James W. Meng

Home/Resume/CV -- VLNLAB -- Projects -- Abuse by the United States Government -- Writings -- Donate

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

5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6

Russia under Catherine the Great.
5.1. External politics of Catherine II.

Catherine II (1762-96) came to power as the result of a palace coup. Her policies were influenced greatly by Enlightenment ideals, which condemned class inequality and arbitrary rule, while justifying the existence of "natural rights" of the human: freedom, equality, the right to private property, the rule of law over simple customs, etc. Enlightenment thinkers believed that enlightened monarchs like Empress Catherine II issued "reasonable laws" that contributed to the dissemination of knowledge and could achieve greater happiness for their people.

As such, the policies of Catherine II became known as "enlightened absolutism". While the Empress aspired to continue Tsar Peter I's policies of reforming and improving the country in many dimensions, she tried to avoid violent methods and instead favored persuasion and enlightenment. She also tried to build support for power, not only among the nobility, but also among the townspeople.

Empress Catherine II, a German by birth, possessed a naturally calculating mind and a strong-willed character. After marrying Tsar Peter III, then the heir to the Russian throne, she settled in Russia and quickly set about to learning more about her new homeland. She learned Russian, and studied the history, traditions and customs of the Russian people. At the same time, she was captivated by the work of French Enlightenment thinkers and adopted some of their ideas.

Over time, Catherine became extremely power-hungry. Well-prepared for the country's rule, she quickly began to transform herself following the coup in 1762 in such a way that corresponded to her ideas about Russia's national interests and to her newly-strengthened personal power. Her policies were emphatically patriotic in their content; she quickly distingushed herself with her dilligence and her desire to combine liberal views while steadfastly maintaining the institutions of autocracy and serfdom. Thus, she personally condemned serfdom. Realizing, however, that the abolition of serfdom would be extremely dangerous for the economy and for the country's entire power structure, she abandoned the idea of liberating the peasants.

The ultimate result was that the policy of "enlightened absolutism" became immediately controversial. The combination of liberal measures and the strengthening of serfdom led to weakness among the national bourgeoisie, a general lack in acceptance of Enlightenment views among the bulk of the nobility, and the continuation of the patriarchal nature of the urban population and the peasantry, which itself was the very nature of autocratic power.

After coming to power, Catherine II reformed the Senate, which was then gradually transformed into an higher judicial-appellate institution. During the years 1763-64, secularization of church landholdings took place which, after their transfer to the treasury, strengthened the economic power of the state.

In 1767, the Empress convened a Commission to formulate a new set of laws (regulations). Deputies were elected from all classes beyond the peasantry; the vast majority of seats on the Commission belonged to nobles and townspeople.

On the basis of the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers, Empress Catherine II prepared an order that contained ideas of equality of social classes before the law, proposals for the mitigation of serfdom and, at the same time, a justification of the necessity of absolute monarchy in Russia and the power of landlords over peasants. Input from the Commission led the Empress to the conclusion that it was impossible to reconcile the interests of various classes. In 1768, she dissolved the Commission under the pretext of a war with Turkey.

In 1775, Empress Catherine II undertook a reform of local government under which Russia was divided into 50 governorates. The functions of local governments were significantly expanded through the transfer of financial, administrative and judicial powers from the center. Each province head was elected by noblemen from among local landowners, and the governor appointed the government. Nobles received the right to create meetings to discuss and address issues of local life.

The policies of Catherine II in the socioeconomic sphere were controversial. On one hand, many of the conditions of serfdom intensified - manifested, for example, in the allocation of peasants to landlords. On the other hand, many liberal measures were taken: the Manifesto of 1775 authorized members of all classes, including serfs, to engage in business without seeking any permits; this contributed greatly to the development of industrial production in the countryside. The Grant-Charter of the Nobility of 1785 expanded and consolidated the privileges of the nobility, assigning their estates rights and freedoms that in some respects "liberated" them from the state.

Another Grant-Charter of 1785 to cities provided certain privileges to urban residents, including a certain degree of self-government.

These various measures, taken together, came to be known as the policy of "economic liberalism" of Catherine II, which contributed to the eventual disintegration of serfdom and the emergence of the bourgeois, capitalist way of life. At the same time, the Empress' reluctance to fulfill the promised liberal reforms caused disappointment among certain elements of society and led to the birth of revolutionary ideas.

