An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE AGRARIAN QUESTION IN THE "HIGHER SPHERES" IN THE TIME OF THE EMPRESS KATHERINE II-- 1762-1796

SERIOUS discussion of the agrarian question in modern Russia began in the reign of Katherine II. At that time the exercise of bondage right was carried to extreme limits. "Crowds of people were exposed for sale in the market places";1 numbers of serfs were brought in barges to St. Petersburg for sale.2 The condition of the serfs in the hands of estate owners was almost unendurable. Flights of peasants from the estates to which they belonged, and even from Russia, were frequent. Contemporary writers, even of conservative leanings, urged that measures should be taken to limit bondage right. For example, Count P. E. Panin, a member of a family always distinguished for its devotion to the throne, presented in 1763, to the Empress Katherine, a memorandum in which he said that the pomyetschēkē "were collecting from the peasants taxes and laying upon them works not merely exceeding those imposed by their near neighbours in foreign countries, but very often even beyond human endurance."3 He stated also that many Pomyetschēkē were selling their peasants to other Pomyetschēkē for recruiting purposes. The flights of peasants to Poland from Russia were, in Panin's opinion, due to the exercise by the estate owners of unlimited authority. Panin suggested that governors of guberni should be empowered to deal with those estate owners who treated their peasants arbitrarily, that trading in recruits for the army should be forbidden, that when serfs were disposed of, only whole families should be permitted to be sold, and that a statute should be promulgated defining the obligations of peasants to their proprietors.

____________________
1
Semevsky V. E., The Peasant Question in Russia in the Eighteenth and the First Half of the Nineteenth Century ( St. Petersburg, 1888), i. p. 477.
2
Ibid., p. 22.
3
Semevsky, Peasants under Katherine II, i. pp. 152-3.

-311-

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