Charles E. Ziegler


     The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
     Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
     Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut · London / 1999


     Maps:       The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia / 1995










Reform, Reaction, and Revolution, 1855-1921


We are at least two hundred years behind the times, we have as yet absolutely nothing, we have no definite attitude toward the past, we only philosophize, complain of our sadness or drink vodka.

Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard





          Russia's victory over the French in 1812, and the revolutionary upheavals in Europe of 1830 and 1848 with their demands for an end to empire and repressive monarchy, had confirmed for Russian conservatives the correctness of resisting change. However, the Crimean War destroyed this complacency and convinced many sectors of the population that fundamental reform was vitally important. Russia's army was equipped with antiquated weapons and poorly supplied, and the peasant recruits did not constitute the most effective fighting forces. Many had volunteered to fight out of the mistaken belief that their service to the tsar would be rewarded with freedom.

Although he was conservative and committed to maintaining autoc racy in Russia, Alexsandr II, who ruled from 1855 to 1881, understood the stultifying effects of serfdom on his country. In economic terms, forced peasant labor was highly inefficient. Many of the landed estates operated at a loss, and members of the gentry were often mired in debt. Serfdom was increasingly viewed as morally repugnant by Russia's intellectuals. Ivan TurgenevHunting Sketches, with its charming portrayal of rural life, had humanized the peasantry for the reading public. This collection of stories, published in 1852, the same year as Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, presented the upper classes with their first authentic glimpse of peasant life.

Emperor Alexsandr II


Contrary to the romanticized notions of peasant life held by the upper classes, rural life in nineteenth-century Russia was extremely primitive. The extended family lived in one large room, which was heated by a huge stove in one corner, on which a privileged family member slept during cold winter nights. Another corner was reserved for the family icons, religious paintings on wood of the holy family or favorite saints. Most peasants subsisted on a meager diet of bread and cabbage soup, only occasionally enjoying meat. Diseases such as typhus, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and smallpox were common. Many infants did not survive their first year, and few peasants lived beyond fifty years of age.

Peasant life was extremely patriarchal, with clear divisions of responsibility between men and women. Women took care of the children, worked in the gardens, sewed clothes, prepared food, and took care of the house. Men governed the home, controlled the land, and dominated household finances. Women were treated as property. As one nineteenthcentury peasant explained, "We need a wife and horse equally. A muzhik cannot survive long without both. If the housewife dies, you must find another. If the horse croaks, you must get another. To live on the land the muzhik must have a horse and a wife." Historian Rose Glickman in Clements et al.,Russia's Women who discovered this quote from a peasant interviewed in 1880, remarks on the tremendous imbalance between Russian peasant women's contributions to the home and their meager rewards. The one area in which peasant women had any power, Glickman notes, was in their role as respected folk healers.

Hundreds of peasant revolts during the first half of the nineteenth century indicated a deep sense of dissatisfaction with rural conditions and the oppression of serfdom. Poor, largely illiterate, and bound to the estates, Russia's serfs lived in conditions akin to slavery. Although none of the peasant revolts reached the scope or size of the eighteenth-century rebellions, they caused great alarm in the government. Upon conclusion of the Treaty of Paris ending the Crimean War, in March 1856, Aleksandr II warned the Moscow nobility, "It is better to destroy serfdom from above than to await the time when it begins to destroy itself from below."

While there was a general consensus among the Russian upper classes that reform was long overdue, the landowning gentry wanted to ensure that emancipation would not prove too costly for them. Aleksandr appointed advisory committees in the various provinces to study the problem in 1858, and his State Council also considered proposals for emancipation. The Emancipation Act of February 18, 1861 (by the Old Style calendar, which was twelve days behind the Western Gregorian calendar in the nineteenth century) granted freedom to some 52 million Russian serfs, who comprised about 45 percent of the population. Two years later, Abraham Lincoln would free 4 million American slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. In both countries these emancipated peoples would face a long struggle for equality.

Many Russian peasants were understandably dissatisfied with the terms of their emancipation. First, they were obligated to continue to work for their landlords for a two-year transitional period. Second, only those serfs directly engaged in farming were to receive land; household serfs did not. Third, the state compensated the gentry for the lands they lost (usually, land was divided fifty-fifty between the peasants and their former masters), and the peasants then had to make redemption payments to the state over forty-nine years. These payments were frequently well in excess of the value of the land, and were greatly resented. The peasants were now to be taxed, with revenues collected through the village commune, or mir. Peasants were tied to the village through their obligations to the mir; land plots were allocated through the mir, and the peasants' mobility was restricted by village authorities.

As historian Gregory Freeze notes, the number of peasant disorders mushroomed immediately after Alexander's decree, from 126 in 1860 to 1,889 in 1861. The nobility were also unhappy, since they lost much of their land and few had the capital or know-how to modernize their estates. While a handful of the nobility were quite rich, owning huge estates with thousands of souls, others had no more than a few servants and lived in virtual poverty. Many of the lesser gentry became further impoverished in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The emancipation of the serfs was only one, albeit certainly the most important, of a series of official acts called the Great Reforms. In January 1864 a reform of local government was implemented to create new authorities in the villages to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the landlords' power. Zemstvo assemblies and boards were created at the province and district levels to address local needs, including education, medical and veterinary services, insurance, roads, and bridges. The zemstvos, in effect county councils, were also something of a democratic experiment; they were elected by townspeople, peasant communes, and individual landlords. Those not owning property could not vote, and in any case the central government retained control over the police and other important functions. But the zemstvo reform did introduce the concept of self-governance, in a very limited sense, to Russia's peasantry. This system of local government lasted until the Revolution of 1917.

