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The Karlovka Reform

  • W. Bruce Lincoln


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The author wishes to acknowledge the support received from the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants which made it possible for him to work in the Soviet archives during the 1964-65 academic year.

1. Tatishchev, S. S., Imperator Aleksandr II: Ego zhizn' i tsarstvovanie, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1911), 1: 278. Alexander made this statement in a speech to the Moscow nobility on March 30, 1856.

2. Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna was the wife of Nicholas I's younger brother Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. Unlike most of the imperial family at this time, she was very much aware of the intellectual ferment in Russia, and after the death of her husband in 1849 her salon in St. Petersburg became one of the centers where many of the moderate intelligentsia and progressive officials gathered during the 1850s to discuss vital questions of reform. For a more comprehensive discussion of her circle, its interests, and significance, see my forthcoming article “The Circle of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, 1847-1861” in the Slavonic and East European Review (London).

The four major documents pertaining directly to the Karlovka reform are located in Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Oktiabr'skoi revoliutsii, vysshikh organov gosudarstvennoi vlasti i gosudarstvennogo upravleniia SSSR (TsGAOR), fond 647, opis’ 1, delo 995. The documents are as follows: (1) “Predpolozheniia ob ustroistve Karlovskago imeniia Eia Imperatorskago Vysochestva Velikoi Kniagini Eleny Pavlovny, ” Feb. 13, 1858, (2) “Dopolnitel'naia zapiska o nadele Karlovskikh krest'ian zemleiu, ” Feb. 13, 1858, (3) “Dopolnenie k proektu o Karlovskom imenii, ” Mar. 8, 1858, and (4) “Polozheniia dlia krest'ian Karlovskago imeniia, ” May 21, 1859.

3. Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna had first attempted to improve the lot of her peasants at Karlovka in the early 1850s. In 1851 she established inventories on the estate which specified that each peasant household would perform twenty days of field work for each desiatina of land that it cultivated for its own use. There were precise rules regulating the way in which the estate bailiff could utilize the peasants’ labor. For example, a peasant could not be required to fulfill his labor obligations except in the village where he was registered; the working days allotted to the winter months could not be used during the summer, when, on many other estates, the peasants were forced to exceed their weekly labor obligations in order to harvest the landlord's crop while their own rotted in the field. Reasonable daily work quotas were assigned to the peasants, and they could not be ordered to exceed them. No peasant could be obliged to perform transportation services during the harvest season. At other times, his consent was necessary if the destination to which he was to deliver goods was more than seventy-five versty from his village. Peasants could not be assigned to household service against their will, and such tasks as they agreed to perform had to be applied to their labor obligations on the same basis as field work. Aside from these specified duties, the remainder of the peasant's time was strictly his own, and the estate authorities were forbidden to interfere in his daily life. “Polozheniia dlia barshchinnykh rabot v Karlovskom imenii, ” 1851 g., TsGAOR, fond 647, opis’ 1, delo 995/8.

4. A desiatina is equivalent to 2.7 acres. At the time, the estate of Karlovka included twelve villages and hamlets totaling 90, 904 desiatinas of land with a population of 7, 392 male and 7, 625 female serfs.

5. Bakhrushin, S. V., “Velikaia kniaginia Elena Pavlovna,” Osvobozhdenie krest'ian: Deiateli reformy (Moscow, 1911), p. 142. It should be noted that Engelhardt had proposed to give the peasants the use of just over 15, 000 desiatinas of land, or approximately two desiatinas of land per male peasant on the estate. The grand duchess favored giving the peasants a much larger share of land, and in her final project nearly tripled the allotments proposed by Engelhardt. “Predpolozheniia ob ustroistve Karlovskago imeniia Eia Imperatorskago Vysochestva Velikoi Kniagini Eleny Pavlovny, ” delo 995/64-70.

6. Koni, A. F., “Velikaia kniaginia Elena Pavlovna,” Glavnye deiateli osvoboshdeniia krest'ian (St. Petersburg, 1903), p. 19.

