Does Reform Prevent Rebellion? Evidence From Russia’s Emancipation of the Serfs

Evgeny Finkel, Scott Gehlbach, Tricia D. Olsen

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40 Scopus citations


Contemporary models of political economy suggest that reforms intended to reduce grievances should curtail unrest, a perspective at odds with many traditional accounts of reform and rebellion. We explore the impact of reform on rebellion with a new data set on peasant disturbances in 19th-century Russia. Using a difference-in-differences design that exploits the timing of various peasant reforms, we document a large increase in disturbances among former serfs following the Emancipation Reform of 1861, a development counter to reformers’ intent. Our analysis suggests that this outcome was driven by peasants’ disappointment with the reform’s design and implementation—the consequence of elite capture in the context of a generally weak state—and heightened expectations of what could be achieved through coordinated action. Reform-related disturbances were most pronounced in provinces where commune organization facilitated collective action and where fertile soil provoked contestation over land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)984-1019
Number of pages36
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015


  • East European politics
  • Russia/former Soviet Union
  • conflict processes
  • democratization and regime change
  • revolution


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