How bad was the position of different categories of serfs in Russia? Why did the yard serfs find themselves in the most disastrous conditions at a later time? Who else kept them company at the very bottom of society and fueled all sorts of rebellions?

What was Radishchev actually protesting against? All these and many other questions of Pravda.Ru presenter Igor Bukker were answered by Leonid Lyashenko, Professor of the Department of Russian History at Moscow State Pedagogical University, member of the Union of Writers.

Read the beginning of the interview:

Serfdom – was everything so bad for everyone?

Why is it better to be a simple smerd than a plentiful serf

Arakcheev was against military settlements, but he himself brought them to the point of absurdity

– Leonid Mikhailovich, which category of peasants had the most difficult situation during the late serfdom?

– These are, of course, courtyards, and when the serfs were liberated, their situation became especially difficult. After all, all these lackeys, cooks, shoemakers and the rest of the most varied servants had no land and no house, but lived on the estate.

These people are completely miserable. After all, they were completely dependent on the whims of their bar and had nothing. After the abolition of serfdom, all of them were not just at a broken trough.

They didn’t even have any broken, broken trough, they had absolutely, absolutely nothing. People left with nothing.

Yards and the peasant poor – the breeding ground for the revolution

– The most nutrient medium of the revolution turned out, probably, from the courtyards, or not? Or were they really so worthless and marginal that they were no good?

– Here two categories of peasants have merged – courtyards and poor peasants. At one time they received plots, but they blew these plots or were tempted into half plots, into Gagarin’s. Half put on, but for free – for free, as it were.

There was nothing for these poor peasants and courtyards to do there, so they left the village rather quickly. It is clear that they also could not make significant money and become at least relatively well-to-do in the city.

Yes, as a result, of course, the environment is very fertile for rebellion. This urban poor and the added former village became the mass that supported any rebels.



– The largest uprising in Russia is the Pugachev uprising, although there were many others, but they all fade against this background. But something is not heard about some serious large-scale riots after the abolition of serfdom. Of course, there were local perturbations, they always were.

And then there were very serious reasons and prerequisites for peasant uprisings. Why did the peasantry never rise to the struggle? Why did people accept the conditions of the game, under which they were stripped to the skin and put on the brink of death?

– Of course, all this is true, but only on one side. The reason is very simple: every peasant who received an allotment hoped with his work (heavy, of course), but to become a master. And therefore:

  • firstly, he had no time for uprisings,
  • secondly, he was not up to the neighbors.

The former communal adhesion begins to quickly disintegrate, because now everyone has his own interest, because everyone has his own plot. The community remains, but it becomes more and more formal and vague.

Administratively, yes, the community binds the peasants, but not so closely, but mentally it does not bind them in any way. Everyone has their own.

A well-known member of the populist terrorist organizations “Narodnaya Volya”, “Land and Freedom” Andrey Zhelyabov once worked with the artel of barge haulers, and on the last day before parting, he decided to conduct such testing in this artel.

He asked: Stepan, you found, say, 500 rubles. What would you do? Clearly, Zhelyabov hoped that Stepan would now say: I would divide it among the poor …

And Stepan answered him: I would buy a shop in my village and begin to rip everyone off. Not very pleased, to put it mildly, barge hauler Stepan, a fighter for the people Andrei Ivanovich Zhelyabov, of course.

He fought for a month, you understand, proving the charms of socialism and collectivism, but here he is still the owner. And this owner, for the time being – until the time there is hope of getting out of poverty, will push. The peasants simply did not have anything in their thoughts about an uprising, about a union, about some kind of organization. They didn’t have it before.

– The famous book by Alexander Radishchev “Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow” was very much appreciated in Soviet times. We remember the opinion of Catherine the Great that this is a rebel worse than Pugachev.

– Ekaterina did a cool advertisement for him.

How much of his description corresponds reality?

I love talking about this book to my kids. I ask: what is this book about? Of course, they say: against serfdom, against despotism, and so on. I say no. – Against everything.

Against everything bad … and good too

Against the custom of brushing teeth, against women’s stockings … He protests against everything. That’s what he sees, against that he begins to protest. Against venereal diseases. Absolutely against everything. He doesn’t like anything, he doesn’t like anything.

And if we talk about the case – about serfdom, then in all the cases that he mentioned, Catherine conducted an investigation, and several opinions were taken into state custody. But there were only two or three of them.

And everything else is indignation at everything around. As one of the critics said, what the author suffered for: he had to deal with either literature or journalism, and he mixed a work of art with propaganda.