1. The Beginnings of Russia.
The history of Russia is usually dated from 862. Tired of continuous squabbles and wars, the natives of Novgorod made up their minds that they were in need of some men stronger than they were to keep them in peace, so they invited a Norse tribe the Russ: “Our land is great and rich, hut order it has none; come be our chiefs and rule us.” At the call of the Slavs, three brothers came, whose names w^ere Rurik, Sineus and Truvor. With large bands of their own men they crossed the Baltic Sea and took their position on the borders of the territory they were summoned to defend. The descendants of Rurik continued to lead an active and warlike life; they gradually extended their authority over neighboring tribes, until nearly all the northwest Slavs were included in their growing dominions.
2. Christianity in Russia.
Under the great grandson of Rurik, Vladimir the Great (972—1015) Christianity gained its first foothold in Russia in 988. Vladimir, having made up his mind to embrace a new faith, sent commissioners to Rome and Constantinople, and also to the adherents of Islam and Judaism. The envoys reported in favor of the Greek Church; they had been so impressed by the majesty of the ceremonies performed in St. Sophia that “they did not know whether they were on earth or in heaven.” Vladimir accepted their report and had himself and his people baptized according to the rites of the Greek Church.
With the new faith came new life. The people themselves began to be changed. Vladimir’s decision to adopt the Greek form of Christianity is justly regarded as one of the formative influences in Russian history. It meant that the Slavs were to come under the religious influence of Constantinople instead of under that of Rome. Russia was untroubled by any of the conflicts between Church and State that were so common in the West. The liturgy was in the vernacular; the churches were copied after the models in the Byzantine empire. Vladimir’s son Iaroslav raised the splendor of his country to an unexampled height. Iaroslav, at his death in 1054, divided his state into different principalities which he left to his sons. During the hundred and seventy years that intervened between his death and the first appearance of the Tartars in Russia, the strength of the nation was exhausted by a ghastly succession of civil wars and invasions. Nowhere in Russia was there any care for the common good, and readiness to unite in defense against a common foe.
3. The Mongol Invasion.
In the thirteenth century an overwhelming calamity befell Russia. This was the conquest of the country by the Mongol hordes. The barbarian conquerors inflicted the most horrible atrocities upon the unfortunate land. They destroyed the principality of Kiev and made the land of Vladimir tributary. For two hundred and fifty years the unhappy Russians bore the yoke of their barbarous conquerors; the lamp which had begun to burn was for that time extinguished; the manners of the nation were completely changed; the women lost their liberty; the men became cowardly and superstitious, and the government cruel and despotic. This misfortune delayed for centuries the nationalization of the Slavic people.
These ages of ignorance bequeathed few literary monuments to posterity, and they unfortunately destroyed almost all to which the preceding centuries had given birth. A few of these, however, we shall notice as worthy of our attention. The Code of Laws attributed to Iaroslav and his sons, and known by the name of “Russkaia Pravda,” is curious both as a monument of the language,, and of the judicial system in use during the eleventh century in all the countries inhabited by the Normans.
The Chronicle of Nestor, which embraces the period from the origin of Russia as a nation, up to the twelfth century, when the author died, is a most valuable document not only to the Russians but to all the Slav nations. This Chronicle has been continued almost uninterruptedly to the end of the seventeenth century, but the names of most of the continuators have perished.
4. Emancipation of Russia from the Mongols.
The invasion of the Mongols proved to be, indirectly,, the making of the Russian state. The emancipation was effected slowly and gradually, as discord arose between the different Tartar Khans. Toward the end of the thirteenth century Moscow became the seat of Russian power. It was not until the reign of Ivan the Great (1465—1505) that Russia, after a terrible struggle, succeeded in freeing itself from the Tartar domination and began to assume the character of a well-consolidated monarchy. Ivan abolished the law of appanages in his own family, thereby establishing the unity of Royal authority and the unity of the state; but he retained it among the nobility which divided and enfeebled them.
