The Reform of State Peasants in Right-Bank Ukraine
in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century
- Monetization of Feudal Obligations and Agrarian Capitalism -


Copyright (c) 1998 by the Slavic Research Center( English / Japanese ) All rights reserved.

Under Russian Rule, agrarian capitalism in Right-Bank Ukraine, one of the former territories of the Kingdom of Poland, developed through the "Prussian path." It is well-known that after the Emancipation of 1861 the local landed nobility (mostly Polish) were increasingly involved in capitalist plantations, while ex-serfs holding insignificant pieces of land were employed by these plantations as agricultural laborers. Even prior to the Emancipation, the famous inventory reform, which aimed at improving the serfs" living conditions, actually increased feudal obligations imposed on the upper strata of serfs, and thus accelerated the transfer of their land to the serf masters. Moreover, ceilings on corvee labor, one of the mottos of this reform, stimulated the conversion of serfs into agricultural laborers.
This paper focuses on another group of peasants in Right-Bank Ukraine - state peasants. In contrast to their counterparts in the Great Russian and Siberian provinces, state peasants in this region lacked "prosperous" categories, such as "Siberian plowmen," "chernososhnye peasants," "Tatars," and "iasachnye." State peasants in the Right Bank consisted of peasants of the former Orthodox monasterial estates, "commanders" peasants (krest"iane starostva)," and peasants of the former Catholic church or Polish estates confiscated by the government. Except for the first category, corvee labor was imposed on the state peasants, while state peasants in the Great Russian provinces paid their feudal obligations in cash. In other words, the situation of the state peasants in the Right Bank was more similar to that of the serfs of the same region than to state peasants in the Great Russian provinces.
State plantations in the Right Bank (even the ones established by the government on the basis of confiscated Catholic or Polish nobles" estates) continued to be controlled by Polish leaseholders, who did everything to preserve the imposition of corvee labor on state peasants. And the tsarist government, even after the 1830-31 rising, was interested in keeping the lease system of state properties in operation to appease the local Polish elite. Taking advantage of the rapid expansion of grain export in the first half of the nineteenth century, not only serf masters but also these leaseholders expanded the share of plantations directly managed by themselves at the expense of peasants" allotments.
The Kiselev reform of state peasants was implemented in Right-Bank Ukraine according to the law approved by the tsar on December 28, 1839. At this stage, as would be the case with the future inventory reform, this reform was only aimed at making the majority of state peasants medium-scale landholders, monitoring the imposition of feudal obligations. In 1844, however, due to the efforts of the Governor-General of the South-Western Region of the Empire, Dmitrii Bibikov, the reform gained a radical momentum. The obligations were monetized, Polish leaseholders were fired, and the state plantations, which had in effect been the remnants of the former Polish and Catholic manors, were divided among the state peasants. Various assets attached to these plantations (storage facilities, offices, mills, taverns, and distilleries) were liquidated.
What were the results of this reform which were aimed, at least subjectively, at improving the state peasants" well-being? This writer compared the economic situation between the former state peasants and the former serfs in the Right Bank during the 1860-1880s. As mentioned above, Right-Bank serfs" living conditions before the Kiselev reform were similar to those of the state peasants of this region. Therefore, this comparison enables us to see the effects of the two reforms -the Kiselev and inventory ones. According to statistics from the 1860s, it is true that the former state peasants owned, on average, slightly larger allotments than the former serfs. But it was impossible for the both groups to sustain their living only by their allotments. It was necessary to find additional earnings, and precisely in this regard the situation of the former state peasants was much worse than that of the former serfs in the region.
Because of the existence of large-scale estates in their neighborhood, in particular the sugar beet plantations, serfs (the former serfs, afterwards) could be converted into skilled, experienced agricultural laborers, whereas after the liquidation of state plantations (the former) state peasants could not find any similar chances for employment. There remained few plantations in their neighborhood. This is why statistics of the then passport administration indicate that most of the migrant, unskilled agricultural laborers with which the Right Bank provided Southern (Steppe) Ukraine were released from the former state peasant counties (volosti). Paradoxically, the reform of state peasants in the Right Bank helped the "Prussian path" of agrarian capitalism not in the Right Bank itself but in Steppe Ukraine. This writer cannot agree with the dominant opinion in historiography presented initially by N.M. Druzhinin, a Soviet historian, that the reform of state peasants in the Right Bank improved their well-being, albeit its egalitarian tendency hindered the capitalist development of agriculture. The "Prussian path" was the only viable way for Right-Bank agriculture to develop. Bridling this, the reform of state peasants blockaded the way to improve their well-being too.

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