Alexander’s 1861 Manifesto (Cracraft 1994, 341) bestows on the serfs “the full rights of free rural inhabitants.” What are these rights? They do not seem to be fully specified in the Manifesto. Alexander outlines some principles and a general direction to be followed by the ensuing reforms, namely, the right to perpetual use of one’s homestead, plow land and other goods, as well as the (eventual) right to purchase and own land. Even considering the qualifications of the transitional obligations for both lord and serf, much detail regarding the exact status of the serfs is left to be defined later. Alexander conveys as much explicitly in the following.
“In accordance with these general principles of the said statutes, the future status of peasants and domestic folk is to be defined; a system for administering peasant affairs is to be established; and the rights granted to the peasants and domestic folk, as well as their obligations to the Government and the lords, are to be specified in detail.” (Cracraft 1994, 341; my emphasis)
Alexander’s use of the future perfect tense suggests to me that much work still needed to be done regarding the definition and classification of the social strata he had just brought into existence.To what extent did the emancipation create a novel social class? Was this class of so called “free rural inhabitants” something entirely new to the Russian countryside?