Describe the general course of Russia’s modernization from 1860 to 1930 Essay

#1.  Describe the general course of Russia’s modernization from 1860 to 1930.

            While Europe had been involved in the modernization that was taking hold of the West, Russia remained undecided on the method that modernization should take in Russia.  By the 1850s, Russia was interested in holding its large area of several ethnicities together as one country and viewed nationalism with skepticism.  After the Crimean War, which served Russia its first major defeat in 150 years, Alexander II decided that he needed to address some problems, specifically the lack of transport and the developing peasant revolt.

            He decided to free the serfs in 1861 and give them about half the land they worked.  Of course they had to pay for their land and cooperate with the others who also owned their land.  In reality, this change did quiet the rebellion but it did not create more modern means of agriculture.  Next he decided to establish a Zemstsov, a type of self-government to implement changes in education, sanitation and agriculture.   While this was a set forward, the Zemstsov had less power than it needed because it was still completely subordinate to the nobility.

            The next leap in modernization came with the development of the railroads.  From 1860 to 1880, the country increased its railroad networks fifteen times the number the miles it previously had.  As a result, suburban communities were established to supplement the railroad which began employing people as factory workers.  This strengthened the military and allowed for more expansion.  The railroads could also carry ideas along with people and supplies.  More and more people could be exposed to the views in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

            The assassination of Alexander II and the ascension of Alexander III stopped these developments cold.  Alexander III did not continue these reforms and seemed to favor nationalism.  His minister of finance Sergey Witte tried to modernize Russia through the business community.  Under Nicholas II, he attempted to create a market system that began with a push from the government.  However, this was not successful because 1) the people did not support it, seeing it as anti-government, 2) it did not solve the immediate needs of poverty and 3) it did not promote the growth of the military that was an ongoing goal of the Russian leadership.

            Because this type of modernization was a failure, the same problems that existed fifty years earlier remained for the leaders of Russia.  The middle and upper classes wanted to modernize politics; the factory workers and peasants wanted freedom from poverty and disease.  The different ethnic groups, particularly the Poles and the Ukrainians, wanted nationalist autonomy.  All this culminated in a revolution which created the first of several parliaments called the Duma.  Unfortunately, the tsars were never comfortable giving the Duma any real power.  Most were ineffectual.  The Third Duma did establish literacy goals by educating Russian children.  As time wore on, the hit and miss effectiveness of the Duma along with other problems divided the nation.

            The 1917 Revolution and WWI proved that Russia was incapable of modernizing both politically and economically at the same time.  Lenin enforced war communism to ensure military victory, which set back all gains made by the peasants and serfs.  Bukharin and Trotsky attempted to modify via business, land reform and trade unions, but interference from Stalin and fighting among each other seemed to squelch that.  By the late 1920s, Stalin’s regime won out an instituted a rapid industrialization which stressed strict government control.  They feared that history proved that a relaxed government would create chaos and that the Russian people were not ready to self-govern.

Question #2 – Why did Witte and Stalin choose the developmental paths they did?  What were the outcomes of their choices?

Witte considered industry and manufacturing the most important course of development because it would end poverty and increase the nation’s economic well-being.  He chose to use the Gold Standard to make a stronger currency in Russia.  He could then make foreign loans more attractive to Russian business, allowing for greater development in a quicker time without drawing all the resources from the agrarians.  He continued to develop the railroads because he believed that they were absolutely necessary for both military and industry.  He established protective tariffs to protect Russian industry from outside businesses after the fashion of List.  In the Ukraine regions, his greatest successes were in the steel and coal industries.  He ultimately wanted to have Russia catch up to the West in national industry and economy, but wanted to do so through peaceful means. He seemed to realize that each war in Russian meant an immediate resort to previous communist tendencies. His development of the gold standard and of railroads was much needed in Russia.

Stalin was characterized as a ruthless political leader who believed in discipline and hierarchy.  He used war communism to keep the peasants down and to punish opposing voices in the Party.  He attempted to raise war communism to a level of heroism as a means of saving the country.  He also had a policy of rapid and intense industrialization, also at the expense of the peasants, whom he saw at the bottom of the hierarchy of order.  He endured the oppositions of Bukharin and Trotsky.  Finally, his policy of a nationalist approach to heavy industrialization prevailed.  The outcome was increased business but more repression of the peasants.

Question #3 – Why did Stolypin and Bukharin choose the developmental paths they did?  What were the outcomes of their choices?

Stolypin chose to tighten government control over the entire country.  He used the threat of military court and hanging to get the people in line.  He seemed to alternate between liberal reforms, especially for agriculture and harsh repressions for those that did not conform precisely.  He allowed the peasants to stop their communal ownership of property and to actually own their own private land.  He did this because he felt that the farmers would not revolt if they had a personal stake in Russia in the form of property.  In general, the farmers were conservative and would support the government as long as their needs were met.  Yet, he also worked for stronger governmental power.  He gave more seats to the nobility in the Duma and continued to stress the exchange of personal freedoms for security.  Stolypin’s land reforms were the best outcome of his leadership.

Bukharin took more of an intellectual approach rather than a strong arm approach.  He called for a takeover of the economy by the workers.  He wanted to allow the workers to elect their own congress to handle their own needs.  This government would supply all their needs.  However, he realized that his ultra radical means had not chance and hopped the fence when the Bolsheviks came into power.  He worked with Trotsky to develop trade unions as a means to help the workers.  He touted true Marxist ideals, believing that social industrialization was key to improving the overall economic and political state of Russia.  While defending the peasant, he attempted to do so within the political framework.  Bukharin’s ideals were mostly in theory, in practice he was described as inept and indecisive which caused them to have little immediate effect.  He was eventually shot.

Question #4.  How is Civil Society important for modernization?

            Civil society is the middle ground between strict governmental control and complete anarchy.  It is the type of activity that is not related to the government but still involves decision-making by the people.  One example would be an established church, such as the Catholic Church was for much of Europe and the Protestant Church for most of the United States. These organizations can also provide support for the poor, and for other social programs.  They can act as a political influence as well, providing for an organized body to suggest comments.  In practice, it can be an effective go between that provides hope and support to the people who feel far removed from the government but who are opposed to the fears of actual anarchy. It provides alternative public forces to a nation.  Of course, some national governments do not want any of these intervening public forces to compete with them.  Russia can be described as one of these governments.

            Without this Civil Society, modernization is difficult.  The people have not recourse in their daily lives other than government directed work.  Often, there was no relief from suffering, poverty and starvation.  For those a bit more fortunate, there was no place for intellectual conversation among the peasants.  Thus, the only modernizing factor was taking place among the government and nobility, leaving behind the thousands upon thousands of peasants.