James W. Meng

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Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6


Russia during the late 17th to mid-18th centuries.
4.1. Personalities of reform & beginnings of governance.

The urgent need to transform and modernize Russia arose out of a deep crisis that swept through the country in the late 17th century. Russia had lagged in developing its economy and military severely enough, relative to its European competition, that national sovereignty was threatened. The "rebellious" century also had shaken the country to its core, prompting the need for a period of renewal in society and within the state. One goal established in this vein was to expand the territory of Russia to the ice-free seas, which required all of the country's physical and human resources to be mobilized.

The new Tsar, Peter I (1672-1725) played a major role in the implementation of new reforms. An highly inquisitive and gifted man who was vividly absorbed in new developments and persistently studied throughout his life, Peter I - who became known as Peter the Great - ruled with a view grounded in the historical conditions of the late 17th century and a mind open to the possibilities of a new era. A man reknowned for his persistence and resoluteness in achieving his goals, Peter I was demanding of his associates and brutal to enemies, and in private successfully mastered 12 crafts during his lifetime.

Tsar Peter I was well noted by his contemporaries for hard work in the name of the fatherland, for which he earned the nickname of "Working Tsar", for his unpretentiousness throughout everyday life, and for his ability to appreciate the outstanding individual contributions to society of his subjects regardless of origin and nobility. He dedicated his life to the service of the state, while remaining respectful to the individual rights of his subjects. Yet Peter would apply even the most brutal measures to achieving set goals when necessary: as A.S. Pushkin noted, "some of his degrees seem as though written with a whip".

After the death of Fyodor Alekseevich (eldest son to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich) in 1682, a struggle for power developed. The boyar duma proclaimed the then ten-year-old Peter, son of Aleksei Mikhailovich by his second wife, N.K. Naryshkina, Tsar. And so the rights of the then 16-year-old Ivan, son to the Tsar by his first wife, M.I. Miloslavskaya, were ignored. Supporters of the Miloslavskys, led by Sofiya Alekseyevna, one of the Tsar's daughters by Miloslavskaya, pressured the streltsy to revolt. In the course of the mutiny, Peter felt that the streltsy had dealt quite severely with some of his relatives. And so in an historically unprecedented move, the warring parties agreed to raise both brothers to the throne with Sofiya as regent.

Peter and his entourage were then removed from the Kremlin and moved to Preobrazhensky, outside of Moscow. The boy was lonely, but drawn to knowledge and keenly interested in crafts. While these activities ran contrary to the popular image of the "Orthodox Tsar", they were of great meaning in the formation of young Peter's world view. And from these origins his rationalism, pragmatism, natural ability, and desire to master new things flowed freely. From childhood, Peter's most noted passion was for military games, in which the children of both nobles and commoners took part. It was from these "play regiments" - Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky - that the underlying concept for the separate services of the Russian army and the first Guards regiments was formed.

During his adolescent years, it became necessary to acquaint Peter with foreigners and with European culture. Visiting a German settlement on the river Yauza, he became acquainted with a completely different type of culture and way of life. At the same time he developed a great love of the sea and of navigation. At the beginning of 1689 Peter married, signifying his age of majority and his right to independent rule; his relationship with his elder sister, Sofiya, then became more contentious. Sofiya once again attempted to engage the streltsy on her own behalf, though Peter eventually emerged victorious from the dispute and had her imprisoned in a monastery.

In 1695, the young Tsar Peter organized the first Azov campaign. The Turkish fortress of Azov could not be taken, as Russia lacked a fleet able to block it from the sea. In a second campaign, Peter successfully took Azov in 1696 with a fleet of newly-constructed galleys (oarships). But to ensure a lasting presence on the Black Sea, Peter set out to build a powerful sailing fleet. He also organized the "Great Embassy" in Europe in 1697, with the intention of rebuilding the old anti-Turkish alliance and bringing foreign specialists from Western countries to the Russian service.

Although Peter failed to solve the main diplomatic task - finding allies for a war with Turkey - he decided to change Russia's foreign policy course after becoming better acquainted with the broader conditions in Europe. For Peter the more important goal became the Baltic Sea, and in order to reach its shores a conflict with Sweden became necessary. So the foundations for an anti-Swedish coalition were laid instead during the trip.

