Serfdom in Russia was such an important phenomenon because, like P. Kolchin mentions in his book, peasants “were the essence of” Russia “and 90 percent of its population.” Were the serfs really slaves, like P. Kolchin implies? He states that even some respectable Russian writers and historians referred to the serfs as slaves. I believe that this meant that the life conditions of serfs in Russia were very hard, and in this respect compared to the slaves in the United States. However, they were not truly slaves. The word “slave” in the Russian language is often used indirectly, in the figurative sense, and the word “slave” can describe somebody in a difficult situation without meaning that the person is actually a slave. The serfs in Russia were not the property of the landowner and had their own property. However, they were dependent on the landowner and had to pay him rent for the use of land. In my opinion, this is the main difference between the Russian serfs and American slaves. Even though, the situation in which the Russian serfs had to live was very miserable, it was very different from the American slaves. Therefore, it is not right to call the Russian serfs slaves.
P. Kolchin’s analysis, especially his comparison of slavery in America with serfdom in Russia is very interesting. The point he makes about the exploitation by the Russian nobility of the serfs who were also ethnically Russian, really stirred my feelings – he presents it in a very clear and graphic way that the Russian nobility were exploiting the people who were just like themselves and never had any qualms of conscience about it. Of course it doesn’t mean that slavery in America can be justified, because the slaves were black and came from a totally different background than the people who owned them. It just gives you a slightly different historic perspective and makes you understand more how unjust the whole situation was.
The introduction to P. Kolchin’s book also highlights the causes the role of serfdom in Russia and slavery in America in a very unique way. They both arose from the scarcity of agricultural labor and had similar social and economic significance for the development of the two countries. At the same time they were very different and, therefore, elicit a “fruitful” comparison. It is a great incentive to read the whole book.