7. A. I., Levshin, “Dostopamiatnye minuty v moei zhizni,” Russkii arkhiv, 23 (1885): 48788.

8. Nicholas I had frequently sent foreign visitors who wished to learn more about Russia to visit her. Bakhrushin, pp. 121-25 and M. M. Bogoslovsky, “O velikoi kniagine Elene Pavlovne, ” GIM, fond 442, delo 30/159.

9. Koni, p. 18.

10. Ibid., p. 19. It would seem that Elena Pavlovna's discussions with the Poltava landowners on the emancipation were limited mainly to the progressive V. V. Tarnovsky and Prince L. V. Kochubei and that the Karlovka project did little to influence the views of the majority of the Poltava landowners on the peasant question. Certainly, given the extensive influence of the reactionary M. P. Pozen in Poltava and the conservative tone of the final project of the Poltava gentry committee, this would seem to be the case, but until further evidence on what took place in the Poltava committee sessions becomes available, one must reserve final judgment on this question.

11. Wildbad im Schwarzwald is located in the southern part of Würtemberg, the principality in which Elena Pavlovna was born. Aside from Baden-Baden, it was the most popular spa in Germany.

12. Obolensky, Kniaz' D. A., “Moi vospominaniia o velikoi kniagine Elene Pavlovne,” Russkaia starina, 138, no. 4 (1909): 39 ; Bakhrushin, pp. 145-46.

13. “Dopolnitel'naia zapiska o nadele Karlovskikh krest'ian zemleiu, ” delo 995/34-36.

14. “Predpolozheniia ob ustroistve Karlovskago imeniia Eia Imperatorskago Vysochestva Velikoi Kniagini Eleny Pavlovny, ” delo 995/64-70.

15. Ibid., delo 995/70-77. To make it possible for the peasant to become the owner of his household plot by the end of the transitional period, Miliutin had worked out a very detailed plan. He first had carefully computed the yearly income and financial needs of the average peasant family at Karlovka. On the basis of his calculations he then estimated that after the peasants had fulfilled their obligations to the landlord and had tilled their own land, they would have, on the average, thirty-five surplus working days each year. By applying these extra days’ labor to the landlord's land for six years (the length of the transitional period) the commune would have paid a total of 214 days of labor services with a cash value of 21 rubles 40 kopeks (the current price of land in Poltava) for each desiatina of land in the peasant household plots. By the end of the transitional period, therefore, each peasant family would have paid the full value of its household plot, and would obtain full title to it.

16. Because of the tsar's earlier opposition to her attempts at formulating a general plan for emancipation, Elena Pavlovna did not attempt to present the Karlovka reform as a model for freeing all the Russian serfs. Nevertheless, on March 8, 1858, she also submitted to the Main Committee a supplementary project on judicial and police problems outlining certain preliminary measures that could be implemented on other estates to pave the way for a general emancipation. This project proposed that peasants neither be sold nor otherwise removed from their estates without land, nor be transferred from one estate to another or into household service against their will. It was further recommended that the peasants be given the right to acquire both movable and immovable property; that they be permitted to marry according to their own inclinations; and that they be permitted to enter into contractual agreements and engage in trade and manufacture provided they fulfilled all their obligations to their masters. The supplementary project urged that elected officials of the rural peasant commune be given some police and judicial powers over the village peasants, thereby replacing the arbitrary justice of the landlords. Such powers would include the authority to mete out punishments for minor crimes and failures to fulfill personal obligations. Village authorities might also assume responsibility for issuing passports (with the approval of the landlord's bailiff), for the maintenance of schools and welfare institutions, and for the performance of all public health duties. The grand duchess suggested in conclusion that the peasant officials be given the right to appeal to higher authorities if the landlord's bailiff infringed upon their rights. “Dopolnenie k proektu o Karlovskom imenii, ” delo 995/41-50.

17. Zhurnaly Sekretnago i glavnago komitetov po krest'ianskomn delu (Petrograd, 1915), 1: 333-35.

18. Soloviev, Ia. A., “Zapiski o krest'ianskom dele,” Russkaia starina, 37 (1883): 605.

19. “Polozheniia dlia krest'ian Karlovskago imeniia, ” delo 995/1-6.

