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Serfdom – Emancipation, etc

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Introduction

History Revision Notes Serfdom - Emancipation, etc Graham Stephenson: History of Russia 1812-1945 The economic basis of the nobility was the land. By the beginning of the 19th century private estates were everywhere worked by peasant serfs, who were by far the most numerous class in the State, and who were entirely deprived of political and personal rights. The bonds of serfdom had been strengthened during the 18th century with the intention of compensating the nobility for their lack of political power. But the direction of policy changed with the accession of Alexander I in 1801. From that date the autocrats, at first timidly and then with desperate courage, attacked serfdom because it was inhumane, because it was inefficient, and because it gave too much social influence to the nobility. Emancipation came in 1861; the long delay perhaps being testimony to the obstinacy of the nobility. The peasant question festered for too long. It helped to set the intelligentsia against the State and prevented Russia from taking steps towards industrialisation at an early date. Defeat in 1812 might even have been an advantage; the total victory over Napoleon strengthened the arguments of those who claimed that Russian institutions were not in need for reform. There were widespread fears that Nap. would provoke social war in Russia by declaring emancipation during his march to Moscow. He failed to do so and the peasants fought with courageous patriotism. In spite of the condition to which he had been reduced - in practice little short of slavery - the Russian peasant retained a superstitious veneration for the person of the Tsar, seeing in him the personal representative of God. Evils were usually blamed upon the landowner and even when the peasant did revolt - an event which had occurred frequently during the 18th century and which was to occur still more frequently during the nineteenth - he frequently 'discovered' a 'true' Tsar and claimed that the actual occupant of the throne was a usurper. ...read more.

Middle

Public auction and advertisement were forbidden, serf-owners could no longer send their serfs to penal servitude in Siberia, and an attempt was made to prevent the wealthy from purchasing serf-substitutes for military service. Alex also tried an experiment in emancipation in the Baltic provinces. Between 1816-19 the serfs were freed by without any land allotment. The land became the outright property of the nobles who were able, following the English model, to establish a new middle-class of tenant farmers on their estates. The experiment did not satisfy the peasants and the Baltic provinces remained a centre of discontent. Nick was also much concerned with the serf problem. Its humanitarian aspect did not trouble him but he hated the disorder caused by peasant revolts (which were frequent in the 1830s) and the loss of poll tax and rent revenues to the State. His response was a bureaucratic one. A 5th section of the Imperial Chancery was created especially to deal with the problems of state peasants. It was entrusted to the 'liberal' Kiselyov, an energetic general of the sort much employed during this reign. It was hoped that the improved condition of the state peasants would encourage the private owners to improve the lot of their serfs. Kiselyov removed the state peasants - now declared to be 'free inhabitants' from the control of the existing administrative system, and placed them directly under the Ministry of State Properties. This seemed in itself a very large change since it concerned about one third of the total population of Russia, but its significance should not be overrated. Such a change was typical of the bureaucratic mentality of that period. It was thought that to create a new Ministry was in itself a major achievement. In fact, all that happened was that a few officials and files moved out of the Ministry of the Interior into the new ministry. ...read more.

Conclusion

They were better educated than they had been in 1861. Their grievances were focused and expressed by educated revolutionaries. They had closer links with the towns. They travelled more, they were less superstitious, less fatalistic. They were disappointed by the results of the long-awaited emancipation. Since that had evidently not worked, what was to come next? They witnessed the flight of the landlords from the countryside and, as the landlords disappeared, the peasants grew used to helping themselves. More and more land came under peasant control and was subjected to inefficient peasant agricultural methods. The peasants distrusted authority, for they knew from experience that authority meant trouble. The landlord flogged, the bureaucrat cheated and extorted, and the soldier shot. Witte was among the first to grasp the meaning of this rising tide of anarchy. His solution was to create a new class of rural capitalists, who would remain loyal to the social order because it was in their economic interest to do so. Lenin, a mind equally acute, observed the same symptoms but drew quite different conclusions. The peasantry had become in his view a revolutionary class. He saw that he could use them to destroy the bonds of society and thus give him the chance to seize political power. The Foreign Grain Trade: profound changes in ag. post 1905 by Stolypin. Necessary to examine Russia's foreign grain trade. Yet another burden laid upon peasantry by remorseless State. Russia under later Romanovs presented same picture as Ireland during potato famine of 1846 - while people starving ports carrying on brisk export trade in food. Beginning of century 10% of total value of exports was grain. By 1850 - 30%; 50% 1870-1900; 55% 1913. During most of century Russia greatest grain-exporting country in world. Some grain came from large estates viz in south, but most from peasant farms. Primitive Russian ag. had to compete in world markets with mechanised and fertilised grain lands of old/new worlds - the empty lands of N. America had higher yield than overcrowded arable area of Russia. India & Russia had same level of ag. efficiency. 2 ...read more.

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