The Emancipation of the Serfs (Assessment (The peasants felt they had been…
The Emancipation of the Serfs
Reasons for Emancipation
The Moral Case:
Many previous members of the royals had considered that serfdom was morally wrong.
Nobles and state officials accepted that it was wrong to own a person like a possession. However, the majority of the nobles didn't accept this.
Risk of Revolt:
Peasant revolt had been on the rise since the 1840s.
Alexander believed that it was better to abolish serfdom himself rather than the serfs abolishing themselves.
The army was mainly made up of peasants so it would be hard to quash a full-scale revolt.
Between 1857-59 there was a spike in disturbances, and the Tsar ordered weekly reports on the mood of the peasantry.
The Crimean War:
The War drew attention to the state of the army, causing many military reformers calling for a smaller but better trained army.
However, there was a risk of releasing military trained serfs back into a disgruntled community.
This meant, many believed that military reform could only be carried out if serfdom was abolished.
Some officials and the intelligentia believed in order for the Russian Economy to advance, serfdom had to be abolished.
One idea was that free labour was more productive than forced labour.
Forced labour impoverished the population which dramatically reduced the domestic demand which was essential for a growing economy.
-Some historians argue that the poor transport system was more to blame for economic hinderance than serfdom.
Process of Emancipation
Main discussions evolved around:
Whether the serfs should be freed with or without land.
How much land should be given to each household.
How it would be paid for.
How much compensation would be given to landowners.
Whether the nobility should retain judicial and economic control over the former serfs.
An Editing Commision created in 1859 was charged with putting into place the emancipation. The terms were as follows:
Serfs were now legally free. They could marry, travel, vote and trade freely.
Peasants could keep their houses and the land immediately around it. They would have to buy any other land (called strips).
They would have to make annual payments for any land they were buying to the government, over a period of 49 Years.
Peasants were still under the control of the Mir, whose powers would be strengthened.
Landowners would be compensated for their loss of land through government bonds. They were not compensated for the loss of their serfs.
Nobles still held a role in policing their areas.
After the 19 February proclomation, there was a two-year transitional period.
Local committees decided which villlages got which land, and then the village allocated land to the individual peasants.
Three Key Aspects:
They recieved slightly less land than they had worked before
Because of the shortage of land, many peasants got land that was bad for growing crops and maintaining.
Especially peasants in the Black Earth region, they couldn't make ends meet.
Most peasants had to work for nobles as hired labour for most of the year.
They recieved above average valuations for their land, which meant they got more money, but the peasants had to pay more for it.
Landowners could decide which bits of land they could handover, so they kept the best bits for themselves.
Estimation suggests the peasants were only given about a third of all land.
Powers were strengthened.
They were responsible for collecting redemption payments from peasants and their taxes.
If peasants left the area, they couldn't sell their land, it went automatically to the Mir.
The Mir issued internal passports for the peasants, so their movements could be tracked to prevent disorder.
The peasants felt they had been cheated. They still didn't own the land they had worked on, they had to pay the government for 49 years. There were over 1,000 disturbances in 1861.
Nobles felt they hadn't been compensated for the loss of their rights over the serfs. They were losing power, status and influece. Many nobles wanted some kind of gentry commission or elected representatives to give them more status.
Much of the money the nobles recieved only went to pay off mortgages or debts. Many of them couldn't afford to hire labour, so they rented out land or moved to the cities. Landholdings of the nobility fell by 37 Million Desyatiny.
Radical intelligentisa reacted badly as they felt the emancipation had protected the nobles at the peasants expense.
No one was pleased with the emancipation. The real winners, the nobles, didn't see it that way. The Tsar sacked Nicholas Milyutin who oversaw the emancipation, so he could keep the conservative nobles on side.