Ask not what Russia can do for you but what you can do for Russia

The reading for today was a except from Dmytryshyn and contained a deceleration from Alexander II the then tzar of Russia freeing the surfs from their burden. In the deceleration he says that he with the cooperation and assistance of the nobles have devised a method of freeing the surfs without violating the nobles rights. They decide to free the surfs in two years. And that any freed surfs will receive some land and a stipend from the noble they were serving. In return they must fulfill their obligations to the nobles. The declaration also states that any surfs not working the fields but instead otherwise employed should work out an arrangement with their noble. The peasants office and the organization of peace were to be set up to determine the fairness of the proceedings.

The most interesting part of the deceleration was the last section were the now freed surfs are spoken to directly. In it they are told to act with in a appropriate way and bear their new obligations. I believe that this is the Russian version of “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. The government is telling the surfs to serve the same roles they are now and not to forfeit their jobs and move to a better location.

Serfdom in Russia

Within this particular chapter, there was one aspect that stood out to me. I was surprised at the number of types of serfs that were discussed. Prior to taking this course, I had thought that a serf was a single type of individual, and there wasn’t any differentiation because they were collectively seen as the lowest within Russia society. In addition to the serfs that most people associate with the title, there were also industrial serfs, as well as household serfs.

In the reading, the author discusses the development of “possessional factories” that were established by the state to assuage the difficulties associated with a scarce labor supply. These operations were run by merchants usually and had “possessional workers” attached to these establishments.  The book notes that in reality, these workers were really industrial serfs, meaning that instead of belonging to an individual, they belonged to a factory.

In contrast to industrial serfs, household serfs were seen as the lowest within the serf hierarchy. With no land to till, these individuals acted as domestic servants, within the master’s household. These people essentially were slaves, and were kept under constant control . However, the authors noted that some household serfs had the opportunity to rise socially, and even receive an education.

I found this aspect of the chapter to be interesting because I would like to learn more about industrial and household serfs compared to typical serfs (I’m assuming “regular” serfs constituted as the majority of serfs in Russia). For instance were there any stark contrasts between the groups that would have prevented them from unifying in a revolt? It would be interesting to find out if there were such differences, amongst the groups, and if subsequently they each had different goals or grievances.