Serfdom V: Soviet Workfarm vs. Serf Commune: An Interview with Kristaps Andrejsons – Russian History

How did the Soviet kolkhoz, or collective farm, stack up against the serf commune? Here to help us understand is Kristaps Andrejsons from the podcast The Eastern Border. Also, it’s my birthday! Yay!

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Interviewee: Kristaps Andrejsons

Time/place: Imperial Russia and USSR eras

Dead Idea: Russian serfdom

A Map of Russia, 1834 CE, by Adam McKithern


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Glossary of Russian Words and Spellings

  • aul (ah-OOL) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • bárshchina (BAHR-shchee-nah) – dues paid in labor to landlord; corvée
  • brat na braty (BRAT na BRA-tee) – the “brother for brother” system in which half the adult laborers of a commune worked the landlord’s fields on any given day.
  • burmistr (BOOR-mee-stur) – bailiff, manager of an estate
  • chernaia (CHUR-nai-yuh) – chimney-less hut
  • desiatina (DEE-syah-tee-nah) – a unit of area equal to 2.7 acres
  • izbá (eez-BAH) – hut
  • kholop (hah-LOHP) – slave
  • krepostnoi (kray-PAHST-noy) – serf
  • mir (MEER) – peasant commune; also means “world”, “peace”
  • obrók (ahb-ROHK) – dues paid in kind or money to landlord
  • oprichnina (ah-PREECH-nee-nah) – secret police of Ivan the Terrible
  • poméshchik (pah-MYEE-shuhk) – servitor landlord
  • Pomórskaia (POH-mohr-skai-yuh)– Old Belief, referring to liturgical forms retained from before the reforms of 1652-1658
  • saklya (SACK-lee-yuh) – a Caucasian mountain hut
  • sótskii (SOHT-skee) – peasant/serf assigned to keep order on an estate; lit. “hundredth” and in charge of 100 households
  • stárosta (STAH-us-tuh) – village elder
  • tiaglo (tee-ah-GLUH) – husband-wife work team
  • upravitel (oop-rah-VEE-tul) – steward, bailiff
  • versta (vyeer-STAH) – a unit of distance equal to 0.663 miles or 1.067 km

Main Sources

Avakkum. (1950/2003). “The Life of Archpriest Avakkum.” In: Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Buggle, J. C., and Nafziger, S. (2015). “Long-Run Consequences of Labor Coercion: Evidence from Russian Serfdom.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Domar, E. (1970). “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis.” The Journal of Economic History, 30(1): 18-32. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Fedotov, G. P., Ed. (1950/2003). The Way of a Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality. Iswolsky, H., Trans. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Gogol, N. V. (1834). Taras Bulba and Other Tales. Cournos, J, ed. Retrieved Mar 16, 2017, from:

Gorshkov, B. B. (2005). A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii 1800-1868. New York: Central European University Press.

Hoch, S. L. (1986). Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, A Village in Tambov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kolchin, P. (1987). Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Lincoln, W. (1994). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.

MacKay, J. (2009). Four Russian Serf Narratives. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Markevich, A., and Zhuravskaya, E. (2016). “The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Moley, H. (1866). Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs. London: Chapman and Hall.

Nafziger, S. (2013). “Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Inequality: New Evidence.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S. (2011). “Serfdom, Emancipation, and Economic Development in Tsarist Russia.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Nafziger, S., and Lindert, P. (2013). “Russian Inequality on the Eve of Revolution.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Rosa, J. (2011). “The Causes of Serfdom: Domar’s Puzzle Revisited.” Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Semyenov, Y. (1944). The Conquest of Siberia. Dickes, E. W., Ed. London: G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd.

Tolstoy, L. (1887). A Russian Proprietor and Other Stories. Dole, N. H., Trans. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.

Tolstoy, L. (1852). The Cossacks. Maude, L., & Maude, A., Trans. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2017, from:

Wirtschafter, E. K. (2008). Russia’s Age of Serfdom 1649-1861. Maldon, MA: Blackwell.

Maps, pics, references, and more at Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff. Map by Adam McKithern.

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