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(kôrvā`), under the feudal system, compulsory, unpaid labor demanded by a lord or king and the system of such labor in general. There were national and local variations, but in broad terms the corvée proper included work on the lord's portion of the manorial property and many attendant duties. Military service also came under the general terms of the corvée. The corvée included both regular and exceptional demands. "Real" corvée referred to the duties attached to the ownership or tillage of certain lands; "personal" corvée referred to the duties of specific individuals. During the feudalization of the late Roman Empire, the corvée system was part of the social and economic system, but towns and all individuals were able to liberate themselves by money payment instead of services. In France the royal corvée, compulsory work on public roads, was introduced in the 18th cent. Both the royal and the seignorial corvée bore heavily and almost exclusively upon the peasants and helped cause the French Revolution. In the 19th cent. the corvée was used to build public works, particularly the Suez Canal (1869).
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(in Russian, barshchina), labor rent, one of the forms of feudal ground rent; unpaid forced labor carried out by the feudally bound peasant with his own implements on the master’s land. Under the corvée system, the surplus labor was separate in time and space from the necessary work; that is, the peasant worked for his master at a different time and in a different place than for himself. The coercion of the peasant in the corvée system required a greater limitation on his personal freedom than did other forms of feudal rent, and for this reason the broad use of the corvée created more severe forms of feudal dependence. The productivity of corvée labor was very low, and the productive forces developed slowly under the corvée system. Corvée could include work in the fields, cartage, construction and handicrafts, timber cutting, and other tasks. The dimensions and economic role of corvée varied with different stages of feudalism and in different countries.

In Western Europe, corvée became widespread in the eighth and ninth centuries; in many of the large ancestral holdings it was at this time the dominant form of rent, and its duration for certain categories of peasants was from two to four days per week. Beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, as a result of the decrease in seigneurial farming and the distribution of the demesnes into holdings, quitrent began to replace corvée. Although at various times a temporary return to corvée occurred in certain regions, by the 14th–15th centuries corvée had completely disappeared, surviving until the 17th–18th centuries only in the form of small “assistances” (several days per year) during the harvest season.

In the majority of Central and especially Eastern European countries (where in the early and classical Middle Ages corvée did not play a large role) seigneurial enterprise farming based on the corvée became the dominant type of agricultural production in the 16th–17th centuries and created the basis for the so-called second edition of serfdom. Corvée grew to four or five and even six days per week for the majority of peasants. The extension of corvée throughout Central and Eastern Europe was a result of the victory of feudal reaction which delayed the capitalist development of these countries for a long time. The gradual decline of the corvée began only in the second half of the 18th century, but its isolated remnants (mainly in the form of labor rent for land leased by a peasant) survived up to the victory of the people’s democracies.

In oriental countries, where the landowners did not carry on their own farming, corvée did not become widespread. But there were state corvées for the building of irrigation works, roads, bridges, palaces, and so on. Various forms of forced labor similar to corvée survived until recent times (and in certain countries exist even today) as a result of significant survivals of feudal relations and of landlessness and scarcity of land among the peasantry and the prevalence of fettering forms of peasant land leasing.


Russia. Evidence points to the origin of corvée (in Russian, barshchina) during the period of Kievan Rus’. At first, bondmen were used predominantly, but in the 13th to the 15th centuries, along with the use of bondmen on large secular farms, peasant labor was used on church lands. In addition to barshchina, in the 13th to 15th centuries quitrent in kind (obrok) became widespread. From the turn of the 16th century, with the growth of commodity and money relationships, barshchina became more widespread, encompassing almost all types of farming and categories of bound peasants (especially in the 1560’s to 1580’s as a result of the so-called farming crisis). The peasants on barshchina performed several kinds of work: they cultivated the master’s fields, performed cartage duties, harvested hay, built the master’s houses and farm buildings, and carried out other tasks. The barshchina made possible the creation in Russia of a centralized state system of serfdom and the increase in feudal exploitation.

In the 17th century and in the first half of the 18th century, obrok in kind and barshchina were the main forms of feudal exploitation of the peasantry (estate, church, and crown serfs). At the same time a geographical differentiation between various forms of rent took place. The barshchina became concentrated in the Central Chernozem Zone of the country and also in districts adjoining Moscow. In the north and the east a transition to obrok in the form of money took place. The barshchina consisted of two to four days per week or one to four desiatinas (1.09–4.36 hectares) of the master’s fields. In the 17th century a new form of barshchina appeared: work on the landowner’s enterprises (such as potash, cloth, and linen). In the second half of the 18th century the regions in which the barshchina was prevalent became sharply defined. In the seven provinces of the Central Chernozem Zone (Orlov, Tula, Riazan’, Penza, Tambov, Kursk, and Voronezh), 74 percent of the privately owned serfs were on barshchina (26 percent were on obrok). In the 13 nonchernozem provinces of the Central Zone (Olonets, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novgorod, Smolensk, Tver’, Iaro-slavl’, Kostroma, Vologda, Vladimir, Pskov, Kaluga, and Nizhnii Novgorod) barshchina included 45 percent of the peasant serfs (55 percent on obrok). Barshchina predominated in the Baltic, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. Barshchina was preserved in the form of a tenth part of the arable land among the state peasants of Siberia. The crown (later independent) peasants and a large number of state peasants in Russia were on the money obrok. Commodity and money relations played a decisive role in the spread of barshchina. With the growth of commodity production, when the market demand and the prices of agricultural products increased constantly, the landowners’ interest in expanding their farms increased, and they began urgently transferring peasants to barshchina. Thus, barshchina no longer served a natural, ingrown economy but rather a commodity-money economy, and it therefore took on a new economic content. The duration of the barshchina was not regulated by law. In 1797 a decree was issued on the three-day barshchina, but it was not compulsory and the landowners ignored it in practice. In practice, barshchina in individual regions of Russia reached three to four and even six days per week. A new stage in the development of the barshchina was attained with the transfer of peasants to the mesiachina, according to which they received provisions from the landowner on a monthly basis and had to perform barshchina every day. The intensification of barshchina led to the collapse of peasant farming and the dispossession of lands, and it undermined the very basis of the serf-holding system, since the necessary condition of its existence was the allotment of the means of production to the direct producer.

After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, the barshchina was not liquidated: under the name of sharecropping (izdol’naia porinnost’) it was maintained for the “temporarily bound peasants.” In 1882, with the introduction of obligatory redemption, the legal status of barshchina was changed, but in essence it continued to exist in the form of a labor-rent system, which V. I. Lenin defined as “a direct survival of the barshchina economy” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 3, p. 187). At the end of the 19th century it predominated over the capitalist system in 12 chernozem and in five nonchernozem provinces. In seven provinces, both systems occupied almost identical positions. Barschchina, like other survivals of serfdom, was liquidated by the October Socialist Revolution.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.