5.2. Socioeconomic development of Russia.

Throughout the second half of the 18th century the Russian economy retained its agrarian character. More than 90% of the population were employed in agriculture, and during this period in both domestic and foreign markets the demand for agricultural products had increased as a result of the growth of cities throughout Europe. The development of the lands of southern Ukraine, Novorossiya, the Trans-Volga, and Siberia continued. Grain farming also grew more profitable at the same time as total grain output increased.

At the same time, the productivity of serf labor was very low - over two times lower than that of comparable peasant labor.

Peasants' personal dependence on landowners persisted, though gradually the restrictions imposed on them decreased and many went to work in cities. At the same time, landlords' overall economic circumstances deteriorated and their debt to the state grew.

Over an half-century, the number of industrial enterprises increased sevenfold, and accordingly the prevalence of hired labor increased. But the imposition of serfdom on the population of potential workers hindered the influx of labor. In industries owned by the state and gentry, serf labor was primarily used.

Domestic trade grew through the sale of agricultural products, peasant crafts and light industry. In the developed countries of Europe, a surge in industrial production increased the demand for agricultural products, and the export market for agricultural products and raw materials from Russia grew in importance. At the same time, many industrial goods - particularly cotton and machinery - were imported from abroad. To protect its entrepreneurs from competition, the government put into practice a policy of customs protectionism, which established high customs duties on foreign goods imported to the domestic market.

As the end of the 18th century approached, the legal framework of the estate system in Russia was completed. The nobility - just 1.5% of the total population of the country possessed power in full. They were the primary owners of the land; they held a monopoly on serfs. They were exempt from service, taxes, and corporal punishment. Their estates were fully privileged and, in many ways, independent. It is no coincidence that the reign of Empress Catherine II is known in history as the golden age of the Russian nobility.

At the top of the urban class structure were merchants. Their social position depended on property status. Merchants were exempt from corporal punishment, from military service, and from the per capita tax.

The clergy also were exempt from taxes and could purchase real estate.

The peasantry, which constituted the vast majority of the Russian population, was divided according to ownership: land-bonded, or serfs, who were a majority by the end of the century; state peasants, who were personally free; and those under the ownership of the royal family. All were subject to a per capita tax, and carried out other duties including military service.

Russia's second most populous class was that of city dwellers - owners of small urban real estate, artisans, clerks. They paid a per capita tax, could be drafted into military service, and, like the peasants, could be subjected to corporal punishment. Class affiliation was hereditary.

5.3. The uprising of E.I. Pugachev.

The uprising led by Emelian Pugachev was the largest popular uprising of the 18th century, caused by the intensification of serfdom, tax increases, and by the deterioration of relations with the Yaik (Ural) Cossacks. In the early 1770s, the authorities drafted the Cossacks into detatchments of the regular army, and instilled strict discipline. This in turn deprived them of what remained of their traditional autonomy, as well as the rights to their traditional work in fishing and salt mining. After the assassination of Tsar Peter III, rumors spread about his miraculous salvation, many of which held great meaning for those who believed in his support - and so the conditions for the appearance of impostors arose. One of these was the Don Cossack Emelian Pugachev, who pretended to be Peter III.

Appearing on the river Yaik (now the Ural river), Peter III raised the Cossacks to fight against the "traitorous wife", Empress Catherine II, by promising Cossack freedom to all participants in the uprising, as well as return of land and the liquidation of bureaucrats and nobles. Along with the Cossacks and peasants, other peoples of the Volga region took part.

The uprising swept the vast territory of the Urals and the Volga region. The rebels initially seized several fortresses in the Orenburg region, though they were unable to take the center. Tsarist regiments sent in assistance were defeated on the city's outskirts.

In March 1774, Tsarist troops defeated the rebels. But the unusual nature of these spontaneous uprisings was that they often filled human losses with the inflow of thousands of oppressed people. Pugachev's army captured a number of factories in the Urals and then, under pressure from Tsarist troops, went to Kazan where they were once again defeated. He then crossed to the right bank of the Volga with the detatchment that remained.

