Ron, as our mutual friend Svetlana can confirm, in Tsarist Russia prior to 1862, the vast majority of Russians were peasants, but they were divided into two groups: peasants held in serfdom by private aristocratic landowners, and so-called “state peasants,” who worked lands owned by the national government and were not considered serfs.
Conditions for nearly all state peasants were really miserable, and heavy taxes were one of the factors that made things hard for them. And yet no Russians ever considered serfdom preferable to being a state peasant. On the contrary, the state peasants had certain rights, however limited, while serfs had no rights whatsoever, and generally were as bad off as African-American slaves, apart from the fact that there was no racist element, so runaway serfs who managed to find a new life as state peasants were not stigmatized as “niggers”. And just as African-Americans preferred impoverished sharecropping to slavery, Russian peasants found that toiling away on state lands and paying onerous taxes was — on the whole — preferable to being a privately-held serf. State peasants at least had a chance of saving up a little surplus wealth and bequeathing it to their children (a very small fraction of state peasants actually managed to become rich and educated), while serfs owned nothing.