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:
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.

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.
That's from Peter J. Parish, Slavery (1990). Note to self, find a copy of Peter Kolchin, Unfree Labor (1990).

1 comment:

elrojo said...

i understand slavery and serfdom as two different things. an owner could sell a slave. a russian owner of a property worked by serfs could not sell a serf, or could he or she? slaves were imported to the us except for indians captured by other indians and made slaves. serfs were native born. before the importation of africans as slaves to the colonies, slavery was of a totally different nature, going back to ancient days. during the barbary coast versus early USA days, americans captured by barbary coast rules were enslaved. a whole warship USS philadelphia? was captured by one ruler, and the entire crew of american navy sailors was enslaved, and worked as slaves in that country. Jefferson bought them out but tried to hide the fact that he was paying ransom to get them back. it was over barbary coast dealings that washington, adams, wrote than american was not a christian nation, and, i think, a treaty was ratified by the senate saying that. seven slaves are buried in my wife's family's private cemetary. they are off in a corner.