In 1547 Ivan IV, the Terrible (1533—1584), was crowned tsar of Russia and became the greatest of Russian autocrats. Up to this time he was the first to convoke a Zemski Sobor or national assembly. After the expulsion of the Mongols Russia continued to be isolated from the other nations of Europe. The lack of seaports discouraged foreign commerce, through which Europeean ideas and customs might have entered Russia; teachers, artisans, artists and architects from Western Europe that were brought in had little or no influence in enlightening the inhabitants.
Ivan reduced all the peasants to servitude, forbidding them to change masters or land. During his reign schools were established in several cities; printing was first introduced in 1551, but the muses took to flight, terrified at the cruelties which he exercised in every part of his empire, to which he added the kingdom of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia.
The reign of Boris Godunov (1584—1605), whom the national historians accuse of mounting the throne by the murder of his sovereign, afforded some rays of hope to the unhappy Russians. He invited learned foreigners to his court; sent some of the young nobility to be instructed abroad, and gave his son, who succeeded him and reigned only a few days an education becoming his rank and high distinction.
The pretentions of the False Dimitri once more plunged the empire into all the horrors of civil war. The Poles and the Swedes, availing themselves of the opportunity, invaded several of the provinces; the former even entered Moscow, but they were driven out of it by courage of Prince Pozharsky and the heroic devotion of Minin. Finally, the family of Romanov in the person of the Tsar Michael (1613—1645) was raised to the throne, having been elected by the Zemski Sobor assembled at Moscow.
His son, Alexis (1645—1676), began the outline which Peter the Great was destined to complete. He caused a ship to be built, which was burnt at the taking of Astrakhan by the revolted Cossacks. He raised regular troops, established several manufacturies, and brought foreign officers and merchants into his empire; but his subjects continued to decline all intercourse with them. In 1654 he reconquered from the Poles and united permanently to his empire Kiev, Smolensk, Polotsk and other cities, and by these feats his reign is principally distinguished.
At the time of its re-union to the mother country Kiev possessed an ecclesiastical academy which enjoyed some reputation; a similar establishment was formed at Moscow in 1682, during the reign of Tsar Feodor (1676—1682). This prince was a great lover of music and poetry. His tutor, the monk Simeon, a native of Polotsk, was one of the best poets of the time; he wrote several plays which were performed at the court by Princess Sophie, sister of the Tsar.
The drama had been introduced into Russia only a short time before this by the students at the Academy of Kiev, who were in the habit of travelling through the southern provinces of the empire during the vacation and giving representations, the subjects of which were taken from the Scriptures. Similar performances were given in the Academy of Moscow soon after, and from hence they found their way to the court. Thus the love of the arts began to show itself in Russia before that of the sciences.
5. The Rise of Russia (1682—1796).
The real creator of Russia was Peter the Great, who at ten years of age (1682), became Tsar. Having ascended the throne in conjunction with his sister Sophie, and his eldest brother Ivan, Peter in 1689 contrived to rid himself of both his partners. Sophie, as the most dangerous of the two, was shut up in a convent. Peter, liberated from all control, determined, to examine with his own eyes the countries which were to serve as the future models for his own. In 1697 he went to Holland to learn the arts of ship-building; in England he studied her manufactures, and in Germany, her military machines. Immediately on his return home he set about the task of his country’s reformation. If he occasionally made use of too violent measures, if he turned into ridicule usages which perhaps he ought to have respected, we must not forget that it was owing to an excess of zeal. He organized an army disciplined after the European models, with Which he finally triumphed over the greatest captains of his age. He founded schools including a naval academy. He founded St. Petersburg and added to his territory. Later he visited France and engaged engineers and skilled workmen with foundries and manufacturies. He established uniformity of weights and measures, built ship-yards and canals, founded a commercial tribunal, opened the mines of Siberia, looking as far as the Amur in Eastern Asia, and applied the military hierarchy to the administration of the whole empire. Such are a few of the benefits which Russia received from Peter’s reign.
Peter died in 1725 without appointing his successor. The direct heir to the throne was his grandson Peter II. He was, however, only ten years old, so Peter’s widow, Catherine I, ascended the throne and ruled for two years. After her death she bequeathed the throne to Peter II, but during his minority vested the management of the State to the “Supreme Privy Council,” which remained in power throughout the reign of Catherine I (1725—1727), and of Peter’s grandson, Peter II (1727—1730). After the latter’s death, when the male line of the Romanovs came to an end, the Privy Council raised Peter’s niece, Anne, Duchess of Courland, to the throne, on condition of her ceding part of her power to the supreme council, the lower ranks of the nobles compelled her to tear up the constitution which she signed and abolished the Supreme Privy Council.
