SECTION SIX: Economic and social developments: industrial developments and the land issue. Social divisions; nobles, landowners and position of the peasantry; the cultural influence of the Church

Count Sergei Witte

Industrial Developments

During the reign of Alexander II and Alexander III there were sporadic attempts to industrialise Russia, but by the end of the 19th Century it was still largely an agrarian society and economy. Russia had not become an industrial power in the way Britain or America or Germany had. Part of the reason for this was the reluctance to industrialise on the part of Russia’s Tsars and ruling aristocracy. Alexander II reformed some of Russia’s institutions (the civil service, army and judiciary) and abolished serfdom, but he was wary of creating a modern industrialised state. Alexander III believed in autocracy, orthodoxy and the primacy of Russian culture to solve its problems. Alexander III and his son Nicholas II benefitted from having the economic thinker Sergei Witte as Railway Minister and then Chairman of the Council of Ministers, but his ability to bring about radical economic change and growth was hampered by the workings of the autocracy itself. Despite these impediments, industrialisation did occur in Russia throughout the period, but by the early 20th Century, it had failed to emerge from feudalism to become a modern capitalist state like its European counterparts.

Sergei Witte

Sergei Witte was a Russian statesman and economist who played a key role in the industrialization of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He served as the Minister of Finance under Tsar Nicholas II from 1892 to 1903, and later served as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) from 1905 to 1906.

During his tenure as Minister of Finance, Witte implemented a number of economic policies that helped to modernize and industrialize Russia. He oversaw the construction of new railroads and other transportation infrastructure, which facilitated the movement of goods and raw materials to and from industrial centers. He also implemented a number of tax reforms, including the introduction of a progressive income tax, which helped to raise revenue for the government.

Witte opened the Russian economy to the rest of the world in 1897 by introducing the rouble to the Gold Standard, the international fixed system of currency value and exchange. In doing this, he made it easier for European countries to invest in Russia. This in turn fuelled industrialisation as it created opportunities for industrialists in countries like France and Germany to build factories and coal mines and railways in Russia.

For a one page study overview of the period click here

The Land

Land in Russia was a far scarcer commodity than the vast size of the empire might suggest. Actual high quality farming land was in short supply and there was a constant ‘land hunger’ amongst Russia’s peasants throughout the 19th Century. After emancipation the peasants found that landlords retained much of the best land and gave them far poorer and less fertile land to farm. The system of land distribution in peasant villages was based on what decisions the Mir or Obschina took. The Mir was the council of the village, which distributed parcels of land, divided into strips. This enabled most peasants to create a subsistance living where they fed themselves and had some left over produce to sell. However, it didn’t create the kinds of grain surpluses that countries like America or Canada could produce and this had a profound effect on Russia’s development. Industrialisation requires grain surpluses in order to create cheap food. High food costs in the cities simply encouraged Russians to stay and farm in peasant villages.

In the first decade of the 20th Century, the Tsar’s Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin would attempt to address the problems of the countryside by creating the conditions for a new wealthy class of small farmers by shaking up the traditional allocation of land.

Nobles, landowners and position of the peasantry

After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the expected peace in the countryside failed to emerge. Instead the numbers of riots dramatically increased and the nobles experienced a simmering anger towards them from a peasantry who felt they had been cheated.

One of the main problems was that the Emancipation did not provide peasants with enough land to support themselves. Many peasants were forced to work for the same landowners that they had been serfs for, and they were often paid very low wages. Some landowners were determined to demonstrate to the peasants that despite the emancipation, they were still on the lowest level of society and should not forget it. Other landowners were more progressive, the most famous of these being the author Leo Tolstoy.

Tolstoy was a Russian writer and philosopher who was deeply concerned with the plight of the Russian peasants. Throughout his life, Tolstoy was an advocate for the rights of the poor and disadvantaged, and he was particularly concerned with the conditions faced by Russian peasants.

In his writings, Tolstoy often portrayed the Russian peasants as simple, honest, and hardworking people who were mistreated and exploited by the wealthy and powerful. He believed that the Russian peasants were the backbone of the country and that they deserved better treatment and more opportunities.

Tolstoy was also critical of the Russian government and the social and economic system that left so many people in poverty. He believed that the government should do more to help the poor and that the Russian people should work towards creating a more just and equitable society.

The cultural influence of the Church

The Russian Orthodox Church had immense power in late 19th Century Russia. The Tsars viewed themselves as appointed by god alone and answerable to him. The Orthodox Church was a deeply conservative institution, opposed to radical change.

The Russian Orthodox Church played a significant role in 19th century Russia, and it had a strong influence on many aspects of Russian society. The Church was an important institution in Russia, and it was closely tied to the Russian state. The Tsar was seen as the protector of the Church, and the Church, in turn, supported the Tsar and the ruling regime.

The Russian Orthodox Church was also a major cultural and social influence in 19th century Russia. It played a central role in the education and spiritual formation of the Russian people, and it was a key institution in the transmission of Russian culture and values.

The Russian Orthodox Church also had a significant influence on the arts and literature of 19th century Russia. Many of the most famous Russian writers and artists were deeply religious, and their works often reflected the values and beliefs of the Church. The Church also played a role in the censorship of literature and the arts in Russia, and it worked to suppress works that it deemed to be against the teachings of the Church.

The Church actively suppressed smaller Christian Orthodox sects such as the Khylisti movement, which later produced the wandering mystic Gergori Rasputin.

The Khlysti , also known as the “flagellants,” was a religious movement in Russia that emerged in the late 19th century and that was seen as a threat to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Khlysti movementwas characterized by its members’ use of flagellation and other forms of self-mortification as a means of achieving spiritual enlightenment. The cult was also known for its secret and secretive nature, as well as its sexual practices, which were seen as heretical by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church viewed the Khlysti movement as a threat to its authority and to the stability of Russian society, and it worked to suppress the cult and its activities. The Church used a variety of tactics to combat the cult, including excommunication, imprisonment, and confiscation of property. The Church also worked to educate the Russian people about the dangers of the cult and to discourage them from joining.

Key religious figures such as Konstantin Pobedonsostsev, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, educated and advised Alexander III and Nicholas II.

Konstantin Pobedonostsev

Konstantin Pobedonostsev was a Russian jurist, statesman, and philosopher who played a key role in the development of Russian conservatism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pobedonostsev was a strong advocate for the autocracy of the Tsar and the traditional values of the Russian Orthodox Church, and he believed that these institutions were essential to the stability and prosperity of Russia.

Pobedonostsev was a vocal critic of democracy and liberal ideas, and he believed that they were incompatible with the traditions and values of Russia. He argued that the Tsar should have absolute power and that the Russian people should accept their place in society and submit to the authority of the state.

Pobedonostsev also argued that the Russian Orthodox Church was the source of moral and spiritual guidance for the Russian people, and that it should be given a central role in the life of the nation. He believed that the Church should be involved in all aspects of Russian society, and that it should be the main source of education and cultural values.

Overall, Pobedonostsev’s ideas were influential in shaping the conservative and authoritarian nature of the Russian state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, his ideas faced significant opposition from liberal and progressive elements within Russian society.

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