Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Consequences of Abolishment of Peasants in Congress Kingdom of Poland. Institutional analysis
Piotr Korys

Last modified: 2014-03-10


Consequences of Abolishment of Peasants in Congress Kingdom of Poland. Institutional analysis

In march of 1864, new law for Congress Kingdom of Poland was enacted by Tsar Alexander the 2nd. According to this law, Polish serfs-peasants were abolished, 3 years after abolishment enacted in Russia. The legal framework of this abolishment, to some extend determined by former regulations (slow, spontaneous economic changes during 19th century; official decision of changing labor rent to ground rent in 1862; Act of Abolishment of Polish National Government during January Uprising in 1863) differed from that used in the other parts of Russia (1861). In particular, the solutions concerning private and common property were different, as well as legal status of peasant. In Kingdom of Poland, former serfs became individual owners of land, while in Russia ownership inside peasant commune (‘obshchina’) remain common and land was not heritable.

The aim of the paper is to discuss social and economic consequences of abolishment of serfdom in Congress Kingdom of Poland. It should be noted that while effects of abolishment in Russia are broadly discussed (eg. A. Gerschenkron, J. Blum, D. Moon, S. Williams, C.S. Leonard, S. Nafziger), the case of Polish Kingdom is poorly analyzed in English literature.

Abolishment of serfdom created large supply of labor for industry, but – on the other side – finally undermined the economic position of Polish gentry (and class of capital owners). In effect, development in this part of Poland became more and more dependent on capital import. Due to globalization processes in Europe and access to the large, Russian market this access was possible. Actually, Kingdom of Poland in next 30 years became one of the most urbanized and industrialized provinces of Russian Empire.

The starting hypothesis in that this model of abolishment (even if less efficient than Prussian) was crucial for the “start to development” of Polish Kingdom. The analytical framework for analysis is the concept of institutional change (M. Aoki, D. North) – I show, that abolishment started such change, pushed by government. Using game-theoretic approach, I discuss the changing rules of the game and pay-offs of different “players”. In addition I demonstrate the differences of long-term consequences between the abolishment in Congress Kingdom of Poland, Prussia (since 1808), Russia (in 1861) and Austria (in 1848).