Oct 22, 2020 in Research

Russia in the 19th Century and the Revolution of 1905

Appropriate exploration of Russian history of the 19th century demands consideration of numerous factors, including reforms, counter-reforms, wars, uprisings and revolutions to create a holistic vision of Russian state and society. This paper is aimed to tie together above-mentioned aspects of Russian life to recognize the key events and processes that shaped and determined the further history of Russia. Apart from common events that affected Russian society, ideologies have played a great role in shaping dominant vision on the Revolution, its purposes and tasks.

The wars of the 19th century demonstrated the necessity for modernization of Russia via numerous controversial reforms that eventually led to the Revolution in 1905 due to inability to cover the entire contradictions and challenges of Russian society. Throughout the 19th century, Russia participated in numerous wars that were marked with both Russian victories and failures. For example, the war of 1812 and the shameful failure in the Crimean war in 1853-1856 demonstrated the strongest and the weakest sides of Russian administrative system, economy affairs, military service and social standards. As the Crimean was made all the weaknesses of Russia, including incompetent military commanders and soldiers, corrupted governors and chiefs, lack of modern equipment and machinery production, the reforms were essential for survival of the state. That is why, to solve the key issues and weaknesses of Russian internal affairs, it was necessary to implement the reforms, especially the reforms regarding the position of the serfs and abolishment of slavery in 1861. The Decembrist revolt in 1826 as well as numerous uprisings in Poland proved that democratization and liberalization of public life could not and should not be escaped from. That is why Revolution of 1905 is a logical consequence of the preceding century’s events and processes: the tsarist regime has outlived itself and became wasteful for further modernization of Russia.

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The most important social and governmental changes of the 19th century included reforms of Alexander II, emergence of the Slavophiles’ and Westernizers’ debates as well as transition from tsarism to republican from of the state. As mentioned above, the wars, uprisings, local armed conflicts in the Caucasian and absence of dialogue with European counties in the first half of the 19th century pushed Russia into serious financial, political and social problems. The reforms of Alexander II and his followers were aimed to solve existing problems, though they were met with resistance by certain government members and politicians. That is why the flow of reforms was complicated and incoherent, though in theory they were supposed to bring positive shifts. In addition, social aspect of Russian policies was full of contradiction, that is why the reforms could not lead to only positive or only negative changes. Overall, it is impossible to claim that particular reform or decision was positive or negative: due to lack of consensus within the government, political and military elites as well as unevenness of living standards between different classes across the state. Taking into account ideological pressure of Marxism, socialism and communism as well as influential Orthodox Church discourse, social contradictions and discontent due to inappropriate living standards, Russian society turned to the path of Revolution. Though there were both ups and downs on the way to it, in the late 19th century Russia was modernized and having contacts with European countries. Despite the confrontation between revolutionists and reactionists, tsarism was deposed, whereas the society entered the 20th century with fears, uncertainty and disbelief. The final contribution to Revolution may be attributed to ideological affects, which ruled both average person’s and governor’s mind. Having learnt the lesson of the 19th century, Revolution was aimed to bring peace, stability, and order with respect to the laborers as the main force.

There were numerous ideological developments offered by officials and separate thinkers: though they contracted to each other and were not embodied completely, they saw diversity of visions regarding Russia’s path, affecting domestic policies even though were affected by them. As soon as war of 1812 ended, it was necessary to provide the strategy for the entire state, including recommendations and norms concerning religion, education, economy, politics and social order. That is why, by the end of 1812 Nicholas Novosiltsev, who was a friend and aid of tsar, was asked to develop the course of Russia. He completed this task focusing on social transformations to form strong civilian society with support of Russification policies, but his strategy was not implemented due to revolutions in Spain and Italy in 1820s. Next, the most influential and sophisticated ideologist was Minister of Education Sergei Uvarov, who established the new course based on the principles of orthodoxy, autocracy and nationalism. Uvarov was a reformer of Russian education establishments and sciences, as he encouraged Russification, unlimited tsar’s power, excessive censorship and repressions on other cultures within Russian Empire. According to his approach, Russian people had to unite with tsar based on Orthodoxy, while western democratic and revolutionary moods were declared to be damaging and inappropriate for Russia. Petr Chaadayev, who was Russian philosopher and intellectual, opposed Uvarov’s strategy and was announced insane due to disagreement with state course and lack of patriotism.