Other major reforms enacted under Aleksandr II included modernizing the legal system ( 1864) and the military ( 1874). Russia's judicial system in the early nineteenth century was inefficient and corrupt, and based on class privilege. Drawing largely upon the French model of code law and inquisitorial process, the new system separated the judiciary from administration, provided for open trials and equal treatment before the law, created a legal profession, and allowed certain cases to be decided by juries. But peasants, who comprised 80 percent of the population, were excluded from the judicial reforms.

Military reform, however, did have a major impact on the peasantry. From early in Catherine's reign the nobility had been granted the right to opt out of military duties; the 1874 statute mandated service for all classes. Military service for the lower classes was onerous, and draftees were obligated to serve for twenty-five years! Since young men were likely not to return from the army, villages would often hold funerals when they were conscripted. After 1874 the length of service was shortened to six years, military law was reformed, and elementary education was provided to all draftees.

Progress in education was an important part of the Great Reforms. Russia's Ministry of Education in 1864 adopted a Public School Statute to design a national system of primary schools. This resulted in the rapid expansion of elementary schools in the countryside to educate the newly freed but largely illiterate serf population. The university population also expanded rapidly, from 4,125 in 1865 to 16,294 at the end of the century, according to British historian Geoffrey Hosking, creating a larger and more active intellectual class. The bulk of these students was drawn from two classes--the nobility and the clergy.

The reform process heightened expectations and spawned social turmoil in the Russian empire. In 1863 the Polish minority rebelled and were decisively crushed. A new generation of university students, highly crit ical of the regime and its reforms and dedicated to scientific and rational thinking, became alienated from the old order. Influenced by the empiricism of Auguste Comte and the discoveries of Charles Darwin, they rejected the Romantic perspective of earlier decades.

Literature reflected changing attitudes in Russian society. A novel appearing the year after Turgenev classic Fathers and Sons ( 1862) was Nicholai Chernyshevsky What Is to Be Done?, written while the author was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress. A mediocre writer at best, Chernyshevsky depicted a socialist utopia where men and women were equals and all nationalist and religious prejudices were abandoned. One of his main characters, the disciplined revolutionary Rakhmetov, dedicates his life to the people. Chernyshevsky's novel inspired many of Russia's idealistic youth; Vladimir Lenin would later write that he pored over the novel for weeks, and clearly his ascetic and single-minded devotion to revolution echoed Rakhmetov's example.

Political liberalization of an authoritarian regime virtually always guarantees a growing chorus of demands for more change, and a subsequent reaction by those who wish to halt the reform process. As the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli observed in The Prince, "there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things." Machiavelli argued persuasively that reformers were bound to alienate the supporters of the old order, but could garner only lukewarm backing for the new order. This was precisely the case in Aleksandr II's Russia. The Great Reforms spawned diverse opposition movements in the second half of his reign, including populism, pan-Slavism, socialism, terrorism, and conservative reaction.

The populists, or narodniki, were intellectuals who placed their faith in the Russian people--the peasants. Influenced by the ideas of the French and British utopian socialists, Russian populists led a "movement to the people" in the mid-1870s. Committed activists left the comfort of the cities to work as teachers, doctors, agronomists, or artisans in the villages. The populists believed the peasant mir could serve as a uniquely Russian form of local governance; the intellectuals' duty was to raise the economic and cultural status of the peasantry. Fundamentally transforming rural life, however, proved beyond the capabilities of a few hundred dedicated individuals. Peasants and local officials resented their unsolicited advice, and many were turned over to the police and sent into exile.

Having failed in their peaceful efforts, some of the populists turned toward revolutionary violence. One of the more prominent populist or ganizations, Zemlia i Volia (Land and Will), evolved into a terrorist group dedicated to assassinating the tsar. Members of the People's Will (Narodnaia volia) reasoned that eliminating the supreme autocrat would cause the entire edifice of the Russian state to collapse. From 1879 to 1881 they undertook various attempts on Aleksandr's life, all without success. One member of the group infiltrated the staff of the Winter Palace, smuggled in dynamite, and succeeded in blowing up the tsar's dining room, but without causing any harm to the sovereign himself. Spurred on by the dedication of the women students, who were the backbone of the People's Will, the collaborators then attacked Aleksandr II as his carriage traveled along the Catherine Canal in St. Petersburg. This time they succeeded. Ignacy Hryniewski, who threw the homemade bomb at the tsar's feet when he left the carriage, was himself killed in the attack. Five others were hanged for their role in the assassination, including Sofia Perovskaia, the brains and motive force behind the conspiracy.






While Aleksandr II is known as the Tsar Liberator, his son, Aleksandr III ( 1881-1894), was an extreme reactionary. His tutor and later chief advisor, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, constantly warned against the dangers of constitutional government and representative democracy. What Russia needed, argued this former liberal jurist, was a powerful tsar who would maintain order and stability. Pobedonostsev, an ardent Russian nationalist and Director General of the Holy Synod, resurrected Nicholas I's policy of Official Nationality and promoted intolerance toward Russia's Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim believers. Pobedonostsev opposed virtually all forms of industrial progress and social or political development. The country's turn toward political repression and ardent nationalism under Aleksandr III yielded short-term stability, but at the cost of more enduring social tensions.

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Emperor Aleksandr III


Empress Maria Feodorovna


By the late 1880s populism had been discredited, terrorism quashed. However, in the final years of the century Marxist socialism began to gain adherents among those hoping for change. The socialist Georgii Plekhanov, who was originally associated with the Russian populist movement, abandoned it in favor of Karl Marx's "scientific" theories. Marx, a German Jewish political economist, had argued that history developed according to certain immutable laws. According to Marxist theory, the economic engine that drove the capitalist economies of industrial Europe created deep class divisions between the workers (proletariat) and the factory owners (bourgeoisie) that could only be overcome through revolution. When the working class became completely conscious of its exploitation by the bourgeoisie, realizing that the fruits of their labor were going to the capitalists and not to the workers themselves, they would rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie (who also controlled the state). Once all the privately owned means of production-factories, land, tools--had become social property, production would be carried out for the benefit of the great mass of people, not the rich few. This was communism as envisioned by Marx.

