David Moon, The Abolition
of Serfdom in Russia, 1762-1907. Harlow, England: Longman, Pearson
Publishing, 2001. Pp. xx + 203. $19.20 (paper).
is often poorly served in the emerging world-history curriculum. While it
doesn't fit comfortably into 'Europe' , yet it's not sufficiently 'Asian'
to pull its full weight in the global arena. Its modernization process,
its imperial expansion, and its intelligentsia all invite fruitful comparative
history, as does its potential contribution to humanity's long history of
unfree labor practices. The British Longman series, Seminar Studies in History,
recognizes the persistent gap between specialized monographic studies and
textbooks, and seeks to make available the latest research to both scholars
and students. Since the most recent work on Russian serfdom to be cited
in Peter Stearns, et al., World Civilizations: The Global Experience
(AP Edition, 4th Ed. Longman, Pearson 2005) is Jerome Blum's 1961 Lord
and Peasant in Russia, (Princeton University Press) non-specialists
clearly need a reliable summary of the last four decades of scholarship.
For the advanced student, serious reader, or teacher, David Moon's book
is an excellent introduction to a complex set of issues.
the abolition of serfdom is still too often credited to the Crimean War:
Russia, defeated on Russian soil by an incompetently led, poorly-provisioned,
and disease-ridden expeditionary force, realized suddenly that its military,
social, and economic systems were hopelessly outmoded, and therefore quickly
freed the serfs to pave the way for rapid industrialization.
years ago a Marxist historian at Moscow State University, P. A. Zaionchkovskii,
sought to align Russian developments more closely to the dialectical class
struggle in Western Europe. He broadened the post-Crimean war malaise in
Russia to a general crisis, the broad-based harbinger of the rise of the
bourgeoisie, similar to France before its revolution. Furthermore, in the
early decades of the cultural exchanges negotiated by Kennedy and Khrushchev,
he regularly accepted promising young American doctoral students and taught
them how to do archival research in Moscow on the legislative history of
Alexander II and his father. Collectively their efforts resulted in a series
of dissertations and then monographs by Terence Emmons, Daniel Field,
Bruce Lincoln, and others which substantially altered historians' perception
of the end of serfdom.
if one does not share Moon's view that abolitionist activity dates back
to the eighteenth-century world of Catherine the Great and her consort,
recent scholarship makes it clear that reform legislation of Alexander I
and Nicholas I provided not only precedent, but impetus for the decrees
of 1861. For over half a century the state consciously used Russian borderlands
as a laboratory for abolitionary trials. A consistent stream of peasant
legislation washed over the countryside. Increasingly the government's secret
committees and ministries were staffed by 'enlightened' bureaucrats who
knew how to write legislation, and who were uncommitted to serf-ownership
as the basis for state service. They crafted the reform, consulted the nobility,
incorporated counter-proposals, and, in the end, offered a very conservative
law. Afterward peasants were not free to move to cities, to become industrial
workers, or to become independent farmers; nobles were compensated nicely
for land that they surrendered, usually controlling the amount and quality
of land they quit, and retaining their privileged social role. To guarantee
stability, loyalty, and tax receipts, authorities introduced the new order
at glacial speed. Moon covers the ongoing adaptations and adjustments to
rural reform down to the Stolypin era following the 1905 revolutions.
is a book which summarizes scholarship on the government's efforts to ameliorate,
and eventually to abolish serfdom. It does not address peasant lifeways,
peasant women, peasant religion, the agricultural cycle, or the crops themselves.
It is remarkably thin even on the peasant commune, emphasizing the newness
of post-Emancipation institutions of self-government, rather than continuity
with the past village assemblies. The other Great Reforms, of the military,
the judicial system, education, and municipal and provincial government
city dumas and zemstvos receive only passing mention.
is, in short, an important and reliable summary of recent historical literature.
It is more likely to educate the teacher than to be used in the high school
classroom, although the inclusion of forty pages of translated documents,
a glossary, a who's who, and a full bibliography, invite its use among advanced