The abolition of serfdom in Russia led to the impoverishment of the peasants and the emergence of a layer of "tramps"
“Fortress” - this word in Russia of the XVII – XIX centuries was called the feudal dependence of the peasant on his landowner. In the 19th century, it was an anachronism — nowhere in Europe did the peasants bear such heavy duties to their landlords, and in a number of European countries serfdom either never did or was already abolished. Serfdom was ineffective and, moreover, periodically led to unrest among the peasants. Alexander I was aware of the need to cancel it - but the sovereign himself did not think of the form in which this reform could be carried out, and his successor, Nicholas I, eventually ceased to consider it necessary. As a result, the preparation and implementation of the reform was forced to take Alexander II into their hands, and she, apparently, turned out to be somewhat belated and inconsistent.
Revolution from below
Alexander II was well aware that the landlords for the most part were against the abolition of serfdom, and wanted to furnish the reform as if its initiative came "from below," from the nobles themselves. Stating the need for reform in his speech delivered by 30 in March 1856 to representatives of the Moscow nobility, he formulated his attitude towards the liberation of the peasants: “It’s better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for it to start canceling itself from below”. It was an argument that the nobles understood well: even the chief of gendarmes wrote to Nicholas I: “The fortress is a powder cellar under the state”. They felt even more keenly the correctness of the royal words in the five years since the death of Nicholas I: during these years, almost five hundred peasant unrest occurred in the Russian Empire.
Emperor Emperor Alexander II. Photo: Wikipedia.org
However, like his predecessors, Alexander quickly realized how inert his officials become as soon as it comes to the reform project. At first, the project was prepared by the Ministry of the Interior, which presented the “Note”, which set forth the basic principles: the land on the estate will continue to be considered the property of the landlords, and the peasants will rent it, paying the rent with corvee or rent. Then a special Secret Committee chaired by Alexander took over the project. The committee consisted of former Nikolaev dignitaries who fully shared the views of the late emperor and deliberately delayed the discussion. Alexander was looking for an initiative “from below” that would allow him to begin the practical implementation of the reform.
The necessary excuse was found in the Lithuanian provinces: the Vilna governor-general Nazimov suggested to the local nobility to discuss in what form they would like to introduce the inventory rules defining the duties of the landlord peasants. The question was painful - the rules greatly limited the arbitrariness of landlords in relation to their serfs, and the Lithuanian nobles told Nazimov that they did not see the point in introducing inventory — would it not be better to raise the question of the destruction of serf rights (while retaining their landowners) in the whole empire?
Nazimov came with a petition of Lithuanian nobles to the capital, and Alexander ordered a response rescript in which it was proposed to form provincial committees in the Lithuanian provinces of elected from the nobility, who would discuss ways to liberate the peasants. The rescript basically followed the provisions of the “Note” prepared by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but it clarified that the peasants would not only be able to rent land, but would also have the right to buy out their plots at a certain time. By publishing it, the government burned the bridges behind it — now it was impossible to turn the tide back.
Freedom or improvement of life?
After this declaration of intent, the government proceeded to "replicating re-scripts": the first of them (not counting Vilnius) was given first to the St. Petersburg Governor-General, and then the rescripts and the other governors followed. During the 1858 year, in the 46 provinces where serfdom existed, there were established “committees for improving the life of landlord peasants”. Their name itself is quite eloquent: the government, on the one hand, feared to cause discontent among the landlords, and on the other, did not want to give the peasants premature aspirations.
Despite this caution, the landlords in the mass were against the “improvement in the life” of the peasants: among the provincial committees of the central provinces, only one Tver committee was mainly set up to support the provisions of the rescript. Of the 46 thousands of landlords in Central Russia, only 13 thousands have signed their agreement to follow. But the landowners in the northern, nonchernozem provinces, where the peasants paid dues to their masters, obtained through local and waste fisheries, saw that the reform was quite beneficial for them - provided that the land ransom covered the lost income from the peasant descendants.
The discussion of the provincial committees and the Main Committee that led them (transformed from the Secret) reflected the intensity of the peasant movement in the country. Thus, on April 21, Alexander 1858 approved a program supported by the landlord majority, where the idea of liberating the peasants was crossed out - it was only a matter of softening their situation, but the peasant revolts that broke out in summer forced the government to revise the program. The document, adopted in December of the same year, was intended not only to give the peasants the opportunity to buy out their allotments for permanent use, but also with their own self-government bodies.
The new program, developed by General Yakov Rostovtsev, contained a number of important additions that will further affect the course of the reform - provided for an intermediate state of the peasants who had to buy the land for several years, and also the source of their funding - a special state loan. In this form, the program was sent to the editorial commissions headed by Rostovtsev under the main committee. A furious struggle unfolded around the program - suffice it to say that Rostovtsev himself, a quick-tempered man, acutely surviving a discussion of his program, fell ill on nerves and died without waiting for its implementation. The conservatives again threatened to bury the reform in endless discussions, and in January 1861, in a tough form, Alexander called on the State Council to finish work on the program by the first half of February, so that it could be announced before the start of the field work season: “I repeat, the affair was now over. Now, 4 of the year, how it lasts and excites various fears and expectations both in landowners and peasants. Any further delay can be detrimental to the state. ”
The State Council heeded the demand of the king, and 19 February 1861, Alexander signed the Manifesto “On the Most Gracious Tribute to the Serfs People the Rights of the State of Free Rural Philistines” and its supplement - a number of acts, chief among which was the “Provision on peasants emerging from serfdom”.