One of Russia's young revolutionaries who turned to Marxism was Vladimir Ulianov, from Simbirsk province in central Russia, who became a dedicated enemy of the tsarist regime when his older brother Aleksandr was executed for trying to assassinate Aleksandr III in 1887. Banished to Siberian exile for his activities, he adopted the name Lenin, probably after the huge Lena River near Shushenskoe, his place of exile. As most of his biographers note, Lenin became a revolutionary several years before he discovered Marx. A fiery ideologue, he was consistently willing to jettison principles in the interest of subverting the Russian state. Lenin and his Bolshevik Party succeeded with the November coup of 1917.

The socialist movement in Russia, like all groupings of intellectuals, was riven by factionalism and heated disputes. Lenin, Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich (acquitted for her attempt on the life of St. Petersburg's Governor General), and Paul Akselrod, all leading figures of Russian socialism, missed the founding meeting of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which took place in a small house in Minsk, Belarus, in 1898. But most attended the party's second congress five years later, held in Brussels and London, where disagreements caused the party to split into two wings. One, favoring a more inclusive membership and a more passive role for the party, was dubbed the Mensheviks ("those of the minority"). A Jewish socialist, Pavel Martov, led this faction. Lenin claimed that his party faction, which preferred a more restrictive membership and a more active revolutionary posture, represented the "majoritarians" (Bolsheviks). In his bookWhat Is to Be Done? ( 1902; the title is copied from Chernyshevsky's novel), Lenin had argued that the surest way to bring about a socialist revolution in Russia was through a dedicated band of revolutionaries who would be the vanguard or leader of the working class.

Turn-of-the-century Russia, however, did not have much of a working class to lead. Far behind Britain, the United States, or Germany economically, Russia had just begun to industrialize in the 1890s. A key factor in Russia's development was the decision in 1891 to build the TransSiberian railroad. Although most of the country's population was concentrated west of the Ural Mountains (and still is), there was vast natural wealth in Siberia, an area larger than the entire United States. Siberia had very few roads, and virtually none that were paved, and the main transportation arteries, the great Ob, Irtysh, Lena, and Yenesei Rivers, ran north and south. Well aware that its empire in the east was overextended, Russia had withdrawn from its North American colonies, selling Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million. The TransSiberian line, at 5,000 miles the longest stretch of rail in the world, would link these distant territories more closely to European Russia. The project would take twelve years to build and would ultimately bring Russia into armed conflict with its eastern neighbors.

Russia was consolidating its eastern territories just as Japan embarked on the industrialization and imperial expansion of the Meiji Restoration ( 1868-1945). Both countries sought control of land in Manchuria, a province of northern China. Russia had concluded a secret agreement with China permitting construction of the Chinese Eastern Railroad to link the Trans-Siberian east of Lake Baikal through Chinese Harbin, and on to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.

Certain Russian leaders also had designs on Korea. Japan, which had confronted China on the Korean peninsula in 1894-1895, was seeking access to coal and iron ore in Manchuria and on the island of Sakhalin. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, much to the surprise of racist Europeans, Japan destroyed the Russian fleet and defeated their army in the Far East. President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated a peace at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which granted Japan control over Korea, the Liaotung Peninsula, southern Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands north to Kamchatka.

Ironically, Russia's reactionary Minister of Interior Viacheslav von Plehve had suggested that the country needed a "small victorious war" to rebuild national unity in the wake of the strikes and pogroms of 1903. The Russo-Japanese War had precisely the opposite effect, of stimulating discontent and revolution.






Under the iron hand of Aleksandr III, Russia had been at peace internationally and calm internally. When he died unexpectedly in 1894, his son, Nicholas II, became the last Russian tsar. Nicholas was weak, not terribly bright, and completely unprepared to assume the duties of governing Russia. Like his father, he was greatly influenced by the reactionary Pobedonostsev. But while Nicholas opposed any infringement on the tsar's power as autocrat, circumstances would force him to make concessions to the demands of an increasingly restive population.



Emperor Nicholas II


Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Prince Alexey


Большой герб Российской империи

The Greater Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire

File:Russian imperiam.png

The lesser Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire



In the 1870s and 1880s Russia slowly began to enter the industrial age. Aleksandr III's finance minister, Ivan Vyshnegradsky ( 1887-1892), was determined to strengthen Russia's economy through massive grain exports, heavier taxes on the peasantry, putting the country on the gold standard, and encouraging foreign investment in industry, particularly the railroads. Initially successful, these measures depleted food reserves in the countryside, resulting in a massive famine in 1891-1892 in which some 400,000 peasants died. Sergei Witte, who succeeded Vyshnegradsky, continued his policies of forcing peasants to market grain at reduced prices to provide revenue for Russia's industrialization. The result was resentment, peasant flight to the cities, and a more fertile environment for revolutionary agitators.



Russia's industrial development created new social forces--an emerging middle and professional class, a new bourgeoisie, and a small working class concentrated in a few large cities. The early phase of Russia's industrial revolution, like that in Britain a century earlier, created miserable conditions for much of the population and heightened social tensions. Long working hours, the exploitation of children and women, unhygienic working conditions, and prohibitions against organizing prompted opposition. Major strikes occurred in St. Petersburg in 18961897 and in the southern towns of Rostov-on-Don and Odessa.

Loathe to permit independent union organizing, the government did allow police officials and Orthodox priests to try to co-opt labor through officially approved unions. This strategy was the brainchild of Sergei Zubatov, a former double agent who became chief of the Moscow Okhrana (secret police) in 1896. Zubatov's unions were supposed to convert Russia's literate socialist workers into supporters of the monarchy.

