It was a commune of 19th century Russian peasants, dominating almost every aspect of rural life in that vast country. It is not generally known that the commune system was well established in the century before early 20th century Communism, which must take its name from the communes. Land was owned by the community and re-distributed occasionally (a period of years) in order to take into account changes in ownerships due to death, wills, gifts etc.
The mir controlled rotation of crops, choice of cereals and common pasture for domesticated animals. When the ‘Emancipation of the Serfs’ came in 1861 the functions of the mir were naturally extended; the government needed it as an (unpaid) civil service used to collect redemption dues, state taxes and control of the system of passports.
When land became available, it was awarded to the mir, rather than individuals. In turn it recruited soldiers for the government, maintained roads and bridges, kept law and order, and even administered justice. Probably because of this, the mir was a breeding place for plots, intrigue, occasional breakouts of violence; it was ultimately very conservative. As such it opposed change and tried to preserve village customs, so much so that the Tsars hoped it would act as a barrier and protect their regimes in the countryside – but the 1905 revolution showed that this was not so. Attempts were made to persuade peasants to set up as individual farmers, leaving the mir to continue as best it could. A good example was set by Count Tolstoi, who offered his serfs their own farms and allotments in a brave attempt to be liberal. They refused, preferring ancient ways to which they were accustomed.
After the Russian revolutions of 1917 (in February and October) most or all peasants who had left their mir returned to it; they imagined it would provide better security. Stalin dealt with this effectively in 1930 when he abolished the mir and started the ‘collectivization’ of agriculture employing his by then well-known persuasive tactics.