An Economic History of Russia - Vol. 1

By James Mavor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE QUESTION OF THE LIMITATION OF BONDAGE RIGHT IN THE REIGNS OF PAUL I AND ALEXANDER I

WHEN Paul I ascended the throne, in 1796, the peasant, in spite of numerous projects for the improvement of his condition, was still really at the mercy of his owner. The peasant had no right of complaint; he could not marry without leave from his owner, or without payment to the owner for his wife; he had no property in the movables he might have acquired; his obligations were undefined, and were usually burdensome; he had no right to demand redemption from his personal bondage, even although by some means he might be able to pay for redemption. The owner of serfs had practically unlimited power of punishment, and he might, if he wished, sell or bequeath his peasants, with or without the land they cultivated.1 In short, the serf was not recognized as a man--he was a chattel or a beast of burden. At the same time his owner--the pomyetschik--though an autocrat in his own sphere, was himself a serf of the Tsar. Russian life had come to be involved in a vicious circle from which escape was destined to be by a hard path.

The severe censorship of the reign of Paul I notwithstanding, a considerable body of influential opinion had gradually arisen in favour of the limitation of the rights of the Pomyetschēkē. This opinion was strong enough in 1801, the last year of the reign of Paul, to secure the enactment of the ukase of that year by means of which two important steps towards emancipation were taken. These were the modification of obligations on the part of the peasant and the limitation of the right to sell peasants without at the same time selling the land cultivated by them. The amount of bartschina which might be exacted was fixed at three days, and so far as Little Russia was concerned, serf-owners were forbidden to sell serfs without

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1
Cf. Semevsky, Peasant Question in Russia in the Eighteenth and the first half of the Nineteenth century ( St. Petersburg, 1888), i. p. 477.

-316-

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