Peasant Discontent 1827–60

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Map Code: Ax01058

Increasingly, Russia’s rulers realized that the condition of serfdom needed to be addressed. Catherine the Great introduced prosecution for mistreatment of serfs by landowners, in the wake of the Pugachev revolt (1773–75). Paul I limited barshchina (service owed to the landowner) to three days a week, and Alexander I introduced limited emancipation but only with the landowner’s consent. Serfdom was abolished in Russia’s Baltic governates from 1816–19, but then progress towards emancipation stalled, after Nicholas I was forced to suppress a revolt of a cadre of army officers in St Petersburg (1825). These ‘Decembrists’ were not anarchists; they sought representative democracy and the abolition of serfdom, but their idealization of the peasant commune was shared by the anarchist Bakunin, and the quietist Tolstoyan collectives in Orel, Tula and Samara. Peasant unrest spiked after the Crimean War, and Alexander II responded with the Emancipation Act (1861).

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