The contribution to the twentieth-century Russian revolution made by the condition of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century is all the more clearly revealed as the character of the society which the revolution has established becomes increasingly certain and perceptible. Even a generation ago the institutions of tsarist Russia, like the efforts of the autocracy to conserve them, could appear no more than obstacles or incentives to its overthrow in favour of the liberal democracy which was often still regarded as the world-wide objective of political reform. Similarly the tendencies towards spiritual collectivism, indeed social absolutism, shared so generally by Russian reformers of distinct and even opposed schools long before the advent of Marxism in Russia, could still be counted as aberrations from the course of liberal development. But by now we can perceive that the tsarist autocracy and the movements of opposition to it provided many of the moulds of post-revolutionary government and political thought. A historical revision is therefore gaining ground in the West in which the evidence of survival and recurrence in Russian institutions and thought is a directing factor.
Such evidence is most conspicuous, perhaps, in the tradition of absolute centralised government at one extreme, co-existent with a village collectivism reputedly, if not in fact, traditional at the other. But the western interpreter will also observe, as did his more acute predecessors at the time, the association of political authority with bureaucratic or military rank rather than private, local, or hereditary status, a common indifference to western conceptions of liberty for either moral or economic ends, an obsession with Russia’s historical status, the sense of national exclusivism linked with a sense of supra-national, indeed universal mission, the confidence in a manifest destiny in Asia owed to a new dispensation distinct from that of the older maritime trading empires, the reluctant debt to Germany for the principle of national economics, and for models of militarism and technology—besides the education of German philosophy which the Russian intelligentsia digested and transformed.
The course of Russian history through which these national characters endured is demarcated by the reigns of tsars. This was due partly to the peculiar dependence of Russian political and economic society on government and the dependence of the government on the autocrat himself, and partly because the tsars’ reigns were often punctuated by violent beginnings and violent ends. Thus on the death of Alexander I in 1825 the succession of his brother Nicholas I was delayed and confused by doubts over the heir and was marked by the bloody mutinies of the Decembrists; Nicholas died during the Crimean War when a contemporary wrote that his only choice was between abdication and death; his son, Alexander II, was assassinated by terrorists a quarter of a century later. The second of these crises, culminating in the insurrection of 14 (o.s.)/26 (n.s.) December 1825, was the first outburst of comprehensive revolutionary thought and action in Russia. Although its leaders were ‘young colonels’ of the twentieth-century type with the doctrines of eighteenth-century philosophes, this had been no mere epilogue to Alexander I’s schizophrenic regime. As Lenin wrote in words regularly quoted by Soviet historians, ‘the Decembrists aroused Herzen. Herzen developed revolutionary agitation.’ And Herzen himself, the foremost Russian publicist of the century, founded, in his Development of Revolutionary Ideas in Russia, the traditional liberal interpretation of early nineteenth-century Russian history which accepted the Decembrists as forerunners and martyrs.
The first administrative act of the Emperor Nicholas had been to arrange for the investigation and trial of the Decembrists on a vast scale intended for purposes of political intelligence as well as a political demonstration. The execution of only five would-be regicide conspirators and the deportation of the remainder to act as a civilising leaven in Siberia hardly deserved the condemnation it received from liberal historians sympathetic to a revolutionary tradition which has outlived their standards of mercy. All the more since the conditions of exile, whether in the initial period of nominal hard labour or subsequent resettlement, bore no resemblance to those inflicted on common criminals, prisoners of war or political convicts, in particular Polish nationalists, who made up an average rate of 5000 deportees to Siberia annually between 1800 and 1850.
This clemency was prudent, not magnanimous; the emperor did not mean to demoralise the nobility by his treatment of the political heretics among them. In consequence his reputation as a brutal martinet was modified and also the suspicion of his militarist ambitions held by even the loyal serving nobility. In fact, Nicholas developed as tsar into a severe but conscientious autocrat, and his reputation of competent majesty became an important factor in European as well as Russian history, disguising until the Crimean War the decline in comparative military power and national cohesion of the regime of ‘parade Tsarism’, which was so dependent upon his personality, and through which he more or less successfully influenced the affairs of the whole continent. His prestige was such at its zenith that when he visited England in 1844, Queen Victoria marvelled that she could breakfast with ‘this greatest of all earthly Potentates’, although significantly she accepted the common western opinion that his magnificence relied upon domestic oppression. But his iron demeanour did not deceive his entourage. He had neither brilliance nor serenity as a qualification for leadership, and his associates detected a highly strung rather than a powerful character behind his abrupt decisions.
Nicholas began his reign not as a political doctrinaire but as a soldier succeeding to a military command in poor order, and he was therefore ready to apply the lessons of the Decembrist revolt towards expedient reforms as well as checks upon revolutionary infection from Europe. Yet even before the shock of the revolutions of 1830, the administrative pattern of the regime was determined by two famous repressive controls, the edict re-instituting and fortifying the political police, which had flourished informally during the previous reign, and the censorship edict, both issued in 1826. The former entrusted to the new institution ‘all dispositions and information in higher police matters’ and control in particular over ‘state criminals’, the supervision of foreigners and religious dissidents (raskolniki), and the investigation of correspondence. ‘Department III’ of the Imperial Chancellery was to be distinct from the existing gendarmerie or semi-military police and from the ordinary provincial police, which was recruited and controlled locally. Although it consisted of only forty officials, by the end of Nicholas’s reign its control through a web of undeclared agents was legendary. It formalised the Russian tradition of police administration, and its extra-legal action ‘according to administrative procedure’ (po administrativnom poryadke, a famous phrase in Russian history) could lead to detention, deportation, or attachment of property, without judicial process. Moreover, it served as an agency of cultural and even moral control, partly outside the law and partly within the scope of the censorship decree. The latter ukaz, equally representative of this era, introduced a system of censorship, revised in 1828 and lasting with minor modifications until 1865. Obscurantist though this was, there are parallels to its operation in Russian and other administrative practice at different times. It was often laxly applied—and much of the comment in the golden age of liberalism now looks ingenuous. The prohibition common in the contemporary European autocracies upon publications held to disparage religion, monarchy, or the legitimate government was extended to historical studies insufficiently intolerant of past revolutions, to philosophical works other than text-books, and even to medical publications if they ‘weakened faith’ in the immortality of the soul. The machinery was preventive, administered through boards of officials in literary centres, supervised by the Ministry of Education but subject to frequent intervention by the tsar or the Imperial Chancellery. It was also a function of the censorship until 1828 to control style and language and in the 1830’s it came to be used as an instrument of official nationalism. On the other hand, the assault on philosophy apparently followed the tsar’s own conviction that such studies stimulated or covered political speculation, and the consequence was the closure of some university faculties. But Nicholas had no use for the independent clerical persecutors of the universities who had flourished at the end of Alexander’s reign; the chief of these were dismissed, while the leading religious extremist of the right, the Archimandrite Photius, lost favour. The evangelical movement, for long encouraged by Alexander I, was even more suspect, and its principal agency, the Bible Society, which propagated vernacular versions of the gospels, was dissolved.
The repression of any spontaneous movement was stimulated by a report on the Decembrist conspiracy, which recommended change but concluded that the demand for change had resulted from excessive freedom of thought and education. Through the report a Decembrist influence can be traced in many of the reforms which Nicholas considered in the first phase of his reign. Some of its more superficial recommendations were actually carried out, while deeper changes, in particular the consolidation of the noble class and agrarian reform, were repeatedly touched upon but not solved. The same early mood of the regime was shown in the ‘great’ Kochubei committee appointed in December 1826 to investigate the existing system of government and to decide ‘what is right for today, what must not be retained, and by what it is to be replaced’.
The autocratic machinery which was thus to be revised acted at the higher levels largely by ad hoc methods and continued to do so, as the proliferation of lesser committees during the next half century was to show. The State Council was rather a nominated quasi-legislature than a cabinet; it prepared the budget and revised the draft legislation presented to it with the tsar’s approval by ministers, but the procedure was often by-passed by decrees (ukazy) emanating direct from the Imperial Chancellery which had equal force of law. Departmental ministers commonly dealt direct with the tsar, while the Committee of Ministers set up in 1805 overlapped the State Council. Nor was there any significant primacy among ministers even when, as in the case of Kochubei, and after him Gorchakov, the Chairman of the State Council was also Chairman of the Council of Ministers and bore the title of Chancellor of the Empire. Meanwhile the Senate had become no more than a supreme court. Indeed, the only vital organ of government was the tsar’s own Chancellery, which there was no question of reforming; and the most important institutions of Nicholas’s reign were established as new departments of the Chancellery. Such were the third department, the department for codification of the laws, and (1838) the department for reform of state peasant status and state lands. Provincial government, which the committee reviewed but left unchanged, was centralised through the governors of fifty provinces (gubernu), and the govemors-general in Siberia and in some frontier and colonial territories. These were notoriously understaffed, and, in case of emergency or cumulative scandal in administration, a commissioner (revizor) would be sent from St Petersburg to report or act on the situation, whether a small provincial town was involved or a vast territory like Siberia. It was characteristic that Nicholas’s most trusted representatives were usually army officers, whether it was a famine or a riot which led to their mission.