In the reign of Anne the most important offices were filled by favorites, chiefly of German origin. Since Anne took no interest in the affairs of the state, these big bosses resumed the policy of ruthless extortion from the peasants accompanied by Military coercion and torture. All classes were made to live in constant terror of the secret chancellory. Money was squandered on the amusements of the Empress and her Court. The same conditions continued under the regency of Anne’s niece, Anne of Brunswick (1740—1741), only that the Court clique was now weakened by internicine quarrels. The German regime was put an end to by a coup d’etat of the Guards which placed on the throne Elizabeth, only surviving daughter of Peter and Catherine I. Born before wedlock, she had not at first been considered as a serious claimant to the throne, and it was only the exasperations of anti-foreign feeling that clutched at her as a last resource.
The system of government at first differed little from that of the preceding reigns. The supreme power was vested in the Senate, with whose administration of home affairs Elizabeth never interfered. The Senate’s policy was subordinated to the interests of the nobility. The economic importance of the nobility was growing. Russia was becoming more and more agricultural. With unpaid labor, agriculture became lucrative, and instead of being barely supported by their lands and serfs, the nobles began to grow rich. The agricultural colonization of the steppes also proceeded rapidly.
The Crown had introduced the practice of making large donations in “inhabited lands” to persons of the nobility it wished to reward. The number of serfs thus increased.
The reign of Elizabeth saw the birth of the secular Russian literature, the foundation of the first University of Moscow (1757), and a brilliant career of Lomonosov. In foreign relations Elizabeth’s ministers at first followed a policy of peace, but ultimately became entangled in the Seven Years’ War.
When Elizabeth died in 1761, she was succeeded by her nephew Peter III. He was weak and incapable, and was very soon made to give up his power to his clever wife Catherine, who thus became empress in her own right. Peter died in 1762.
Under Catherine II (1762—1796), after bloody civil wars in Poland and after the successful war against Turkey, Frederick, jealous of her growing power,, forced upon her the partition of Poland, giving Galicia to Austria. Catherine occupied many of the little principalities in the east and on her border, while Frederick took the provinces of Poland which he needed to unite Prussia to the German states. Under the treaties of Kainardji (1774), and Jassy (1792), Catherine required of the Turks many towns and the right to navigate the Black Sea with a protectorate over Wallachia and Moldavia, freeing Kuban and the Crimea, later to be absorbed by Russia.
At home Catherine sought uniformity and levelling of local anomalies. Her policy of doing away with Ukrainian autonomy, restriction of the Zaporogian Sych and the the curtailment of the liberties of the Great Russian Cossacks lead to the Pugachev rebellion (1773-74), the greatest social upheaval of the Russian lower classes before 1905.
In the management of internal affairs, Catherine showed great wisdom. She divided the country into fifty governments, which were again subdivided into districts each of which had its own law courts and administration. The towns were also given some feature of local administration. The nobility were recompensed' for their trust in autocracy with privileges.
The monasteries had, in the course of time, and through the generosity of their patrons, come to possess vast tracts of land and thousands of serfs, which they held quite free of taxation, but Catherine ordered these lands to be confiscated in 1764.
The reign of Paul I (1796—1801),. the son of Catherine II, was one of whimsical tyranny and capricious cruelty. He had a peculiar, unbalanced mind. He was murdered in a palace revolt in 1801, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander.
6. The Period of Absolute Rule (1801—1917).
Alexander I (1801—1825). was a man of great talent and wonderful personal charm. His first care was to reform the old system of administration. The most inportant events of his reign was the part taken by Russia in the Napoleonic Wars. Alexander allied himself with Austria, and then with Prussia, against the French, but Napoleon defeated them at Austerlitz and Friedland, and peace was concluded at Tilsit in 1807, which did not prove lasting.
