Obshchina. The Russian word for an agricultural commune, the dominant institution of ethnic Russian peasant agriculture until the Revolution of 1917. Arable land, meadows, and pastures were held communally by the obshchina. Fields were divided into sections whose size varied with the quality of the soil and distance from the village. Each peasant household had the right in every section to cultivate one or more strips according to the number of its adult members. Since households grew or diminished over time, every 9 to 15 years the commune took its own census, on the basis of which it carried out an equalized reallocation of the strips.

In Ukraine there were various forms of agricultural associations (see Hromada and Land tenure system). The obshchina system began developing there only in the second half of the 18th century, after it was introduced by certain landowners during the settlement of Southern Ukraine. The obshchina became more widespread as a result of the agrarian reforms that accompanied the abolition of serfdom and emancipation of the peasantry in 1861. The reforms granted village communes, but not individual peasants, the right to redeem land from the gentry landowners. Although the majority of peasant households received land as full-fledged owners, in the steppe gubernias—Katerynoslav gubernia, Kharkiv gubernia, and Kherson gubernia—land awarded to the peasants was, for the most part, placed at the disposal of peasant communes on the pattern of the obshchina. In those gubernias 89–95 percent of all land was distributed through the communes. In contrast, in Chernihiv gubernia the figure was 52 percent, and in the Right-Bank gubernias and Poltava gubernia only 5–7 percent of land was distributed through the communes. The fiscal needs of the state, namely the tradition of holding all members of the obshchina collectively responsible for tax collection, were the main factor behind the introduction of the obshchina in Russian-ruled Ukraine. In the Ukrainian gubernias that were formally under the rule of communal land ownership, however, 80.2 percent of the communes did not periodically reallocate land, whereas the typical obshchina in Russia proper did. The movement to leave the obshchina and pursue private farming initiated in 1906 by the Stolypin agrarian reforms was particularly strong in Ukraine. There 42 percent of peasant households belonging to peasant communes in Southern Ukraine, 16.5 percent in Left-Bank Ukraine, and 48 percent in Right-Bank Ukraine seceded. That trend accelerated during the years 1906–17 and became almost universal in Ukraine after the February Revolution of 1917.

Kononenko, K. Ukraine and Russia: A History of the Economic Relations between Ukraine and Russia (1654–1917) (Milwaukee 1958)
Robinson, G.T. Rural Russia under the Old Regime: A History of the Landlord-Peasant World and a Prologue to the Peasant Revolution of 1917 (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1967)
Watters, F.M. ‘The Peasant and the Village Commune,’ in The Peasant in Nineteenth-Century Russia, ed W.S. Vucinich (Stanford 1968)
Aleksandrov, V. Sel’skaia obshchina v Rossii (xvii–XIX v.) (Moscow 1976)
Atkinson, D. The End of the Russian Land Commune, 1905–1930 (Stanford 1983)

Illia Vytanovych

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

Encyclopedia of Ukraine