Reading the Manifesto on the abolition of serfdom in the village. Photo: Wikipedia.org
Long awaited release
Long awaited release
“The serfdom of the peasants established in the landed estates and on the people of the yard is abolished forever,” said the beginning of the “Provisions”. From now on, the serfs went into the category of “free rural inhabitants”, equaling their rights with the peasants who had gained freedom earlier - now they could not be sold, bought, given, forcibly resettled. They received their own houses and all real estate as personal property, could themselves enter into marriages or any contracts, act in court. The peasants also received freedom of movement and self-government — rural communities, governed by a gathering, united in volosts.
The landowners retained their estates, but were obliged to give the peasants a "manor settled" - a plot next to the house, and besides this extensive allotment of land to the rural community, which distributed it among individual peasant farms.
For the use of the land, the peasants had to serve the serfdom or pay a rent: “In this state, which is transitional, the peasants are called temporarily obliged,” explained the Manifesto. However, the peasants had the right of redemption of the "manor", and the rural communities had the right to redeem the field plots, having agreed with the landowner about the price. In fact, in this case, the state itself paid the landowner a large part (80%) of the redemption money, and the peasants had to reimburse it to the state, contributing 6% of the redemption amount annually for 49 years. The release of the peasants was carried out with the help of a conclusion between landowners and rural communities consisting of their former peasants, statutory charters, which determined the amount of land provided to the peasants for permanent use, and the amount of duties due from them to the landowner.
"The great chain was broken"
The manifesto was read in churches after the mass. His promulgation provoked an angry reaction from the landowners - Nekrasov ridiculed the reaction of the landowners on the example of the comic "Prince Utyatin":
The master's angry voice
In the feast of the courtyard heard;
Ozlylilsya so that in the evening
Enough of his punch!
The peasants' turn came a little later, when they studied the order of redemption payments and calculated that in a little less than half a century, the landlord and the state would have to pay 194% more than if they had money to pay immediately. In addition, the purchase price of the plots often exceeded its market value - in the non-black-earth zone, it had to be paid 2 – 3 times more expensive. The payment of the rent was also unprofitable: the peasants who were temporarily obliged to pay paid as much as their brethren in black earth provinces (on average, about 10 rubles per year), while their land was several times less fertile. A coronation turned out to be more profitable than a turnover: the law limited the stay of 40 in corvee for men and 30 for women. If the peasant had more land than was established in a particular locality, then the surplus was transferred to the landowner.
Beggars near the church. Painting by Ivan Tzorozhnikov
Even during the preparation of the reform, among the serfs there were rumors that they would be set free without land — that is, without means for subsistence. Now the peasants began to refuse to sign charters with the landowners. There was a rumor in the village that the current “freedom” was not real, but real, given by the king, the landowners had hidden from the peasants. In a year, 1176 peasant uprisings swept the empire - more than in the whole previous decade. In more than 2 thousands of villages, the king had to suppress unrest with the help of army units. Major disturbances, for example, occurred in the village of the Abyss of Kazan province, where a local peasant Anton Petrov read the “authentic” manifesto of his own composition to a crowd of five thousand: “Landowner lands — mountains and valleys, ravines and roads, and sand and reed, the forest with them no rod. He will step over from his land - give a good word, did not obey - cut their heads to him, you will receive an award from the king! ”The troops who entered the village opened fire on the crowd, killing fifty people and injuring about eighty.
In general, the reform led to the impoverishment of the peasantry - due to the fact that the landowners took "pieces" of holdings, in total, made up one fifth of all land, the average size of the peasant holdings decreased by about 30%. Its fertility also fell: the landlords willingly exercised their right to independently choose the land given to the peasants for use, giving the scarce allotments to the former serfs, depriving them of the agricultural land needed for grazing and forage for him. The unprofitability of the transition from temporary to “redeemed” felt so acutely that the peasants were in no hurry to change their status. The government was forced to push them to this: by a decree already adopted under Alexander III, all the temporarily obliged peasants were to turn into redemption with 1 in January of 1883.
As for the yard people, who made up more than 6% of the total number of serfs, their fate was even more unenviable: they did not have land, they were left completely without means of livelihood. And it is not without reason that Firs, a lackey, in “The Cherry Orchard” calls the abolition of serfdom a “misfortune”: many courtyards joined the huge army of tramps, the lumpen-proletarians - disasters that have not been seen in Russia for a long time. In short, critics of the reform have repeatedly recalled the words of Pushkin, written by him in a controversy with Radishchev and challenging the idea of the terrible life of the serfs: “Liens are not at all burdensome. The airbag is paid by the world; corvee is defined by law; the rent is not ruinous ... The peasant does what he thinks of, and sometimes it takes him 2000 versts to make money for himself ”.
Despite all these shortcomings of the reform, it was of great importance: Freedom found almost 22 million inhabitants of the country. This contributed to the development of economic relations and society as a whole. Russia has ceased to be a country where "slavery" existed, embarked on the path of a truly civilized power.