In 1812 Napoleon crossed the Russian frontier and began to march on Moscow. Alexander issued a manifesto to his people calling them to arms against the invader. The people responded with enthusiasm, and all classes of society prepared to defend the country.
After Napoleon’s defeat, Alexander again entered into an alliance with Austria and Prussia, and the results of their combined action were the occupation of Paris in 1814 and the fall of Napoleon. In the following year European peace was restored by the Congress of Vienna, which also finally ratified the annexation by Russia of the greater part of Poland proper.
In the last ten years of Alexander’s reign the nobility created a culture of its own. In architecture Russia was the last country where the great traditions of the Renaisance classicism were carried out by really creative artists. Moscow emerged from her ashes in more than her former beauty. In letters it was the age of Pushkin—the golden age of poetry.
The years 1815—1825 were a period of growing reaction. The army became the main object of reactionary experiment. It lead to mutinies which were suppressed with customary cruelty.
Dynastic complications came to help the conspirators. When in 1825 Alexander I died, Russia took the oath to his brother Constantine, who lived in Warsaw. A proclamation was, however, at once issued declaring that Constantine had refused the throne in favor of his younger brother, Nicholas. Russia was several days without an emperor, until Nicholas made up his mind to recognize Constantine’s abdication and ascend the throne (Dec. 14, 1825). This brought about the December conspiracy among a few officers of the Guards, who wished to force Constantine on the throne by means of a military revolt, but this conspiracy was very soon suppressed by Nicholas I, who was a man of strong character and great energy.
During the reign of Nicholas (1825—1855), Russia was involved in many wars. His foreign policy was dominated by the idea, inherited from his father and brother, that the Russian Emperor’s principle duty was to defend the rights of kings from the rising tide of liberalism. To do this a great military force was indispensable. The maintenance of a vast army is a costly matter, and Russia of those days was poor. Though her commerce had been greatly extended by Peter the Great, and factories and workshops had made their appearance, all that was done was insignificant in comparison with the other countries of Europe.
The rottenness of the political fabric was realized by most Russians, not least by Nicholas himself. Everyone also saw that as long as serfdom was left alone no serious change could be expected. Nicholas and his ministers were concerned with the issue, but they did their best to conceal their concern, and the censorship had strict orders to prevent the discussion of this most vital social order. The government was afraid that the least alleviation of the serfdom would induce the peasants to believe all authority abolished and himself free to wallow in anarchy. So nothing was done for the serfs.
The collapse came as the result of the Crimean War declared on Russia in 1854 by England and France, who were provoked by a new attempt of Nicholas to extend his authority in Turkey. The fall of Sevastopol (August 1855) decided the fate of the war. By the peace of Paris (1856) Russia renounced the right to have a fleet in the Black Sea or to fortify its coasts. In the midst of the debacle Nicholas had died (February 1855). His son, Alexander II (1855—1881), ascended the throne, and his reign opens a new era.
The most important event of Alexander IPs reign was the emancipation of serfs. Most of the land was then held by the royal family and the nobility, only a small part being alio ted to the serfs for their own use. The serfs attached-to the soil and had to work on their lord’s land about half their time. On February 19, 1861 Alexander II issued a decree freeing the serfs throughout the empire. The portion of the farmland was turned over to the village commune or mir which was to parcel it out to the peasants. The government compensated the nobles for their loss and the peasants were in turn obliged to repay the government in forty nine annual installments. The condition of the serfs was not materially improved by the change. Though they obtained their personal freedom, they did not receive enough land to support themselves. They fell so far behind in their payments that the Tsar was subsequently obliged to cancel the arrears. In 1910 a law dissolved the village commune and provided for the private ownership of the land.
Alexander II brought in many reforms: thus in 1863 he placed the local management of governments and districts in the hands of the Zemstvos, a council elected from among the inhabitants who were naturally better acquainted with local needs. He also introduced trial by jury in an open court and abolished corporal punishment.
Toward the latter part of his reign Alexander reversed himself and revived the old system of suppression. This change was caused in part by another Polish insurrection in 1863. The revolt was crushed, the rebels cruelly punished and the use of the native language suppressed. The censorship and the secret police were restored.