Peter had been so enriched and impressed by Europe that upon his return in 1698 he began to push harder for modernization of Russia in a European mold. At the same time, for the Tsar the Russian traditions of old became increasingly associated with the backwardness of the country, constituting in turn a threat to its sovereignty.

As time passed, Tsar Peter's underlying philosophy to reform began to take greater shape. The necessity to prepare for war with Sweden, along with Peter's broader of serving the state, drove his initial desires. But as he did not view himself as separate from the state, and believed that he as Tsar was best able to ascertain the route to achievement of the common good, he began to view resistance to reform as a manifestation of ignorance and laziness - and so he began to see the violence of war as one of the most important means by which he could transform the country.

Peter's reforms began with measures targeted at eliminating obsolete national traditions, in which he saw a reason for the country's backwardness and the source of popular riots. One early reform was an order to nobles and merchants to conform to European dress and to shave their beards (which were considered symbols of a man's Orthodox faith).

Beginning in 1699, recruitment for the army began through forcible recruitment of indebted peasants and serfs (referred to simply as "recruits" after 1705). In preparing for war with Sweden, which at that time was Russia's primary supplier of weapons and other metal products, Peter began to create his own industrial base, building factories and weapons workshops in Karelia and in the Urals.

4.2. Economic development & social transformations.

Over time, the lands of the southern provinces, the Volga region, and Siberia came into greater economic use. With state intervention, cultivation of technical crops (flax, hemp) was expanded and horse breeding began, primarily for the needs of the army. By this time, however, new innovations had left the peasant economy virtually untouched: the system of feudalism in combination with high taxes prevented increases in production.

Throughout the reign of Tsar Peter I, over 200 additional state manufactories were opened. The Urals became the center of the metallurgical industry. By 1725 Russia had begun selling pig iron abroad, ranking third in the world for its export.

During the first decade of the 18th century, directly state-owned and controlled mines were built. Difficulties in the organization of management, along with the unprofitability of government production, pushed the government almost immediately to a program of transferring these state enterprises to private hands. In so doing, however, the state retained control over large industrial enterprises through a system of state orders.

With a rapid growth of industry came a shortage of workers. The problem was eventually solved through the use of forced labor in which peasants employed by the state would assign entire villages to specific factories, where those peasants were then expected to fulfill a specified amount of work over the course of several months. In 1721, Peter signed a decree allowing entrepreneurs, including commoners, to buy indebted peasants to the factors, an arrangement that came to be known as sessional work.

In domestic trade, open markets like those in Moscow (Makaryevskaya, Irbitskaya, etc.) continued to play a leading role. Trade in some goods - salt, tobacco, wine - was declared a state monopoly.

Foreign trade grew in importance. Tsar Peter I forcibly transferred trade from Arkhangelsk to Petersburg, resulting in the ruin of many old merchant families. A customs protection tariff was then introduced in 1724, protecting Russian industry from foreign competition and promoting the establishment of an active trade balance wherein exports of goods exceeded imports (in 1726, by two times).

The state policies of Tsar Peter I toward the nobility were aimed at strengthening and increasing their ranks, increasing the role of service in their lives. A decree of 1714 on common heritage turned all of the estates of the nobility into their hereditary unconditional property. But the law allowed the inheritance of real estate by only one of the sons, which then created a mass of nobles without major hereditary claims whose interest was in serving the state.

The organization and consolidation of the nobility was further systemized by the adoption in 1722 of the "Table of Ranks", a law that determined the procedure for work in civil service and the hierarchy of ranks therein. Promotion on the career lader of government service depended on the education, service, and personal abilities of the nobleman.

The main burden of reform was born by the peasantry, who at that time made up 92% of the population. Hundreds of thousands of mobilized peasants became soldiers (recruits) or built fortresses, plants, and a new capital upon the swamps - Saint Petersburg.

After 1724 a number of taxes were replaced by a single tax and extended even to serfs. Taxes were then collected from every man regardless of age save for those with exemptions, primarily nobles and priests. Emergency taxes were also introduced. The tax burden increased by 2-3 times as a result. The tax reform ultimately strengthened ties to serfdom for indebted peasants who previously could gain freedom after their master's death. In order to prevent the escape of serfs from their owners, a system was introduced under which peasants who went off an estate to work required a passport from their owners specifying the required date of return.

