Stolypin, Peter

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STOLYPIN, PETER (1862–1911), Russian politician.

Peter Arkadyevich Stolypin was born in 1862 into a noble family that held high state positions, owned numerous estates, and was related to the writer Mikhail Lermontov. Stolypin married Olga Borisovna Neidgart, whose family also had entrée at court, before graduating from the department of natural sciences, St. Petersburg University, where his thesis focused on tobacco growing in the Caucasus. Stolypin served as uezd (county) and then guberniya (provincial) marshal of nobility in Kovno and from 1902 to 1903 as governor of Grodno, giving him more familiarity with agriculture, peasants, and Jewish, Polish, and Lithuanian citizens of the Russian Empire. From 1903 to 1906 Stolypin served as governor of the Volga province of Saratov, hard hit by revolutionary upheavals. His stern approach to revolutionaries helped promote him in May 1906 to minister of internal affairs, a post that dealt with peasants, national minorities, governors, medical personnel, and medicines. In July 1906 Tsar Nicholas II additionally appointed Stolypin chairman of the Council of Ministers, a quasi–prime ministerial position, because other ministers sometimes acted independently.

Practical rather then theoretical, Stolypin grappled with five challenges during his five-and-a-half-year administration: crushing terrorism, implementing reforms, working with the new national legislature, managing restive national minorities, and pleasing the tsar.

In 1906 and 1907 terrorists killed over four thousand people, mainly police and officials, and injured two of Stolypin's six children in a bomb attack on his dacha. Stolypin repressed about seventeen hundred suspected revolutionaries through courts martial in 1906 and 1907 and thereafter exiled several hundred per year to Siberia without court trial. He also countered liberal Constitutional Democrats, who consorted with radicals and promoted a radical political and socioeconomic agenda. Nevertheless, he offered cabinet posts to moderate opposition leaders, allowed pharmacist-revolutionaries to be elected to the board of the million-ruble Pharmacists' Pension Fund to control the fund, and supported socialized pharmacy in areas where private pharmacies were lacking.

Simultaneously Stolypin attempted to implement some fifty reforms. Key changes targeted the peasantry who constituted over 80 percent of the population. Fundamental were Stolypin's land reforms. Partially drafted by Sergei Witte, Stolypin had independently become convinced of their necessity. The main reform sought to replace the semisocialistic form of agriculture, practiced by three-fourths of peasants, in which the village commune parceled the arable land to constituent families in separated strips that were sometimes reapportioned, with capitalistic farmsteads. Peasant families were to receive ownership of the strips, which were then to be consolidated into farmsteads to make agriculture more efficient, to channel marginal farmers into industry, and to stop peasant assaults on estate owners. Parliament passed the reforms in 1910 and 1911. A controversial and difficult plan, by World War I, 50 percent of strips were held in hereditary tenure but only 10 percent were consolidated. Other agricultural reforms included enticing peasants to farm in Siberia, providing agronomic assistance, and mainstreaming peasants more fully. Despite partial realization of the land reforms, 20 percent of peasants were estimated to be prosperous. The Peasant Land Bank and private banks facilitated peasant purchase of estates so that by 1916 peasants owned approximately 80 percent of farmland, some extracommunal.

Other reforms enlarged rights for religious dissidents, the Old Believers, and for Jews and provided insurance for factory workers. Stolypin aimed to make local administration more efficient and strengthen the central government's control over local administration by instituting vice-governors on the county level. He attempted to expand self-government, which existed for taxpayers in cities and for property owners, including peasants, on the provincial and county level of thirty-four provinces, by lowering voting requirements and instituting zemstvos on the volost (township) level. He advocated local self-government in the nine western border provinces, but with provisions to protect Russian and other peasants from Polish landowners. Fellow ministers defeated the project on county governors. Parliamentary debate delayed the project on volost zemstvos. A parliamentary crisis arose over the Polish provisions in the western zemstvo bill in the spring of 1911, torpedoing Stolypin's career.

The new parliament consisted of a lower house, the Duma, elected by workers, peasants, industrialists, nobles, and national minorities, and an upper State Council, half appointed and half elected by corporate groups. Deeming the first two Dumas dominated by radicals and not committed to constructive work, Stolypin supported their dissolution. He began implementing reforms through Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws, which permitted the government to inaugurate measures while the Duma was not in session if they were later submitted to the parliament. On 16 June (3 June, old style) 1907 Stolypin summarily issued a new electoral law, not sanctioned by the Fundamental Laws, in order to produce a Duma dominated by moderates. Though it generated outrage, the strategy worked. The Third Duma (1907–1912) passed constructive legislation, such as the bills on universal primary education, the land reform, and factory workers' insurance. It also attempted to gain greater control over the budget and interpellated (formally questioned) ministers on their policies. Moderate opposition Octobrists, who dominated the Duma, fell out with Stolypin in 1909 and 1911, prompting him to draw closer to the Nationalist Party. Though not fully democratic or representational, archival evidence documents that workers and peasants as well as elites participated in the Duma, and it and the State Council began to evolve into more equal partners of the government.

Stolypin considered Finns, Poles, Ukrainians, Georgians, and Armenians citizens of the empire and opposed their centrifugal tendencies. His efforts to contain Finnish struggles for greater autonomy, partly based on his interpretation of pronouncements and laws, and partly affected by Tsar Nicholas's dislike of the Finns, particularly alienated this minority.

On 14 September (1 September, old style) 1911, at the opera in Kiev, a former revolutionary, Dmitri Bogrov, shot Stolypin, who died four days later. Though Bogrov apparently acted alone, police negligence spawned conspiracy theories about complicity in high government echelons. Mysteries about the assassination have not been fully resolved.

See alsoNicholas II; Revolution of 1905 (Russia); Russia; Witte, Sergei.


Ascher, Abraham. P. A. Stolypin: The Search for Stability in Late Imperial Russia. Stanford, Calif., 2001.

Conroy, Mary Schaeffer. Peter Arkad'evich Stolypin: Practical Politics in Late Tsarist Russia. Boulder, Colo., 1976.

——. In Health and in Sickness: Pharmacy, Pharmacists, and the Pharmaceutical Industry in Late Imperial, Early Soviet Russia. Boulder, Colo., 1994. Discusses the relationship between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Stolypin, on the one hand, and pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry, on the other.

Conroy, Mary Schaeffer, ed. Emerging Democracy in Late Imperial Russia. Niwot, Colo., 1998.

Edelman, Robert. Gentry Politics on the Eve of the Russian Revolution: The Nationalist Party, 1907–1917. New Brunswick, N.J., 1980.

Fedorov, B. G. Petr Arkad'evich Stolypin. Moscow, 2002. Among numerous works in Russian, this includes extensive material on the Stolypin family.

Korros, Alexandra. A Reluctant Parliament: Stolypin, Nationalism, and the Politics of the Russian Imperial State Council, 1906–1911. Lanham, Md., 2002.

Szeftel, Marc. The Russian Constitution of April 23, 1906: Political Institutions of the Duma Monarchy. Brussels, 1976.

Waldron, Peter. Between Two Revolutions: Stolypin and the Politics of Renewal in Russia. DeKalb, Ill., 1998.

Mary Schaeffer Conroy