19th Century Politics: Russia
At the start of the 19th century, Russia was still in an impoverished, feudal state. A group called the Decemberists tried to revolt and fight for the people to have power over the country through a constitution, but Czar Nicholas I used a secret police to crush this rebellion. This caused Russia to be further isolated from the rest of Europe. Due to this backwards state of the country, Russia lost in the Crimean War and citizens started to complain. Czar Alexander II tried to spark industrialization, but was trying to replicate the economic changes without implementing the social changes that occur with industrialization. When Russia lost in the Russo-Japanese War, the socialist party known as the Bolsheviks was formed in an attempt to change the Russian government. The protests against the czar started off peaceful, but when a peaceful demonstration was brutally suppressed, the rebels were energized. This led to several revolts by peasants and soldiers, known as the Russian Revolution of 1905, which caused the czar to concede and create a constitutional monarchy and powerful legislative body. This legislative body was known as the Duma.
They had lords who controlled land and would divvy out parts of their land to different vassals who owed allegiance to the lord, and that lord may be a vassal to a greater lord, and so on, and so forth. The land was still kind of divided like that, and Russia was stuck in this old system.
All the other countries in Western Europe had evolved into a different kind of government, they were no longer using feudalism. A lot of them had adopted absolute monarchies, and then had gone even further and developed some kind of Parliament, or legislative body, to balance out with the monarchs.
Russia was still stuck in somewhat of a feudal state at the beginning of the 19th century. After the death of Alexander in 1825, the Decemberists, (which were just a rebel group, they got named the Decembrists because this revolt happened in December) tried to force incoming Czar Nicholas I to adopt a constitution allocating some power to the people.
Nicolas used a secret police to try and eliminate the roots of the popular insurrection. This policy of suppression only further isolated Russia from the rest of Europe. The Decemberists tried to force this new Czar coming in to get a constitution (and adopt that constitution) that gave the people some power, but Nicolas used his secret police to eliminate the roots of this revolt (or rebellion), this group, and he didn’t end up doing that.
This suppression, this policy of suppressing any kind of political change, only further isolated Russia from the rest of Europe, because the rest of Western Europe had all moved on into a different kind of government system and Russia was still maintaining their same somewhat feudal state.
The fact that he, Nicholas I, would not adopt this constitution, wouldn’t allow the people some part of the power, was just suppressing that step toward the future that Russia needed. Russia later lost the Crimean War, and many Russians complained about the backward state of the country.
Russia wasn’t having a lot of good luck. They had this revolt. Their new czar refused to sign the constitution giving them any power. They lost this war. A lot of the people in Russia were complaining about the backwards state of their country, because they interacted with other countries.
They saw how other countries were run, and they were saying, “Why is our country still like this?” “Why haven’t we moved on?” “Why haven’t we moved into having a kind of government like our neighbors?” They were hoping for something better.
Finally, a new Czar, Alexander II, freed the serfs who would have been a part of this somewhat feudal system, and would have been like the lowest people that were almost slaves, but they did get paid, somewhat. They basically worked the land to be able to live on the land and eat some of the food off the land.
They weren’t really paid a salary, they weren’t like employees, but they weren’t exactly slaves either. They weren’t owned, they just were kind of tied to the land they live on, and they were supposed to keep working that land.
They did get to live on the land that they were working on, and did get to make their living, bring in things from what they were working, and have food that way, (and be able to, even if they couldn’t trade for it themselves). The person who was controlling them, the vassal, or lord that was in charge of these serfs would have to make sure they were fed and clothed, et cetera.
Close to slaves, but not exactly. He freed all of the serfs. He said, “Ok, you don’t have to do this anymore, you’re not tied to this plot of land, you can go wherever you want.” He tried to industrialize, but this happens slowly. It’s not going to happen overnight, and Russia is already behind. It happened slowly, but freeing the serfs was a step away from that feudal system.
So this was a step in a positive direction. At the turn of the 20th century, Russia was torn by trends of industrialism (parts of Russia were changing and trying to industrialize) and imperialism. What that means is that Russia, despite still being an absolute monarchy, Russia was freeing the serfs, Russia was stepping away from the feudal system.
They still have Alexander II as a Czar, who is basically an absolute monarch. Russia was still an absolute monarchy and they were trying to modernize their cities, but Russia was attempting to basically create all of the economic changes of Western Europe without allowing any of the accompanying social changes.
You’ve got industrialism versus imperialism, you’ve got this absolute monarchy fighting against bringing in some kind of legislative body that allowed the people a voice in governing. Where Russia was allowing the economic changes they wanted the industrialization they weren’t allowing the social changes that all of the other Western European nations had adopted.
Most of them at this point had some ruler in place and then some legislative body in place to balance out that ruler, with the legislative body allowing the common people to be representatives of groups of people in areas from around those nations. Those representatives would go to the legislative body and they would vote, and they would represent the common people, and so it was balanced out- the common people had a voice.
In Russia that wasn’t happening. There was still just the Czar, and that was who was in charge. All of that kind of turmoil is going on there with Russia being torn by these trends. You’ve got industrialization, but you’ve got people that are wanting that government change, that social change, and it’s just not happening.
Then Russians were also disheartened by the defeat of their navy in the Russo-Japanese War. Here again you have Russia kind of being behind, being downtrodden. They’ve lost another war, their navy was defeated, and they still haven’t gotten that social change that they were wanting way back in 1825.
The Socialist Party in Russia, known as the Bolsheviks, began to lead revolts against the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were like the majority party, and the Mensheviks were the minority, or the voice at least, in the parties that were present in Russia at this time. Even though the Mensheviks were the minority, the Bolsheviks didn’t like what they were speaking out about, so they started to lead revolts against the Mensheviks.
When a peaceful demonstration against the Czar was brutally suppressed, the rebels became energized. The Mensheviks were leading this peaceful demonstration against the Czar. They weren’t fighting and this demonstration was brutally suppressed, so people came in and became violent where everyone was just peacefully demonstrating what they were against.
They were, you know, like a sit-in kind of, but back in the turn of the 20th century kind of way. There was a peaceful demonstration, people were there, people were talking, people were staying in one area to voice their concerns, but no one was being violent, it wasn’t a physical conflict here, but this demonstration was brutally suppressed which turned it into a violent account, and the rebels became energized with this.
They said, “Oh my gosh, we were being peaceful and you brutally attacked us, were really riled up now.” The Russian Revolution of 1905, as this became known, continued with revolts by peasants and soldiers until the Czar finally promised to create a constitutional monarchy.
With a powerful legislative body known as the Duma. They finally got what they’ve been looking for, or at least a form of it. The Czar had finally said, “Ok, I will allow some political change, some social change.” We’ll have a constitutional monarchy so there’ll be a constitution in place, but the Czar will still be the monarch, and they’ll have their legislative body, which will be known as the Duma, and the legislative body will allow the common people a voice.
In the 19th century Russia was still very far behind the other Western European nations. They were still in a somewhat feudal state. The common people were wanting a change, they wanted to be able to change their government, and get a voice in government, but the Czars kept pushing that down, they kept suppressing it.
Eventually they got a new czar that allowed some change and tried to industrialize, but they still weren’t trying to incorporate that social change. Then, finally, when the Socialist Party, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks had their conflict in the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Czar finally said, “Ok, ok, stop fighting. I will give you what you’ve been asking for.”
The constitutional monarchy was created for Russia, and they got their legislative body, where the common people would have a voice.