Lewis Siegelbaum has just published “Those Elusive Scouts: Pioneering Peasants and the Russian State, 1870s-1950s,” in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, vol. 14, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 31-60.
“Those Elusive Scouts” refers to the peasant practice of sending out members of their community to inspect land available for settlement usually at a considerable distance. During the late nineteenth century, the tsarist state, seeking to gain more control over peasant migration to Siberia, the northern Kazakh steppe, and the Russian Far East, institutionalized scouting, going so far as to limit its distribution of benefits to scouts who had registered with resettlement authorities. This attempt to coopt scouts to serve as “links between peasants and power” had limited success, primarily because scouts’ inventiveness at eluding restrictions on their mobility and dissemination of information about the land they inspected. The Soviet state was far more ambivalent about the institution but there is evidence of its survival at least into the 1950s.