Once he was again among a large serf population, Pugachev and his army regained strength, addressing landowners and bureaucrats personally. Many were already awaiting the march of the rebels against Moscow. But Pugachev understood that his army could not continue to face down government forces, and he turned to the south, where he hoped to raise the Don Cossacks in assistance - though they remained faithful to the government. By August 1774, Pugachev and his exhausted and poorly-armed regiments had been completely defeated. The Yaik Cossacks then, in hopes of ameliorating the severity of their fate, seized Pugachev and turned him over to the authorities.

In January 1775, Pugachev was executed in Moscow, on Bolotnaya Square. Many of his compatriots were sentenced to hard labor and other heavy punishments. The uprising had led to the death of thousands of people and the effective ruin of vast amounts of territory. It prompted many improvements to regional governance, and the total elimination of Cossack autonomy. The Yaik river was renamed to the Ural river. Memory of Pugachev and the desire to avoid any similar movement in the future became a significant element in government policy. Authorities expended greater effort in snuffing out mass movements at early stages in their development.

5.4. Reign of Tsar Pavel I.

Following the death of Catherine II, her son Pavel I came to power (1796-1801). Pavel was extremely hostile to his mother and her inner circle: he believed her policies were gradually dissolving the nobility and weakening the state. For him, Tsar Peter I presented the example of an ideal ruler, to whose effectiveness he aspired. At the same time, in efforts to strengthen the autocracy Paul's policy differed little from that of Catherine. His personality itself also came to weigh on the character of politics: his straightforward and sharp nature often tended toward rudeness and intolerance, causing misunderstandings in court circles.

A chief element of the policies of Pavel I was the rejection of "enlightened absolutism" as it pertained to the nobility: he reintroduced corporal punishment and military service duties to the nobility, and introduced a prohibition on free travel abroad. In the army, a transition was made to physical discipline. The struggle against the influence of the French revolution of 1789-94 was intensified.

At the same time, Tsar Pavel I made a number of key decisions that began to restrict serfdom. A decree was adopted on the prohibition of certain service duties on Sundays. Remembering the fate of his father, Tsar Peter III, in 1797 Tsar Pavel adopted a new law on succession to the throne under which power could be passed only to the eldest son.

The policies of Tsar Pavel I caused deep discontent among the nobility almost immediately, and gradually a conspiracy came into play. The eventual coup was prepared by members of his son's inner circle, with the participation of British diplomatic elements dissatisfied with Russia's diplomatic stance with Napoleonic France. On the night of the 12th of March 1801, Paul was murdered. He was then succeeded by his eldest son, Tsar Alexander I, who had been made aware of the conspiracy in advance.

5.5. External politics.

Russia, during the reign of Catherine II, sought to gain permanent, direct access to the Black Sea. Near its new lands in the south, the country would receive trade routes necessary for its economic development in connection with the export of grain to Europe. The government also wanted to strengthen the country's military-strategic positions on its southern border. In furtherance of that goal, Russia sought to build its own military fleet on the Black Sea and eliminate the constantly-looming danger of the Crimean Khanate, which was backed by the Ottoman Empire. Empress Catherine II aspired to liberate the Balkans from the Turks and recreate the "Great Greece" - a union of Orthodox states - under Russian auspices and in support of the struggle of the Christian and Slavic people enslaved by the Ottoman Empire.

During this period Russia also fought for the annexation of Ukraine and Belarus, which were then part of Poland. It also confronted France, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the ideas of the French revolution. These tasks required enormous cost and sacrifice to address, intensifying the extreme character of the country's development.

During the 1760s, Russo-Turkish relations were further aggrevated as Russia advanced toward the Black Sea and the struggle for independence of the peoples under the Ottoman yoke continued. The first Russo-Turkish war (1768-74) was marked by the victories of P.A. Rumyantsev on land over superior enemy forces (1770) and the defeat of the squadron of Admiral G.A. Spiridova by the Turkish fleet in the Chesme Bay. By 1774 the Ottoman Empire had been forced to sign a peace treaty in Kyuchuk-Kainarji, under which Russia gained access to the Black Sea and the right to navigate its merchant fleet through the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Turkey also pleged to pay Russia a monetary contribution.

In 1783, Russia seized the Crimea and signed the Georgievsky Treaty with Eastern Georgia, establishing its own protectorate there.

