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Emancipation of the Serfs Caused More Problems Than It Solved

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“The Emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved”

During serfdom, Russia’s serfs were the property of the gentry, who had formal usage and transfer rights over them. The abolition of serfdom, triggered by the exogenous shock of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856), involved two distinct stages: the emancipation of serfs, which instantaneously granted personal freedom to all serfs; and the land reform, which defined the communal land property rights of the emancipated peasants. The emancipation of the serfs came into force in 1861 following Tsar Alexander II’s Emancipation Edict. The Edict initially applied only to the privately owned serfs but by 1866 state serfs were released. Although the serfs did gain their freedom, it could be argued that their emancipation did cause more problems than it solved.

One way the emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved was the loss of income especially for landowners. After the serfs had been freed, there was a loss of workforce for landowners. This resulted in a decrease in agricultural goods as it was the serfs who farmed the land and harvested crops. This therefore resulted in a loss of income not only for the landowners but for the whole of Russia and its economy. The loss of income proceeded to perpetuate inadvertently due to the redemption payments that freed serfs were required to pay to the government. The freed serfs had to pay these redemption payments over 49 years and were to remain within their peasant commune (mir) until the payments had been made. The redemption payments caused a loss of income because before emancipation, the serfs were not paid and had no savings to pay to the government, placing them in debt. Therefore, the emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved because it was a huge undertaking which took far longer to carry out with around 15% still linked to landowners until 1881 when redemption was made compulsory. In addition, because of the redemption payments some peasants felt cheated and betrayed, especially as they lost over 30% of their land and were forced to stay within their mir and some even had to rent land from their former landlords.

Another way the emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved was that the peasants felt betrayed. The mir which peasants had to stay with was responsible for distributing allotment of land, controlling the farming and collecting and paying the peasants’ taxes, while the volosts were established to supervise the mirs and ran their own courts, replacing the landlords’ jurisdiction over serfs. In addition, the compensation that the landowners received was far in advance of the market value of their property. They were also entitled to decide which part of their holdings they would keep, for example the kept the meadows, pastures and woodlands while the open fields were given to the mirs, landlords retained two-thirds of the land while the peasants received only one-third. Therefore, the emancipation of the serfs caused more problems than it solved because the peasants felt that they were treated unfairly and started uprising, this made Russia to become an unsafe country.

However, it could be suggested that the emancipation of the serfs did not cause more problems than it solved because some peasants did become successful due to the emancipation.  Some peasants, the kulaks, did well out of the land allocations, as they bought up extra land so they could produce surplus grain for export. The kulaks also found work in industrialising cities which enabled them to develop their skills and earn money. Due to the success of the kulak, a middle-class was created thus diminishing the gap between the rich and the poor. However, this impact was limited because there was a resentment of kulaks from poorer peasants which led to waves of violent outbreaks the countryside. Due to the new found jobs the kulaks had and their earnings they could pay of their redemption payments which the government then used to compensate the landowners, this led to more opportunities and benefits for landowners.

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