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Home arrow History arrow Kazak Intermediaries and Russian Rule on the Steppe, 1731-1917


Epistemological Foundations of Resettlement (or, For a Moment the Lie Becomes Truth)

To simply proceed with a program of colonization at random or in contradiction to good data would have been sharply at variance with the practices of the tsarist Resettlement Administration, particularly in the more activist guise it assumed after 1905. Peter Holquist has argued that officials within the Resettlement Administration saw colonization as, in part, “a state-directed endeavor to maximize the human and productive resources of the empire as a whole, by matching available territory with the population and its productive capacity.”7 Their “technocratic ethos” required nothing less than thorough assessments of the land and the use to which its occupants put it. Chapter 5 shows the expenses of money and time the tsarist state was willing to incur to obtain the data legally necessary to expropriate nomads. What occurred after 1905 was subtler and more interesting: the selection of seemingly objective data, outside of its original context, to justify policy changes. It is probably unknowable, and at any rate unimportant, if this was a cynical ploy to seize as much land as possible over multiple objections or the product of a naively positivist faith in statisticians’ findings. The fact remains that whatever their motivations, officers of the Resettlement Administration and their superiors presented propositions of limited applicability as facts strong enough to dismiss any criticism they faced.

In promoting the seizure of land surpluses, it was first necessary to prove that the land being taken was indeed surplus to indigenous requirements, and that losing it presented no great trouble for the expropriated. Here, divorced from the context in which they had emerged, land norms took on a new and unexpected form—demagoguery. Perhaps we need not take too seriously the statements of Duma deputies only vaguely familiar with resettlement affairs that each Kazak household held 500 desiatinas (1,350 acres) of land,8 or that a total of 225 million desiatinas lay ready for use in the steppes.9 These were massively incorrect readings of the available data, and by themselves do not indicate that anyone with the power to make decisions about resettlement or agrarian reform took such views seriously. Aleksandr Vasil'evich Krivoshein, main administrator of land management and agriculture (and thus the immediate supervisor of the Resettlement Administration), had such power. In his hands, such rhetoric served to justify his organization’s actions and promote its colonizing agenda.

In the fall of 1908, Nicholas forwarded to Krivoshein a telegram from a Kazak, Shaimardan Koshchegulov, claiming to represent the population of Kokchetau district, Akmolinsk province, and petitioning the tsar to cease resettlement to the steppe provinces until the Duma clarified Kazaks’ land rights.10 The tsar, following the appropriate formalities, forwarded the message to Krivoshein for a response. The latter noted that “the Kazaks’ land supply, in the majority of cases, is defined at 150-300 desiatinas [405-810 acres] per household,” and thus there could be no question of their impoverishment.11 If Kazaks were displeased, it was only because a few rich stock herders, oppressing poor, seminomadic farmers, needed more land than the norm to keep their massive enterprises running.12 Implicit here was a comparison with the plots that Slavic agriculturalists worked, never more than 15 desiatinas per male household member on settler plots, and sometimes drastically smaller than that in the land-poor provinces of the Central Black Earth Region. Out of context, it beggared belief that some families could survive on only a few acres, while others found a thousand insufficient for their needs. Never mind the exigencies of seasonal migration, or that the truly extraordinary allotments were on practically uninhabitable land. The sheer size of the numbers seemed to speak for itself. As Krivoshein summarized the matter when returning the petition without further movement, “the work [of the Resettlement Administration] . . . is furnished with substantial guarantees of the Kazaks’ interests.”13

Still more useful, from the perspective of GUZiZ’s production-oriented mission, and the civilizing claims associated with compelling nomads to settle on the land, was to demonstrate that resettlement was actually beneficial for local Kazaks, despite their ungrateful complaining. In 1905, the manager of resettlement affairs in Ural-Turgai region, L. N. Tsabel', took up the question of colonization’s influence on indigenous people in a single canton of Kustanai district, Turgai province, long a key destination of the settler movement. Tsabel’s findings were highly encouraging, from the perspective of a resettlement official. The area that Kazaks sowed to grain was growing even as the average amount of livestock per household remained stable; hay storage was on the rise, and few animals died during periodic zMts; meat consumption was up by 21 percent.14 All this in a mere seven years between the moment that Fedor Andreevich Shcherbina had first surveyed the canton and Tsabel’s arrival. As the author who developed and published Tsabel’s data in what was effectively the trade publication of the Resettlement Administration, Voprosy kolonizatsii (Questions of Colonization), exulted:

All the comparisons for these two years [1898 and 1905] lead one to the conclusion that the economy of the Kazaks of Arakaragai canton is developing and growing stronger. By this are sufficiently contradicted all fears that the Kazak economy will find its downfall in agriculture, and that the introduction of a Russian element there will compel the accustomed herder to reduce his herd. . . . Reality has shown something else: the archaic form of economy is replaced by a new one, more intensive, and the wealth of the land is used more completely.15

This was a well-supported statement for a single canton, a unit of territory juridically unable to exceed 2,000 tents, or approximately 10,000 people, from the Resettlement Administration’s civilizing, production-oriented perspective. Voprosy kolonizatsii further claimed that, isolated from centers of trade, the canton was not in “any kind of especially favorable conditions.”16 But this is a statement that can be questioned. Kustanai district had long attracted settlers precisely because conditions there seemed more favorable for sedentary agriculture than the alternatives. Arakaragai canton, in particular, held one of two government forest plots in a district where a shortage of timber was the main obstacle to building and heating permanent dwellings. 1 7 Relative to many areas to which settlers could be directed, and where they and Kazak nomads struggled to adapt to one another, conditions in Arakaragai were very good indeed.

This did not stop administrators from making generalizations on the basis of Tsabel’s case study. In the summer of 1908, sixty deputies of the Third Duma submitted a draft law that would have given Kazaks and other natives of Central Asia substantial additional legal protections when having their lands seized, and satisfied their land needs before resettlement could continue.18 The sixty deputies hoped that prioritizing Kazaks’ zemleustroistvo (the reorganization and fixing of their land use) over resettlement would offer them a degree of protection. It was also a hot topic of discussion at GUZiZ between 1907 and 1909.19 But Krivoshein disagreed that zemleustroistvo was urgently necessary for Kazaks’ well-being and survival. Lamenting the deputies’ “completely false” characterization of his organization’s activity on the steppe in a note to Stolypin, he stated confidently that “the history of the settlement [zaseleniia] of the steppe shows that the establishment of settlers in the steppe provinces called forth the development among the Kazaks of agriculture and cultured stock raising. If in this one can see an important factor toward the change of economic and life [bytovykh] forms, in any case, there is no basis to assert that the influence of this factor harmfully affects the economic position of the Kazaks.”20 Krivoshein’s words were based exclusively on research conducted in Arakaragai and one other (Saroisk) canton of Kustanai district, and his numbers came only from Arakaragai. They were apparently convincing. Stolypin hastened to reassure his close colleague that the Council of Ministers “completely agreed with your considerations concerning this matter.”21 Nothing more came of this “plan of the 60.” As in the case of the land norms, the statistically verified truth, out of context, was strong enough to overcome what Kazaks presented as their experiences of resettlement, and what oppositionally minded scholars claimed were the major deficiencies of the program.

All of these interest groups had a good deal to say on the matter. Specialists in agriculture on the political Left criticized state resettlement policy strongly, though not out of any great respect for Kazaks’ land rights.22 The right to estrange Kazaks’ surplus land for state needs was written clearly enough in law, as the liberal statistician Aleksandr Arkad'evich Kaufman stated in response to the arguments of a Kazak liberal, Zhihansha Seidalin.23 Rather, these critiques focused more on the practice of resettlement and its apparently limited prospects for resolving the agrarian question in European Russia—although the latter was a parodied, extreme view of resettlement’s place in the Stolypin program. Kaufman, an extraordinarily prolific author, led the charge. He tartly summarized his view of the matter soon after the passage of a law of June 6,1904, granting rights of free resettlement: “there are and will not be tens of millions of desiatinas of land,” and hence, despite the apparent enormity of Siberia and the steppe provinces, resettlement could never resolve the agrarian question.24 His reasons for thinking so emerged compactly in a pamphlet issued the following year, confrontationally titled Pereselenie: Mechty i deistvitel’nost’ (Resettlement: Dreams and reality). Here, he noted that of the entire land fund of the Empire, only the Kazak steppe was suitable for further colonization, and even this “settler El Dorado” could only be relied on in isolated areas in the north.25 Other regions (especially Turkestan) needed costly irrigation before they could be made productive, particularly because of what he presented as the inherent conservatism of the Russian peasant, unwilling to adapt to new natural conditions.26 In combination with pessimism about the land and settlers that other agronomists expressed, we can see a critique of resettlement coming from the tsarist Left that might be called conditional environmental determinism, that is, that under Russia’s specific cultural and political conditions, settlers were unlikely to overcome the harsh conditions in their new places of residence.27 Cultural work thus came to be the most important matter, and resettlement to represent something of a red herring.