4.3. Reforms to the system of state governance.

In place of the boyars' duma, a Senate was created in 1711 to govern the country, later becoming the highest administrative, judicial, and legislative body of the country.

In 1717-22, in place of obsolete Orders, colleges were created: Military, Admiralty, Foreign, and others. In 1721 the Spiritual Board, later the Synod, was created, headed by an appointee of the Tsar. The patriarchate was then abolished, and the church became part of the state apparatus. This new system of state management was based on principles of rationalism, collegiality, and clear delineation of all institutions' individual functions.

In response to corruption associated with the sharp increase in bureaucracy, the position of Prosecutor General of the Senate was created to combat abuses by officials and monitor the implementation of laws and regulations.

A regional reform undertaken in 1708-10 divided the country into eight governorates, headed by governors and appointed by the Tsar from a small circle of highly trusted individuals. Governors were responsible for the highest military and civil functions as well as full judicial power on the ground. Beginning in 1719 the governorates began to subdivide into provinces, and then - into counties.

The increased economic influence of the state, the creation of a new army, the construction of a state bureaucracy and the reform of the system of state management completed the formation of what came to be the characteristic Russian absolutist monarchy. The Tsar held the highest legislative, executive, and judicial powers and did not share them. In the Spiritual Regulations of 1721 it was noted: "The Emperor of All Russia is a monarch, autocratic and unlimited." The final flourish in the legal foundations of Russian Imperial absolutism was the Charter of the Heritage of the Throne (1722), which also gave the emperor the right to appoint a succesor at his own discretion.

From the reforms undertaken by Tsar Peter I, powerful industrial production developed, and a strong army and navy were built that allowed Russia to fully access and utilize its routes to the sea - thereby reducing Russia's development gap relative to the advanced countries of Europe, and allowing it to become a great power.

However, the accelerated and violent nature of reform in the country and the borrowing of foreign technologies came at a sharp cost to the majority of the population in terms of their exploitation and the deterioration of their living conditions.

Reforms to the state system in the European mold strengthened the autocracy; they also created conditions for the development of science, education, literature, etc. But the nobility, who came to be influenced chiefly by European culture, began to reject national traditions and moved away from the Russian people, causing a deep division of society in both cultural and social terms.

4.4. External politics of Russia during the reign of Tsar Peter I.

Realizing the importance of access to the Baltic Sea for Russia's modernization, Tsar Peter I began preparations for a war with Sweden - building and equiping a new army, and organizing an anti-Swedish coalition, the Northern Union of Russia, Saxony, and Denmark.

The Northern War (1700-21) began with the Russian siege of Narva. The Swedish King Karl XII managed to transfer his army to Narva and on the 19th of November 1700 delivered severe damage to Tsar Peter's regiments, who lost all of their artillery near Narva. While the Russian army surpassed that of the Swedes in number, it was inferior in technical and tactical training, and the many foreign officers (mercenaries) leading the Russian army experienced difficulties both in communicating with and understanding their soldiers on a deeper level, leaving them uncomfortable shedding blood on another country's behalf. Many surrendered.

For Tsar Peter I, the defeats were a process of learning - and he resolved to accelerate the development of Russia's military industries and the reorganization of the armed forces. Between 1699 and 1725, the ranks of both the army and navy were boosted by over 400,000 people - former peasants and townspeople. The officer corps began to be formed from Russian nobles. Military service was lifelong.

Through the reforms, the Russian army managed to reverse the course of the war with Sweden. Not long thereafter - in May 1703 - Peter laid out a plan for what would become Russia's new capital city, Saint Petersburg, on territory seized from the Swedes at the mouth of the Neva river.

In early 1708, the Swedish army moved to Russia's western borders. After meeting stubborn resistance, and lacking ammunition and food, they then turned to Ukraine as the Ukrainian hetman Mazeppa had betrayed his oath of loyalty to Tsar Peter and promised King Karl assistance in exchange for Ukrainian independence from Russia. But Mazeppa ultimately was unable to provide any real support to Karl's army. On the 27th of June 1709, Poltava played host to a decisive battle that led to the complete defeat of the Swedish army.

