The Impact of Serfdom and Rural Resistance in Russia, France, and Prussia
This article discusses the effects of serfdom and rural resistance in Russia, France, and Prussia in the 18th century. Serfdom was prevalent in Russia despite being technically illegal to sell serfs individually from the land they were attached to. The article also discusses the tithe, a religious tax that originated from Jacob’s vow to God in the Old Testament, as well as rural resistance through passive resistance, go-slows, crime, and even insurgency.
Table of Contents
- The prevalence of serfdom in Russia
- The mixed effects of serfdom on the economy
- The village commune or mir
- The clergy’s tithe and its impact
- Rural resistance in France and Prussia
Q: What was the prevailing attitude towards Russian peasants during the 18th century?
A: British envoy to the court of Peter the Great referred to Russian peasants as “perfect slaves” due to their lack of property or rights and being subject to the whims of their lords.
Q: Was serfdom legal in Russia during the 18th century?
A: Technically, individual serf sales were illegal since 1649; however, it continued, with Moscow newspapers advertising serfs for sale along with household utensils.
Q: What were some fashionable practices among Russian serfs during the 18th century?
A: Serf orchestras, theatrical troupes, and harems were fashionable at this time, and even modest landowners hired serfs trained as musicians. However, these serfs were still subject to the punishment of their owners, including corporal punishment.
Q: How did serfdom affect the Russian economy?
A: Serfs were assigned to manufacturing enterprises and helped Russia become the largest iron-producing country in Europe. Still, serfdom had an unequivocally depressing effect on agriculture, with forced labourers approaching tasks without enthusiasm and communal obligations highly prevalent.
Q: Can you explain the village commune or mir in Russia during the 18th century?
A: The village commune or mir was a structure consisting of village elders elected by male heads of household, conducting almost all peasant business, including fixing the dates for the agricultural year, distributing plots of land on open fields, collecting taxes, and enforcing basic community discipline. The mir was an essential part of Russian society and not conducive to change as peasants held an inborn distrust toward all superiors and authorities, including those not responsible for their plight.
Q: What is the tithe, and how did it affect peasants in France?
A: The tithe is a religious tax that originated from Jacob’s vow to God in the Old Testament. By the time of the French Revolution, it had become a complex system with varying rates and items subject to tithing throughout France. The tithe was collected by professionals, often grain-dealers, and prioritized over other dues payable by the cultivators, leading to resentment and social friction. The lion’s share of the tithe often went to the princes of the Church and monasteries, which caused anger among the peasants who wanted their tithe to be used for the upkeep of local priests and church buildings.
Q: What complications arose from the tithe in France?
A: The figure extracted from the laity in the form of tithes is unknown, but estimates range from 70,000,000 livres to 133,000,000 livres. The tithe thrived in England, and after commutation by an Act of Parliament in 1836, almost every English village boasts an “Old Rectory” built or extended in the 18th century, which pays tribute to the value of the tithe.
Q: How did rural resistance manifest in France and Prussia?
A: Peasants sometimes turned to passive resistance, go-slows, and even crime in areas where royal justice was absent or mistrusted. In Calabria, banditry with a social edge was rampant due to disputes between landlords and peasants. During the late 1700s, a sort of rural class war raged in Calabria, which was made worse by the terrible earthquake in 1783 and a government scheme that backfired. There were also peasant outlaws regarded by their people as heroes, avengers, fighters for justice, and leaders of liberation. The article mentions historical figures like Robert Mandrin of France and Stenka Razin of Russia who contributed to mythologizing, making them interesting in the context of rural resistance.
Serfdom had a profound effect on agriculture in Russia, with forced labourers approaching the task without enthusiasm and communal obligations highly prevalent. The village commune or mir was an essential part of Russian society and not conducive to change. The clergy’s tithe caused resentment among the peasants, leading to social friction. Rural resistance manifested in different ways, including passive resistance, go-slows, crime, and even insurgency. Cultural movements such as serf orchestras, theatrical troupes, and harems were fashionable among serfs in Russia. The 18th century was a golden age of bandit-heroes who contributed to the mythologizing of rural resistance.