The Kochubei committee was also charged to consider the agrarian problem which, like slavery in contemporary America, impended upon all political thought and action. Out of a total population of some 45 millions in Russia proper in 1815, about 21 millions were serfs attached to the land and owned as personal property by some 200,000 hereditary nobles, or by a few of the 500,000 officers and officials qualified by their lifetime noble grade, while another 15 millions were state-or crown-owned peasants with varying but exiguous rights. So far minor experiments in reform—emancipating peasants of the non-Russian Baltic provinces without land and, licensing elsewhere in Russia voluntary agreements between master and peasant for emancipation with land—had produced at most a moral impact on the Russian social system. The degree of the tsar’s own reluctant conversion was expressed in his words to Kiselev in 1834, that his duty was to prepare for the transformation of serf law by his successor. But further piecemeal reforms, aimed against the treatment of the peasant as detachable from his land, were obstructed in committee by Grand Duke Constantine, and then came the European revolutions of 1830 bringing more general revulsion against concessions to liberal sentiment.
The tsar’s interest in agrarian reform survived, however, until 1848. From 1833 onwards reforms were carried out in the status, tenure, taxation, recruiting and local self-government of the state peasants, and their free status was specifically affirmed. In 1838 a department of state lands was created under Count Kiselev, the tsar’s most active subordinate in the agrarian committees of the ’thirties and ’forties. But the reforms achieved by these committees were of more indirect than direct significance. In 1833 the public sale of serfs was forbidden, and in 1842 an edict revised the law of 1802 in order to encourage landlords to emancipate their serfs with land, by creating a class of ‘free’ peasants temporarily ‘bonded’ for further services. In 1844 the emancipation of domestic serfs without land was allowed, but not until 1858 was the abuse to which this led corrected by effectively preventing the transfer of peasants from the land to domestic service. Between 1840 and 1848 edicts dealt with the right of peasants to buy their freedom when their master sold his estate. This right was made subject to agreement with their master, thus avoiding recognition of the peasants’ tenure as prescriptive. Indeed, it was not until 1848 that the right of the privately owned peasant to possess chattels even was established by edict. All these enactments applied to Russia as a whole. In addition, in western Ukraine the governor-general, Bibikov, began in the ’forties to enforce a register of serfs’ maximum duties to their largely Polish masters, but when the system expanded to affect Russian nobles it came to a stop.
The reformers were influenced by several motives: cosmopolitan misgivings over serfdom as a social evil, a growing belief (as much the result of practical experiment as of the influence of English classical economics) in the superior profitability of mobile wage labour, and apprehensiveness at the possibility of agrarian revolution from below. The increase in local peasant risings, endemic in Russia, appeared ominous; official figures showed increases of over 50 per cent in each decade of Nicholas I’s reign, from 148 in the years 1826-35 to 474 in the six years before emancipation, while recorded murders of landlords or bailiffs numbered some 300 in the thirty-five years before 1861. The unrest was perhaps due as much to premature rumours of imminent liberation, which piecemeal reforms and imperfect secrecy stimulated, as to exasperation at the delay. It reinforced both the opposition of conservatives to emancipation and the liberals’ belief in the urgency of change.
This unrest originated almost exclusively in purely Russian conditions. The coincidence of riots and mutinies during the cholera epidemic in Russia in 1830-3 with political convulsions in Europe was, contrary to government suspicions, almost certainly fortuitous. The only region susceptible to western currents of revolutionary optimism was Poland. Here the effective grievance was the nationalist one of the nobility and intelligentsia. When insurrection broke out in Warsaw on 7/19 November 1830 the viceroy retreated with the Russian garrison, and the Polish army, a separate entity, won some early successes. The course of the subsequent war brought no credit, however, to Russian arms or to Polish politics; the Russians did not gain a decisive victory in the field until May 1831, but there was no effective prolongation of guerilla resistance because the interest or sentiment of the semi-servile Polish peasantry had never been engaged by the patriots. The revolt ended in hundreds of executions and thousands of expropriations and left both sides irreconcilably embittered.
In Russia proper the alarm of 1830 ended the experimental period of Nicholas’s reign, whereupon cultural repression became more systematic. The system is associated with the name of Count Uvarov, Minister of Education from 1833 to 1849, although he never ranked among the tsar’s closest advisers. Regarded by contemporaries as a renegade humanist, it was as a bureaucrat rather than a genuine doctrinaire that Uvarov proposed in 1832 his ‘triple formula’ of ‘orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality’. This became the official ideology, with the emphasis on autocracy, and survived into the last years of tsarism. Both divine right and supremacy over the orthodox church were attributed to the tsar in the basic law of the empire, issued in 1832, while the subordinate place of nationality was defined by Uvarov in 1847: ‘Russian nationality (narodnost)’, he explained, ‘must express unconditional devotion to orthodoxy and autocracy.’
In the task of control educational policy was of minor importance compared to police regulation and censorship. The expansion of universities was checked, although Uvarov was responsible for one new foundation at Kiev, which, as a Great Russian institution, challenged the cultural separatism of the historic Ukrainian city. Here and elsewhere courses in philosophy were limited, and those in mathematics favoured on account of their supposed military value; faculty appointments were entrusted to the state, students put in uniform and state supervisors of their conduct and discipline introduced, while entry to universities or secondary schools by ‘other ranks’ than the nobility was impeded. For study abroad the age limit was lowered, and in general foreign travel was restricted by a passport system. Yet, given its objects and methods, the regime’s cultural policy was not barbarous. Uvarov was a good patron to the Academy of Sciences and under his aegis some of the great series of official Russian publications in the fields of archaeology, geography and documentary history were begun.
Equally consistent with conservative autocracy was the vaunted semicodification of Russian laws, the last service of the veteran Speransku. It comprised a collection of all legislation since 1649 (published in 45 volumes in 1830) and the Svod, an extract of still valid laws (published in 15 volumes in 1832) to serve as a quasi-code. Yet this did not establish the rule of law, as some historians have pretended, even if it eased the later judicial reform. It was an academic operation, no more a legislative one than the monumental Neo-Byzantine dynastic buildings of the reign were in essence public works. The churches and palaces for which the tsar was responsible reflected rather the high morale of the dynasty and its orderly extravagance which was also largely responsible for the lavish cosmopolitan standards of St Petersburg society. These contrasted with Nicholas’s personal ostentation of soldierly austerity and also, as foreigners frequently observed, with the depth and expanse of surrounding Russian poverty.
Some virtues as well as vices of conservatism were shown also in economic policy. A contemporary German economist observed that if any country was suited to ‘autarky’ it was Russia, and in fact the 1822 tariff, only slightly modified during more than a quarter of a century, altogether prohibited a large range of imports, particularly textiles and metals. But nationalist economics was not a dogma and in 1852 a revolution in tariff policy occurred; Polish competition was accepted by the abolition of the customs frontier and in 1857 Russia entered a period of freer trading than any major state besides Great Britain was practising; yet the revenue was maintained. Meanwhile Kankrin, the finance minister from 1823 to 1844, had revalued the currency. By 1843 a ‘silver rouble’ had been established at three-and-a-half times the value of the old paper rouble and the new currency in its paper issue did not depreciate by as much as 25 per cent in the next quarter of a century.
Economic progress had made no more than scratches or pockets in the surface of agrarian Russia, yet the turnover in foreign trade in 1853, the last full year before the Crimean War, was, at 250 million roubles, nearly double that of 1825. Raw cotton imports and the productivity of factory labour in textiles® had nearly doubled, and in the early 1850’s Russia had about 1700 machine-operated looms. In 1855 she was producing nearly as much pig iron—over 250,000 tons—as Germany,6 though by primitive methods. In the 1840’s Haxthausen could write that Moscow, not the show place of industry, ‘from being a residence of the nobility’ had ‘become a factory town’. But factory organisation meant not mechanisation, but merely the first step from domestic industry, which was simultaneously increasing both on private estates and in towns; little more than half a million Russians were classified as factory workers in 1860. Meanwhile, the estimated population grew during Nicholas I’s reign from 53 to 71 millions, but contemporary estimates indicate no commensurate increase in grain harvests, irrespective of the new wheat exports from the Black Sea ports.
The Russian bureaucracy was not wholly in favour of the rise of the factory system. Some still saw a future for domestic industry and were encouraged by foreign and other experts who thought Russia might escape the ‘proletarian cancer’ of the West. But the tsar took a simpler mercantilist view of raison d'etat and encouraged industry by establishing a council of manufacturers, granting direct monetary aid to producers, founding model industrial enterprises and technical and agricultural schools, and patronising industrial exhibitions. In the crucial question of railway building he was, however, hesitant. The first line of 27 km. from St Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo was built by private enterprise in 1838; in 1843 the railway from Warsaw to the Austrian frontier was undertaken by the state and from 1847 to 1851 that from St Petersburg to Moscow, in each case at increasing cost per mile. As elsewhere, railway construction in Russia set a new rate of economic expansion. This was closely linked with the demographic changes, particularly the mobility of labour, which followed the abolition of serfdom and like this belong to a new era.
