Peasant Migration, the Abolition of
Serfdom, and the Internal Passport
System in the Russian Empire
THERE WAS A substantial increase in peasant migration in the Russian Empire over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Growing numbers of peasants left their home villages to work temporarily as migrant laborers. In addition, ever larger numbers settled permanently in the empire's industrializing cities and the relatively sparsely populated regions on the southern and eastern peripheries of the empire. This period also saw the abolition of serfdom, which had bound peasants to the estates of nobles, in 1861, and major reform of the internal passport system, which had restricted peasants' geographical mobility, from the 1890s. The aim of this chapter is to consider the relationship between the abolition of serfdom, the reform of the passport system, and the growth in peasant migration.
Before more detailed discussion, a few points need to be noted. Before 1861, the serfs of noble estate owners (pomeshchiki)—or seigniorial peasants (pomeshchich'i krest'yane)—were only part of the Russian peasantry. They were about half the total in the 1850s. The other large category, also around half in the 1850s, was the “state peasantry,” who lived on state land. There was also a small category of “appanage peasants,” who lived on the estates of the imperial family. The mobility of all peasants was restricted by law as part of a wider policy of state regulation of population movement. 1
Although peasants were banned from moving on their own initiative without authorization, they were liable to be moved under coercion. Large numbers of male peasants were drafted into the