In 1820s, Nicholas I could not suppress intense debates on the role of Russia in the world, its strategy and mission, which was reflected in Slavophiles and Westernizers opposition. As many of Russian intellectuals were brought up and educated abroad, they believed that Russia should join and follow European’s path to solve the topical issues. On the contrary to them, Slavophiles though that Russia should look for its own path without emulation of European states. Nevertheless, there were the philosophers and intellectuals, who were critical towards both positions and who believed that Russian society should not be put into opposition between Westernizers and Slavophiles. For instance, Vladimir Solovyov, Semyon Frank, Nicholas Berdyaev and other religious Christian philosophers, as they called themselves, were focused of moral challenges of Russian society. They tied the role of Russia with its Christian mission: the Orthodox way of life was believed to be the true and appropriate, while the mission of Russia in the world was to prove immoral and Catholic Europe that Russian way is the only right way to reach common peace and happiness.

Taking into account of difficulties faced by Russian people in the middle of the 19th century, Russian literature was under the impact of existentialism. For instance, the novel Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky depicts the life of retired civil servant, who confesses his sins and demonstrates his vision of Western ideologies. For example, the novel contains ideological discourse that explores ideological climate of 19th century Russia. In the first part of the book Dostoevsky challenges European Nihilism and Rational Egoism, claiming that spiritual values in terms of Orthodox Christianity are the core of Russian strategy. He emphasized the issue of human dignity, claiming that values of Christianity cannot be forgotten as human matters: “I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!”. In addition, in this novel the author criticizes the novel What is to be Done? By Nikolai Chernyshevsky for its utopism and utilitarianism. For instance, its protagonist is young lady Vera Pavlovna, who is involved in Western rationalist and utilitarian ideologies. In the novel her attitudes, as criticized by Dostoevsky, demonstrate the worldview of western theories and philosophies: “Let us suppose tliat you are right; yes, you arc right! All actions that I can remember can be explained by self- interest. - But this theory is cold ! - Theory must by necessity be cold. The mind must judge of things coldly. - But it is merciless.”. This conversation demonstrates that Russian society was also affected by socialist approaches to politics and daily life, which was marked with rationalism and disrespect to moral values. Thus, these thinkers tied strategy and challenges of Russia to moral and religious concerns, emphasizing the mission of Russia – to save the world from war disasters by Orthodox propaganda.

Marxists ideologies of the late 19th century has shaped intellectual climate in the 20th century Russia as well. After the revolution, affected by communist movement and Marxist vision on society, the officials made Marxism the state ideology. According to this approach, the ideal of equality may be reached in case the most surpassed class of workers comes to power. This ideology implied refusal from private property and strict state control on private life and public sphere. For example, in 1890 Russian historian Pavel-Silvanskii entered the first Marxist study group: though he did not become a Marxist, he was strongly affected by Marxist intellectual movement that embraced positivism and materialism. This position was rather moderate, but very popular among Russian intellectuals of the late 19th and the early 20th century.

In conclusion, Russia was shaped by influential war conflicts that brought out the need for modernization of all dimensions of Russian policies. As the need for change became obvious, reforms were helpful but not sufficient to cover the issues of modernized society. The revolution emerged as reaction on old-fashioned tsarist regime that was replaced by more liberal and democratic regime. Ideologies of Marxism, Orthodoxy, nationalism and nihilism has strongly affected Russian society and intensified the public debates regarding role and mission of Russia.


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