The Russian political system was regarded by the tsar as his share in the international policy of counter-revolution pursued by the three eastern European courts and stabilised for fifteen years in the Munchengratz agreement of 1833 (see ch. X, pp. 252-3). How dynasts believed that the ideological conflict transcended frontiers is shown by an authoritative appreciation drafted in 1839. This explained that the focus of revolution was France, and that Britain, too, was interested in ‘spreading in this direction her political influence and... the constitutional forms by which she is governed’. Russia’s interest was to strengthen Austria and Prussia ‘in the terrible struggle... against an adversary who attacks them daily’. The international links of revolution were confirmed by the events of 1848-9 (see especially ch. xv). In Russia regular news kept the intelligentsia in a state of political excitement while rumours of the foreign upheavals seem to have stimulated even the endemic peasant unrest. The tsar took up the challenge in a manifesto addressed to the world at large in March 1848, which ended with the words: ‘Take heed, ye peoples, and submit [sc. to your rulers] for God is with us.’ Admonitions and eventual intervention abroad were accompanied by a more searching repression of dangerous thoughts in Russia. Censorship passed to a committee and Uvarov lost his office, perhaps partly because he defended the universities against restrictions on their numbers as well as on their courses. There was, in fact, no revolutionary agitation or conspiracy, but in 1849 the extremist Petrashevsku discussion group to which Dostoevskii belonged was broken up. Action was also taken against the independent right, the so-called Slavophiles, partly because revolution and nationalism were still confounded in the minds of European autocrats, partly to check propaganda against the Baltic German minority who were so valuable to the Russian army and administration, and partly to protect the tsar’s brother sovereigns from Russian xenophobic outbursts which wars and rumours of wars had stimulated.
This reaction was hardly the ‘terror’ depicted by some historians, but it is significant that a moderate liberal later reported to Nicholas’s successor that ‘nihilism owes its origin and development primarily to the repressive measures operating from 1849 to 1855’. In fact these measures brought to a peak the repressive policy which the autocracy and its critics had made the most important issue in Russia after serfdom. The control of dangerous thoughts was not new, but at this juncture it established tsarism as the symbolic enemy of the European left, while inside Russia it interacted with a new and profoundly important political literature which bore the germs of several schools of thought and action besides nihilism. This literature owed more to the general ideas than the political impulses of Europe, where its significance was underrated until its influence on the reception and eventual processing of Marxism in Russia became apparent.
The intellectual efflorescence culminating in the stupendous achievement of Pushkin had found political expression in the Decembrist movement. When this was broken the revolutionary spirit passed from officers’ messes and salons to a new generation of dilettante scholars and publicists, the future ‘men of the forties’. Two schools emerged, the ‘westerners’ and the ‘easterners’ or Slavophiles whose literary debate systematised and circulated ideas already current in inchoate form. Its starting point was the publication in 1836 of P. Chaadaev’s ‘Philosophical Letter’, the burden of which was the nullity of Russian culture. ‘We belong’, Chaadaev wrote, ‘to those nations who... exist only to teach the world some serious lesson.’ Geography and the Byzantine church had separated Russia from creative European culture, her response to Peter the Great’s offer of civilisation had been negligible, and more recent contact with the West had led to disaster—the Decembrist revolt. The only hope was to ‘retrace the whole course of human experience’. The effect of this ‘gunshot in a dark night’, as Herzen called it, in rallying a ‘western’ school was gradual, but the Slavophiles took up the challenge and thus confirmed the main agenda of Russian political thought for at least a generation.
The opposition between westerners and Slavophiles was more formal than fundamental, since both were liable to change their ground and their personal relations were often close. Both had their training in the German philosophical systems of Hegel and Schelling but, while this rationalised the historical traditionalism of the Slavophiles, for the westerners Hegel was, in Herzen’s famous words, the ‘algebra of revolution’. Indeed, when blended with French Utopian socialism, this grounding turned the more forceful, Herzen, Belinskii, and Bakunin, towards Hegelianism of the left and contact with the contemporary German school which led from Feuerbach to Marx. A. I. Herzen (1811-70) was an eclectic humanist of immense literary powers who had no use for Russian national character or institutions until he emigrated in 1847, when he became disgusted in turn by bourgeois democracy and by the centralising character of ‘Jacobin’ revolution. Y. V. Belinskii (1811-47), the most influential inside Russia of contemporary publicists, had glorified the tsarist state during his Hegelian phase more explicitly than the Slavophiles, and in opposition to their idea of the unpolitical nation. Although he later wrote as a champion of personality it was less the spontaneous personality cherished by western liberals than personality seeking or forced to realise itself in a ‘just’ and ‘free’ society under the leadership of the intelligentsia which it was his major task to expand and vitalise. M. Bakunin (1814-76) was even less consistent. His permanent vein of anarchism was expressed in 1847 in his famous phrase ‘the passion for destruction is a creative passion’. But during his imprisonment after his part in the German revolutions of 1848 he wrote a confession in which he went as far as any Slavophile in morbid nationalism and xenophobia. Later, in Siberia, before he escaped to Europe to struggle with Marx for control of international socialism, he privately advocated a kind of protofascist dictatorship to be exercised by Muraviev, the governor-general in Irkutsk.
On the other side the Slavophiles substituted the Russian narod for the German Volk, and without borrowing the idea of the transcendental state, which did not harmonise with their clerical sympathies, transposed German historicism into terms of a mystical Russian nationality. Russian history was for them strictly autonomous, Peter the Great was an apostate, the universal Russian mission was to be realised through the national character, more Christian than that of the Latin West, with its virtue of humility exemplified in the individual, and its spiritual collectivism exemplified in the characteristic institutions of the village commune (mir) and craftsmen’s co-operative (artel) as well as in the national church and the dissenting sects. The two most respected Slavophiles were less prolific than the westerners. The literary reputation of I. V. Kireevskii (1806-56) rested on two essays and his friend Khomyakov (1804-60) wrote primarily as a lay theologian. Their influence was personal and epistolary, for instance on Y. F. Samarin (1819-76), who took a prominent official part in the reform of serfdom, and on the Aksakovs (K. S., 1817-60, and I. S., 1823-86), whose cultural revivalism led to an ostentatious hatred of the new creation of St Petersburg and therewith of the whole apparatus of contemporary Russian government. All these were opponents of Uvarov’s system who condemned serfdom hardly less severely than the westerners as an aberration of Russian history, and favoured the revival of the Zemskii Sobor, the old Muscovite assembly of estates. Even those Slavophiles most amenable to the government, such as Shevyrev and Pogodin, turned reformers during the Crimean War. Perhaps the most revealing index of the three great ideological interests in the middle of the century is their conception of the village commune. To the westerners it was a stage in all European society which the West had outlived but which might enable Russia to bypass bourgeois capitalism on the way to socialism. To the Slavophiles it was a unique and precious phenomenon of Slav culture. To Uvarov it was an irreplaceable fiscal institution devised by Peter the Great.
The greater literary names appear on the fringe only of the political controversy. As Pushkin (1799-1837) was killed before the issue had been joined, his intellectual inheritance was claimed by both parties. He had contacts with the Decembrists but was no admirer of western laissez-faire democracy, finding greater human dignity in the food-producing Russian serf than in the proletarian English mill-hand. The works of N. V. Gogol (1809-52) were satires of acceptance rather than revulsion, and his later explicit defence of serfdom provoked a bitter denunciation by Belinskii which circulated among the reformist intelligentsia as a kind of secret manifesto. In the next generation, Ivan Turgenev (1818-83) was intimately associated with the westerners, but not of their party, and his political influence on their side was, like Tolstoi’s in the same period, a formidable by-product of his undidactic novels.
Political controversy was forced by censorship into the disguise of literary criticism, and Russian periodicals, multiplying nearly fourfold between 1800 and 1850, served as a substitute for debate and agitation. Journals like the Notes from the Fatherland and the Contemporary which Belinskii used, and the Muscovite (Moskvityanin) of the Slavophiles, reached both the higher bureaucracy and the unemployed nobility and formed in a real sense the political education of both the reformers of Alexander II’s reign and the next more revolutionary generation of the intelligentsia. As the political ferment spread, more nobles became conscious of the problem of their own class. Although relieved of the former obligation of service, only the more boorish failed to serve the central government for a few years, either in the army or as civilians. Thereafter they too often retired to St Petersburg, Moscow or even a provincial capital, visiting their estates for long holidays rather than residence, letting their demesne and putting their serfs on obrok (that is, commuting their labour services for cash payment). There were progressive farming landlords, but they were exceptions. There was no country life on the western grand scale. Indeed the same estates seldom lasted through several generations, and there was consequently lacking that sense of home and local particularism which has elsewhere helped to bind class to class whatever the degree of exploitation. Moreover, while the nobility remained politically stagnant their numbers, standard of living and pressure on the agrarian economy rose. Types of the consequent frustration appear in Turgenev’s novel Rudin and Goncharov’s febrile or resigned Oblomov.
