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existed it was mere mockery to talk about reorganising Russia according to the latest results of political and social science. How could a system of even-handed justice be introduced when twenty millions of the population were beyond the pale of the law? How could agricultural or industrial progress be made without free labour? How could the Government take active measures for the spread of national education when it had no direct control over one-half of the peasantry? Above all, how could it be hoped that a great moral regeneration could take place, so long as the nation voluntarily retained the stigma of serfage and slavery?

All this was very generally felt by the educated classes, but no one ventured to raise the question until it should be known what were the views of the Emperor on the subject. How the question was gradually raised, how it was treated by the nobles, and how it was ultimately solved by the famous law of February 19th (March 3rd),* I now propose to relate.

*February 19th according to the old style, which is still used in Russia, and March 3rd according to our method of reckoning.



The Rural Population in Ancient Times-The Peasantry in the Eighteenth Century-How was this Change effected?-The Common Explanation is Inaccurate-Serfage the Result of Permanent Economic and Political Causes -Origin of the Adscriptio Gleba-Its Consequences-Serf Insurrection— Turning-point in the History of Serfage-Serfage in Russia and in Western Europe-State Peasants-Numbers and Geographical Distribution of the Serf Population-Serf Dues-Legal and Actual Power of the ProprietorsThe Serfs' Means of Defence-Fugitives-Domestic Serfs-Moral Influence of Serfage.

BEFORE proceeding to describe the Emancipation, it may be well to explain briefly how the Russian peasants became serfs, and what serfage in Russia really was.

In the earliest period of Russian history the rural population was composed of three distinct classes. At the bottom of the scale stood the slaves, who were very numerous. Their numbers were continually augmented by prisoners of war, by freemen who voluntarily sold themselves as slaves, by insolvent debtors, and by certain categories of criminals. Immediately above the slaves were the free agricultural labourers, who had no permanent domicile, but wandered about the country and settled temporarily where they happened to find work and satisfactory remuneration. In the third place, distinct from these two classes, and in some respects higher in the social scale, were the peasants properly so called.*

* My chief authority for the early history of the peasantry has been Bêláef, “Krestyáné na Rusi," Moscow, 1860; a most able and conscientious work. By

These peasants proper, who may be roughly described as small farmers or cottiers, were distinguished from the free agricultural labourers in two respects: they were possessors of land in property or usufruct, and they were members of a rural Commune. The Communes were free primitive corporations which elected their office-bearers from among the heads of families, and sent delegates to act as judges or assessors in the Prince's Court. Some of the Communes possessed land of their own, whilst others were settled on the estates of the landed proprietors or on the extensive domains of the monasteries. In the latter case the peasant paid a fixed yearly rent in money, in produce, or in labour, according to the terms of his contract with the proprietor or the monastery; but he did not thereby sacrifice in any way his personal liberty. As soon as he had fulfilled the engagements stipulated in the contract and settled accounts with the owner of the land, he was free to change his domicile as he pleased.

If we turn now from these early times to the eighteenth century, we find that the position of the rural population has entirely changed in the interval. The distinction between slaves, agricultural labourers, and peasants has completely disappeared. All three categories have melted together into a common class, called serfs, who are regarded as the property of the landed proprietors or of the State. "The proprietors sell their peasants and domestic servants not even in families, but

the recent death of M. Bêláef, Russia has lost one of her most learned and laborious historical investigators.

one by one, like cattle, as is done nowhere else in the whole world, from which practice there is not a little wailing. And yet the Government, whilst professing to regret the existence of the practice, takes no energetic measures to prevent it. On the contrary, it deprives the serfs of all legal protection, and expressly commands that if any serf shall dare to present a petition against his master, he shall be punished with the knout and transported for life to the mines of Nertchinsk. (Ukáz of August 22nd, 1767.†)

How did this important change take place, and how is it to be explained?

If we ask any educated Russian who has never specially occupied himself with historical investigations regarding the origin of serfage in Russia, he will probably reply somewhat in this fashion: "In Russia slavery has never existed (!), and even serfage in the West-European sense has never been recognised by law! In ancient times the rural population was completely free, and every peasant might change his domicile on St. George's Day-that is to say, at the end of the agricultural year. This right of migration was abolished by Tsar Boris Godunóf-who, by the way, was half a Tartar and more than half a usurper-and herein lies the essence of serfage in the Russian sense.

These words are taken from an Imperial ukáz of April 15th, 1721. Pólnoe Sobranie Zakónov, No. 3,770.

This is an ukáz of the liberal and humane Catherine! How she reconciled it with her respect and admiration for Beccaria's humane views on criminal law she does not explain, and in her eloquent descriptions of the amazing progress of civilisation in her Empire she forgets to mention it.

The peasants have never been the property of the landed proprietors, but have always been personally free; and the only legal restriction on their liberty was that they were not allowed to change their domicile without the permission of the proprietor. If so-called serfs were sometimes sold, the practice was simply an abuse not justified by legislation.”

This simple explanation, in which may be detected a note of patriotic pride, is almost universally accepted in Russia; but it contains, like most popular conceptions of the distant past, a curious mixture of fact and fiction. Recent serious investigations tend to show that the power of the proprietors over the peasants came into existence, not suddenly, as the result of an ukáz, but gradually, as a consequence of permanent economic and political causes, and that Boris Godunóf was not more to blame than many of his predecessors and successors.*

Although the peasants in ancient Russia were free to wander about as they chose, there appeared at a very early period-long before the reign of Boris Godunóf-a decided tendency in the Princes, in the proprietors, and in the Communes to prevent migration. This tendency will be easily understood if we remember that land without labourers is useless, and that in Russia at that time the population was small in comparison with the amount of reclaimed and easily reclaimable land. The Prince desired to have as many inhabitants as possible

* See especially Pobédonóstsef, in the Rússki Vêstnik, 1858, No. 11, and "Istorítcheskiya izslêdovaniya i statyí" (St. Petersburg, 1876), by the same author; also Pogódin, in the Rússkaya Besêda, 1858, No. 4.

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