In Chapter Twelve of Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s, Daniel Kaiser and Gary Marker decide to include the perspective of an author (Richard Hellie) who thought of the Ulozhenie as the defining moment in the history of serfs in Russia. Hellie’s perspective, while interesting, leaves me with additional questions.
The most intriguing part of Hellie’s point-of-view was that his words seem to create a sharp division in Russian history, a division between pre-1649 and post-1649 (since 1649 was the year that the Ulozhenie was written). He did not view the law code as part of a pattern of regressing rights for peasants, but as something which all seemed to happen at once (Kaiser and Marker 181). His view is certainly different from some thoughts on the reduction in peasant rights over time; Kaiser and Marker even said that one school of thought on the disappearance of peasant rights was that it was a long process which began long before 1649 with actions such as the restriction of travel outside of St. George’s Day (Kaiser and Marker 180).
Also interesting was how Kaiser and Marker did not include any documents which introduced the point-of-view that the events over many decades was a bigger factor than any governmental law code. They had a document which addressed how the institution of slavery developed in Muscovy over the course of many decades (namely, during the “Time of Troubles”), but they didn’t do the same with serfdom and how that gradually developed in the decades leading up to the Ulozhenie in 1649.
I am indeed left with multiple questions. Here are the questions I have:
Do you believe that the restrictions on serfdom were a gradual process, or was it something that mostly came out of the Ulozhenie in 1649?
Why would Kaiser and Marker not give more time to the point-of-view that serfdom was an institution which developed over many years, and not mostly from one law code?
On a note unrelated to my response here, how were these masters able to keep control of their peasants when they were so outnumbered by peasants? According to the reading, ninety percent of the Russian population consisted of peasants at one point; this is a percentage so high that it must have been hard to control all of them.
Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.