Why the Revolution Came to Russia in the 19th Century Essay

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Russia, Reform and Revolution

The Great Reforms freed the serfs but they did not really ease the life of the peasant or make it much better. The social structure (i.e., class system) remained fundamentally the same, except now the landowning class was determined to give as little to the peasants as possible. Whereas prior to the Reforms, the peasants viewed the landowners similarly to the way Europeans viewed their lords in feudal Europe, as their providers and protectors. Now the peasants were viewed as autonomous and dependent upon themselves and the law was rigged against them regarding in particular the land settlement act (Freeze). The actual beneficiary of the Reform was neither serf nor landowner, but the State, which expanded its bureaucracy from the Tsar on down to the village. Now the serfs, who had always operated under the expression "we are yours, but the land is ours" now had no land or very little of it (because they were forced to pay high prices for that which as serfs they worked for free -- under the patronage of the landowners). Thus the backlash to the reform was headed by liberals after the European model (Dmytryshn). Fyodor Dostoevsky captures the mood of the backlash and the rage of the socialists in several of his works of this period, such as Demons, The Adolescent, and Crime and Punishment. So the peasants were now on their own, but their so-called "emancipation" was no more a boon than poverty is.

The chief complaints of the peasants were that they now had neither the land nor the wherewithal to buy it and work it. They were essentially worse off than before. Sure, they had their "freedom" but "freedom" doesn't put food on the table -- it doesn't give one the opportunity to till the land (regardless of who owns it) and to provide food for one's family: it is merely a word bandied about by proponents of political correctness and liberal ideology. In reality, it mattered very little (in hindsight) compared the drudgery of existence that followed the Reforms, when the peasants were now marginalized beyond their imaginations, fueling a revolutionary and chaotic backlash which evinced much foaming at the mouth in terms of political ideology and rage against the ruling regime. Blood was called for by leading revolutionaries. Dostoevsky himself was arrested along with a handful of other liberal members of the literati and sent to Siberia. Dostoevsky converted to Orthodoxy while there but the rest of Russia was bent on revolution -- further violent reforms, which were completely the wrong tack to take, as "reform" was what had gotten them all into the mess they were already in. Russia had become spiritually weak and materially dependent on European philosophies that were divorced from the Christianity that had fostered Russia's communities for centuries. What the great reforms begat was not the catechism of the Church but rather the Catechism of the Revolutionary -- the guide for the individual whose sole life was to be geared towards the Revolution: this Revolution would achieve its most lasting impact in Russian 1917, just a few short decades later, unleashing a wave of blood that would leave millions upon millions of dead in its wake in horrific acts of murder in which the kulaks (peasant class) were slaughtered ("The Catechism of the Revolutionary"). Thus, the Revolution would prove to eat itself in the end -- which is essentially what Russia was beginning to do here. It was dying in the head (at the top) and the limbs would soon be showing the effects. An early example of this was the People's Will.

Now the peasants had the mir and zemstvo, both of which were corrupt and inefficient. The mir gave the impression that old world values regarding the peasants (serfs) were still in place, but this…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Freeze, "Reform and Counter-Reform," pp. 180-93

Cracraft, pp. 344-58: MacKenzie-Wallace on mir and zemstvo (1877)

Olga Vasileva, "The Significance of the Peasant Commune in Revolutionary Thought" (student paper, 2012)

"The Catechism of a Revolutionary" (1868) and "Demands of Narodnaia Volia [People's Will]" (1879) in Dmytryshyn, ed. Imperial Russia, pp. 350-59

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