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C O U R S E 
Russian History: from Lenin to Putin
Peter Kenez, University of California Santa Cruz
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Abolition of Serfdom in Russia
Notes taken on October 21, 2018 by Edward Tanguay
the character of the Russian state from its establishment to the pre-revolutionary time
the great dividing line is 1861
the liberation of the serfs
how did serfdom develop and what were the consequences of serfdom
serfdom is the essential social fact of Russian history
which has significance very much going into Soviet times
serfdom developed relatively late
at a time when the serfdom conditions in Europe became lighter and ultimately diminished
two aspectes led up to it
1. the impoverishment of the peasantry
came about because the Russian lands were not particularly suitable for agriculture
the best Russian cultivatable lands are comparable to the worse cultivatable lands in the United States
Kiew was a collection of cities and towns, but Russia had nothing comparable
the consequence of this is that a surplus that elsewhere contributed to the creation of cities, did not develop in Russia
thus the bourgeoise as a restraining force to the aristocracy did not come into existence at all
significant in 16th and 17th century when Russia was engaged in a number of wars
spread of epidemics
peasants were free, able to move, etc.
had to borrow in order to survive and so sold himself into serfdom as a result of the wars
policies of the state
the Russian prince would assemble an army of the small land owners
he could only pay through giving them land
the land was not by itself very valuable
16th, 17th century
aristocrats, the richer landlords were in the position to compete for labor by offering better conditions to peasants
the state had an interest in the enserfment of the peasantry
to keep them ready and healthy enough to serve in the army
forbidden to move in certain years
1651 all free movement of the peasants was suspended and they became tied to the land
2. character of the nobility
could never have the characteristic of the Western nobility
they were ethnically diverse
some descendants of Kiew princes
some came from Mongols
acquired power through service of the Czar as opposed to having ancient connections to the land
the Czar made sure that this would not happen by moving the central location of aristocrats from one place to another
consequentially, the aristocrats were not able to effectively oppose central power
what developed instead was a bureaucracy
there perceived interest was that of the state rather than that social class
Marxist criticism saying that this was a state that served the interests of the nobility was not really accurate
it was a very weak state
sounds paradoxical, since it was an autocracy
autocracy means there is no restraining force on central power
weak state means that the instruments which the central power had to influence every aspect of the culture, were missing
Russia was lightly governed
the sense of public service was never developed
a great weakness
the Soviet Revolution of 1917 attempted to overcome this weakness
Russian culture
it remained fundamentally a religious culture up to the time of Peter the Great
the beginning of a division
1. Russians who believed that Russia was an independent and separate nation than Western Europe
2. Russians who were attracted by what Europe had to offer
Peter the Great became acquainted with the West
are willing to recognize the concept of backwardness in their culture
to this day there is this fundamental division in Russian intellectual life
1861 Serfdom was abolished by the state
economic reasons
it was inefficient
serf had little interest in improving the land
the peasant commune remained in place
represented the Russian peoples' commitment to community
major force before and after liberation
a hindrance
countryside was overpopulated
resisted peasants from moving into the city, since it would lower tax revenue
the beginning of industrialization
spiritual reason
Russian rules including the nobility lost faith in the morality of keeping people serfs
1861 is the same year as the beginning of the American civil war
the nobility carried out governmental functions
once the authority of the nobel was abolished, everything had to be rethought
state entities such as city councils came into being
last decades of the 19th century, comparatively late
a major change in many areas of life