Second Promulgation of Serfdom

Second Promulgation of Serfdom


the spread of harsh forms of serfdom in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in the period of late feudalism (in contrast to peasant dependence on the feudal lord, which existed in Western European countries during early and partly developed feudalism, and the lighter forms of bondage that succeeded it in the 13th and 14th centuries). The term was introduced by F. Engels.

The emergence of the “second promulgation of serfdom” was associated with the appearance in 16th-century Germany (east of the Elbe), Poland (from the second half of the 15th century), Hungary, Bohemia, and Russia of large landlord economies, organized to sell agricultural products at the market and based on the corvee labor of the peasants, who were bound to the land (and sometimes to the person) of a feudal lord. The peasant economy became primarily a source of free labor for the landlord. The corvee increased sharply to five or six days a week; the lords’ tillage increased significantly in several regions (for example, in Mecklenburg and Pomerania), because the peasants were driven from their plots. All three forms of serfdom—land, personal, and judicial-administrative—were concentrated in the hands of a landlord, who could transfer peasants arbitrarily from one plot to another, force them to perform corvee, turn them into landless household serfs, or even sell and buy them without land (in Poland, Russia, Mecklenburg, and Pomerania). Serfdom took on features similar to slavery.

The second promulgation of serfdom differed in principle from early medieval peasant dependence. The formation of the corvee economy of Central and Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages was associated with the development of capitalistic relationships in the Western European countries, which created a large demand for grain. (Another point of view relates the development of the second promulgation of serfdom primarily to the development of an internal market in the Eastern European countries.) The lords’ tillage, which was constantly increasing, turned into a large, purely entrepreneurial economy, whereas the peasant dependence and corvee of the early Middle Ages were based on a barter economy. Some historians in the USSR do not include Russia between the 16th century and the first half of the 19th in the concept of the second promulgation of serfdom. How-ever, the establishment of harsh forms of serfdom in Russia in this period undoubtedly had entirely the same basis as in the other Eastern European countries.


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Engels, F. “Materialy k ’Anti-Diuringu.’ “ Ibid., vol. 20, pp. 629-76.
Engels, F. “K istorii prusskogo krest’ianstva.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. “Pis’ma k Marksu ot 15, 16 i 22 dek. 1882.” Ibid., vol. 35.
Skazkin, S. D. Izbrannye trudy po istorii. Moscow, 1973.
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