The success of this experiment was mixed at best. In December 1904 one such organization, an Assembly of Russian Factory Workers led by Father Georgii Gapon, planned a general strike in the capital and a peaceful march to the Winter Palace to present a petition for help to the tsar. Nicholas did not meet with them and, in an act of colossal stupidity, Cossacks and government troops cut down the unarmed petitioners bearing icons and portraits of the tsar. The death of more than one hundred, including women and children, inflamed public opinion and, for much of the Russian public, destroyed the ancient myth that the tsar was sympathetic to the plight of his people and would help them once he was made aware of their condition.

The events of Bloody Sunday, as the massacre was called, sparked the Revolution of 1905. Student demonstrations, labor strikes, and peasant unrest mounted through the summer. Sailors on the battleship Potemkin mutinied in the Black Sea; their story was later dramatized in Sergei Eisenstein's classic (but historically inaccurate) movie. Peasant radicalism was encouraged by the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), a radical party established by disaffected intellectuals in 1901. The SRs, who blended Russian populist and terrorist traditions, encouraged peasant rebellions during 1902-1904 and throughout 1905.



Worker opposition was central to the revolution. Early in 1905 a group of liberals led by historian Paul Miliukov formed the Constitutional Democratic (or Kadet) Party, which supported worker demands. The Kadets were quite moderate, however. A more radical strike committee formed in the capital constituted itself as a workers' council, or soviet. A firebrand socialist, Leon Trotsky, who in 1917 would together with Lenin establish Russia's communist government, was elected chairman. Both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were active in the St. Petersburg Soviet, as were the Socialist Revolutionaries. An executive committee was formed, and similar councils sprang up across the country. The St. Petersburg Soviet would serve as the model for revolutionary government organizations that took power after the collapse of tsarist autocracy in 1917.

With his room for maneuver sharply limited by the war with Japan, Nicholas signed the October Manifesto granting civil liberties and conceding the formation of a parliament, or Duma. This lower house would be elected by the public; the State Council was transformed into an appointive upper chamber. Yet another political party was formed; this one, the Octobrists, was comprised of moderates who supported the provisions of the October Manifesto. When the first two elections returned large numbers of representatives from the more radical parties, the President of the Council of Ministers, Peter Stolypin, rewrote the electoral law to ensure a more compliant assembly. The third Duma reflected an overrepresentation of the landowners and more conservative groups; Octobrists and nationalist forces dominated, and the tsar was easily able to overrule or ignore parliament. This third Duma completed a full fiveyear term ( 1907-1912), and the fourth Duma ( 1912-1917) served nearly a full term.


Peter Stolypin


Nicholas made these concessions toward a constitutional monarchy not out of conviction, but because he was forced to. As the tumult of 1905 subsided, the government tried to withdraw some of its concessions. Measures were implemented to promote social stability. Stolypin, who in effect served as prime minister from 1906 to 1911, supervised a plan to create a conservative, landowning class of small prosperous farmers, similar to the stolid farmers of middle America. Russia had endured another famine in 1906-1907, and Stolypin was concerned about the potential for peasant unrest. His program aimed to abolish the mir and make it possible for individual peasants to buy and consolidate strips of land from the communes, and to augment their holdings by purchasing additional land from the state.

To a certain extent Stolypin succeeded. The number of well-to-do private farmers (kulaks) grew, but slowly. A law of 1910 supposedly dissolved the mir, but on the eve of the Revolution of 1917 most peasants still lived in communes. Stolypin's agrarian reforms lagged after his assassination in 1911 and came to a halt with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Lenin, who had been concerned that agrarian reform was creating a conservative class of small landowners less inclined to overthrow the monarchy, favored keeping the misery quotient high. To the extent that Stolypin's reliance on "the strong and sober" made the population more affluent and more contented, they would be less prone to use violence against the government.







     Culture and Society                                                      


Nineteenth-century Russia produced some of the world's greatest literature, music, and art. The cultural heritage of this period is so rich that only a few of the most outstanding contributors can be discussed here.

Ivan Turgenev ( 1818-1883) was the first Russian novelist to be read widely in the West. Turgenev is part of the realist school in Russian literature: he is far more accessible than Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, but less a romanticist than the writers of the 1830s and 1840s. His novel Fathers and Sons ( 1862) brilliantly captured the generational divide of the 1860s. One of the central characters, Bazarov, disdained all traditions, sentiments, and emotions in favor of rational scientific calculation. Bazarov was a nihilist--he rejected everything and believed in nothing. For many readers of the time, he represented the rational, pragmatic side of Western influence in Russia, which they saw as fundamentally opposed to core Russian values.

The Romanticism of the 1830s and 1840s was replaced by a darker realism in the 1860s and 1870s. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's writings blended religious, political, and social themes. His masterpiece Crime and Punishment explored the psychological impulses that drove the protagonist, Raskolnikov, to murder an old pawnbroker for her money. Raskolnikov, whose name derives from the Russian word for schism, suffered from a split personality. He believed that as a superior man he was entitled to exercise life and death power over the old woman; as a human being with some remnants of Christian morality, he was obsessed by the enormity of his crime and eventually confessed to the authorities.

Dostoyevsky's writing was shaped by powerful forces--his mock execution for membership in the Petrashevsky literary circle and subsequent exile, his addiction to gambling and the huge debts he accumulated at the roulette tables, his rejection of Western secular rational society, and his powerful religious beliefs. Dostoyevsky was appalled by the amorality of Turgenev's generation of nihilists, and treated them far more bleakly. In The Possessed, Dostoyevsky equates Russia's nihilistic revolutionaries with devils. The Brothers Karamazov, his last major work, deals with religious faith, the struggle against nonbelief, and divine justice. Three warring aspects of Dostoyevsky's personality are embodied in the three Karamazov brothers, one of whom is charged with the murder of his middle-aged father. In one famous chapter of the book,"The Grand Inquisitor," Dostoyevsky attacks the arrogance of the established Church, whose officials cynically manipulate the mass of believers. Although Dostoyevsky makes an example of the Catholic Church during the sixteenth-century Spanish Inquisition, his blistering critique could apply to any state church, including the Russian Orthodox.

