UNKNOWN AUTHOR, HISTORICAL ARTEFACT.- Russia, From Catherine the Great To Bolshevism

This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).

I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts, and will try to discover who was involved in  the compiling this book I am studying:


 Catherine the Great (1762 – 1796).—After the death of Peter the Great, Russia gradually became Teutonized. Instead of Muscovite nobles, German courtiers now had the ear of the throne, and the influence of Frederick the Great dominated Russian politics until the accession of Catherine II (1762 – 1796). With Catherine the Great, Russia started her cultural and intellectual history. The French encyclopaedists were studied and Diderot personally patronized by the Empress. Ideas on the emancipation of the serf, on democracy, and on education, were in the air. Catherine’s reign saw the first genuinely popular rising, under the Cossack Pugachev (1773), which Trotsky considers to be the first protest in the modern manner against the tyranny of Russian autocracy.

Plans for the partition of Turkey were conceived, and if Catherine failed to achieve this completely, she gained what Peter the Great could not, a firm hold on the Black Sea and Lower Danube (1774).


Reaction and Reform.The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars altered the perspective of Russia, as of all Europe.

The complete failure of Napoleon’s march on Moscow in 1812, and the Battle of Waterloo (1815) left Alexander I (1801-1825) in a position of dominating influence over European affairs. He became the advocate of the most uncompromising Toryism. The Liberal movement in Russia was thus violently arrested, and the new ideas were left to fester in secret societies, organizations like the Decembrists (1825), amongst soldiers, journalists, and a new class in Russia – the intelligentsia.

While Alexander I and his successor Nicholas I ( 1825-1855) pursued a policy of the Strong Arm, outcome of a very natural fear of the repetition of the French wars, the Socialist movement was beginning to raise its head. Students were learning dialectic and political philosophy at the newly reformed universities in Moscow and elsewhere. Literature and ideas were beginning to develop rapidly under the influence of a number of brilliant writers; on the one side, representatives of western culture and civilization; on the other, slavophils, dreamers who felt Russia had something very vital, Messianic, to contribute to the world, and who rigidly shunned contact with other cultures from fear of corruption. This over-absorption in the imagination at the expense of action accounts for much that is difficult and baffling in Russian history. The Russian revolution is, amongst other things, a determined and conscious attempt to throw off this Slavonic Hamlet-complex, which half-strangled the leading thinkers of the nineteenth century.

Nicholas I, no Hamlet but a dictator, constructed railways, improved the army and the fleet, encouraged manufactures and commerce, codified laws, and improved the administration, with a sure touch of a martinet. Abroad, he made Russia for many years supreme at Constantinople. In this he was opposed by England and France; and attempts to secure the rights of the Orthodox Christians in Turkey led to the Crimean War, ended by the taking of Sebastopol (1855) and the Treaty of Paris (1856). This proved an effective check on Russian aggression in Asia Minor.

Alexander II (1855-1881) earned for his reign the title of “the epoch of the great reforms.” Public opinion, encouraged by the failure of the Crimean War, obtained at last an influence upon the sovereign. The result was the emancipation of the serfs (1861), who now became the proprietors of communal lands; the old tribunals were abolished, and criminal and civil law-courts of the French type established; local councils elected by the populace were set up, and education, that watchword of the nineteenth century, strongly encouraged.


Reaction and Oppression.The reforms proved less convincing than prophets imagined. Liberalism was threatened by Nihilism and extreme revolutionary propaganda. The people began to believe that the obstacle to universal happiness lay with Government officials. Many were assassinated, and finally the Emperor himself was murdered by Nihilists in 1881- a bitter commentary upon the fate which besets the path of the initial reformer.

Alexander III (1881-1894) identified himself once more with the old party of reaction. On all the new reforms, restrictions were placed. The policy of the Emperor was the Slavophil badge; Nationality, Orthodoxy, and Autocracy. Systematically he carried this out, and some, notably the Jews, suffered severely for their religious and racial differences.

In Asia, the Russian expansion threatened the interests of British India, and during the eighties and nineties England was more than once on the verge of war with Russia.

Nicholas II (1894-1917), who succeeded, continued much the same course, though he allowed the more vigorous anti-Semitic religious measures to drop. The policy of Russification in Finland and other dependencies was maintained. The principle of variety in unity was not recognized by the Russian Tsar; nor, it is interesting to note, is it encouraged by the U.S.S.R. To a Russian bureaucrat decentralization spells disintegration.


The Russian Revolution. The autocratic policy of Nicholas II stimulated the extreme left in Russia, and from 1905 to his abdication in 1917, the Revolutionary movement became continuous in purpose and direction. The first sign was the manifesto of October 30, 1905, issued by the government, promising reforms. Its non-realization caused strikes and mutinies, and in 1906 the Tsar opened the first of his Dumas or legislative. Thee Dumas, convened intermittently until the outbreak of the Great War, put the autocratic machinery to a more searching test than could be applied by any legislative assemblies.

At the outbreak of the War, Russian feeling was, on the whole, with the Tsar, patriotism proving a stronger instinct than the new doctrines of Class War. If the Tsarist machinery had proved competent the Revolution would have been averted. But the old prejudices against non-Russians proved incalculably damaging, and corruption and favouritism on the field, together with bad management and inadequate food supplies, convinced even the indolent, long-suffering Muzhik that the doctrinaires, such as Lenin, were not without fire to their smoke.

The Tsar was obliged to abdicate (March 15, 1917), and a government was formed with Kerensky as its most prominent member. This was the signal for a struggle between new government, who had the onus of the War on their shoulders, and the Bolshevik Party who urged its immediate end. The latter party found a powerful exponent in Lenin, whose uncompromising pen and gifts of organisation were of two-fold advantage to the rapidly rising fortunes of the new faction.

On September 15, 1918, the Russian Government, with Kerensky at their head, declared Russia a Republic, but two months later a coup d’état put the offices of Government in the hands of Lenin. Henceforth the Proletariat were the most important class in Russia.

With the signing of peace, the Revolution began in earnest. An armed force under the “Cheka” was formed, and became the organizing centre of the political police and the instrument of the ensuing Red “Terror.” A programme of nationalizing the industries, and of dispossessing the propertied classes was straightaway set on foot. Foreign intervention led to the stimulation of the Terror, amongst the first victims being the ex-Tsar and his whole family. Civil war raged, the opposition being headed by a succession of dictators, Denikin and others, who were known as the “Whites.” The Whites, however, collapsed, war-weariness and their own incompetence contributing to their fall.


After the Revolution.Internally, the Bolsheviks had to face serious famine problems, and, under Trotsky, they made astonishing efforts to deal with their food and transport difficulties. Out of this starving and diseased civilization there emerged the New Economic Policy, and the Five Years’ Plan.

In 1924, Lenin died. He at once became a Shrine for the people, and he left the Communist party in working order and Communism a concrete thing.

In 1928 the Five Years’ Plan, a scheme for controlling the whole economic machinery of the nation, was started under the virtual direction of Lenin’s moral successor, Stalin. The interest of the whole world has been engaged by this entirely new economic experiment. Though it is considered on many sides that the Five Years’ Plan has not been the success anticipated, it is too early yet to pass judgment upon an experiment which has no parallel. The whole experiment will have psychological, as well as material issues, which should be of the utmost interest, as well as a source of possible anxiety – or hope – to the rest of the world. A second Five Years’ Plan was begun in 1933.

Office clerk.

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