Kaufman’s name, data, and the basic contours of his argument found their way to the Duma floor during both its first and second sessions.28 Evidently, the Resettlement Administration felt enough public pressure to respond directly to the critiques. In an article whose title made its target unambiguously clear, “Deistvitel’nost’, a ne mechty” (Reality, and not dreams), A. B. Uspenskii argued that the steppe provinces still had available huge quantities of first-rate land, which gave a larger harvest than typical of European Russia.29 Further research promised only to expand an already-sizable land fund. As to the question of water, artificial irrigation was possible everywhere, and rain-fed (bogarnye) lands already showed serious promise without expending the cost and time that new canals required.30 By 1914, rather than backing off such claims, Resettlement Administration publications continued to insist on the viability of rain-fed lands in Semirech'e.31 One researcher would go still further, taking on perhaps the one belief that proponents and opponents of resettlement shared: that south of approximately the 48th parallel, the climate and soil were so poor that agricultural colonization was impossible. This, he argued, was a completely unstudied proposition in many areas, and meanwhile, on the basis of his personal observations, there was reason to believe that at least selective, limited colonization was possible.32 In short, Resettlement Administration scholars had developed data that sufficed, in their minds, to reject any sort of environmentally grounded criticism from other agronomists and statisticians.

Though Kazak intellectuals and politicians were more willing than Kaufman and his ilk to question the legal basis of resettlement, their involvement in statistical expeditions and the scientistic claims of resettlement officials gave them the opportunity to attack the epistemological basis of resettlement as well.33 If this was not a politics of total resistance, it had the advantages of continuity with their actions prior to 1905, and provided engagement with a parliamentary system that most hoped would remain viable.

The man able to embrace this approach with the most credibility, owing to his experience in resettlement expeditions and high-level technical training, was Alikhan Bokeikhanov. In a strident, mocking tone, Bokeikhanov turned to the printed word, chiefly the Petersburg publication Sibirskie voprosy (Siberian Questions) after the dissolution of the First Duma deprived him of that platform.34 His articles, much like Kaufman’s, were intended to highlight the failure of what he termed “chancery colonization,” which he claimed was divorced from physical reality.35 Russian settlers, he noted, were cast into environmental conditions that offered little hope of survival, whether because of sparse and capricious participation on the steppe or the Herculean labor required to clear thick coniferous forest (urman) from Siberia, making them “proletarians” rather than real colonizers.36 Any civilizing claims the Resettlement Administration could make were thus null and void. Meanwhile, claims about the size of the remaining land fund on the steppe were fabulous in the literal sense, the result of baseless speculation, as when the governor-general of the steppe, Ivan Pavlovich Nadarov, wished to move a group of Kazaks from good agricultural land to deserts south of the 48th parallel: “‘About’ 12 million desiatinas south of the 48th parallel were calculated by the local branch of the resettlement organization according to the methods

of the central Resettlement Administration____For [such people] the lack of any

sort of instrumental survey of the southern part of the Kazak lands does not present any kind of obstacle: they will give its size in desiatinas, for this Nadarov’s resolution is enough. Is it worth reckoning with a survey, when such a rich idea has entered the general’s head?”37 Such critiques both undercut the most utopian dreams of advocates of resettlement and gave the lie to the often-voiced idea that the interests of the local population were completely protected when estranging their lands for settler villages.