The second Russo-Turkish war (1787-91) resulted from a new aggrevation of relations with the Ottoman Empire. Victories of Russian forces under the leadership of A.V. Suvorov, as well as the capture of Ismail's strategically important fortress (1790) and the successes of the Black Sea fleet under F.F. Ushakov ultimately forced Turkey to seek peace. The result was the 1791 Treaty of Yass, under which Russia received the Northern Black Sea coast including the Crimea.

To the west, Russia, Prussia, and Austria took part in the partitioning of Poland, under which eastern Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania crossed over to Russia. Austria and Prussia seized the Polish lands, leading to the termination of the Polish state.

By that time, the French revolution had shaken the whole of monarchic Europe. Empress Catherine II understood the danger of revolutionary ideas to the system of autocratic serfdom in Russia, and she provided assistance to enemies of the revolution with money and weapons. Following the January 1793 execution of King Louis XVI, Russia severed diplomatic relations with France and entered into a military alliance with Britain, Prussia, and Austria. Direct participation of Russian troops in interventions in France was hindered by events in Poland and then by the death of the empress in 1796.

Subsequently, Tsar Pavel I made attempts to bring the aggressions of Napoleonic France to an halt. Under the leadership of A.V. Suvorov, Russian troops were sent into Northern Italy. The treacherous behavior of allied Britain and Austria led to a severing of relations and a joint alliance with Napoleon, with whom Tsar Pavel I made plans for a campaign against India - which at the time was Britain's wealthiest colony. The 1801 coup against the Tsar, however, prevented their realization.

Through military victories, Russia gained access to the Black Sea, annexed the Crimea, and created the Black Sea fleet. The development of the steppes of the Black Sea region, which was free of gentry estates, began, and exports of grain were conducted through the Black Sea trade route. Russia's military-strategic position on its southern borders was strengthened; the absorption of Transcaucasia into Russia began; and Belarus, Lithuania, right-bank Ukraine, and the Baltics also became part of Russia. The country's role and influence in international politics likewise grew. These successes ultimately led to the Empress becoming known both by contemporaries and in history as Catherine the Great.

5.6. Culture.

The reforms of Tsar Peter I contributed substantially to the rapprochement of Russian and Western European cultures, but in many cases these European cultural values were absorbed only superficially in Russia. It was not until the culture of the reign of Catherine II came into being that Russia began to be influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, though interest in the human personality, in notions of natural rights and class-independent value did begin to increase.

The Russian nobility perceived the ideas of the French Enlightenment somewhat differently. The most widely spread Russianized interpretation was that of "enlightened absolutism", which Empress Catherine herself supported. Prominent representatives of this philosophical direction (I.I. Betskoi, A.P. Sumarokov, and others) considered it necessary to first enlighten the nobility and the people, and only then proceed to liberate the peasants by an enlightened monarch.

Leading the oppositional trend was a founding figure in Russian journalism, N.I. Novikov. He ridiculed not the "vices of man", but rather social orders and specific figures. Novikov regarded serfdom as Russia's chief disaster, and advocated for the peasants' libertion, without which Enlightenment was impossible. But such a reform, in his opinion, must be carried out by an enlightened monarch.

Radical ideas of Enlightenment were developed by A.N. Radishchev. In his 1790 work "Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow", for the first time in the history of Russian culture, along with criticism of the institutions of autocracy and serfdom a call was made for their violent overthrow. For his ideas, Radishchev was arrested and sentenced to death, a sentence that was eventually replaced with a ten-year exile in Siberia. Later, under the influence of news of revolutionary terror in France, he abandoned violent ideas and was released by Tsar Pavel I. Two years later he committed suicide.

Empress Catherine II nevertheless criticized the views of the conservative nobility, most notably M.M. Shcherbatov, who believed that the abolition of serfdom would lead to economic collapse and the fall of the Russian state. Shcherbatov saw the ideal of statehood in the noble monarchy.

During the reign of Catherine II, the role of the state in education increased. The Empress strove to create and educate a "new breed of person" with the help of education. By the end of the century, in every governorate schools were opened, and in each county small folk schools were opened. Serfs' children still did not receive education. The networks of medical, mining, commerical, and other vocational schools continued to develop. In 1755, the Moscow University under the direction of M.V. Lomonosov and I.I. Shuvalov was founded. In 1757 the Academy of Arts was founded in Saint Petersburg. In 1764 the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens was opened for girls.