The war itself, though, continued on for many more years. Only after Russian troops had landed on the territory of Sweden itself and a full Russian fleet built in the Baltic did a peace agreement finally come into effect: in 1721, the Nystadt Treaty was signed, officializing the Russian conquest of the Eastern Baltic and its convenient outlet to the sea.

With the war in Sweden concluded, Peter I began to focus his attentions on the Caucasus, where he sought to transform Russiinto the key mediator in European-Asian trade. To this end, in 1703 he ordered a channel be built to connect the Baltic Sea with the Caspian Sea. In 1722, the Russian troops, availing themselves of the internal weaknesses of Persia, seized several cities on the coast of the Caspian Sea. At the same time, they also made considerable efforts to prevent Turkey from moving into the region. Under the resulting treaty of 1723, Persia had a severely limited presence on all the Western and Southern coasts of the Caspian Sea. But Russia did not have enough permanent resources to dedicate to a permanent foothold in the region, and after Tsar Peter's death the captured lands were returned to Persia.

From the Northern War, Russia ascended to the highest position of power in Europe. Access to the Baltic Sea contributed enormously to the economic and cultural development of the country and to the establishment of deeper ties with the countries of Western Europe. At the same time, Russia also built a powerful army. Victory in the war strengthened the autocracy, and the Tsar was awarded by the Senate the title of "Emperor of All Russia". Nevertheless, Russia's foreign policy successes had admittedly come at large human losses and material costs.

4.5. Era of palace intrigues in Russia.

The time between the death of Tsar Peter I, and the ascendance to power of Tsarina Ekaterina II, came to be known as the "era of palace intrigues" because it was characterized by a frequent and not always peaceful change of monarchs on the throne.

Political instability was generally a result of the Petrine reforms, which led to economic difficulties and discontent among various strata of Russian society, even among the nobility. In addition, the Petrine Decree of 1722 broke the traditional arrangement of power transfer between father and son, thus aggrevating power struggles at times.

To complicate things further, Peter did not leave an heir. His closest associates - A.D. Menshikov, P.A. Tolstoy, and others spoke in favor of his second wife, Catherine, and in favor of certain members of the nobility (D.M. Golitsyn, V.V. Dolgoruky, etc.) as well as for his grandson, Peter Alekeevich (Peter II). The dispute was eventually settled by the Guard, who supported the Empress. Catherine's accession to the throne (1725-27) then allowed Menshikov, who had been one of the Tsar's closest associates, to effectively become the new ruler of the country via the Empress' Supreme Council.

When Catherine I died just two years later, the throne passed to her grandson, the 12-year-old Peter II, according to the wishes set out in her will. Menshikov was arrested, and from that point forward the country was governed by members of the royal family. When Peter II died in 1730 without appointing a successor, a new political crisis arose.

In light of the rules governing succession to the monarchy, members of the Supreme Council invited Anna Ioannovna (1730-40), niece to Peter via his brother Ivan V, to assume the throne - under conditions that limited the autocratic nature of the monarchy to a degree. Without the approval of the Supreme Council, Anna could not manage the treasury, declare war, and so forth. While Anna accepted these conditions at first, the nobility intervened on her behalf to preserve the autocracy and the Supreme Council was thereafter dissolved. In its place, Anna created the Cabinet of Ministers.

Over time, Anna went on to make several changes to laws that affected the nobility, notably, limiting their period of service to 25 years, and restoring the right to dispose of an inherited estate. But her level of trust for the Russian nobility remained low, and lacking both the desire and ability to involve herself deeply in affairs of state, Anna surrounded herself with foreigners: one key role at her court, for example, was given to a foreign favorite, E. Biron, a German.

After Anna Ioannovna's death in 1740, power quickly fell from the hands of her closest relatives in the Braunschweig dynasty.

By 1741, as discontent with the dominance of foreigners at the royal court grew, another coup occurred, after which Elizabeth - daughter to Peter the Great - came to power (1741-61), proclaiming a return to her father's policies.

Empress Elizabeth I, however, was not wholly backward-looking in terms of policy. In 1744 the death penalty was effectively abolished, and in 1753 all internal customs duties were abolished, contributing significantly to the development of trade.

Social policy was aimed at transforming the nobility into a more greatly privileged class and away from government service. Elizabeth I encouraged luxury, resulting in an increase in nobles' costs that fell squarely on the peasants' shoulders. During Elizabeth's era, serfs became "baptized property" which could be sold or traded. Landlords also gained the right to sell their peasants into military service (1747) or to exile them without trial to Siberia (1760).