The army continued the chief field for individual advancement, and not only for the nobility since, owing to the very large recruitment of officers from other ranks, as distinct from the cadet schools, it was the main road to the hereditary ennoblement carried by the higher grades of the service hierarchy. Socially too, it had much the same status as in Prussia whence it had long drawn much of its doctrine. Since 1812 it had been the real basis of Russia’s international influence, although critics abroad pointed to its corruption and questioned its ability to deploy or supply its paper establishment of about half a million men, not counting Cossacks or the army of a hundred thousand tied up in the Caucasus. Its prestige, raised by success against Persia and Turkey in the late 1820’s, was lessened by the persistence of the Caucasus guerilla (see below, pp. 385-6), but restored by the triumph against the Hungarian insurgents in 1849 (see ch. XV, p. 407).
The military legend was so important that a change of course was generally seen as the natural consequence of failure in the Crimean War (ch. XVIII), and the death of Nicholas I on 18 February/2 March 1855 appeared as a presage of both these things. Russia’s exhaustion was recognised by all classes. For a few years she was to have a more normal political history in which administrative policy, public opinion, and even economic developments showed a coherent if agitated pattern.
The new emperor, Alexander II, known to pre-Soviet history as the ‘Tsar Liberator’, had grown up to accept and serve his father’s ideal of military autocracy. But, not strained to the tension of Nicholas’s puritanical egoism, he was ready to embrace reform when it appeared in the shape of raison d'etat. Early signs of coming change were shown by the usual gauge of domestic policy, the censorship. Then on the conclusion of peace, the emperor issued a manifesto, dated 18/30 March 1856, containing the words: ‘May everyone under the equal protection of laws equally just for all enjoy the well earned fruits of his labours.’ Taken throughout Russia as an announcement of the approaching end of serfdom, this was followed by explanations intended to damp both impatience and opposition. Among these was the tsar’s speech to the Moscow nobility on 30 March/11 April, in which Alexander observed that ‘it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to await the time when its abolition would begin from below without action on our part’.
The importance of this statement lay in the tsar’s personal commitment to reform and in the way it involved the serf-owning nobles in the task. There were various motives for a policy which gave unusual recognition to initiative outside the government. It acknowledged the conservative view that the resignation of a fundamental property right should be voluntary, and it tended to obscure the state’s responsibility for the financial operation which the reform would evidently entail. The serf owners were therefore wary, and while the emperor gave further proof of liberal intentions, nothing came of soundings of the provincial corporations of nobles by the Ministry of the Interior. The bureaucracy itself had no plan, but varying proposals were submitted by independent individuals. The crucial questions were generally seen to be the amount of land to be held by a freed serf, the rate at which emancipation should proceed, and the compensation for the serf-cum-land owner. Conservatives thought immediate emancipation would lead to anarchy, liberals could not see how the financial problem of compensation could be solved. Early in 1857 recourse was had to the common tsarist expedient of a ‘secret committee’ at the highest level, and discussion of a plan for emancipation without land submitted by the nobility of the Lithuanian provinces led to the issue of the decisive 'reskript' of 20 November/2 December. This called on the three provinces to amend their proposals to provide for the allotment of land; moreover, the nobility of other provinces were invited to form committees to elaborate similar plans.
The rescript of 20 November was the true administrative beginning of reform, marking the peak of reconciliation between the government and reformist public opinion, and between the different schools into which such opinion was divided. The leading radical spokesmen were now Herzen in London and Chemyshevskii in St Petersburg. Herzen’s serious influence began with the publication in London in 1857 of Kolokol (The Bell). This famous periodical published as anonymous documents most of the leading plans and statements of the Russian left. Although nominally banned, it circulated widely in Russia and its authority was recognised by the government itself. It demanded emancipation of the serfs with land, and freedom of the press, reforms which even most Slavophiles favoured, and which publicists such as Chemyshevskii could at least regard as outweighing all others. Indeed the latter wrote in Sovremennik (The Contemporary) no less enthusiastically than Herzen of the tsar’s initiative in the November rescript. But this truce did not last. Chemyshevskii was a new phenomenon in Russian politics, a raznochinets (that is, of ‘other rank’ than noble), like Belinskii, but an economist rather than a man of letters, an ascetic socialist and a critic of ‘liberalism’. He shared Herzen’s belief in the adaptability of Russian co-operative institutions to socialism, but his faith in ‘the people’ had no conscious historic or romantic basis such as made common ground between Herzen and the Slavophiles. It was the dogma of a nineteenth-century democratic positivist, soon impatient both with Herzen’s tolerance of reform from above and with the delay in its accomplishment. The relaxation of censorship for a time allowed even serfdom to be discussed directly. But the Russian journals could not be as specific as Kolokol and so Chernyshevskii’s and his disciple Dobrolyubov’s criticisms on the eve of reform were generally conducted in the conventional literary disguise of which the latter’s article on Goncharov’s Oblomov is a famous example.
Meanwhile the preparation of reform revealed wide differences in the provinces. Where the land was rich, high compensation was demanded for its alienation; where labour could obtain good wages in industry, a high ransom was required for manumission. Less predictable was the liberalism of a western type in the proposals of some provinces, particularly Tver where for some years there was a movement for a constitutional central government. In general both conservative and liberal nobles showed resentment towards the bureaucracy and this is held by liberal Russian historians to have stimulated besides constitutionalism a new move towards oligarchy as the reaction of the right to autocratic reforms. Indeed it was due to the progressive members of the court and civil service, above all Rostovtsev and N. Milyutin, that the reform took shape. And when Rostovtsev died it was the determination of the tsar which overrode obstruction in the main (‘secret’) committee and the Council of State.
The reform statute was promulgated on 19 February/3 March 1861. It affirmed the immediate freedom of the peasant’s person and the permanence of his future land allotment. Within two years a contract was to be negotiated between landlord and peasant with the assistance of ‘peace mediators’ drawn from the nobility in each province. This would fix the size of the allotment according to scales prescribed for different regions, and would end all responsibilities and jurisdiction of the landlord. At the same date domestic serfs without land were to be free of service. But the landed peasant was still to perform barshchina (that is, boon work) on an estate run on this basis and pay obrok (that is, body rent) on an estate run on commuted services. He was to have a ‘temporarily bonded’ status with barshchina at a rate of only 40 days a year for men, or about a quarter of the previous average, but he could commute barshchina for obrok after three years; and this situation was to last until he redeemed his allotment. Redemption was obtained by a down payment of one-fifth of the valuation of the land, generally an inflated one owing to the method of calculation. This was to be paid through the village commune and was followed by annuities usually of 6 per cent. The peasants’ payments were to continue for 49 years but the landlord was to get the capital sum at once in negotiable state bonds paying 5 per cent. Redemption was finally enforced in 1881, and until 1870 the peasant could not refuse an allotment. But he could accept one of a quarter the standard size, a so-called ‘orphan’s share’, without any obligations, and many did this, renting the extra land they needed more cheaply than by paying dues for it.
The peasants on imperial estates had had their status of personal freedom equated with that of state peasants since 1858. The land allotments and annuity payments of both groups were settled by 1866 on a far more generous basis than applied to private serfs; indeed their holdings were enlarged. To the peasants outside the Russian agrarian system the principle of emancipation with land was also later extended. In Siberia private serfdom was virtually non-existent, in Poland it was already legally extinct, but a decree giving them explicit proprietorship was issued in 1864 to benefit the peasants as against the more nationalist landlords. In Transcaucasia, particularly Georgia, where it was held important to conciliate the landlords, the opposite policy was applied between 1864 and 1867.
For all categories of peasants a new system of rural administration was introduced. The village commune took over some of the landlords’ rights with more than all his duties. Through the starost (elder), elected by the heads of households, it was responsible for old and new tax and annuity payments, minor police duties and emergency relief. The starshina (headman) of a volost (canton), elected by the elders of a number of villages grouped together, had larger police functions, including the apprehension of runaways, and control of local migration. To the responsibilities of both mir and volost was added that of providing courts of first instance for the judgment of minor disputes and misdemeanours by customary law. Over the peasants’ life and property, particularly in a commune of periodically redistributed holdings, the power of these communal institutions was therefore very great. Their grip on each ‘soul’, as one of the taxpayers for whom the mir was collectively responsible, was hardly less jealous than the landlord’s had been, while they could recommend deportation to Siberia of a reputedly vicious ne’er-do-well and frequently did so.
What the 20 million or so privately owned peasants gained from the laws of 19 February/3 March 1861 was in effect a minimum of civil rights— freedom to contract, to sue, to marry, to trade, to manufacture, to own property. But, on the average, unlike the state peasants, they were to receive less land than they had tilled before. In spite of the remarkable fairness of the ‘peace mediators’ supervising the contracts, the regional scales led to average reductions for the whole of Russia of 20 per cent on holdings which, in view of labour service obligations, had not been big enough to take up half the peasants’ time hitherto. Such peasants had therefore solid grievances besides the disappointment of the fantastic visions of benefit which the typical muzhik had entertained, besides the provisional continuance of reduced barshchina or obrok, and besides their prejudice against paying at all for land which they felt they had already owned even when their masters had owned them. There was indeed some basis for this prejudice in that land was being valued at the capitalisation of labour services, not at market price. The consequence of disillusionment was a severe outbreak of agrarian disturbances in 1861-3.
These events strengthened the radicals’ hostility to the statute. The opposition inside and outside Russia was also rallied by the first violent measures taken in 1861 against the reviving activity of the Polish nationalists whom it represented as fellow victims with the Russian peasants. For the first time for over 35 years home-based conspiracy and agitation began and was never again to subside under tsarism. The first and therefore epoch-making illegal publication was the Velikorus (Great Russian), three issues of which appeared in St Petersburg in the autumn of 1861. It appealed for the removal of the dynasty as incompatible with constitutional government or a just agrarian settlement. It was followed by the more pregnant manifesto ‘To the young Generation’ (Kmolodomu pokoleniyu), printed by Herzen and smuggled into Russia. This called for ‘revolution in aid of the people’ (Na pomoshch narodu), proposed the formation of propaganda cells in the peasantry and the army, and added to the liberal programme of a representative democracy, nationalisation of land for the village commune’s use. Of particular interest was its emphasis on co-operative institutions and the quasi-Slavophile faith in the Russian genius and mission to escape the sequence of history which Chaadaev had maintained must be ‘retraced’. Still more extreme was the programme of ‘Young Russia’ (Molodaya Rossiya) (1862), written by Zaichnevskii in the Moscow prison. Yet Zaichnevskii’s division of society into haves and have-nots, his plan for an economy based on agrarian communes and public ownership of factories, belonged to the main stream of Russian social thought; even his emphasis on the need for a ‘bloody and ruthless revolution’ and his rejection of marriage as an institution were only slightly futurist.
Some of the threads leading to this agitation were gathered into the first Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty) organisation, whose programme was mostly the work of Herzen’s collaborator Ogarev. It was the most substantial bridge between the Russian underground and the emigration in the 1860’s and the first real conspiracy since the Decembrists. It planned a pyramidal organisation of local cells, and managed to affiliate, at least nominally, a serious proportion of the revolutionary-minded youth. The moving spirit, S. Semo-Solovevich, was arrested in 1862, but his successors soon described themselves as the ‘Russian central national committee’ and in 1863 brought out two issues of a sheet called Svoboda (Freedom). The society petered out in 1864 after internal disagreement over a plan to start a peasant revolt in Russia in support of the Polish nationalist revolt. One independent group connected with it decided on such action in the Volga region but they were arrested. Theirs was the so-called Kazan conspiracy of students and some young officers whose leaders were shot in 1864.
The active underground opposition was small, but its feats are highly important in the prehistory of the Russian revolution. It was winning converts and encouraging the mood of sacrifice or competitive fanaticism which produces terrorists. Most of these would be found among students whose formidable political tradition was even then being moulded in an atmosphere of liberal sympathy. This they won by their demonstration in St Petersburg in 1861 against the inadequacy of the peasant reform when they were beaten up by police and cossacks, and by the suspension of their university courses which followed. But in other quarters there was a revulsion against such a mood; even liberal sympathisers blamed revolutionary saboteurs for the great conflagrations in St Petersburg and elsewhere in 1862, and the word ‘nihilism’ was coming into use to denounce the left since Turgenev had applied it to his new model revolutionary Bazarov in the novel Fathers and Children (1862). The idea of nihilism became still more significant when a new writer, Pisarev (1840-68), acknowledged in the Russkoe slovo (Russian Word) Turgenev’s imputation which the left as a whole rejected. Pisarev carried on Belinskii’s mission of vitalising the intelligentsia as an educational leaven. Moreover, he made the characteristic Russian renunciation of aesthetic values, he accepted the antithesis of class interests, and his obsession with the social function of materialist science in Russia was prophetic, and probably influential. The nihilist whom Pisarev acknowledged was an ascetic radical carrying his rationalism to the extreme of scrapping all religious, political and humanist values in order to think out social duty a priori. Socialism is part of the nihilist answer in Chemyshevskii’s novel Chto delat? (What is to be done? (1863), whose hero, Rakhmetov, became an even more popular model than Bazarov to Russian youth. The ultimate ethical and political imperative characteristic of Russian thought at the time, the relief of suffering, is explicit in Pisarev’s writings and Chernyshevskii’s as in Belinskii’s, Tolstoi’s and Dostoevskii’s. But, as the irrational element in revolutionary propaganda gained ground, particularly under Bakunin’s influence in the later ’sixties, the licence to transform values led to confusion of ends and means. The puritan strain survived, but nihilism and anarchism merged with terrorism in action as well as reputation. The later type of nihilist is standardised in Dostoevskii’s novel The Devils, founded on the career of Nechaev, a protege of Bakunin, whose conspiracy was sprung in 1869 by a murder inside his gang.
The other new tendency in political thought, populism (narodnichestvo), drew largely upon Slavophile ideology. The narodniks did not appear as a political party until the ’seventies, but the idea of seeking a source both of revelation and power in the peasant masses dates traditionally from Herzen’s injunction to the students locked out of St Petersburg university in 1861: ‘V Narod!' ‘[Go] To the People!’ Some of the common ground of the ‘men of the ’forties’ was restored in combining the old Slavophile prejudice against western inspiration with the belief that Russian communal institutions might form a means of socialisation from below. The overlapping of populism and nihilism appears in the comprehensive sympathies of a Herzen or a Chemyshevskii and in most of the underground effusions of the 1860’s. Indeed, a member of one of these groups deposed that what he feared was a liberal revolution which would ‘push Russia into western forms of life’. Moreover, a populist slant was given to the nihilists’ utilitarian contempt for aesthetic values through a spreading sense of guilt at the contrast of culture and labour. This humanist heresy, endemic in Russia, was most fully expressed on the left by P. Lavrov (1823-1900), the second emigre publicist of importance in the line from Herzen to Lenin. A repentant intelligentsia was succeeding the ‘repentant nobility’; to it belonged individuals as remote from the nihilists in spirit as Tolstoi and in politics as Dostoevskii.
The revolutionary underground, stigmatised as ‘nihilists’, and already calling themselves ‘democrats’, were the bitter leaven of Russian politics and soon gained, through propaganda or terrorism, the only real initiative outside the imperial court and chancellery. In contrast the ‘liberals’ were neither homogeneous nor organised. They included such personalities as the progressive Slavophile Samarin and the ‘westerner’ Kavelin, who had worked together on agrarian reform, and probably the great majority of educated and semi-educated Russians in the 1860’s. Constitutional government was what they hankered after; it was disillusionment in this that caused the later drift to populism. With few exceptions liberals greeted the emancipation edict as the beginning of a new dispensation. Its defects they attributed to the ‘reaktsiya' (reaction) and the ‘camarilla’ within the government, which by the spring of 1861 had got rid of the chief architects of reform, the Minister of the Interior, Count Lanskoi and his more famous deputy N. Milyutin.
The only active liberal opposition to the first stage of reform came from the nobility of Tver province. In 1862 they expressed doubt of the government’s competence to carry out a reform programme, and their wish to resign all fiscal and occupational privileges of nobility; they appealed for a central representative government. The province’s ‘peace mediators’ went even further, declaring their intention of ‘following the people’s wishes’ rather than departmental instructions, and incurred a prison sentence as a result. But this incident was a flash in the pan and, in general, Russian liberals settled down to a critical acceptance of the further course of reform from above.
Circumstances helped to conciliate them temporarily, namely the gradual easing of agrarian tension, the nihilist threat to civil order, and above all the patriotic reaction to the Polish revolt of 1863 (see also ch. IX, p. 236). This took the form of widely dispersed guerilla operations whose early success was favoured by the Russian strategic concentration. United even, the Poles would have had no chance, but this time there were two parties, ‘reds’ and ‘whites’, the former with a social and the latter with a national motive only. To non-Polish peasants in particular the ‘white’ szlachta (land-owning nobility) had less to offer than the Russians, who promised land reform. When the end came in 1864 the inter-faction killings outnumbered the 400 Russian capital sentences. Besides executions, deportations, confiscations and fines far exceeded the retribution in 1831. There followed a still more intense subjection of the Polish language and culture, while, to split the Poles horizontally, an agrarian reform more liberal than the Russian was introduced. In Russia itself public indignation was exploited in domestic politics by the autocracy and the press. The ascendancy began of the pseudo-liberal and future Pan-Slav editor, M. Katkov, who became a mouthpiece or mentor of the autocracy for more than two decades.
In Finland, by contrast with Poland, Alexander II’s reign had brought a superficial liberalisation.
Finland, since the grand-duchy’s incorporation in the empire, had been administered by a bureaucracy with high respect for national law and custom although there had been no immunity from the tsarist political system, and the Diet as an institution had been ignored. But, in accordance with a promise on his accession, Alexander II summoned the Diet in 1863 and in 1869 established its quinquennial convocation as a fundamental law. This did not make Finland a constitutional monarchy, and if the Finns remained placid, it was rather because they had no historical background of national sovereignty and above all because the element of inter-Slav jealousy and antipathy did not exist. But the relationship became less happy when Pan-Slavism later turned totalitarian and intolerant of minorities.
The liberals’ movement to the right after the Polish revolt and the settling down of the agrarian reform made 1864 propitious for the next stage of reform. Most of the legislation which followed, like the emancipation decree, represented a compromise between the tsar’s inclination towards the most radical changes compatible with the inviolability of the autocracy, and the conservatism of the diehard nobility. To explain this there is no need of the theory that an ‘oligarchical’ opposition was in existence. The autocracy feared to demoralise rather than to challenge the nobility as a class. The momentum for further reform came from the assumed need to harmonise institutions with the results of emancipation, from the motive of raison d'etat in modernising Russia according to western practice, and that of winning over moderate opinion against the revolutionary left. Behind it all was the genuine atmosphere of nineteenth-century political optimism seeping through the cracks in autocracy and Russian nationalist superstition.
The decree of January 1864 introducing the Zemstvo or local government reform integrated the peasant institutions of the mir and volost into a system of elective government at the uyezd (district) and gubernya (province) level. Three separate bodies of rural and town property owners and of electors chosen by peasant cantons respectively elected the district assemblies and the latter nominated delegates to their provincial assembly. The assemblies only met for a few days annually to supervise paid executives whom they appointed for a three-year term. The zemstvos took over the responsibility for communications, famine relief, and hospitals, formerly ineffectively exercised by the assemblies of nobles, and in addition supervised local trade and agriculture, prisons, and, above all, education. Even Lenin called them a ‘fragment of a constitution’. They were introduced gradually in groups of provinces at a time. In the first two years about two-fifths of the district representatives were nobles and two-fifths peasants, in the indirectly elected provincial assemblies three-quarters were nobles and the peasants and townsmen were almost equal. This formal co-operation of classes did amount to a revolution although critics of every shade continued to call it hollow. In 1863 the draft reform had provided for a brief annual meeting of a central assembly of zemstvo representatives to co-operate with the State Council. But, as political tension lessened, appeasement of constitution seekers was dropped, and the autocracy resisted the intermittent attempts of the zemstvos to organise nationally. They were made juridical persons in private law instead of administrative entities, intercourse between provincial zemstvos was forbidden, and the overriding authority of provincial governor and Ministry of the Interior was such that they could not even publish their edicts without permission. They therefore exercised rather than satisfied the political instincts of Russian society, but their practical achievement went far. Virtually all rural primary schools, many secondary and girls’ schools, and all medical services in the countryside were owed to them.
The second major reform after emancipation was the new judicial system introduced at the end of 1864. The old class courts and closed hearings, with their indefinite reference or remission to other tribunals under administrative control, were replaced by an unusually simple hierarchy of open courts with full publicity and an independent judiciary. The country was divided into judicial circuits in which courts of first instance delivered final judgment with the participation of a jury. In non-jury cases there was an appeal to ‘judicial chambers’ with wider circuits. The sole higher court of appeal—on points of law only—was the Senate. Petty offences were dealt with by ‘justices of the peace’, elected, but irremovable like the higher courts’ judges whom the executives appointed in the first instance.
The judicial reform was based on studies of western procedure. Communist historians explain this uncompromising ‘bourgeois’ modernity by the exigencies of incipient capitalism; liberal critics have found a grave discrepancy from cosmopolitan jurisprudence in the treatment of the peasants. For the cantonal courts established in 1861 remained in being and used distinct customary law for peasants’ cases instead of the public and private law of the Svod (see above, p. 363). The argument that peasants were thus classified as an inferior order found confirmation in that corporal punishment was retained for them despite the law of 1863 which abolished it otherwise, even in the army. The independence of the courts was, however, demonstrated in 1878 by the audacious if misdirected acquittal of Vera Zasulich, who had shot and wounded a police chief as a reprisal on behalf of the revolutionary underground. And, even more than the courts, the new Russian bar won an early reputation for intrepidity and learning.
A third reform in 1864 was the law providing for ‘peoples’ primary schools’ which could be established by private individuals or public bodies. Controlled by the educational committees of the zemstvos, they were to provide ‘useful’ and religious teaching, with Russian as the sole medium of instruction even in national minority areas. A new establishment for secondary schools was introduced separately which nominally removed class restrictions on entry and followed the usual European division between ‘grammar’ and ‘modem’. The secondary education of girls had been brought under the ministry’s control in 1862 but initiative and responsibility remained with independent societies. Two other educational reforms were the nominal decontrol of university faculties in 1863, of little practical significance, and the new censorship law of 1865. In principle preventive censorship was replaced by the sanction of prosecution in the courts of responsible editors for infringements of the law, but authority was retained to prohibit books or periodicals which disregarded official warnings. This system imitated contemporary French methods, but as always the letter of the rules counted less than fluctuating policy, and the liberal mood of the early 1860’s was unable to survive the onset of revolutionary terrorism.
The attempted assassination of the tsar on 4/16 April 1866 did not open a new phase of underground activity, but it was a shocking discouragement to liberals and a handle to the critics of reform. The government’s countermeasures harked back to the theory that education was the root of revolution and the liberal minister Golovnin was replaced by D. Tolstoi, regarded as a champion of reaction. The burden of Tolstoi’s restrictions on schools, universities, and press, has perhaps been exaggerated. Most important was the limitation of science teaching and encouragement of the classics. The connection so alleged between positivist science and doctrinaire politics, iconoclastic or utopian, has not been disproved, least of all in Russia, although there the autocracy’s challenge doubtless stimulated such a development. But the reaction in educational and censorship policy together with ministerial changes towards the right did not alter the plan of reform. The extension of modern institutions implied no relaxation of autocratic control, and the risk of multiplying centres of disaffection seemed less urgent than completion of the plan. So in 1870 the transformation of local government was extended to the towns, their administration being brought into line with the zemstvo system, following a Prussian model. The multiple differentiation of urban classes was abandoned with respect to civil, and nominally also political rights, but the electorate of all ratepayers was divided into ‘colleges’ by property qualifications so that the richer inhabitants had a larger representation in the town duma. Like the zemstvo, the town administration chosen by the duma lacked coercive powers and was made subservient to the provincial governor or, in provincial capitals, the Ministry of the Interior.
The last major act in the ‘era of reform’ was the introduction of universal military service, the work of D. A. Milyutin, whose brother had played so large a part in the peasant emancipation. On becoming Minister of War in 1861 he reduced the peasants’ term of selective service from 25 to 16 years. In 1874 he fixed compulsory service for all classes at six years with the colours followed by nine in the reserve, exemption being confined mainly to the sole breadwinners of families. The reform was part of a wide military reorganisation which ranged from the general staff to cadet schools and recruiting areas, and had efficiency as much as or more than liberalisation in view.
The ‘great reforms’ left the executive power untouched in authority and virtually so in privilege and organisation. In 1861 the need for co-ordination brought a new body, the Council of Ministers (Sovet Ministrov) into being, but like its surviving predecessor, the Committee of Ministers, it failed to take root. This it seems, was due to the quasi-constitutional inhibition in Russia against consolidating high policy independently of the sovereign. Indeed the nearest the autocracy came to shedding any privilege was perhaps in the law of 1862 prescribing the annual publication of accounts of state income and expenditure. But that belonged rather to the series of financial reforms beginning with the creation of the Bank of Russia (1861) ‘for stimulating industry and trade’. This institution was to operate for these purposes as a discount bank with several state bank functions added. Other measures provided for central control and publication of the accounts of provincial and local governments, and in 1863 abolished liquor concessions in favour of an excise tax which maintained revenue from the same abundant source.
These changes, together with the liberal tariff of 1857-71 (see p. 364), reflected the autocracy’s belief that a new political era meant a new economic one. It was upon the ‘merchant’ class, not the suspect intelligentsia, that authority smiled as representative of this new era. Their service to the state had already been recognised in the last reign by the grant of the rank of ‘honourable citizenship’ just below the orders of hereditary nobility, and in the provincial towns they were acquiring some social influence. Still the pattern of a new natural prosperity remained elusive. The steepening curve of expansion in the first decade of Alexander II’s reign runs through two financial crises, setbacks in major industries owing to raw materials or labour shortages, and, above all, to the secular curse of erratic and deficient harvests, which the abolition of serfdom at first accentuated. It was not until the 1870’s that the Russian economic revolution ceased to appear experimental.
The surge in enterprise following the Crimean War is most obvious in foreign trade, the mechanisation of the textile industry and, above all, railway building. Between 1799 and 1853, 72-1 million roubles had been invested in joint-stock companies; between 1855 and 1860 the figure was 317 millions, and of this 177 millions went into railways which meanwhile doubled their mileage. After 1858 symptoms of the world depression appeared in Russia, though peculiar ones. There was a drop in bank deposits owing to railway speculation, and a shortage of money followed by a decline in some branches of production.
Then in 1860 industry picked up again and in the ensuing decade the rise in output shown by an index of high authority is some 60 per cent, from 8 to 13 in terms of a 1913 level of 100, compared to a rise from 8 to 11 in the United States and 14 to 18 in Germany in the same decade. According to Lenin’s figures of labour productivity in factories selected as significant this increased nearly 20 per cent between 1864 and 1870.3 There were forty-two factories employing a thousand or more hands as early as 1866, and of 160,000 workers in the cotton industry over 94,000 were then employed in factories. Not only had capitalist industry taken root but the economic revolution had extended to foreign trade. Between 1860 and 1870 exports rose in value from 181 to 359 million ‘credit’ roubles, and imports from 159 to 336 millions. Meanwhile state expenditure rose by over a third including the service of railway loans, while ordinary income increased more than proportionately from 329 to 460 million silver roubles. To the latter figure alcohol excise contributed more than a third at 164 millions, poll tax and peasants’ other dues a fifth at 98 millions and customs less than a tenth at 43 million roubles.
Railways were the chief material achievement, their total length increasing from 1626 km. in 1860 to 10,731 km. in 1870. The high cost of the earlier St Petersburg-Moscow line (above, p. 365) led the government in 1857 to grant a concession to a foreign company largely backed by French capital and so to begin a fateful connexion between Russian economic and strategic planning and the Paris money market. The concession system was continued in the 1860’s, with variable economic success. Indeed, the government had to strain the budget not only to provide guarantees and advances for this private sector, but to supplement it by more state building. The railways gained labour from the agrarian reform which relaxed the control of seasonally migrant and landless peasants. Their mortality as navvies was shocking by contemporary western standards, but unchecked, for there was no protective legislation even in factories until the 1870’s. But the emancipation struck another industry adversely: the ascribed (pripisnye) peasants in the Ural mines and foundries began to drift westwards so that the output of pig iron declined and did not recover till 1870. Meanwhile the most advanced Russian industry, cotton textiles, sagged owing to material shortage, as the American Civil War cut Russian imports by two-thirds. The demand for alternative supplies tripled the price of Turkestan raw cotton, but it was a coincidence that in the same decade the Russians conquered the Central Asian khanates where it grew; another half-century of planned autarky was needed before Russia became independent of American cotton.
As significant as the vicissitudes of incipient industrialisation was the economic failure of the agrarian revolution. The grain harvest in 1861 was officially estimated at 216 million Russian quarters; in 1865 it had fallen to 182 and after reaching 282 in 1870 it fell again to 219 million in 1871. Then in the decade after 1870 the average grain production per head increased compared to the middle ’sixties (21-8 puds against 19-3 in 1864-6) and the increase continued slowly with accelerating mechanisation until 1913. But this did not bring security against intermittent famine.
It was mainly by commercialising land and mobilising labour that emancipation conduced to increased productivity, particularly in the Ukraine and other black earth regions where the allotments of land to the peasants under the 1861 law fell as low as 1-2 desyatin (say 1-3 hectares) per head, and tended to be sold by them as too small for subsistence farming. The same process occurred to a lesser extent all over European Russia, for in thirty-six provinces the otrezki (‘cuttings-off’ from prereform holdings) averaged over 18 per cent. It was the uneconomic size of this holding and the burden of taxation and redemption that put the weaker peasant into the hands of a more fortunate, efficient or usurious fellow member of his commune. Hence the famous ‘differentiation of the village’ into the arbitrarily defined classes of kulak, sredniyak (middle peasant) and bedniyak (poor peasant) on which Marxist historiography lays such stress. It was not only of land still tied to the commune, however, but often of free land bought or rented from noble landlords that a kulak built up his holding. Noble land began to change hands at once not only as a result of previous indebtedness. In 1860 62 per cent of all serfs and 53 per cent of all agricultural land was pledged to the banks—a circumstance which had its effect on the timing and terms of the reform. But, their property having been undervalued by the banks or overvalued by the reform settlement, the landlords had to transfer to their creditors only 248 out of the 543 millions received in redemption payments. Not much of the surplus, however, seems to have gone back into their estates; they had tasted cash and were not on the whole a rural class of agricultural improvers with local attachments. So the marketability of land led to further sales instead of high farming, some 5 per cent of noble land being disposed of in the first decade of the reform and 30 per cent by the early 1890’s.
One of the tremendous consequences of the agrarian and economic revolution was the integration of Russian Asia, hitherto almost as separate as if it were composed of overseas dependencies. There were four sectors of Russian consolidation and advance beyond Europe: Siberia, the Far East, the Caucasus and central Asia. For Siberia and to a lesser extent the Far East and, eventually, central Asia the abolition of serfdom in Europe and the consequent diffusion of Great Russians and Ukrainians, began a demographic change of the same order as the peopling of the North American middle and far west half a century earlier. The railways furthered this process towards the end of the century after having contributed earlier to the strategic assimilation of Turkestan. Caucasia had been finally pacified before the railway line reached Rostov-on-Don but then the new communications by land and sea brought Russian settlers to replace over 250,000 Circassians who had fled to Turkey after the collapse of their resistance.
Siberia was still primarily a penal colony when Speranskii was sent in 1819 as inspector and governor-general to reform its administration. The skeleton military or police occupation of nearly five million square miles had as a backbone a ribbon of agricultural settlement on the intermittent black earth zone between the forest and the steppe, through which ran the transcontinental road. Here and in patches along the rivers lived perhaps one-and-a-half million legal or illegal immigrants or their descendants comprising convicts, exiles, pensioned soldiers, persecuted sectaries, free or directed peasants. As the importance of the natives’ fur tribute had decreased, the government lost interest in maintaining the old centralisation. So, despite the new problems set by a growing and increasingly self-conscious population, there was little check on the governors besides the characteristic system of petitions to St Petersburg from the governed.
Speranskii set out to restore the dependence on St Petersburg and to broaden the basis of local authority. The territory was divided between two governments-general at Tobolsk and Irkutsk and at each level of the reorganised administration the senior official was to be moderated by a council. This was a return to the ‘collegiate’ system and to the indigenous Russian illusion that group control of authority need not represent the public. The councillors were officials and the only elective element was in larger towns and at the lowest (volost or ‘township’) level outside... This stimulation of a low-grade officialdom is generally blamed for the failure of the reform; it remained for the zemstvo institutions, when they spread to Siberia in the 1880’s, to take its place. Meanwhile if the practically undiminished powers of authority became less oppressive this was by reason not of local controls but of improved personnel and supervision from St Petersburg, and also of Speranskii’s new social and economic policy.
In treating the native question Speranskii aimed at assimilation in the long run: inside the areas of Russian settlement this was furthered by more stringent measures against slavery, seeing that there was virtually no colour bar; outside them indirect rule gave Russian imperialism the comparatively good name which it enjoyed in Asia until systematic russification began towards the end of the century.
Speranskii’s influence was, however, most effective in economic policy where his western laissez-faire principles led to the repudiation of state monopolies and direction, and the encouragement of private enterprise, particularly internal free trade in grain. Meanwhile moderation of the penal system which Siberia stood for to the outside world was negligible, though it came to be more humanely administered. The flow of penal immigrants besides runaway peasants continued undiminished but the quality of such recruits as the Decembrists and Polish nationalists tended to offset that of the criminal element. Deportees were classified as katorzhennye, who were condemned to katorga or penal servitude, and poselentsy (settler convicts); both were deported in chained columns, while ssilniye (exiles) were merely banished from Europe and dobrovoltsy were volunteers generally consisting of convicts’ wives and families. After the reforms the first two categories had to be condemned by a court, and they normally went for life, but of the thousands of ssilniye most were peasants or vagrants banished by communes, and only a few were the victims of ‘administrative procedure’. The annual influx of exiles and deportees fluctuated between some 7000 in the 1840’s to 18,000 in the 1850’s, and it was not recorded as distinct from surreptitious peasant immigration until this was decontrolled in 1881.
Siberia had not expanded since the conquest of Kamchatka in the early eighteenth century. To the south there was a fluid frontier from the nominal marches of Europe as far as Chinese-administered Mongolia and thence a recognised boundary with the Manchu empire as far as the Amur, whose whole basin, however, was attributed to China by the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689). Far to the north-eastward, Alaska was administered independently by the Russian America company founded in 1799. In course of time the authorities in St Petersburg began to find the return from the company’s fur trade uneconomic and concluded also that Alaska was too great a strategic liability. So overtures for cession were made to the U.S.A. after the Crimean War, and the territory was finally sold for 7,200,000 dollars in 1867.
To another school of Russian statecraft Alaska could have served as a bridge between the two great nations of the future, Russia and America. So thought Count Muraviev, the formidable eccentric who became governor-general in Irkutsk in 1847. The development of the intercontinental contact as a front against British sea-power in the Pacific was one of the motives of the new forward policy at the expense of China which Muraviev initiated, but the opportunity which the progress of British imperialism offered to the Russians was more significant than the excuse. China’s opium war with Britain, followed by her treaty concessions to the western powers and then by the Tai ping rebellion, destroyed both the superstitious respect for the Manchu empire which had so long kept its frontiers with Siberia intact and also the morale and some of the military force which might have helped to defend them. The Russians had on the whole accepted their exclusion from navigation in the Amur and other restrictions on intercourse with China dating from the Treaty of Nerchinsk, and the geography of the river’s outlet and of Sakhalin beyond it was unknown to Europe until Nevelskoi reached these waters from the Baltic and in 1850 hoisted the Russian flag at the future Nikolaevsk. Muraviev then proposed an armed Russian sortie down the river but the plan was approved only after much hesitation; it had to contend with the theory that forcing a way into the Pacific, like freeing the outlet into the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, might let the maritime powers in as well as letting the Russians out. In fact Muraviev’s demonstration in 1854 was unopposed by the Chinese and unchallenged by the British; the Chinese could not claim to exercise de facto administration north of the river and in 1858 their local commander concluded a treaty with Muraviev ceding the whole left bank to Russia together with the right bank below the River Ussuri. Meanwhile a diplomatic plenipotentiary, Admiral Putyatin, reached Tientsin independently in 1858 where he obtained for Russia all the commercial and capitulatory rights exacted by the western powers, together with the extra privilege of commercial access to Kashgar. In 1860 a supplementary treaty confirmed the territorial cessions and added the rest of the future Ussuri province. In its southern bay Russian naval forces landed and founded, also in 1860, the port of Vladivostock, the future terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway which outflanked northern Manchuria and confronted northern Japan. The Japanese had disputed the ownership of Sakhalin since Nevelskoi charted it and Putyatin had claimed it in the middle ’fifties, but after a condominium lasting from 1867 to 1875 the Russians acquired the whole island in exchange for the Kuriles. In both the Amur province and Sakhalin the strategic commitment was supported immediately by forced immigration. Convicts on the expiry of sentences of katorga were sent as exiles to the former territory and so-called Amur and Ussuri ‘Cossack’ settlements were formed by drafted troops, while the island itself became a katorga settlement. The knout had followed the flag.
At the opposite end of Asia, in the Caucasus, a resistance movement was developing which absorbed the surplus military energy of Russia for a generation, and in its evocation of frontier romance and mountain glamour was a powerful element in Russian literary as well as military history. Muridism, a species of Moslem zealotry, reached the Caucasus in the 1820’s when it blended with xenophobia and a tradition of political freedom. A kind of theocracy (imamat) was superimposed on a small confederation of clan-like societies centring on the Avars of western Daghestan with links or sympathetic agitation among many distinct peoples from the Caspian almost to the sea of Azov. The first leader (imam or murshid), Kazimullah, declared a holy war in 1829, but after some brilliant military successes he was killed in 1832. It was the third murshid, Shamyl, who became a world-renowned guerrilla leader and was able to defeat Russian regular troops off and on, not merely in ambush but in defensive battles, for nearly a quarter of a century. His forces were not dispersed until he was himself captured in 1859, and then the Circassians continued more desultory resistance until 1864, when they committed themselves to mass emigration. The subsequent pacification was, however, rapid. Before the end of the 1860’s the first railway in Transcaucasia, from the Black Sea to Tiflis, was being built, and such was the state of public security and the government’s enlightenment in these matters that the high-level exploration of the central Caucasus had been begun by the classical school of English travellers with Alpine guides. Meanwhile the striking force of the Russian army and the elite of the staff were freed for other tasks.
These tasks were in central Asia. The sector of advance was the great enclave between the Caspian and the T’ian shan mountains in the centre of which lay the geopolitical objective of Russia, the three renowned but decrepit and constantly feuding states of Khiva, Bokhara and Khokand. Southward the first effective boundary was beyond the Afghan political frontier in the natural barrier of the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. This continuation of the Himalayas the British in India had not yet reached, but their progress had not lost momentum and it was still uncertain whether, and if so where, the two empires would meet. On the Russian side an approach to India through Turkestan had been a vision of Peter the Great’s and more recently a plan of the Emperor Paul’s; on the British side it was a strategist’s nightmare which contributed no less than the Near Eastern question to maintaining Anglo-Russian antagonism as a major theme of European diplomacy and faded only towards the end of the century.
Until the middle of the century Russian administration stopped at the Ural and Siberian ‘Cossack lines’ which ran up the Ural River past Orenburg to its head and thence eastward to Semipalatinsk and the Chinese frontier. But the Russians had consolidated their hold over the nomads of the steppe and desert zone across the line. The next step was therefore to probe through the desert into the oases where, in competition with the British reconnoitring from the Punjab, Russian explorers, savants and diplomatic agents at least held their own. This ‘great game in Asia’ reflected a fluid political situation from the Indus to the Aral sea in which the three doomed khanates and the uneasy kingdom of Afghanistan were able to play off their great neighbours against each other. Then came the years of crisis from 1838 to 1842. The alternate British successes and disasters from the defence of Herat to the inconclusive military demonstration in Afghanistan in 1842 had repercussions north of the Oxus. Meanwhile the first Russian military venture to be aimed at the khanates for over a century had been made and failed.
This was the expedition against Khiva undertaken by the governor-general of Orenburg, Perovskii, in 1839. There was ample standing provocation in slave raiding, violence to caravans, and irregular and exorbitant tolls. Perovskii’s declared object was ‘to strengthen in this part of Asia the lawful influence to which Russia has a right and which can alone assure the maintenance of peace’. But there was also an admitted desire to frustrate British political and commercial prospects, both of which the Russians overestimated. Perovskii’s expedition had to turn back half way; the single bound was too long for a force of all arms of 5000 men. Still, the Russians lost little prestige through this retreat in contrast to the British in Afghanistan, and in 1842 a treaty with Khiva secured most of their requirements.
The decisive step towards territorial expansion was taken during the middle 1840’s. On the western route the posts of Turgai and Irgiz were established in 1845, and in 1847 the estuary of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) was seized and a fort placed at Aralsk. In 1853 Ak Mechet (renamed Perovsk) was taken by siege from the Khokandis and already in the same year two armed steamers, brought in pieces from Orenburg by the desert route now made passable for vehicles, were patrolling up-river. Meanwhile on the eastern flank Kopal, opposite Lake Balkhash, was occupied in 1847 and in 1853 the outpost of Vemoe was founded as an agricultural colony, several thousand state peasants and so-called ‘cossacks’ being drafted as settlers. In 1862 the Russians were ready to join the heads of the two southward approaches to form their new front—the Novokokandskaya liniya. This was done between 1862 and 1864 when the first oasis town of Turkestan, and, also for operational reasons, Chimkent beyond it, were taken from the Khokandis, whereas a premature and almost certainly unauthorised attack on the greater city of Tashkent failed.
Then in 1864 came the Russian chancellor Gorchakov’s premature circular which purported to explain and justify the Russian advance and to announce its termination. The argument was that to safeguard her frontier Russia had been obliged to include the intractable and generally nomad peoples who were harrying the populations under her protection and that this process had been unfortunately cumulative. But the Issik Kul-Syr Darya line was final. ‘In adopting this line we obtained a double result, on one side the country...is fertile and wooded... on the other it gives us for immediate neighbours the settled agricultural and trading peoples of Khokand.’ It was the point ‘where interest and reason demand that we should arrive and command us to stop’. Such was probably a genuine expression of the tsar’s policy, but the independent logic of military operations, if not the ambitions of generals, caused it to be overtaken by events. Clashes with the Khokandis gave Chernaev another chance in 1865, when almost certainly against orders Tashkent was stormed and annexed, the seat of government of Turkestan being placed there in 1867 under a general statute of administration. In 1868 reckless provocation by the emir of Bokhara gave one of Chemaev’s successors, Kaufmann, an excuse to attack and occupy Samarkand and, after defeating the emir’s troops, he signed treaties with the rulers of both Bokhara and Khokand, giving the respective emirate and khanate the status of protectorates. Of the oases states only Khiva remained to be reduced in 1873.
Russian expansion at its second peak in 1860 onwards did not meet the same strategic competition from British India as earlier. But the spate of published correspondence in this golden age of Blue Books on foreign policy shows how the practical repudiation of the Gorchakov circular and the conquest of Khiva were verbally contested and how far the strategic frontier of the middle Oxus was diplomatically consolidated by the British. On the whole the Russians tended to respect this last ditch of British influence until the testing incident at Penjdeh in 1885. Even Sir H. Rawlinson, whom Russian historians have treated as an alarmist russophobe, regarded the conquest of central Asia as a triumph of civilisation over barbarism and saw no threat to India beyond competition from an ‘Asiatic Russia... possessing within itself a germ of vitality and vigour that will enable it to replenish rather than exhaust the parent stem’. Already in 1865 he had rightly emphasised the intended integration of the region with Russia, pointed out that the annual turnover of Russian trade with the khanates was nearly a million sterling and—with some prescience —that the Russians might ‘convert Central Asia into an exclusively cotton-producing country’. In 1868, he later noted, a Russian government coal mine near Chimkent was producing 5000 tons a year for the Aral steamers, and other private mines were richer. So Russia’s manifest destiny was now obvious and no longer that of the primitive empire earlier denounced by British propagandists. But imperial policy in Turkestan began and remained a straight military and economic colonialism. There was to be no colour bar, russification was encouraged and race was merely a provisional class indicator, not a barrier. Yet administrative practice in Tashkent never came within the ambit of that new Russian imperial ideology, Pan-Eurasian rather than Pan-Slav, which belongs essentially to the period between the disappointment over Constantinople in 1878 and the defeat by Japan in 1905.