Beyond technicalities: Land assessment and land-tax in Russian Turkestan (ca. 1880-1917)

Beatrice Penati

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This article offers an analysis of the set of bureaucratic procedures and practical knowledge employed in the process of land assessment and land-tax collection on irrigated plots in the Turkestan krai of the Russian empire. It explains the consequences of a mechanism of taxation founded on fictional rural communities in a context largely dominated by individual landownership, very different from the one Russian officials had become acquainted with in European Russia. A second juridical fiction was constituted by the absence of a positive endorsement by Russian regulations of native property rights on rural land - these rights being recognized only thanks to the renvoi to Muslim law. Land surveying technicalities, thus, were supposed to convey both the consecration of the absence of individual rights, and a thorough image of effective 'communal' possession, on which landtax was raised. Debates between Russian officials and attempts to improve land surveying reflected this ambiguity and tried to accommodate this normative framework with the imperial State's concurrent interests: expanding fiscal liability, and preserving State land properties. These debates ultimately led to the establishment of a special commission to amend the Turkestan Statute of 1886. The 1900 amendments have often been interpreted in Soviet historiography as a government-backed spur to the commodification of rural land. I argue that a specific legislative amendment proposed by this commission was positively exploited by native Muslim peasants in order to circumvent the existent land-tax allocation system. They chose to step out of their 'community' and have their plots counted, on special certificates (dannye), as separate fiscal units. The article offers a tentative estimation of this phenomenon and attempts to trace the typical profile of those Muslim subjects who took this opportunity. This practice was tolerated by 'liberal' Russian officials, who saw a positive move towards private property in it. Curiously, though, the promotion of private property was regarded as a benefit of Russia's 'civilizing mission' in Turkestan, just as the establishment of fictitious rural communities had been.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalJahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 30 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History

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