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Bondage: Labor and Rights in Eurasia from the Sixteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries

Alessandro Stanziani
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    For the first time, this book provides the global history of labor in Central Eurasia, Russia, Europe, and the Indian Ocean between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. It contests common views on free and unfree labor, and compares the latter to many Western countries where wage conditions resembled those of domestic servants. This gave rise to extreme forms of dependency in the colonies, not only under slavery, but also afterwards in form of indentured labor in the Indian Ocean and obligatory labor in Africa. Stanziani shows that unfree labor and forms of economic coercion were perfectly compatible with market development and capitalism, proven by the consistent economic growth that took place all over Eurasia between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. This growth was labor intensive: commercial expansion, transformations in agriculture, and the first industrial revolution required more labor, not less. Finally, Stanziani demonstrates that this world did not collapse after the French Revolution or the British industrial revolution, as is commonly assumed, but instead between 1870 and 1914, with the second industrial revolution and the rise of the welfare state.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-251-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is about the evolution of labor and labor institutions in Russia as compared with Europe, Central Asia, and the Indian Ocean region, between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries. It questions common ideas about the origin of labor institutions and market economies—their evolution and transformation in the early-modern and modern world. Since the eighteenth century, comparative analyses of labor institutions and labor conditions in Russia have been developed as if the boundary between free and unfree labor were universally defined, and thus free labor in the West is frequently contrasted with serf labor in Russia and Eastern...

  2. Part I. Bondage Imagined

    • Chapter 1 Second Serfdom and Wage Earners in European and Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Mid-nineteenth Century
      (pp. 23-41)

      The invention of backwardness in Western economic and philosophical thought owes much to the attention given to Russia and Poland in the beginning of the eighteenth century.¹ The definitions of backwardness and of labor—which is the main element of backwardness—lies at the nexus of three interrelated debates: over serfdom in Eastern European, slavery in the colonies, and guild reform in France. The connection between these three debates is what makes the definition of labor—and the distinction between free and forced labor—take on certain characteristics and not others. In the course of the eighteenth century, the work...

    • Chapter 2 Poor Laws, Management, and Labor Control in Russia and Britain, or the History of the Bentham Brothers in Russia
      (pp. 42-60)

      Between 1780 and 1787, the brothers Samuel and Jeremy Bentham were managers of a large Russian estate owned by Prince Grigorii Potemkin, one of the closest advisors of Catherine II. In doing so they faced two related—but distinct—problems: Russian peasants were unskilled, and British skilled workers and supervisors, who had been brought in to work on the estate, were hard to control. Ultimately, the problem of supervising the English workers (and not the Russian serfs) is what led the Bentham brothers to reflect on the relationship between free and forced labor, and then between labor and society. Before...

  3. Part II. The Architecture of Bondage:: Slaves and Serfs in Central Asia and Russia

    • Chapter 3 Slavery and Bondage in Central Asia and Russia from the Fourteenth to the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 63-100)

      Serfdom in Russia can hardly be understood when studied outside the context of the evolution of forms of bondage in Muscovy and Central Asia between the fourteenth and the early eighteenth century. As a whole, the history of bondage in Russia and Eurasia provides useful insights into the link between overall forms of bondage and war captives, on the one hand, and slavery, on the other. Two main sources of enslavement are usually mentioned in studies of ancient, medieval, and modern slavery: debt (widely conceived as a form of individual and/or social obligation) and capture by war parties or belligerent...

    • Chapter 4 The Institutions of Serfdom
      (pp. 101-126)

      Already in 1921, Marc Bloch warned against the use of the wordserfand the expression “serf of the glebe.” He showed in particular that the notion was absent in the Middle Ages and, on the contrary, became widely used afterl’Esprit des loisby Montesquieu, in 1748. From this point of view, the expression “serf of the glebe” was used to identify a largely stylized feudal system and place it in opposition to an equally stylized liberal economic system.¹ Ever since, medieval studies has adopted this conclusion widely for France and Britain,² and more recently, a similar reassessment has...

    • Chapter 5 Labor and Dependence on Russian Estates
      (pp. 127-144)

      In Russia, landlords could ask peasants for quitrent or for labor services (corvées). Traditionally, Western, Russian, and Soviet historiography have all argued that quitrent encourages trade and economic growth but that labor service restricts both.¹ This argument has been widely echoed by historians of serfdom in Western² and Eastern Europe.³ Of course, many others disagree, maintaining that trade and economic growth can also take place under a system of corvée labor or even slavery in the strict sense.⁴

      Any satisfactory answer to this question requires an assessment of labor productivity and the overall demesne efficiency: Some claim that corvées call...

  4. Part III. Old Bondage, New Practices:: A Comparative View of the Russian, European, and Indian Ocean Worlds

    • Chapter 6 The Persistent Servant: Labor, Rules, and Social Hierarchies in France and Britain from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 147-174)

      In this book, I do not intend to develop a full and original analysis of labor relations and rules in Western Europe; a huge bibliography is already available on this. I only wish to recall recent new trends in the relevant historiography and question the conventional view against the backdrop of the equally revisited interpretation of Russian serfdom. My intention is to raise general questions on the relationship between capitalism, markets, and coercion, on the one hand, and on the analogies and differences between Russia, Western Europe, and some of Western Europe’s colonies, on the other hand.

      Until at least...

    • Chapter 7 Bondage across the Ocean: Indentured Labor in the Indian Ocean
      (pp. 175-203)

      We have already discussed the link between labor in Europe, slavery in the colonies, and serfdom in Russia, in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European thought (in chapter 1). Yet this was not simply a representation of the facts, but a reflection on real entanglements in social and economic relationships between Russia, Europe, and Europe’s main colonies. As I mentioned in the introduction, Russian serfdom can hardly been compared to American slavery. Nevertheless, the evolution of labor in Russia and in some European colonies did reflect similar tensions. This chapter argues that not only was the definition and practice of bonded labor in...

  5. Conclusion. The Collapse and Resurgence of Bondage
    (pp. 204-216)

    The world of labor and unequal rights depicted in this book did not collapse with the French Revolution or the British Industrial Revolution, but only between 1870 and 1914. Serfdom was abolished in 1861; American slavery in 1865; the Master and Servant Acts were repealed in 1875; and the indentured contract was abolished in India, in 1916. Between the 1890s and World War One, the European powers decreed the abolition of African slavery, while new labor rules were adopted almost everywhere in Europe. To many contemporary observers and more recent scholars these interrelated changes seemed to depict an irreversible and...