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"Куда идет мир? Каково будущее науки? Как "объять необъятное", получая образование - высшее, среднее, начальное? Как преодолеть "пропасть двух культур" - естественнонаучной и гуманитарной? Как создать и вырастить научную школу? Какова структура нашего познания? Как управлять риском? Можно ли с единой точки зрения взглянуть на проблемы математики и экономики, физики и психологии, компьютерных наук и географии, техники и философии?"

Boris N. Mironov

Westernization that started in Russia since the early eighteenth century was one of the impelling causes of the nobles’ desire to increase their income required for leading a luxurious life in European style. This desire was stirred up by a favourable economic situation which formed in Russia as a result of the price revolution. In 1700-1799 the general level of prices, in silver, rose 5 times, grain prices – 5.7 times (including in 1760-1799 – 2.7 times). The phenomenal price rise had no connection either with economic depression or with the overpopulation. It was caused by the fact that Russian prices which in the early eighteenth century were approximately 7 times lower then West-European ones during the eighteenth century were evening up with the European prices owing to Russia’s entry to the European market as an important supplier of primary commodities, first of all grain, hemp, flax, furs, but also iron. As compared with 1690-1699 by 1726 foreign-trade turnovers in silver rose 2.5 times and by 1791-1800 – 26.5 times. The role of foreign trade in country’s general turnover rose. In 1724 nearly 25 per cent of the country’s aggregate commodity mass passed through it and in 1800 – 41 per cent. Russian prices’ catching up with the European prices and the rapid growth of Russian exports of agricultural produce which started in the 1760s after the declaration of freedom for grain exports (before that time grain exports were limited and depended upon the price level) created an extremely favourable economic situation first of all for landlords. In pursuit of money everywhere, where it was possible they expanded the area under cultivation, increased corvee to satisfy their requirements for manpower, and where it was unprofitable to expand cultivation they increased quitrent for their peasants forcing them to expand crop area or to engage themselves in non-agricultural trades.

Landlord peasantry (7,057 thousand of both sexes in 1719 or 51.5% of all population and) were the common source of income for landlords and the state. Naturally they competed for a greater share of the income. Under Peter I a compromise was found – the income was shared equally. Peter’s I successors, however, became strongly dependent on the nobles and gradually almost completely let them misappropriate the state’s share. It happened due to the fact that increase in the landlord rent, as a rule, outran rise in grain prices and increase in taxes lagged behind rise in prices. The share of income from landlord peasants acquired by the state was gradually falling form 50 per cent to 12.1 per cent:

1720–29 1730–39 1740–49 1750–59 1760–69 1770–79 1780–89 1790–99
50% 43.8% 36.8% 30.4% 25.9% 16.6% 12.3% 12.1%

As a result the state budget lost enormous funds which were misappropriated by landlords and spent on their personal whims (see Table 8).

Table 8. Losses to the State Treasury from the Gap between the Increase in the Poll Tax and Grain Prices, 1725-1800


Number of Years

Number of Seigniorial Serfs (’000)

Annual Poll-tax Levied (roubles, ’000)

Amount Received by Treasury (roubles, ’000)

Index of Nominal Prices (1701–1725=100)

Losses to State from Price Rise (roubles, ’000)*















































* The direct taxes received by the state treasury are depreciated in proportion to the rise in prices.

The nobility also laid claim to state-owned and former church peasants. And here too, the empresses made concessions transferring nearly 1 million of the state-owned peasants to the possession of landlords. This brought considerable losses to the treasury as rent slipped away from the treasury into the pockets of landlords. The nobility’s longing for former church peasants (1,626 thousand of both sexes in 1719 and 2,610 thousand in 1795) was rejected and income from them allowed the government to patch up holes in the state budget.

Let us summarise

The eighteenth century is noted for the fall in the biological level of living of 98 per cent of the Russian population since the share of the nobles whose stature was likely to increase comprised 2 per cent of the population. Possibly the conditions of the clergy (1.5 per cent of the entire population) were better than our information about those drafted into the Army shows since, as a rule, they recruited people from among the pauperised part of the clergy, people who lost their job and had no prospects to get it. Finally, it is unlikely that the biological status of the small section of entrepreneurs (their share in the country’s population was less than 0.1 per cent) decreased. All privileged layers totalled not more than 3.5 per cent of the population. Consequently the biological status of the remaining 96.5 per cent of inhabitants decreased. The biological status took a turn for the worse twice: in 1700-1724 when the stature of recruits decreased by 2.1 cm and in 1745-1799 when it decreased by 5.1 cm. These periods were separated by two relatively favourable decades when the biological level of living reverted to the initial level of 1700-1704. From 1700-1704 to 1795-1799 the average stature of recruits decreased from 164.7 to 159.5 cm or by 5.2 cm. However paradoxical it is the decrease in the biological status occurred against the background of a considerable economic growth and was caused not by economic depression but by the rise in taxes and obligations which deteriorated the material conditions of common people and made them work longer and more intensively. Increase in payments to the state was linked with the wars Russia waged for the outlet to the Baltic and Black seas, for the status of a great power and with reforms carried out by the supreme power to do away with the lagging behind the West-European countries. The increase in obligations in favour of landlords was caused by their desire to have means for a comfortable and wasteful life. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century the surplus value created by landlord peasants, and they comprised more than half of the total country’s population, was equally divided between the state and landlords. But gradually it became almost an exclusive property of landlords who at the end of the eighteenth century usurped 88 per cent of its volume. It can be said that after the death of Peter I the nobles, and to be exact 70 thousand landlords, privatised 57 per cent of the country’s population. If two empresses, Elizaveta Petrovna and Catherine II could have resisted this and had preserved the state’s 50 per cent share of the surplus value created by the labour of landlord peasants these means would have been sufficient both for all the measures taken to modernise the country and for the pursuit of an active foreign policy without serious detriment to the well-being of the people. Under Peter I the burden of war and modernisation was distributed evenly among all social classes, national income met the requirements of the whole society and owing to this the decline in the well-being was minimised. Under Elizaveta and Catherine II all expenses were shifted on to the people’s shoulders, the people’s interests were sacrificed to the nobility elite which appropriated the results of the economic growth and modernisation. In consequences of this the well-being of the population also suffered a great damage – under the rule of the two empresses the biological level of living of broad masses fell 2.6 times greater than under Peter I.

In the 1740s Russian recruits were approximately of the same height as British soldiers (164.7 cm) but were shorter than American (173 cm), Austro-Hangarian (171.4 cm), Swedish (168.5 cm) and possibly German, French and Italian if their height is judged by those who served in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In the second half of the eighteenth century everywhere in Europe the stature of recruits decreased but in variable degrees: in Austro-Hungary by 4.3 cm, in Britain by 2.5 cm, in Sweden by 2 cm. Only American soldiers preserved their former high stature. As in the eighteenth century in most European countries during recruitment there existed minimum height and age standards similar to Russian ones the information on the stature of recruits is sufficiently comparable. Thus, in the eighteenth century in terms of decrease in the biological level of living Russia kept pace with Europe next to Austro-Hungary although the causes of this All-European phenomenon were different. Britain experienced the industrial revolution, the rest of West-European countries were getting ready for it being at the stage of protoindustrialisation; all experienced economic growth. Russia also grew economically and was getting modernised in every respect but on a different basis – she experienced the apogee of serfdom, a sort of another enslaving. At the cost of decrease in the well-being of her citizens Russia became a great power in military respect, Britain tuned into the world workshop and other West-European countries were getting ready to carry out their industrial revolutions. High cost was to be paid for military or economic grandeur.