Beginning in the mid-18th century, growth in number of Russian domestic scientists began, among which M.V. Lomonosov gradually assumed the dominant position. Natural sciences received the greatest attention, and the study of Russia's natural resources began. One self-taught scientist, I. Polzunov, developed the world's first universal heat engine in 1763. Two years later, in the course of a different project, he built a steam heating installation. Mechanic I.P. Kulibin created a 'mirror lantern' - a prototype spotlight, a semaphore telegraph, an elevator, and much more. Under the conditions of serfdom, most inventions did not yet invoke practical implementation at scale.

The dominant direction in 18th century Russian literature gradually came to be classicism, with its aspirations to sublime moral ideals and heroic images. One prominent representative of the classicist movement was A.P. Sumarokov, who wrote lyrical songs, odes, and tragedies. He laid the foundations for new trends in Russian drama with his "Dmitry the Pretender".

At the end of the century, a new literary and artistic trend had begun to develop - that of sentimentalism. It proclaimed the cult of feeling and nature, and called for the liberation of man from the pressures of his social environment (e.g., the story "Poor Liza" by N.M. Karmzin).

In the mid-18th century, the elegant style of the palaces - mature Baroque - came to replace the practicality and rationalism of the Petrine era. Perhaps the best representative of this tradition was F.F. Rastrelli, who created the famous Winter Palace, the Smolny Cathedral of Smolny Monastery, the palace in Tsarskoye Selo, and many others.

In urban development, a transition to a new layout occurred in which streets were required to be developed symmetrically, and buildings were required to correspond in size to a certain ratio. This was most prominently used in the construction of Saint Petersburg.

During the second half of the 18th century, the Baroque was replaced with a strict and majestic classicism, characterized by symmetry, clarity of lines, and appeals to classic ancient architecture. In Moscow, V.I. Bazhenov - who built the Pashkov house - worked in this style; today the building is part of the Russian State Library. Built by M.F. Kazakov, the buildings of the Moscow University on Mokhovaya street and the Senate on the territory of the Kremlin are also representative of this style.

In the middle of the 18th century, Russian painting developed under the influence of the Baroque tradition - e.g., the ceremonial and chamber portraits of A.P. Antropov - and of the rococo tradition, e.g., the work of serf artist I.P. Argunov.

In the second half of the 18th century, the leading direction of painting remained classicism, primarily in portrait and historical genres. Prominent portraitists during this era were F.S. Rokotov, D.G. Levitsky, and V.L. Borovikovsky. An academic school of Russian sculpture also arose during this time, characterized by the first Russian realistic sculptural portraits (busts of prominent figures: M.V. Lomonosov, Catherine I, Paul I, etc.) In Saint Petersburg, sculptor M.I. Kozlovsky created a monuent to commander A.V. Suvorov. A monument to Peter the Great - the "Bronze Horseman" of French sculptor E. Falconet - became a prime symbol of Saint Petersburg.

The first professional Russian dramatic professional theater was founded in 1750 in Yaroslavl on the initiative of merchant F.G. Volkov. In 1756, by decree of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, it was transformed into a theatre "for presentation of tragedies and comedies". During the last third of the 18th century, serf theatre - in which all actors were serfs - grew greatly in popularity. The most famouse were the serf theaters of the Sheremetyevs in Moscow, of which there were eight, including the Kuskovo estate near Moscow, and the theatre-palace in Ostankino, which survives today.

A national school of musical composition began to take form: E.I. Fomin and D.S. Bortnyansky combined the experience of European musical culture with traditional Russian song.

Major changes occurred in the life and customs of Russia during the 18th century. The lives of the Russian nobility began to be largely determined by Western European customs and influences. This led to the creation of aristocratic country estates and palaces; and the growth of interest in art and the collection of paintings and sculptures. These changes, however, did not affect the peasants: indeed, for ordinary people, very little changed. As a result, by the 18th century's end a near-total split in Russian culture had occurred as the long-term result of the reforms of Tsar Peter I.