Count Leo Tolstoy ( 1828-1910) is revered for his great historical epic novel War and Peace, which recounts the lives of Russia's nobility, a social group he knew well, during the Napoleonic wars of 1805 to 1815. Tolstoy also knew war from his experience as a subaltern in the Crimean conflict. Like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy was very much a philosopher and a Russophile. In War and Peace history and life are a series of accidents and events beyond conscious human manipulation; even the greatest figures--Napoleon, Aleksandr I, General Kutuzov--are merely acting according to a divine script over which they have no control. Tolstoy Anna Karenina is a morality tale and a critique of modernism. The protagonist, a married woman who does not love her husband and cannot resist the advances of the dashing Count Vronsky, abandons social respectability for passion.

Anna's sins destroy more than her reputation; in despair, she throws herself beneath a train, a symbol of Russia's industrialization.

Preoccupied with sin and morality, Tolstoy in later life adopted an ascetic philosophy and lifestyle of sexual denial, pacifism, and simple peasant labor, to the dismay of his long-suffering wife. He criticized the monarchy and the Orthodox Church for ignoring the plight of Russia's poor and the will of God, earning enemies in the government. From Yasnaya Polyana, his estate south of Moscow, Tolstoy condemned the Russian government for the repressions that followed the Revolution of 1905. His last novel, Resurrection ( 1899), did not deal with Russia's aristocrats, as did his earlier works, but rather chronicled the sufferings of the lowest classes--Siberian prisoners, peasants, criminals. By the time he died Tolstoy had an international following, and his pacifist ideas would influence Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The period from Aleksandr II's assassination to the Revolution of 1917 is often called the Silver Age of Russian literature. Poetry was revived in the form of the Symbolists, a turn-of-the-century group of writers influenced by French Symbolism, who reflected the sense of doom that pervaded Russia at that time. A diverse movement, Russian Symbolism was mystical, sometimes religious, and inclined toward sexual decadence. Major Symbolist figures included Aleksandr Blok, Vyacheslav Ivanov, and Andrei Bely. Russia's major dramatist of the era was Anton Chekhov ( 1860-1904). Chekhov Cherry Orchard, written in the year before his death and still popular in American theaters, illustrates the decline of the traditional gentry, impoverished and unable to cope with post-emancipation life.

Russia's great musical composers of this era are deservedly famous. Surprisingly, few of the Russian classical composers had much formal musical training. What they did have was a commitment to producing truly Russian music, not simply imitations of European operas, ballets, and symphonies. Modest Mussorgsky, a lieutenant in the Preobrazhensky guards, would write the great opera Boris Godunov, set in Russia's Time of Troubles. Aleksandr Borodin, a medical doctor before turning composer, penned Prince Igor. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov derived his music from Russian folklore and the stories of Pushkin and Gogol; his bestknown works are The Snow Maiden and Scheherazade.

Peter Tchaikovsky ( 1841-1893) produced a huge body of work, of which the 1812 Overture is probably his best known. An inspiring and very emotional work that reflects the composer's ardent Russian patri otism and celebrates Napoleon's defeat, the 1812 Overture starts as a sedate pastorale and then builds to a thunderous climax, with bells ringing and cannons firing, celebrating the French troops' flight from Russian soil.

Like Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky delighted in the magical and fantastic. His ballet theNutcracker Suite has become a Christmas standard around the world. Other masterpieces included Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Onegin, and Sleeping Beauty. Tchaikovsky's great works, and those of his fellow composers, were performed at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which remain to this day great centers of Russian culture.

Less famous than literature or music, Russian painting of the late nineteenth century is no less deserving of attention. One major school of painters, the Itinerants, displayed their portraits of Russian life and historical themes in exhibits that traveled around the major Russian cities. Stifled by the conservative canon of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of the Arts, which insisted on depicting only classical subjects, a group of fourteen talented students resigned from the Academy in 1863. Ivan Kramskoi was the first leader of the movement, Ilya Repin ( 1844-1930) the most widely known artist. Repin, like his fellow Itinerants, painted unvarnished, realist scenes. His Ivan the Terrible and the Death of His Son portrays the moment after the brutal tsar, in a fit of anger, fatally struck his son with his staff. Repin's Religious Procession in Kursk Province ( 18801883) illustrates the priests, beggars, police officials, and common folk of the Russian provinces. Another Itinerant painting, Vasily Surikov The Boyarina Morozova, shows a proud and defiant boyar lady, an Old Believer, bundled into a sleigh and forced into exile for her beliefs. Vasily Vereshchagin's painting The Apotheosis of War, showing a huge mound of skulls situated in the center of an arid plain, depicts the horrors of war; Vereshchagin had witnessed such scenes during his service in the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1877- 1878.

Many of the works of the Itinerants are now housed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Renovated and reopened in 1995, this huge collection of native Russian art was collected by Pavel Tretiakov, a wealthy Moscow merchant who spent nearly three decades and a million rubles purchasing the works of Repin, Vereshchagin, Kramskoi, Nikolai Ge, and other Itinerants, together with ancient religious icons. When he died in 1898, Tretiakov bequeathed to Russia a trove of masterpieces.

As the Romanov dynasty neared its end, several unique schools of art, influenced by European Cubism and Post-Impressionism and radically different from the realist depictions of the Itinerants, emerged in Russia. These Russian painters in turn had a major impact on modern art in Europe. One such painter, Kasimir Malevich ( 1878-1935), produced a modernist art of abstract collages and geometric shapes called CuboFuturism. Malevich was also responsible for the Suprematist movement, a mystical approach he defined as the supremacy of feeling over form in art. A talented young artist from Vitebsk, Marc Chagall ( 1887-1985), painted colorful and whimsical works inspired by the Jewish shtetl, or village, in which he was born. Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), a Russian artist who became a major figure in the German Blue Rider school, is generally acknowledged as the founder of abstract painting.