During the greater part of the nineteenth century revolutionary and anarchistic ideas had gradually been developing and gaining ground in Russia, and had manifested themselves in several attempts on the life of the emperor, as the representative of the monarchial regime. These attempts were organized by a body of revolutionists called the “Nihilists,” whose ringleaders mostly lived abroad. On March 1, 1881, a bomb was thrown under the emperor’s carriage as he was driving to the Winter Palace. He was mortally wounded by the explosion and died an hour later.
The reign of Alexander III (1881—1894) was a period of all-round reaction. The police received extended powers to liquidate the revolutionary movement. The imperial government became more centralized and all elements of freedom in local government and secular education were removed. In spite of the efficiency with which the liberal tendencies had been thwarted, incompetence and corruption permeated the whole imperialistic government. The government had been able to maintain autocracy in Russia because of the loyalty of the tsar’s assistants to the central government, the control of the Orthodox Church by the tsar, the administration of education, which was extremely meagre, being in the hands of the Church, successful coercion of liberal movements, the peasants’ conception of the tsar as a “Little Father,” the conservative agrarian group and prevalent opinion that democracy could not successfully cope with the problems of the Russian people as well as autocracy.
The policy of “Russification” was systematized by Alexander III. Attempts were made to consolidate the Russian people by suppressing small nationalistic groups and all forms of worship except those of the Orthodox Church. The use of the native tongue in Finland, Poland and the Baltic provinces was restricted. The Jews suffered mostly from this reaction. The first pogrom took place about 1881, with the obvious connivance of the police. This persecution caused large numbers of Jews to emigrate to the United States.
The Industrial Revolution did not affect Russia until the latter part of the nineteenth century and then a marked increase in commerce and industry followed. An abundance of mineral resources, an ample supply of cheap labor and a high tariff assured the rapid development of industry. Railways were built on an extensive scale, the most important being the Trans-Siberian railroad from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. As the economic transformation gained momentum, the opposition to the autocracy increased. The landowners urged agricultural reform and the reports of the zemstvo committees were antagonistic to existing conditions. Socialist doctrines spread rapidly among the industrial workers through the labor unions. Socialist and Liberals demanded representation in the government.
Nicholas II (1894—1917) continued the policy of Russification, though with somewhat greater moderation. He was anxious to improve the condition of the people, but his advisers were not good, and the power of the officials too great. He was a humane man and invited the Great Powers to a conference to prevent any further wars. In spite of this Russia herself was the cause of the next great war with Japan (1904—1905). This war served to reveal the real depth of corruption and incompetency within Russia and influenced the revolutionists. The demands of the local zemstvos for representative government, and the increased local freedom failed to stir the tsar. Discontentment increased, mutinies broke out in the army and navy, laborers struck and the peasants began to burn the homes of the nobles. Finally, the tsar weakened under the continual evidence of dissatisfaction and in October 1905 issued a manifesto promising freedom of speech, press and religious toleration and calling for the election of a Duma, or representative assembly, to make the laws.
The election law was based on an equal but practically universal franchise, which assured the strong representation of the peasants. As the Socialist parties boycotted the elections, the Liberals (so called Cadets) partly obtained a majority, but some 150 peasant members formed a Labor Group with a Socialist program. The first Duma met in May 1906 and issued a program of reform, for which it was rebuked by the tsar: after two months it was dissolved because it produced a Land Bill, calling for a compulsory alienation of the large estates. The deputies assembled in Viborg (Finland) and issued a proclamation calling on the people to refuse taxes and recruits. The proclamation had no effect; the revolution was spent. The second Duma (March 1907) proved to be just as troublesome. The members of the Duma favored the confiscation of the great landowners’’ property and ministrial responsibility to parliaments. The tsar dissolved this body in June (1907). Modification of the electoral law gave large landowners a clear majority in the electoral college, the urban representation was curtailed and that of Polish, Caucasian and Musulman provinces, and that of Siberia, reduced to nominal proportions. The third Duma (1907) effected some improvement in education, national defense, and the administration of justice. The fourth met in 1912, but once more it became clear that the tsar and his government were resolved that no real reform should be effected. Again, therefore, disturbances broke out in many parts of the country. But now affairs in Europe were again as complicated as in the time of Napoleon, and Germany was threatening the peace of the world. In 1914, Germany and Austria imposed upon Serbia impossible terms of satisfaction for the murder of an Austrian Crown Prince. Russia intervened in behalf of her fellow-Slavs and began to mobilize her troops. Thereupon Germany came to the support of her ally Austria and upon Russia’s refusal to demobilize, and of France to remain neutral ended with Germany declaring war against Russia (August 1) and France (Aug. 3). Events then moved with such startling rapidity as to make a general European war unavoidable.
