State Peasants

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

State Peasants


a special estate in Russia during the period of serfdom, registered officially by the ukases of Peter I from among the rural population that had not been enserfed (the chernososhnye krest’iane [peasants in black-soil areas] and sharecroppers [polovnikt] of the northern Pomor’e, the Siberian plowland [pashennye] peasants, the odnodvortsy, and the non-Russian nationalities of the Volga and Ural regions). Unlike the landlords’ peasants and the palace (dvortsovye) peasants (later, the appanage peasants), the state peasants lived on state land, had the use of allotments granted to them, were administered by state bodies, and were considered personally free.

According to the data of the first census (1724), there were 1,049,287 male state peasants in European Russia and Siberia, that is, 19 percent of the total agricultural population of the country. The tenth census (1858) indicated that there were 9,345,342 male state peasants, or 45.2 percent of the agricultural population of European Russia. The estate of state peasants increased with the addition of peasants from secularized church landholdings and newly annexed territories (the Baltic region, the Right-bank Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Crimea, Transcaucasia), of Ukrainian cossacks, former serfs from confiscated Polish estates, and so forth. At the end of the 1830’s the average land allotment of a state peasant in 30 out of 43 provinces was less than 5 desiatinas (1.09 hectares), and only in a few provinces did it reach the established norms (8 desiatinas in land-hungry provinces and 15 desiatinas in provinces having much land).

The vast majority of state peasants paid a monetary obrok (quitrent) to the state treasury; in the Baltic region and in the provinces annexed from Poland, the government estates were rented to private landowners, and the state peasants owed mainly barshchina (corvee). The plowland peasants of Siberia at first worked the state fields; then they paid an obrok in kind; and later they paid a monetary obrok. In the early 19th century the obrok of the state peasants ranged from 7 rubles, 50 kopeks to 10 rubles per person per year. As the exploitation of the appanage and landlords’ peasants intensified, the monetary obrok of the state peasants became relatively smaller than the comparable obligations of other categories of peasants. Besides the obrok, the state peasants were obliged to contribute money for the needs of the zemstvos (district and provincial self-government) and the expenses of the mir (peasant community); along with other categories of peasants, they paid the poll tax and owed obligatory service or work (natural’nye povinnosti), for example, repairing roads and supplying transport to and billeting troops. The state peasants were jointly responsible for the fulfillment of obligations.

The development of trade and industry in the 18th and early 19th centuries led to expansion of the state peasants’ rights. The state peasants were allowed to engage in trade, to open factories and plants, to own “unpopulated” lands (that is, without serfs), and so forth. But, at the same time, in connection with the growth of the landlords’ enterprise, the nobility systematically appropriated state lands and strove to turn free state peasants into their own serfs. In the second half of the 18th century the government distributed millions of desiatinas of state lands and hundreds of thousands of state peasants to the nobility. In the first half of the 19th century a massive sale of state properties and their transfer to the Udel’noe Vedomstvo (department in charge of the immovable property of the imperial family) took place. Many nobles demanded the abolition of the estate of state peasants and the transfer of state lands with their inhabitants to private ownership.

The growth of land hunger and the increase in feudal obligations in the beginning of the 19th century resulted in a progressively growing impoverishment of the state peasants and arrears in their payments to the government. Mass uprisings of state peasants directed against the reduction of allotments, the burden of the obrok, and the arbitrariness of leaseholders and officials occurred more and more frequently. Both the serfowners and the liberal bourgeoisie drew up many drafts of laws changing the way state peasants were administered. The sharpening crisis of the feudal serf system compelled the government of Nicholas I to begin reforming the administration of state villages, in order to help maintain state finances by raising the productivity of state villages and to bring the landlords’ serfs closer to the position of “free rural inhabitants.” From 1837 to 1841 a special Ministry of State Domains with a complicated hierarchy of bureaucratic organs was established under the leadership of General P. D. Kiselev. This newly created administration was entrusted with the “guardianship” of the state peasants through the means of the traditional peasant community under the tutelage of government officials.

The program for the economic upsurge of the state villages also could not be realized. Measures of comparatively progressive significance were adopted, such as the abolition of the state peasants’ barshchina obligations in Lithuania, Byelorussia, and the Right-bank Ukraine; the end to the renting of state properties to private landowners; and the replacement of the per capita obrok by the more equal tax on agricultural and cottage industry production. However, these measures could not introduce radical changes in the condition of the state peasants. Land hunger was not eliminated. The size of arrears did not decrease but continued to grow. Measures to improve agricultural technology turned out to be insufficiently broad to reach the peasant masses; medical and veterinary aid was provided on paltry scale; and most importantly, the entire system of administration on the principles of feudal tutelage was accompanied by monstrous force and taxation. The feudal administration of state villages sharply contradicted the economic processes of the 1840’s and 1850’s; it hindered the growth of peasant trade and industry, hampered the development of agriculture, and fettered the growth of the peasantry’s productive forces. A result of the reforms was the growth of the peasant movement, which took on an especially stormy character in the northern Pomor’e, Urals, and Volga regions, where the state peasants lived in large, compact masses. Uninterrupted protests against the serf state’s system of administration also took place in the central and western regions (for example, the potato uprisings and the cholera uprisings). After the end of the Crimean War (1853–56), the obvious tendency for the struggle of the state peasants to merge with the movement of the appanage and landlords’ peasants became evident. The nobility, in its turn, worried by the plans of the government, on the one hand, and by the growing peasant movement, on the other, was indignant about Kiselev’s reforms and demanded the abolition of the system of “guardianship.” In 1857, Alexander II, appointing the reactionary M. N. Murav’ev as the new minister of state domains, approved a draft of counterreforms that would bring the state peasants closer to the position of the appanage peasants.

On Feb. 19, 1861, serfdom was abolished in Russia. The personal rights of the state peasants and the forms of their “self-government” established by the laws of 1838–41 were now extended to the former landlords’ and appanage peasants. In 1866 the state peasants were placed under the general system of rural administration and recognized as “peasant-proprietors,” although they continued to pay the obrok. The state peasants received the full right to own land in the 1886 law on the obligatory redemption of land allotments, with the size of the allotments of the state peasants being greater and their redemption payments smaller than those of the landlords’ peasants. The state peasants of Siberia and Transcaucasia remained in their previous position as holders of state land, inasmuch as the laws of 1866 and 1886 did not apply to them. The attempts of the government to improve the condition of the state peasants of Transcaucasia at the end of the 19th century did not eliminate the acute land hunger of the village or the arbitrariness of local administration.


Druzhinin, N. M. Gosudarstvennye krest’iane i reforma P. D. Kiseleva, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946–58.
Antelava, I. G. Reforma pozemel’nogo ustroistva gosudarstvennykh krest’ian Zakavkaz’ia v kontse XIX v. Sukhumi, 1952.
Antelava, I. G. Gosudarstvennye krest’iane Gruzii v pervoipolovine XIX v. Sukhumi, 1955.


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