Categories of Peasantry


One of the best explanations of the categories of peasantry comes from the book: The Emancipation of the Polish Peasantry by Stefan Kieniewicz, University of Chicago Press,Chicag, 1969, pages 52-54


 For the sake of clarity we shall pas over these subtleties and divide the peasant population into three main groups: (1) the peasants proper; possessors of holding theoretically sufficient for their subsistence; (2) The intermediate layer of peasants, who had too little land to live on, and were forced to seek supplemental means of subsistence; and (3) the landless peasants.


The first group, in ancient times called kmiecie, is now most often called gospodarze, a word with many definitions: host, housekeeper, farmer, landlord, and manager. From the point of view of their charges: they can be divided into two categories, the rent payers and the compulsory laborers. There was of course and intermediate group, composed of persons performing some compulsory labor and paying some rent. In ancient times, the kmiec, had a whole łan or włoka, (41.5 acres), of land and worked on the domain with his his own yoke of oxen or pair of horses. As a rule, he employed two or three farmhands, sometimes his sons or sons-in-law, sometimes hirelings. In the course of centuries, the size of the land of a gospodarz steadily dwindled. Nevertheless, his characteristic feature was still the possession of oxen or horses and the employment of farmhands.


The second category of peasants is today called małorolni, or little-land-possessors (small holders).  This is anew rather general term. In the nineteenth century, many characteristics names were in use showing in a picturesque way, the degree of poverty of such people. Thus an ogrodnik was one who possessed only a little garden around his house.  The zagrodnik could boast of a house and farm buildings, but no garden. The chałupnik possessed only a chałupa, a cabin or cot. The komornik did not even have a chałupa; he lived in a komora, the smaller room of a peasant house belonging to somebody else. At the bottom of the social ladder, we find the kątnik, the man who lived with his family in a kąt, a corner of somebody else’s room.


The third category- the landless peasant (bezrolni), can be divided into two groups. The farmhands, permanently employed (mostly on a year’s contract) on a manor farm (folwark) or by a full peasant (gospodarz); and the journeyman, employed only occasionally, mainly during harvest time. The pay of the journeyman was higher, on a daily rate, but it was not assured or regular – and thus they can be regarded as belonging to the lowest level of the social hierarchy in the village.