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The Reign of Peter III (December 25, 1761 - June 28, 1762)
Social and Economical Development of Russia in 1725-1762
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Social and Economical Development of Russia in 1725-1762

Despite the considerable changes, which took place in the first quarter of the XVIII century, concerning main factors of the social and economical development Russia still was a backward country. According to the second revision (census), conducted in 1745-1747, the peasantry constituted the greater part of the inhabitants of Russia (7,8 million men). 70% of the peasantry and 63,2% of the whole population were the serfs. And only 4 % of the all the inhabitants settled in towns and cities.

Slow growth of the population in towns and cities could be explained, first, by the insignificant people resources of this estate - those were peasants belonging to the royal court and to the state, and second, by the complicated conditions of moving to towns and cities. To became officially a citizen of a town or a city one had to be engaged in trade or crafts, and have capital not less than 300-500 rubles. Moreover, a peasant had to have the agreement of his fellow-villagers, and then on the new place of living had to pay double tax - for their old place and the new one - till the new revision.

The nobility constituted 1 % of the population of Russia. However, it possessed most of the land in the country. In the XVIII century the property of landowners compared to the previous century became four times more (81 million desyatins to 24 million desyatins of feudal lands in the XVII century). The mass granting the nobles with lands from palace and state funds was the most important source of this growth. Characteristically, the largest grants of that kind were given in 1728-1732 and in 1742-1744 and were the mean of encouragement of the devoted to the Court and its policy people. Most of the granted people represented non-aristocratic families, mostly from traders and industrialists.

The 'fortune' of the private participants of the Palace Revolution on November 25, 1741 could be a clear example of this process. 364 grenadiers of Preobrazhensky regiment were made nobles and granted with land. Russian absolutists state not only regulated duties of the owners but also confiscated chattel and real estate of those who were out of favour. So, during the first half of the XVIII century 128 estates were weakened by taking a part of them to the exchequer or by confiscating it. The very conception of property in Russian law was worked out only in the second half of the XVIII century.

Despite some disadvantages of the political regime in 1725-1762 there wasn't any economic decay or sluggishness observed. On the contrary, significant success was achieved in some industries. Thanks to development of the mining industry in the middle of the XVIII century Russia took the second place in smelting of cast iron (Sweden took the first place). Thus, in 1725 31 plants worked in the country, but in 1750 there were already 74 plants. By this time the demand on the Russian iron was of the highest level - 100% of all production. The noble businessmen brothers P.I. and A.I. Shuvalovs, the Vorontsovs, S.P. Yaguzhinsky invested the profitable metallurgy production.

Cloth, leather and paper production was working effectively. At the end of the 1740s the value of the cloth production was enough to stop importing cloth. From 1725 to 1750 62 new textile manufactures were established, and by the beginning of 1760s they constituted more than a half of all the manufactures working in the country, and the cost of their production dominated the other produced goods. Inside the textile branch, the first place was taken by the flax production, then cloth and silk productions followed. First manufactures appeared in provinces, close to the source of row materials - near Voronezh, in Ivanovo, Irkutsk and in other areas. Merchants' capital dominated in industrial building. Thus, during 1741-1770 merchants built 79 plants or twice as many as during the previous 40 years.

The state, being interested in development of domestic industries, encouraged manufacture- and factory-owners, transmitting them state plants on preferential terms, gave credits to merchants, introduced high import duties. Rapid growth of industry had already called acute need of mercenary workers in the first quarter of the XVIII. The lack of workers and prevalence of serfdom relations caused the wide use of measures of compulsion to provide the industry with labour force (assigning peasants to plants, the use of the recruits', tramps', exiles' and beggars' labour), and also caused the development of possessional enterprises. The number of assigned and possessional workers outnumbered free mercenary workers. The absolute prevalence of forced labour was characteristic for metallurgy industry of Ural.

Serious changes in the development of production powers and deepening the process of division of labour contributed into the development of domestic trade. The main trade centers were Moscow, St. Petersburg, Archangelsk, the cities of Povolzhie (Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Saratov, Samara, Rybinsk, Astrachan). The cities of Ukraine (Nezhin, Kremenchug, Poltava, Kiev) and the cities of Russian North (Vologda, Veliky Ustyug) played an important role of a middleman in the trade exchange between the center and the provinces. Abolishing of the duty rates in 1754 gave significant impulse to the development of Russian domestic trade.

At the same time there was the growth of foreign trade observed. By the middle of the XVIII century Russia hold an important position in the world food market. In 1750s annual export of grain constituted 70 quarters (1 quarter=210 liters), which cost 114 thousand silver rubles. To add to this, Russia exported wood, leather, hemp, Russian leather, tar, fat, rhubarb, wax, resin, fur, sailcloth, and linen cloth. Russian foreign trade was active, i.e. demand surpassed supply.

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