State peasants

State peasants (derzhavni seliany). A category of ‘free persons’ introduced by Peter I in the early 18th-century Russian Empire. Also known as treasury peasants, they lived on and farmed lands owned by the state, in exchange for which they were obliged to pay quitrents, poll taxes, and road taxes to the state treasury. They were also required to build and maintain roads and to perform other duties on demand. After the abolition of the Hetman state and the partition of Poland during the reign of Catherine II, peasants in Ukraine who lived on the former properties of the Polish crown, economic peasants, free farmers, Cossack helpers, rank-and-file Cossacks, foreign military colonists, single-homestead servitors (odnodvirtsi) who could not prove noble descent, and Jewish farmers were all classified as state peasants. In Right-Bank Ukraine many state-owned lands were leased out to the gentry, and the state peasants on those lands (150,000 males during the reign of Paul I) were thus forced to perform corvée, and became serfs. From 1801, state peasants could buy uninhabited land from the state and have full property rights over it. Many were too poor to meet their steadily increasing financial obligations and were forced to migrate to Southern Ukraine in search of work or to hire themselves out to the landed gentry. Those unfortunate enough to become work people in state-owned industrial enterprises or to live on lands incorporated into the military settlements of Slobidska Ukraine and Southern Ukraine in 1817–25 were brutally exploited. In 1837 corvée by state peasants was abolished, and the newly created Russian Ministry of State Domains under Count P. Kiselev introduced quitrent, tax, land-equalization, land-redistribution, administrative, and judicial reforms to improve the peasants' lives. Between 1839 and 1859, peasants who had been leased to the gentry were gradually transferred to paying cash quitrents to the state instead. By the mid-19th century the over four million male state peasants in Russian-ruled Ukraine made up 41 percent of all male peasants there. Sixty-seven percent of them were in Left-Bank Ukraine, 16 percent were in Right-Bank Ukraine, and 16.5 percent were in Southern Ukraine. In 1863 the state peasants in Right-Bank Ukraine were reclassified as proprietary peasants and forced to assume 49-year-term redemption payments for their land allotments. In 1866 all other state peasants were allowed to purchase their allotments in full immediately, at grossly inflated prices, or to rent them permanently. In 1885 compulsory redemption payments were imposed on all peasants.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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