20. D. A. Miliutin, “Moi starcheskie vospominaniia za 1816-1873 gg., ” Otdel rukopisei. Gosudarstvennaia biblioteka SSSR im. V. I. Lenina (ORGBL), fond 169, papka 12, delo 4/177.

21. Although Kiselev had advocated the use of inventories as a means to undercut the absolute and arbitrary power of the landlords over their serfs as early as 1826, nothing was done about this proposal until rather in the reign of Nicholas I. During the 1840s, inventory proposals had been supported by several high-ranking officials including the Minister of Interior Count L. A. Perovsky, but it was not until 1848, at the urging of D. G. Bibikov, governor general of Kiev, that the inventories were put into effect in the provinces of Kiev, Podolia, and Volynia despite the opposition of the landowning gentry. Druzhinin, N. M., Gosudarstvennye krest'iane i reforma P. D. Kiseleva, 2 vols. (Moscow and Leningrad, 1946-58), 1: 182 ; Semevsky, V. I., Krest'ianskii vopros v Rossii v XVIII i pervoi polovine XIX veka, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1888), 2: 136–37; I., Engelman, Istoriia krepostnago prava v Rossii, translated from the German by Shcherb, V. (Moscow, 1906), p. 277.

22. K. A., Bukh, “Velikaia kniaginia Elena Pavlovna,” Russkaia starina, 57, no. 3 (1888): 808.

23. One should note that the situation of the peasants was rather different in the Little Russian provinces of Poltava and Chernigov than elsewhere in the empire. In particular, the peasant practice of repartitioning plowlands did not generally exist in these provinces, and the holdings of peasant households therefore were not subject to periodic redistributions as in many parts of Russia. For a brief summary of the types of peasant communes which existed throughout the empire before the emancipation of 1861, see Jerome, Blum, Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1961), p. 50435.

24. The only practical involvement that Miliutin had with the peasant question during his first twenty years in the state service was an expedition he made to Tavricheskaia province in 1837 to study the conditions of the state peasants, and his brief study of the effect that the famine of 1840-41 had upon the peasants in the area between St. Petersburg and Moscow. “Delo o sluzhbe N. A. Miliutina, ” Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv SSSR, g. Leningrad (TsGIAL), fond 1162, opis’ 6, delo 335/47; Ofitsial'noe pis'mo k Tituliarnomu sovetniku N. A. Miliutinu, Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del, Khoziaistvennyi departament, Otdelenie 1, Jan. 2, 1841, no. 39, TsGIAL, fond 869, opis’ 1, delo 725/87; N. A. Miliutin, “Donesenie Gospodinu upravliaiushchemu Ministerstvom vnutrennikh del ot sluzhashchago v Khoziaistvennom departamente Tituliarnago sovetnika Miliutina, ” April 1841, TsGIAL, fond 869, opis’ 1, delo 725/88.

25. Obolensky, , “Moi vospominaniia,” Russkaia starina, 137, no. 3 (1909): 505–6. During these years, progressive officials felt that there was little hope for an emancipation in the foreseeable future. In one of his very few commentaries on the peasant question before 1856, Miliutin noted that he did not expect even minor changes in the peasants' situation for some time, and at the accession of Alexander II, nearly all of Miliutin's circle were very pessimistic about the possibility of an emancipation being achieved under the new tsar. N. A. Miliutin, “Obozrenie khlebnoi promyshlennosti i torgovli v vidakh narodnago prodovol'stviia, ” 1849 g., TsGIAL, fond 869, opis’ 1, delo 69/201; “Iz pisem K. D. Kavelina k grafu D. A. Miliutinu, 1882-1884 gg., ” Vestnik Evropy, 255, bk. 1 (1909): 11-12; Levin, Sh. M., “K. D. Kavelin o smerti Nikolaia I,” Literatumoe nasledstvo, 67 (Moscow, 1959): 610.

The Karlovka Reform

  • W. Bruce Lincoln


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