The Russian statesman and reformer Piotr Arkadevich Stolypin (1862-1911) is known for his victory over anarchist forces, for his attempt to transform the Russian autocratic monarchy into a constitutional one, and for his land reform.
Piotr Stolypin was born in Baden. A country squire and landlord in Kovno, he was named marshal of the nobility of that province from 1887 to 1902. In 1903 he was appointed governor of the adjoining province of Grodno and a year later was transferred in the same capacity to Saratov on the Volga. There he ruthlessly put down the peasants, and his determination and personal courage led to his appointment as minister of the interior in 1906. Later that year he became prime minister.
Stolypin was the most competent and clear-sighted official to serve Czar Nicholas II. His policy was twofold— to bring law and order to society and to institute reform. An enemy of revolution and a conservative, Stolypin tried to break up the revolutionary groups and also to undermine their popular support through social and political reforms. As a monarchist and a constitutionalist, he wished to work harmoniously with the elected Duma in the passage of reform legislation.
An intelligent and well-educated man, Stolypin pondered for some time the poor condition of the Russian villages and concluded that the low level of rural economy was due to the fact that the land did not belong to the peasants. He realized also that Russia could not become a strong power until the majority of the Russian population— the peasants—became interested in the preservation of individual property. The Revolution of 1905 with its agrarian excesses only strengthened Stolypin's conviction on this point. He came to believe finally that the primary need of Russia was the creation of a class of well-to-do landowners.
Under Stolypin's agrarian reform law peasants made remarkable progress in obtaining private land ownership. Stolypin spared no money in order to consolidate and to increase the peasantry. He encouraged the practice of granting the peasants small credits; he maintained an army of land experts, land surveyors, and agronomists; and he spent large sums of money on public education.
Stolypin's creative efforts in the work of the state were not always within the limits of the constitutional order at which he aimed. The introduction of local assemblies in the western province aroused the entire Russian people against him. The left wing and the center were indignant at such a flagrant violation of the constitution, and the right wing was indignant at his treatment of its leaders in the State Council. Stolypin was killed in Kiev on Sept. 18, 1911. His assassin was a double agent whose motives remain cloudy to this day.
The only full-length study of Stolypin in English is by his daughter Maria Bock, Reminiscences of My Father, Peter A. Stolypin (trans. 1970). Vladimir I. Kokovtsov, Out of My Past (trans. 1935), and Vladimir I. Gurko, Features and Figures of the Past: Government and Opinion in the Reign of Nicholas II (trans. 1939), are memoirs by czarist officials and contain useful material on Stolypin. A biographical sketch of Stolypin is in Arthur E. Adams, ed., Imperial Russia after 1861 (1965). □