Several women were prominent members of the Russian modern art movement, although their contributions are often overlooked. One major figure was Natalia Goncharova ( 1881-1962), a talented member of the Primitivist movement who drew on icons and traditional Russian themes to produce a nativist art form. Vladimir Tatlin ( 1885-1953) and Aleksandr Rodchenko ( 1891-1956) were leading figures in the Constructivist school, which reflected their revolutionary dedication to build a new society. Tatlin is best known for designing a monument to commemorate the founding of the Third International Communist Movement (the Comintern) in 1919. Rodchenko started with abstraction, but in the Soviet period bowed to the Communist Party's demands to paint socialist realism.





WAR AND REVOLUTION                              


            Throughout much of the nineteenth century Russia allied itself with Europe's authoritarian states, particularly Germany and Austria. However, Russia perceived the unification of Germany in 1871, its rapid industrialization, and the formation of alliances with Austria and Italy as a potential threat to its security, particularly after 1890 when Germany abandoned a treaty relationship with Russia. Russian public opinion urged the government to protect the Serbs and other South Slavic peoples in the Balkans, where the Turkish empire was crumbling, and on which Austria had imperial designs. To strengthen its position vis-ŕ-vis Germany and Austria, Russia concluded an alliance with France in 1894 and an entente with Britain in 1907. Russia's foreign policy priorities after its defeat by Japan were to preserve access to the Mediterranean through the Straits and to exercise influence in the Balkans by posing as the defender of the Slavs.

When Serbian terrorists, incensed by Austria's domination of BosniaHerzegovina, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, they set in motion a chain of events that culminated in World War I. Austria declared war on Serbia, prompting Russia to mobilize its army to defend the Serbs. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany unconditionally supported Austria. When fighting between Russia and Germany broke out in August, prominent figures across Russia's political spectrum rallied behind the tsar. Only Vladimir Lenin, hiding in neutral Switzerland, condemned the "bourgeois" war and urged Russian workers not to fight.


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Popular support for the war soon ebbed. Russia's armed forces were ill prepared for a conflict with modern Germany. There were not enough rifles or artillery, and Russian railways were insufficient to deliver necessary supplies to the front. Russia's military leaders were incompetent and the budget inadequate. At times recruits would be thrown into battle unarmed, with instructions to scavenge weapons from their dead and wounded comrades. Certainly, there was no shortage of casualties-nearly 3 million Russian soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner in the first year. Disgusted by inept leadership, and propagandized by radicals, many soldiers deserted the front during the latter stages of the war. They would comprise an important element of the revolutionary movement in 1917.

The extraordinarily inept leadership of Nicholas II also helps explain the collapse of the Romanov dynasty. The government's insensitive Russification policy--forcing the Russian language and Orthodox religion on non-Russians--had alienated the empire's national minorities, particularly the Finns, Jews, and Ukrainians (the Poles had never been very loyal). For nearly ten years the court was under the influence of the mystical Siberian monk Gregorii Rasputin, whom the Tsarina Aleksandra believed could cure her son's hemophilia. Rasputin seduced many ladies of Russian high society, secured lucrative positions for his cronies, and in general exercised a pernicious influence over the nation's politics. His life and spectacular death (he was poisoned, stabbed, shot, and dumped into a Petrograd canal to drown by a group of nobles in 1916) have provided material for a number of books and movies.

Nicholas also did not help matters by taking direct command of Russian forces at the front. In late 1916 and early 1917 the country was suffering from food and fuel shortages, desertions, strikes and demonstrations, and outbreaks of such infectious diseases as cholera and typhus. A large demonstration of women in the capital in February 1917 protesting high bread prices sparked a general strike, and within a week Nicholas II had abdicated in favor of his brother, who refused the throne. The royal family was placed under house arrest immediately after the Revolution to preclude a counterrevolutionary movement from being organized abroad. In July 1918 they were executed by their Bolshevik guards.

The Romanov dynasty was replaced by a Provisional Government of moderate and liberal former ministers, mostly members of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party. The Provisional Government planned to exercise authority until a constituent assembly could be held to create a new, constitutional government. However, a second, more radical political organization formed, the Petrograd Soviet, patterned after the short-lived soviet of the 1905 Revolution. Workers, soldiers, and radical intelligentsia were represented in the Petrograd Soviet. Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were the largest factions; the Bolsheviks were initially much smaller. The socialists who made up the Soviet's Executive Committee believed that Russia was not ripe for a socialist revolution; instead, the country would need to mature through a bourgeois phase, under the Provisional Government, before socialism could succeed.

Thus an uneasy situation of "dual power" existed throughout most of 1917. The Provisional Government quickly guaranteed civil rights, including freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and religion; enacted a series of reforms in education, labor, and local government; and promised to move Russia toward democracy and the rule of law. The Petrograd Soviet issued more radical decrees, including democratization of the army. Russia was in chaos. Peasants were seizing land from the nobility, workers continued to strike, and thousands of armed soldiers had simply walked away from the front. The Provisional Government was warmly welcomed by the French and British Allies who quickly granted it diplomatic recognition as Russia's legitimate government. But the Provisional Government could not restore order to a country wracked by massive problems of inflation, the collapse of food production, disease, transportation bottlenecks, and general social disorder.

In hindsight, the greatest failing of the Provisional Government was its continuation of the war. The British, French, and Americans (the latter entered the conflict in April 1917) needed Russia to stay engaged so that the Germans would be forced to fight on two fronts. But the war was immensely unpopular in Russia. When Lenin arrived at Petrograd's Finland Station by train from Switzerland in April 1917, he immediately called for an end to the war and condemned the Petrograd Soviet's hesitance in taking action against the Provisional Government. Lenin's "April Theses," which set out a more radical program for Russia than virtually any other socialist had proposed, was summarized in his slogan "Bread, Peace and Land," designed to appeal to the peasants, workers, and soldiers.

