The Revolutionary Masses
Catherine’s thirty-four-year-long reign represented the second attempt in the eighteenth century to modernize the country’s economy and its social structure. Like her great predecessor Peter I, Catherine had set out to transform the country without touching the foundations of serfdom and, like him, she achieved considerable success.
In her reign the economic resources of the country increased substantially. As a result of the wars with Turkey and the partitions of Poland, Russia acquired 11 new provinces. The population of the empire doubled, state revenues increased 4 times. By the end of her reign, the transformation of Russia into a Great Power, begun by her predecessor, was complete.
In addition, Catherine attempted something that Peter would have never thought of doing. She rendered signal service to Russia by her brave attempt to implant in her inhospitable climate the ideas and the liberal spirit of the Enlightenment. In her excellent summation of Catherine’s legacy Isabel de Madariaga observes:
Her greatness lies not so much in her territorial acquisitions but in the new relationship between rulers and ruled which she fostered. Starting with the Legislative Commission the idea of national debate became conceivable... Instruments of public control were multiplied and penetrated deeper into society, new concepts of justice and legality were put before an untutored public....The élite of Russian society basked in a new-found sense of freedom and self-respect, and the area of private as distinct from state activity expanded immeasurably. Learning thrived, and the court itself acted as the source of literary, artistic and musical patronage. ...for a brief period, at the end of the eighteenth century, Russia and Western Europe converged: the spatial abyss and the lag in time were reduced. After Catherine’s death their ways diverged again... With the advance of the nineteenth century, Russia and the West moved further and further apart; the tempo of Russian development slowed down, while that of European growth accelerated ... Those who remembered Catherine’s rule looked back on it then as a time when autocracy had been ‘cleaned from the stains of tyranny’, when a despotism had been turned into a monarchy.
Catherine tried hard, particularly in the early years of her reign, to foster Enlightenment in her adopted country and to purge Russia of some of its more barbaric traditions. Well-educated and intelligent, she came closer than her predecessors to the understanding of the evil of serfdom and was perhaps the first Russian monarch who was personally in favor of abolishing the archaic social relations. Yet the obstacles she encountered were too powerful even for an autocratic ruler to overcome.
Her humane and philanthropic ideas did not find much support in Russian semi-feudal society. The ruling nobility was firmly against any reform of the country’s social structure. Many of its members were probably even unable to conceive of a different condition for their servants than serfdom. The harsh conditions of Russian life and the need to safeguard her place on the throne set limits to Catherine’s ability to implement change. After the Pugachev revolt and the French Revolution the Empress herself gave up any plans for reform. Her enlightened absolutism, based on false premises and unreal expectations, failed to accelerate Russia’s advance along the road of European progress.
1. While reading, list in chronological order the rulers of Russia.
Peter the Great
2. Identify the following terms: boyar, czar, westernization
Boyar- When a young life is disrupted by the struggles for power among Russia’s landowning nobles.
Czar- An emperor of Russia before 1917.
Westernization- Using western Europe as a model for change.
4. Why did Peter the Great believe that Russia's future depended on having a warm-water port?
Peter the Great depended on having a warm-water port because to be able to trade and get in and out of Russia you needed a warm water port. With a warm water port more European ideas and technologies came into Russia which modernized them.
5. What were some of the ways Peter attempted to westernize Russia?
- Peter introduced potatoes, which became the staple of the Russian diet.
- Peter started Russia's first newspaper and edited it's first issue himself.
- Peter raised women's status by having them attend social gatherings.
- Peter ordered the nobles to give up their traditional clothes for Western fashions.
- Peter advanced education by opening a school of navigation and introducing schools for the arts and sciences.
6. Who do you believe was more of an absolute monarch: Ivan IV or Peter the Great? Explain with
evidence to support your answer.
Peter because he did so much good for Russia.
Peter- Peter the Great was known for his efforts to transform Russia into a modern state.He had the strength to regain absolute power for the Russian monarchy. At the age of 17, Peter removed his sister from the throne and took power for himself. When Peter's new navy took up the campaign against Azov, the Turks surrendered. Peter realized that his country needed to modernize to catch up with the rest of Europe so he began a journey to Western Europe to see for himself what Russia needed to modernize. In addition to modernizing the army, Peter made many other reforms. Like peter wanted Russians to adopt European styles of clothing and grooming. In addition to his many reforms, Peter also founded a new city of St. Peters-burg.
Ivan- Ivan the Terrible was a young prince claimed the title of czar and put Russia on a different course. During the early years of his rule, Ivan IV made many reforms and also expanded Russia's borders and trade. During the 1560s, Ivan changed and it was during this time that his strict policies and violent actions sealed his reputation as Ivan the Terrible.
7. Which class of Russian society probably did not benefit from Peter's reforms? Why?
Peasants, low class; he didn't reform anything for them.
8. How might Peter's attempts at westernization have affected his people's opinion of Christians in Europe?
The Russians would have seen the Europeans with less of a heretic sense and maybe embrace Catholicism or Protestantism.
9. Which event in your reading do you believe had the most impact on modern Russia? Why?
Peter the Great’s reforms were a first step toward Russia’s westernization. Today the country continues the process by experimenting with democratization. He changed Russia forever.
10. Write a one-paragraph expository essay explaining which of Peter's actions reveal that he saw
himself as the highest authority in Russia.
Many of Peter the Greats actions showed how he thought of himself as the highest authority in Russia. Peter removed his step sister from the thrown. He also reduced the power of the great landowners, then recruited men from lower ranking families and promoted them to positions of authority and rewarded them with grants of land. Peter modernize his army and hired European officers, who drilled his soldiers in European tactics with European weapons. By the time of Peter’s death, the Russian army numbered 200,000 men. To pay for this huge army, Peter imposed heavy taxes. So many things we modernized and changed on the positive side by Peter, he should think highly of himself.