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CHAPTER XV

THE FIRST REVOLUTIONARY CONGRESS

The Peasants' Congress of May 20, 1917, in Kishineff, after an initial secession of the Russians because the Moldavians insisted on the use of Roumanian as well as Russian, and a later secession of the Moldavians when their candidate for the presidency failed of election, finally passed a series of resolutions, the gist of which was that the land, the forests and the subsoil belong to the people as a whole, and should be apportioned among the present inhabitants without compensation to the temporary owners. The second Peasants' Congress was held at Kishineff on Aug. 27, with delegates from Kerensky in the persons of John Inculetz and Erhan. Inculetz, as a leading Social Revolutionary, outlined the procedure to be followed; the land was to be under the control of the Russian Constitutional Assembly, and administered by local commissions, supervised by the Pan-Russian Land Commission. He proposed also that bread should be sold at the old price-half that recently fixed by the government, whose money was rapidly depreciating-while all industrial products should be sold at half-price. Orator spoke after orator, both Russians and Roumanians being able to speak indefinitely; but the Congress could come to no definite decisions except in the election of delegates to the Soviet of Soldiers, Workers and Peasants; among them we find the names of Inculetz, Erhan and Halippa (once imprisoned in Moscow for his membership in the Social-Revolutionary Party).

Among the various parties organized in 1917 in Bessarabia, the National Moldavian Party soon took a leading place. It dates from April 3; in its manifesto we find that its aims included: a firm foundation for the civic and national liberties gained by the Revolution; a new constitution for Russia which should guarantee these national liberties; the widest possible autonomy for Bessarabia in matters administrative, judicial, religious, educational and economic; a Provincial Diet (Sfatul Tzarii, lit. Council of the Country; Sfat is derived from the Old Slav suvietu, council) to legislate for local needs, with representation in the All-Russian Parliament; all local administration and court procedure to be in the language of the locality, Russian to be used in communications with the central seat of government; the schools to be conducted in the local language, with Russian as one of the subjects for study; school attendance to be compulsory; the Church to be autonomous, and Moldavian to be used in the services; Bessarabian soldiers to serve only in Bessarabia, and Russian to be the language only for the high command; introduction of foreign colonists, as in the past by the Russian Imperial Government, to be stopped, and the land to be given to the local peasants who have none, or not enough; Bessarabian revenues to be used for local purposes; and the Moldavians beyond the Dniester (in Podolia and Cherson) to have the same rights and privileges. Such declarations for local home rule we find in all the border provinces at about the same period. The party committee consisted of V. Stroescu, honorary president, the "Grand Old Man" of the Moldavians, who had devoted his fortune to promoting Roumanian culture, especially in Transylvania; P. Gore, President; P'. Halippa, Secretary; V. Hertza, Vice-president; Gen. Donici, the Rev. Gurie, P. Grosu, T. Ioncu, Minciuna, V. Bogos, V. Cazacliu, Corobcean, Gh. Buruiana, S. Murafa, A. Botezat, Gropa, I. Pelivan (a former exile to Siberia for his opinions), I. Codreanu, Gafencu and the Rev. Partenie. The party spread rapidly through Bessarabia, and meetings in sympathy were held in Odessa and elsewhere. The Moldavian soldiers in Odessa organized, under Capt. E. Cately, and paraded through Odessa in the great manifestation of May 1, N. S. Similar organizations of Moldavian soldiers were promptly formed on the Roumanian front, the Western front, in Sebastopol, Nicolaeff, Cherson, Yecaterinoslav, Kishineff and Bender. Since these soldiers were peasants in great majority, they at once attacked the agrarian problem; and since this was the most important feature of the Russian Revolution, we must interrupt our narrative to summarize the land situation in Bessarabia.

We have seen that the Imperial Russian Government bestowed large tracts of land upon its favorites, and gave other tracts to colonists, mainly German and Bulgarian. Other great areas were held by the government itself, the Crown, the villages, and especially the Church and the monasteries. In 1868, the Government carried through a generous measure of distribution of land among the peasantry, which seems to have been quite satisfactory for the needs of the time. But these farms were constantly subdivided and sold, so that by the twentieth century there was again in Bessarabia a large body of landless peasantry. The last pre-war Russian statistics show that of the 3,834,824 desyatins of arable land (a desyatin is 2.7 acres) in the districts of Orhei, Soroca, Baltz, Hotin and Kishineff, 54.3% of the land was owned by the large land-owners; in Akkerman, Ismail and Bender, 33%. The foreign colonists were mainly in the last three districts, while the first five were pretty solidly Moldavian. The farms of the Moldavian peasants were also smaller; in Orhei and Hotin, over 93%o of the peasants' farms were under 5 desyatins ; in Soroca, 87.6%, Kishineff 80%, Baltz 41%, Bender 14% and Akkerman only .4% ! From 1902-11, the peasants worked over 55% of the land per annum, the great landowners 45% ;the peasants cultivated 83% of their land, the great land-owners 60% ; but the intensive measures possible on the large farms gave them a 10% larger yield. Nearly 100,000 carloads of agricultural products, mainly grain, were exported annually. As we have seen, Indian corn occupied 300 of the land under cultivation, barley 23 %, winter wheat 18 %, spring wheat 15.5%, rye 9%, oats 3% and potatoes .6%. There were 20,000 desyatins in orchards and nearly 100,000 in vine yards, of which over half are in the district of Akkerman ; the average production of wine was 12,500,000 vedras, over half the entire production of the Russian Empire. Tobacco was also largely cultivated, though on a descending scale; stock raising, wool and fisheries were all of importance. Home industries lack the importance which they have in Roumania, since the peasants have lost their picturesque costumes under Russian rule. Once covered with thick forests, Bessarabia has become almost completely deforested; 1917 was a particularly disastrous year, owing to the need of local wood for fuel, and perhaps there are not more than 150,000 acres of woodland left in Bessarabia today.

Group of Bessarabian Peasant Women

There was then a large body of landless peasantry in Bessarabia, and a huge extent of arable land not under cultivation. Nationalization of the land and free distribution of it among the peasantry was the key-note of the Russian Revolution. This resolution, passed by the Moldavian soldiers and officers on the Roumanian front, meeting in Jassy Oct. 10-12, 1917, is characteristic: "All the land of Bessarabia becomes the property of the people, and passes without compensation into the hands of those who individually work it. Private property in land is abolished for all time. A final decision in the agrarian question falls within the scope of the Constitutional Convention. Colonization with foreign elements in the future is inadmissible, since there is not enough good land in Bessarabia for the needs of its population. Until the Constitutional Convention meets, the agrarian question is to be handled in accordance with the decisions of the Pan-Russian Peasants' Congress of May 25th, and the Bessarabian Peasants' Congress of Aug. 20th, whose decisions are to be put into force by the local agrarian commissions."

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