The Cotton Boom and the Land Tax in Russian Turkestan (1880s–1915)


In this article, I seek to show how other macroeconomic factors and incentives pushed the native Muslim population to sow more and more cotton, on average with better and better yields, especially in Fergana. In particular, I emphasize the role of what one would now call “subsidies,” while drawing special attention to their origins. I propose that although a set of budgetary and administrative measures favored the growth of cotton cultivation, their mere existence demonstrates neither that they were intended to support this production, nor that they corresponded to “a consciously designed and collectively agreed policy,” as Olga Crisp put it in her famous polemic on the role of the state in Russian industrialization. This article questions the existence of coordinated, effective planning on the part of St. Petersburg, from the late 1880s to at least 1908. The single measure that most directly affected cottongrowing households was a tax break on land sown under American cotton, and local officers and economic actors forced it on (or, at the very least, suggested it to) the imperial government, not vice versa. In addition, its continuation largely depended on the practicalities of Russian rule in Turkestan.