Condemning the Provisional Government, Lenin called for "all power to the soviets." He urged the workers and peasants to seize control of factories and land. Rejecting the war cause, Lenin urged the international proletariat to begin a civil war across Europe, with the goal of bringing about other socialist revolutions. According to Marxist theory, the workers' revolution should be international in scope. Backward Russia would need the more advanced industrial countries--Germany, Britain, France, and the United States--to become socialist in order to support socialism in Russia.

Public opinion was becoming more radicalized during summer 1917, and in July the Bolsheviks, urged on by radical elements, tried to take power in an abortive coup. Fearful of growing leftism, conservative forces among the gentry, merchants, and military encouraged General Lavr Kornilov to march on the capital the following month. Kornilov's motley force of Cossacks and troops from the Caucasus melted away before reaching Petrograd, and the general was arrested. But Alexsandr Kerensky, a former Socialist Revolutionary who had headed the Provisional Government since July, could not stem the collapse of society and the slide toward extremism.

Over the course of summer 1917, the more militant Bolshevik Party expanded dramatically, and its influence in the Petrograd Soviet grew. Lenin continued to agitate for an armed uprising from his hiding place in Finland, to which he had fled in June to avoid arrest on charges of being a German agent. He returned to Russia in July but continued to operate sporadically out of Finland until October. By then, the Petrograd and Moscow sovičts had enough popular support to usurp the Provisional Government. In October, Lenin convinced the Bolshevik Central Commitee to vote 10-2 to take action against the government. Leon Trotsky, who had returned from New York in May and had become chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, strongly supported Lenin's plan to assume power. Trotsky was put in charge of the Bolshevik Party's military forces, the Red Guards. He secured control of the capital's military garrison, arranged the surrender of forces at the Peter and Paul fortress, and led the assault on the Winter Palace, from which Kerensky's government had been operating. This almost bloodless coup, which took place on the night of November 7 (October 25 by the Old Style Russian calendar), was later glorified as the October Revolution by Soviet propagandists.

Control of Petrograd did not give the Bolsheviks control of the entire country. Within a week the Moscow Soviet had taken power, and control was quickly extended to central Russia. But Russia would suffer through three years of bloody civil war and a major famine before the communists consolidated their hold over the entire country. Even then, substantial territory around the periphery would be lost: Finland, the Baltic states ( Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), eastern Poland, and Bessarabia (to Romania).

The new Bolshevik government immediately enacted a series of decrees allowing workers to take control of the factories. The Land Decree dispossessed all but the peasants of their land. The government nationalized banks, railroads, and some of the largest factories, and established a monopoly on foreign trade. Additional decrees outlawed inheritance, expropriated urban property for the state, and repudiated all state debts (much to the outrage of the French, who had invested heavily in the Russian economy). These radical socialist measures, backed by military force characterized the period of war communism (1918-1921).



In the early months of the Revolution, Lenin was willing to align his party with the radical Socialist Revolutionaries, who were popular among the peasantry. For the most part, though, he was unwilling to compromise with other political forces and sought to crush his opponents. Russia's government under the Bolsheviks would not be democratic, but a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Lenin claimed that the proletariat, the great majority of the people, were justified in repressing the exploitative elements--landowners, capitalists, priests, and other defenders of the old order. The Party, as the vanguard of the working class, was entitled to make and carry out decisions in the name of the people.

The communists rejected liberal democratic ideas about the rule of law and constitutional protections as bourgeois. The Bolsheviks did permit elections to be held for a Constituent Assembly early in 1918. To their surprise, they received only 25 percent of the votes cast, compared with 58 percent for the Socialist Revolutionaries and 13 percent for centerright parties. The Constituent Assembly met once; this session was disrupted by uncooperative guards loyal to the Bolsheviks, and then ordered dissolved as an instrument of the "enemies of the people." Clearly, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had little respect for democratic procedures.

The major governing authority set up by the Bolsheviks was the Council of People's Commissars, or Sovnarkom. The Sovnarkom embodied a principle that distinguished the entire period of Soviet rule--the fusion of state and party. Of course, the Bolshevik Party, which would become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), did not resemble democratic political parties. In democracies, parties by definition compete for power, and exercise power only if the voters choose them. The communists quickly established a monopoly of political power in Russia, controlling or destroying all competing organizations. Political parties, trade unions, local government committees, and army units were all subordinated to the Party.


New rulers of Russia: Lenin, Bukharin and Zinovyev


As a pragmatic revolutionary leader, Lenin realized how important it was to bring an end to the war with Germany. Diplomacy was a new concept for the revolutionaries; if the major countries of Europe went communist, they reasoned, relations among states should change fundamentally. War, imperialism, nationalism, trade disputes--all were supposed by Marxists to be unique to the bourgeois world order. And few of Russia's new rulers really believed that the country could survive very long as a communist state surrounded by hostile capitalist countries. When the international revolution did not take place, Soviet leaders had to accommodate themselves to the existing order. In March 1918 this meant signing a draconian agreement with Germany, the Treaty of BrestLitovsk, to halt the German advance and buy time to deal with their pressing domestic problems. Negotiated by Leon Trotsky acting as Commissar of Foreign Relations, this treaty ceded huge areas of western Russia and Ukraine to Germany, much of which would be recovered after the armistice of November 1918.

Within a month of the communist takeover Lenin sanctioned the formation of an Extraordinary Commission, or secret police organization, to suppress counter revolution. Headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a ruthless Polish revolutionary, the Cheka, as it was called, arrested, shot, and exiled opponents of the Revolution, frequently without the benefit of a trial. Lenin clearly approved of using terror to preserve Bolshevik rule. When in July 1918 it appeared that Nicholas and his family might be freed by a detachment of Czechoslovak troops en route to Vladivostok, Lenin ordered them to be shot in an Ekaterinburg cellar and their remains burned and scattered.