In 1756, Russia took part in a war against Prussia in a coalition consisting of Austria, France, and Saxony. Russian victories in this war, which came to be known as the Seven Years' War of 1756-63, were disastrous for the Prussian army. In the autumn of 1760, Berlin was captured by the Russian and Austrian armies, and it was ultimately only Elizabeth's death that came to the rescue: the new emperor Peter III was a great admirer of King Frederick II and agreed to conclude a peace treaty with him, as part of which all territories lost in the war were returned.

A grandson of Peter I, Tsar Peter III had been born in Holstein and acquired a distaste for Russia in childhood. Appointed as heir to the throne by the childless Elizabeth I, in 1745 Tsar Peter III married the Anhalt-Zerbst Princess Sophia Frederick Augustus, who was to become Catherine II.

Ascending to power only at the end of 1761, Tsar Peter III was known for a proclamation "On the Freedom of the Nobility", which freed noblemen from compulsory service and abolished corporal punishment for them. He also secularized church land ownership in favor of the state, and decreed the equality of all religions.

Nevertheless, his indifference to Russia and Russian culture, his pro-German sympathies, and insulting attitude toward his wife, who became a respected society figure and was well supported by the Guard, all converged to create strong opposition to his leadership within the nobility. A coup was the result, in which Catherine assumed the throne - guided not only by a desire for power, but also by a genuine interest in serving her new homeland.

4.6. Culture and daily life during the reign of Tsar Peter I.

The many transformations of the Petrine era weighed greatly upon the Russian culture of the time. Along with these, considerable attention was paid to education: the shortage of educated people in Russia dictated the need for the formation of a secular school. For noble children, education was compulsory from 1714 onward - marriage was allowed only after schooling was completed.

Special educational institutions were created for the needs of the army and navy (mathematical, navigational, artillery and others). Russian textbooks were printed in the printing houses, and a civil font was introduced in 1709.

Peter the Great also established the Academy of Sciences, which opened in 1725, and the first scientific organizations were created: the Kunstkamera, and the Library of the Academy of Sciences.

Tsar Peter I, who after his time in Europe perceived an element of unity throughout lifestyle, day-to-day life, and social activity, resolved to introduce a program of "correcting morals" among the nobles of Russia: shaving beards, introducing European dress, and developing general rules of behavior for Russian noble society. In 1700 it was made customary to celebrate the New Year on the 1st of January, and at the same time, moved Russia to the calendar system based on the birth of Christ that was used in most European countries. Beginning in 1718, he also began holding ball-assemblies. While Peter's decrees were introduced forcefully, they ultimately made many significant changes in the image and consciousness of Russian society.

During the 18th century, the nobility gradually moved away from religious faith, which eventually transformed into official ideology once the Orthodox Church in Russia had become absorbed into the state. Generally it was a period of enlightenment attitudes - the application of rationalism to the problems of reality. Expression of humanist principles and ideas grew stronger in the literature of the day.

Russian publicists of the Petrine era (F. Prokopovich, P. Shafirov) emphasized the necessity to overcome Russian backwardness, while supporting actively the strengthening of the autocracy, the fulfillment of reforms, and the furtherance of military operations to expand and strengthen Russian borders.

The construction of Saint Petersburg, founded in 1703, greatly impacted the development of architecture in Russia. Its first major construction, the Peter and Paul Fortress designed by D. Trezzini, was designed to protect the lands conquered during the Northern War. The new capital of Russia was, in accordance with the Tsar's tastes, built in the image of a well-planned European city, with architecture and city planning inspired first and foremost by Northern Europe - specifically, Amsterdam.

Young Russian artists during the Petrine era began to receive highly professional training in Italy, Holland, and elsewhere, where they were sent to study by decree of the emperor. Among the best were I. Nikitin and A. Matveev.

In a broad sense, Russian culture developed enormously in depth and breadth during the first quarter of the 18th century, overcoming national isolation and rising to a new, higher stage of development. At the same time, a considerable gap arose between the nobility, whose culutre, customs, and day-to-day habits had been signicantly Europeanized, and the common people, who preserved national traditions.