The village (land) commune (Russ. obshchina or
mir ) was the communal form of peasant use of land characterised by compulsory crop rotation and undivided woods and pastures. Its principal features were collective liability, the periodical redistribution of the land without the right to refuse the allotment, and prohibition of purchase or sale of the allotted land.
The Russian village commune dates back to ancient times and in the course of its historical development it gradually became one of the mainstays of feudalism in Russia. The landlords and the tsarist government used the village commune to intensify feudal oppression and to squeeze land redemption payments and taxes out of the people. Lenin pointed out that the village commune 'does not save the peasant from turning into a proletarian; actually it serves as a medieval barrier dividing the peasants who are as if chained to small associations and- to categories that have lost all "reason for existence" (see "The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the Nineteenth Century," present edition,Vol.15).
The problem of the village commune aroused heated debates and brought an extensive economic literature into existence. Particularly great interest in the village commune was displayed by the Narodniks, who saw in it the guarantee of Russia's evolution to socialism by a special path. By tendentiously gathering their material, falsifying facts, and employing so-called "average figures," the Narodniks sought to prove that the commune peasantry in Russia possessed a special sort of "steadfastness," that the village commune protected the peasants against the penetration of capitalist relations into their lives and "saved" them from ruin and class differentiation. As early as the 1880s, G. V. Plekhanov
showed that the Narodnik illusions about "commune socialism" were unfounded and in the 1890s Lenin completely refuted the Narodnik theories. Lenin made use of a tremendous amount of statistical material and countless facts to show how capitalist relations were developing in the Russian village and how capital, by penetrating into the patriarchal village commune, was splitting the peasantry into two antagonistic classes, the kulaks and the poor peasants.
In 1906 the tsarist minister Stolypin issued a law favouring the kulaks which allowed peasants to leave the commune and sell their allotments. This law marked the beginning of the official abolition of the village commune system and intensified the differentiation of the peasantry. In the nine years following the adoption of the law, over two million peasant families withdrew from the communes.
Allotment land -- land left for the use of the peasants after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The allotted land was not permitted to be sold by the peasants. It was held by the village commune and was periodically redistributed among the peasants. [p.
Collective liability was a compulsory measure making the peasants of each village commune collectively liable for timely and full payments and for the fulfilment of all sorts of services to the state and the landlords (payment of taxes and land redemption instalments, provision of recruits for the army, etc.). This form of bondage was retained after serfdom had been abolished and remained in force until 1906.
Winter hiring -- the hiring of peasants for summer work by landlords and kulaks in the winter, when the peasants were particularly in need of cash and were willing to agree to extortionate terms.