary expenditures’
. See Peter Gatrell,
The last argument of tsarism: government, rearmament and industry in Russia 1900-1914
 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 92.
 
 4 of merchants and serf owners. All the same, the bedrock of economic activity was subsistence farming in the peasant household, clusters of which formed the land commune. The peasant household and the land commune developed under serfdom and persisted long after emancipation. Together they formed the centrepiece of the system whereby the tsarist state and Russian landlords extracted resources from the  peasant population. The traditional three-field strip system predominated. Cereal monoculture remained the norm. Peasant farmers struggled with primitive farm tools, and modest numbers of draft animals meant a relative dearth of animate power and a shortage of fertiliser. The problems of low-productivity agriculture were regularly addressed by contemporary economists and government officials without being resolved
to anyone’s satisfaction
.
7
 
Imperial rule, territorial aggrandisement and financial administration
We can break this topic down into various components. One is the extension of imperial rule and the consequences for the fiscal system and for resource extraction. Another is the relative paucity of officials who could exercise administrative control over the tax-paying population; this created a vicious circle, in so far as a lack of revenue hindered the expansion of the bureaucracy. A related issue is the political dynamic that emerged in the form of rivalry between the central state and the landowning (serf owning) nobility and between central and local government,  particularly following the Great Reforms of the 1860s. Following its prolonged and costly territorial consolidation under the rule of the Muscovite Tsars, whose authority was variously challenged by foreign powers such as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, the Russian empire expanded to Ukraine in the south and Siberia and central Asia in the east. (This had the incidental but important consequence that serfs found it progressively more difficult to escape the jurisdiction of serf owning nobility.) The impact of this aggrandisement on the size of the population under tsarist jurisdiction is outlined in Table 1.
Table 1 Population of the Russian Empire (millions)
 
Census (‘revision’)
date Original territory Annexed territory Total population 1722 13 - 13 1762 19 - 19 1815 30.5 14.5 45 1859 45 29 74 1897 65 64 129 Source: P. I. Lyashchenko,
 History of the National Economy of Russia to the 1917  Revolution
 (New York: Macmillan, 1949), p. 273.
7
 A. V. Dulov,
Geograficheskaia sreda i istoriia Rossii konets XV
 – 
 seredina XIXv.
 (Moscow: Nauka, 1983); Arcadius Kahan,
 Russian economic history: the nineteenth century
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989), pp. 108-43; Esther Kingston-Mann,
 In search of the true west: culture, economics, and problems of development
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).
 
 5 How imperial expansion affected the financial condition of the empire
 – 
 its access to new resources but also new responsibilities
 – 
 is something that cannot be  passed over. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the story of Romanov Russia was largely one of uninterrupted expansion and growing military  prowess. Although Peter the Great suffered defeat at the hands of Turkey in 1711, his strategic brilliance led to victory over the Swedish king Charles XII at the battle of Poltava in 1709 and secured Russian supremacy in the Baltic.
8
 For more than a
century afterwards, Russia’s
 rulers enjoyed the fruits of his success, the only sour note
 being Russia’s failure to defeat Napoleon during the War 
 of the Third Coalition (1805-07). Catherine the Great mounted a successful campaign against Turkey in 1768-74 and participated in the dismemberment of Poland. However, the story of diplomatic and military triumph came to an end with the disastrous Crimean War of 1854-
56, which dramatically exposed Russia’s military shortcomings in the contest
with Britain and France. This defeat contributed to the decision by Tsar Alexander II to embark on a major programme of political, administrative, educational, financial and military reforms. Worse was to follow when Russia embarked on a costly adventure in the Far East, when the Russo-Japanese War culminated in defeat and
humiliation. Russia’s Great Power status was further dented by the experience of the
First World War, which finally brought the curtain down on three hundred years of tsarist rule. It is against the background of more or less continuous territorial aggrandisement and search for influence in continental Europe, Central Asia and the Far East that we must locate the attempt to secure the human, material and financial resources to underpin geo-political ambitions. These were expressed in an increasing commitment to military strength, in particular to the land forces. The size of the regular army increased from 200,000 in 1720 to 240,000 in 1740, and from 345,000 in 1756 to 450,000 at the end of the century.
9
 Supplying the army as well as the navy with sufficient weaponry, uniforms, horses and foodstuffs posed relatively few  problems until the mid-
nineteenth century. This was partly thanks to Russia’s
metallurgical enterprises in the Urals and growing woollen textiles industry, and  partly the result of devolving responsibility for the manufacture of basic goods such as boots and uniforms to the rank and file. The main costs to the Treasury were those of providing a large army with food, uniforms and fodder, although in practice Russian soldiers often had to fend for themselves. The advent of new weapons technology towards the end of the nineteenth century did not fundamentally modify this picture, although of course the size of the total military budget did increase dramatically. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the proportion of total military expenditure devoted to naval armament began to increase. But the basic element remained the size of the standing army, which grew to 1.12 million in 1850 and stayed at that level until 1900, a function primarily of poor transportation, which
required troops to be stationed along Russia’s extensive land frontiers instead of being
concentrated in the heartland and despatched to the frontier as and when necessary. Indeed, the poor quality of Russian communications created insurmountable problems
8
 William C. Fuller,
Strategy and power in Russia, 1600-1914
 (New York: The Free Press, 1992), pp. 71-84.
9
 Walter M.
Pintner, ‘The bur 
den of defense in imperial Russia, 1725-
1914’,
 Russian  Review
 43 (1984), 231-59 (here pp. 246-7).
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