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Labor dues; corvée.

Barshchina referred to unpaid labor dues (corvée) owed by a peasant to his lord, most commonly labor on the land. It may have emerged in Russia in the Kievan period, but most Western scholars maintain it developed in the late fifteenth century, as similar labor forms emerged in most east European countries. Associated with direct production for markets by large, especially lay, estates, it first became important in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It survived in somewhat modified form at least into the 1880s.

Barshchina varied according to location and time period. By the last third of the eighteenth century, it was increasingly associated with the rich black soils of the seven Central Agricultural provinces south of Moscow. Only 45 percent of the serfs were subject to labor service in the thirteen nonblack soil provinces, where soils were poor and the climate harsh, but the rate was 74 percent in the Central Agricultural Region. By the middle of the nineteenth century, labor dues were at their highest in Ukraine and New Russia, where 97 to 99.9 percent of the male serfs owed barshchina to produce grain for the European market.

In the nineteenth century, the typical obligation apparently slowly rose to three or four days per week in regions where the dues were heaviest, although during the harvest six-day weeks could be required. Viewed as an inefficient form of labor, landlords began to attempt to require specific labor tasks instead of days worked. Peasants considered it far more onerous than obrok (rents in kind or in money), because it put them directly under the control of the steward or landlord.

See also: obrok; peasantry; serfdom


Blum, Jerome. (1961). Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bulygin, I. A. (1973). "Corvée: Russia." Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan.

Elvira M. Wilbur