In round figures, there were two whites to every black in the antebellum South; in Russia in 1858, there was one male nobleman to every fifty-two male peasants. In the South, there were just over two slaves for every member of a slaveholding family; in Russia, there were more thn twenty-four male serfs for every male nobleman. Russian serfs were generally held in very much larger units than Southern slaves. To take the extreme case, the U.S. census of 1860 listed only one owner of more than one thousand slaves; the 1858 census in Russia listed 3,858 owners of over one thousand serfs. One Russian family owned more than 37,000 serfs, scattered over numerous estates.That's from Peter J. Parish, Slavery (1990). Note to self, find a copy of Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor (1990).
The consequences of the enormous differences were profound. Because many Russian owners were absentees, the relationship between owner and owned was inevitably more distant, geographically as well as personally. Serfs were probably punished less often, but more brutally, than slaves. Many of them rarely saw their owners, and dealt mainly with minor officials and bureaucrats. ... They grew their own food, had a voice in local government, and were able to engage in organized rather than individual resistance. Moreover, unlike slaves, they were required to devote only a part of their labor to the service of their owners.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Slavery v. Serfdom
I've long been curious about identifying the differences between (American) slavery and (Russian) serfdom. Peter J. Parish, channeling Peter Kolchin, provides an economical summary: