Conditions in the Russian Empire Before 1861 August 1, 1988
The empire was ruled by the Tsar, the royal family, the nobles
and the church. They owned the bulk of the land and occupied all
positions of power in the government and civil service. They
combined to keep the serfs in slavery and poverty and persecute
the middle classes. The Russian Tsars were autocrats. They fought
every challenge to their authority until finally the Tsarist
system collapsed and the Tsar Nicolas II was deposed by the
revolution of 1917.
The Russian Orthodox Church was the strongest supporter of the
Tsarist regime and the biggest landowner in the empire. It was
supported by the state and in turn it preached loyalty to the
Tsarist government. In the minds of those who opposed the Tsar,
the Russian Church was the symbol of everything in the Empire.
The Russian middle classes eg. businessmen, traders,
industrialists and bankers were insignificant as a social and
economic force because industry and trade developed very slowly.
The Russian intellectuals eg. teachers, lawyers and doctors, was
too small to be effective in its opposition of the Tsarist system
which ruthlessly suppressed the middle classes at the first sign
of opposition to it. The intellectuals had really little power
except to influence late revolutionaries.
The Russian serfs who formed the bulk of the population were in a
sorry state. Unlike their West European counterparts, they were
bound not to the soil they cultivated but to the landlord
masters. They could be sold, mortgaged or rented out. They paid
dues to their landlords and performed manual labour for them.
They were subjected to corporal punishment and exile in Siberia.
They were illiterate and revolted against their masters when
conditions became unbearable. Five hundred unsuccessful revolts
were recorded between 1825 to 1855.
Russian Historian: Mikolai Karamzin (1766-1826)
"Only an absolute Tsar could hold the state together and call on
the loyalty of so many conflicting elements." Autocracy,
therefore, was the basic of all Russia's past/present greatness.
Karamnin's idea was a state in which the Tsar ruled wisely and
paternally, according to the precepts of Orthodox Christianity
and Christian gentry dedicated themselves unfailingly to the
service of the Tsar, and peasants toiled uncomplainingly,
patriotically and devoutly for the glory of Russia.
At the beginning of the 19th Century the Russian political system
represented unquestionably the political and economic interests
of a selfish serf-owning nobility or gentry. The position of
gentry now depended on its monopoly of the ownership of serfs and
of the land they worked. About 1500 of the richer families owned
more than 1000 serfs each, while about 17000 families owned more
than 200; 40000 families of the lesser gentry owned about eight
Life in Russia before 1861 - an overview
The serfs had poor food/clothing/shelter
The serfs were oppressed and ruled over
Working contacts - peasants forced to work
crown "down the line"; a divine right of kings
class hierarchy and autocracy
General poverty and misery for the serfs
No social welfare etc.
High taxes for the serfs
The entire country was backward
No serfs were allowed to leave Russia
Primitive machinery and farming methods - inefficient
"The rich got richer and the poor got poorer"
CIA/KGB/MI5/ASIO type thing - Okhrana
Conscription in times of war
Widespread corruption in areas of importance
Compulsory work in the salt mines for serfs
Primitive medical services and the other "caring industries"
There was no education for the poor, eg. the serfs.
Russian for emperor - Tsar/Czar. Same as Caesar/Kaiser.
Last 18 were all Romanovs. AUTOCRATS.
Hierarchical, bureaucracy. Corruption to get in - wealth.
Heaps of red tape
Russian Orthodox Church supported system
Taught the peasants not to try to change the status quo,
as they would get their reward in the "afterlife".
Landlords controlled the peasants who worked the land
Horses used - little or no machinery available
Used the wasteful "broadcast" method of sowing crops
Manual harvesting - inefficient
Until 1861, most were serfs; they were bound to an estate, owned by their masters, had no access to education or medical care etc., and no opportunity for advancement
serfdom abolished in 1861.
infiltrated likely places of subversion and removed
its spies were everywhere
Tsar Alexander III - 1881. Industrial Revolution started
to affect Russia during this period.
Appointed Witte as Finance Minister. He brought in foreign
investment by offering incentives - subsidies, protective
Witte realised the industrial potential of Russia.
Railways were extended - Factory to factory, Troops,
V. low wages, long working hours, appalling conditions.
Exchanged a rural servitude for an urban one.
Unions forbidden, strikes "savage resistance".
Began to express dissatisfaction openly - the start of the
The Growth of Opposition
High class liberals criticized the system, but there were
no reprisals due to their position.
Literary people wrote about the system and were exiled to
"Narodniks" - "men of the people" tried to 'make people
Failed due to the secret service and the peasants'
The ideas of Marx
Wrote about life - children/wages/conditions/standards
caused by Bourgeoisie.
Bourgeoisie help a lot of power because of all their money
- control over land/materials/machines/manpower. Aim was
to make as much money as possible by selling high and
Proletariat could not break out because they needed to
provide for their families.
"Rich get richer and the poor get poorer".
Believed that Bourgeoisie would never give up privileges -
had to be made to with revolution.
Revolution - Proletariat overthrow Bourgeoisie, laws to do
away with classes - no classes - all equal say and power.
Accepted by people pissed off by current situation and
dismissed by the ruling classes as it would endanger their
George Plekhanov and the Social Democrats
First to bring Marxist ideas to Russia
Organized political party in Russia - Russian Social
Democratic Party. One of the members was Lenin.
Other groups - one for a constitutional monarchy
(Constitutional Democrats), and one for terrorism - the
The Social Democrats: Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
Widely different views within RSDP.
Split came in 1903 - party conference. Divided into
Bolsheviks (men of the majority) and Mensheviks, men of
the minority. Tried to mend up in 1906, failed. 1912 saw
the two take separate paths.
Background to 1905
Lenin: became a Marxist after his brother was killed and
heavy thinking. Called Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.
Stalin: born in Georgia (an annexed region). Called Joseph
Trotsky: born in the Ukraine. Called Len Bronstein.