The Revolution of 1917 and the Overthrow of Autocracy.
Almost the entire nation at first supported the war, which appeared to be for the liberation of Slavic peoples from Teutonic control. The valour of the Russians had enabled them to win many victories, but an army needs supplies of guns, munitions, food and equipment, without which no courage can avail against the instruments of war. These things were lacking, chiefly because of the corruption and mismanagement of the government officials. The court was even accused of conspiring with the enemy. As a result the Russian armies sustained terrible disasters. Famine and general economic distress increased popular discontent. The peasants began to riot and strikes broke out among transport and metal workers. Troops sent to quell the disturbances went over to the people. The Duma refused to adjourn. The violent indignation resulting from this cynical brutality led to and culminated in the revolution under which the tsar was dethroned and killed with his family.
It should be remembered that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was not a Bolshevik movement, either in its inception or early development. The Bolshevik leaders, when once the Revolution was a success and had swept the Government that had driven them out of Russia into exile, speadily returned. They had not overthrown Tsarism; it had been left to the people to do that and they returned to exploit a popular revolution and foist their ideas of a new system of society upon the country.
The Provisional Government set up by the Duma, and recognized by the Soviet, attempted to realize the political programs of the bourgeois and to continue the war to a victorious end. But with the fall of monarchy aH authority collapsed throughout the country. The government could only pronounce speeches that were powerless to charm the revolutionary people into obedience. The bourgeois government was replaced by a government of Right wing Socialists. The people by now were exhausted by the terrible hardships of the war; demagogues were spreading rumors that the people were made to bear these for the benefit of all the officials, capitalists and landowners, who were refusing to make peace when the Germans offered it. The Kerensky government had been weak and vacillating to a degree and discipline in the army was a thing of the past. The revolution moved rapidly toward its logical end. In October 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew Kerensky and seized supreme political power, with Lenin as premier and Trotsky as foreign minister. Their policies included immediate peace with Germany, the confiscation of private property, the division of the land among the people and the establishment of the dictatorship of the working class. In 1918, they signed a seperate treaty with the Central powers at Brest-Litovsk by which Russia lost about one-fourth of her land and enormous coal and iron deposits.
The Bolsheviks on January 5 1918, dissolved the National Constituent Assembly, that had been summoned to frame a new constitution. A new body was substituted, which proclaimed the “Federal Socialist Republic of Russian Soviets.” The Soviet Constitution (1918) gave the franchise to the workers, revolutionary soldiers and sailors and denied this privilege to the clergy, nobility and most of the middle class. A Central Executive Committee which was responsible to the National Congress ,of Soviets, made laws and appointed “Council of People’s Commissars.” The real power in the state is the Communist Party, which determines the policies of the government and to which virtually all the officials belong.
The Bolsheviks introduced radical reforms which made Russia a socialistic state. Private property was abolished and the state took over the control of land and industry. National debts to foreign countries were repudiated and all foreign property seized. The Church was separated from the state and all religion was discouraged. The control of all education was in the hands of the Soviet government.
Bolshevik policies met with serious opposition during the first four years of governmental control of land and industry. To overcome this opposition Lenin instituted a “New Economic Policy” (Nep) in 1921 by which the governmental control of industry was only partial. The Nep was supplanted in 1928 by the “Five Year Plan.” The new plan provided for the industrialization of all Russia by 1933. After the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Communists and the dominant force in the Soviet Government. An opposition, led by Trotsky and Zinoviev, criticized Stalin’s policies because of his compromises with capital and his decision to postpone plans seeking the overthrow of capitalism outside of Russia. Stalin, however, gained the support of the Communist party and the leaders of the opposition, including Trotsky, were exiled. Stalin became a dictator.