Red Terror as seen by  Russian artist


By the summer of 1918 a loose coalition of monarchist and conservative forces, termed the Whites, had begun a civil war against the Red, or communist, forces. Trotsky, appointed Commissar of War, was charged with mobilizing the Soviet Red Army to defend the Revolution. The White forces were especially strong in Ukraine, which existed as an independent country for nearly three years, and in remote Siberia and the Russian Far East. Encouraged by the prospect of communism's overthrow, the Allies deployed modest numbers of troops in the northeast (mostly British and French) and along the Amur River in the Far East (Japanese and American). These forces were insufficient to gain a victory for the Whites; the intervention did, however, provide grist for Bolshevik propaganda about capitalism's threat to the infant Soviet state.

While the Bolsheviks preached worker solidarity, they quickly discovered that national identity was a more important source of motivation for many of the non-Russian peoples of the empire. Initially committed to a centralized, unitary state, the Bolsheviks soon realized their mistake. In July 1918 the Sovnarkom proclaimed the Soviet state to be a dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers and peasants--the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Russia's first constitution granted representation to industrial workers and peasants, but did not allow "exploiters" to vote. However, real responsibility for governing was not entrusted to the working masses. Power was to be exercised through the supreme organs of Soviet government, while local and regional authorities might exercise only limited control over local affairs. As historian Richard Pipes notes, the first revolutionary constitution was short and confused; in any case, the Party leadership would retain ultimate power in Russia. This and all subsequent constitutions did not subordinate officials to the rule of law, nor did they protect the civil rights and liberties of the people. This pattern of arbitrary governance would persist through the Soviet period.

Lenin's promise to share power with Russia's minorities in a type of ethnic federalism was for many not nearly as attractive as complete independence. By summer 1918 Ukraine had established a national government, and it would exist as an independent country for nearly three years. Neighboring Belarus was self-governing for about a year; Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were outside Soviet control during much of the Civil War. A Far Eastern Republic was proclaimed, with its capital at Vladivostok, under Japanese sponsorship; it lasted for four years, from 1918 to 1922. And in Central Asia sporadic resistance to Soviet rule continued as late as 1928.

Over the course of the Civil War ( 1918-1921) the Bolsheviks learned the effectiveness of harsh methods of repression and the uses of terror. Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries resisted sharing power with other political forces. The left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries, the only party radical enough for the Bolsheviks to cooperate with, withdrew from the governing coalition in March 1918. Soon even competing ideas within the Bolshevik Party were suppressed. In March 1921, at the Tenth Party Congress, Lenin crushed the Workers' Opposition, a small group of populists who favored greater workers' self-government, and convinced the Party to adopt a ban on factionalism within its ranks. Dissension in the Party, he reasoned, would weaken it and provide opportunities for communism's enemies.

Russia's population suffered greatly during the Civil War. As with most civil wars, the fighting was brutal and atrocities were common. Millions were displaced, and an estimated 3 million eventually fled Russia. The latter included former tsarist bureaucrats and army officers, members of the noble and business classes, priests, and Old Believer communities. Russia also fought a brief war with Poland in 1920, as the Poles availed themselves of Russian weakness and Germany's defeat to reestablish their independence.

The impact on Russia's economy of nearly eight years of continuous war and revolution was devastating. Industrial production collapsed; by 1921 it was only one-fifth that of 1913, the year before the war began. Food supplies dwindled as peasants were uprooted and armies roamed across the countryside fighting and looting. The Bolsheviks resorted to forcible grain requisitioning to ensure food supplies for the cities, but this only led peasants to hoard food. Resentful peasants were often forced to surrender their grain to workers' detachments at gunpoint. Boris Pasternak lyrical novel, Dr. Zhivago, conveys much of the chaos and brutality of this period.

Toward the end of the Civil War, Russia was in a virtual state of collapse, a period of anarchy much like the Time of Troubles. Scholars estimate that as many as 20 million people had died in Russia from 1914 to 1921, from war, hunger, disease, and executions. By early 1921 peasants, outraged over forcible requisitions and the Bolsheviks' attempts to foment class warfare in the countryside, revolted. The economy was in ruins. Most Russians had turned to barter to obtain what few goods were available. Russia faced famine in the winter of 1920-1921; relief efforts organized by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, saved thousands of lives. Conditions were so bad that in March some of the Bolsheviks' most loyal supporters, sailors at the Kronstadt naval base in the Gulf of Finland, near Petrograd, revolted. The sailors demanded an end to the harsh measures of War Communism: the Soviet government's policies of abolishing private enterprise, nationalizing land, forcibly requisitioning grain from the peasants, and forcing industrial workers into labor brigades. The Kronstadt sailors urged greater democracy in elections to the soviets and called for the formation of a constituent assembly. Trotsky led a detachment of soldiers across the ice and crushed the uprising. Kronstadt, however, convinced the Bolshevik leadership that repression was becoming counterproductive.

At the tumultuous Tenth Party Congress that same month, Lenin persuaded the Party to adopt the New Economic Policy (NEP), which would last until 1928. NEP was to be a breathing spell for the new Soviet state, a period of relaxation now that the Civil War was over. Private enterprise would be allowed in farming and small businesses, to restore production. The government would keep control of the "commanding heights" of the economy--heavy industry, railways, banking, and foreign trade. Grain requisitioning was abandoned, the summary justice of War Communism tempered, and the country entered a period of moderation and experimentation in education and culture. Limited capitalism under NEP restored a measure of prosperity and stability to Russia. This tactical retreat, however, was only temporary. By the end of the decade Joseph Stalin would renew the communist offensive, bringing more chaos and bloodshed to the Soviet people.









CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.