With respect to the key tool of the Resettlement Administration, land norms, Bokeikhanov was ambivalent. In the more aggressive context signified by the free settlement law of 1904 and Stolypin’s rise in 1906, the more cautious Shcherbina norms, on which he had worked, seemed at minimum a useful guarantee against further incursions.38 Thus he insisted on recognizing the cautious figures that the Shcherbina Expedition had calculated and preserving the 25 percent increase to these norms that had been ordered by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1901. Criticizing the policy of resettlement, he deployed the Shcherbina norms rhetorically as an absolute and incontrovertible requirement for Kazak life: “Of the group of Kazaks, the complaints of whom reached Gen. Nadarov’s conference, it turns out that more than two-thirds are left without the Shcherbina norm.”39 Vasilii Kuznetsov, in turn, he of the low and possibly falsified norms, was Bokeikha- nov’s particular bete noire among statisticians. In a Kazak-language publication, discussing Kuznetsov’s drastic revision downward of the Shcherbina-Chermak norms in Semipalatinsk province, he resorted to language that was, even for him, colorful: Kuznetsov’s norms were simply a “lie” (otirik) that “cut off the Kazaks’ nose” (qazaqti рйзкЫНр), “caus[ing] the Kazaks’ inheritance to be castrated [qazaghining enshisin qaita pishtirdi] .”40

For all his research, experience, and rhetoric, Bokeikhanov’s increasingly heated tone indicates how little success his approach met with. Faced with closed epistemological ranks, no longer in the employ of the Resettlement Administration, and legally excluded from parliament, the Kazaks’ most viable critic of Russian colonization was no more than a voice in the wilderness.

Concern about resettlement was not exclusively (or even primarily) the province of elites, nor were the Duma and periodical press the only venues in which grievances were aired. The petitions of Kazaks affected by land seizures provide an alternative view of resettlement’s consequences for those whose lives it disrupted, one that leads to similar conclusions. An unfortunate group of Kazaks of Semipalatinsk province, mistakenly included in a new sedentary canton (Kazaks commonly petitioned to form such cantons in response to settler incursions) complained that they did not wish to become sedentary peasants “because of the absolute impossibility, according to the local particularities of daily life, to adapt ourselves to the conditions of sedentary life.”41 Others complained of being subjected to violence by new settlers and resettlement officials alike.42 Bokeikhanov dutifully publicized cases of seizure without appropriate compensation for immovable property or for purposes contrary to those stated in the laws on resettlement.43 Using the rights that remained to them as subjects, Kazaks who came out on the losing side of resettlement and its ripple effects were not shy about letting the tsarist state know about their experiences.

Of course, one should not be overly credulous with petitions, since Kazaks and their trusted representatives crafted them to obtain the return of estranged land, or at least compensation for it. We should expect petitioners’ claims to be presented in the most lachrymose terms possible. And it is clear that some Kazaks, less committed to pastoral nomadism, cited their poverty in order to gain access to land to farm or to gain control of lands in disputes within a canton or district.44 Still, complaints like these show internal consistency and track well with the more frank assessments of the practices of resettlement auditors made before and after the 1916 revolt.45 If some Kazaks successfully adapted to resettlement, making careers with the extensive new bureaucracy that formed around them or taking to agriculture or trade, many others lost good land and valuable property as a result of the seizure, or experienced violence or humiliation during and after settlers’ arrival.46 For all of this, the best indications we have point to a still-greater restructuring of pastoralist lifeways, along archetypically high-modernist lines, had tsarist rule endured past World War I. A proposal within the Resettlement Administration, originating from Semirech'e, spoke of Kazaks’ “complete and forcible” (sploshnoe, prinuditel’noe) zemleustroistvo as a means of both serving their needs and creating a vast new surplus for settlers.47 Outside of that formidably technocratic institution, a 1911 conference in Semipalatinsk province proposed forming a separate, all-Kazak and -nomadic province in the center of the steppe, unsuitable for agriculture, leaving behind provinces better-suited for the needs of settlers and Kazak agriculturalists, a proposal that representatives of the Provisional Government, some years later, found worthy of further attention^8 In short, despite a range of arguments against it from high and low, by the 1910s a range of tsarist institutions had developed a combination of political priorities and confidence in its knowledge that made resettlement (and, concurrently, Kazak sedentarization) impossible to roll back. In so doing, they had also created the economic and demographic preconditions for a rebellion.

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