Twentieth Century Russian History

Twentieth Century Russian
Introduction: Russia’s Identity on the Eve of the
Bolshevik Revolution
Objective #1: Peter the Great’s
Impact on Russian Identity
Peter the Great
Cutting off Beards
Objective #1: Peter the Great’s
Impact on Russian Identity
Peter the Great (1672-1725) (ruled 1682-1725)
Completely transformed Russia with his reforms “from above.” Made
Russia a European power for the first time in its history.
Used successful Western European countries as an example for his
political, social and military reforms:
- Holland, Sweden, England, Prussia
Forced major changes upon an unwilling Russian population. Used brutal
means to achieve Russia’s modernization.
His reforms began the widening gulf between a “westernized” Russian
elite (nobles & civil servants) and the traditional, highly religious Russian
peasants who preserved the old customs, traditions and language.
Objective #1: Peter the Great’s
Impact on Russian Identity
From Peter’s reforms emerged two intellectual tendencies that exist to this day:
- emphasized the uniqueness of Russia’s (Slavic people’s) traditions, norms, ideas.
- Uniqueness of Russian country life – the mirs. Rejection of competition and
- the uniqueness and special place of the Russian Orthodox Church in the lives of
the people
- opposed Western influence in Russia as alien / opposed Peter the Great and his
reforms as ruinous to Russia’s “organic” development
- opposed limitations on the Czar’s power / opposed people’s participation in
- advocated a foreign policy that would support other Slavic people (especially
Orthodox) in their quest for liberation from the Austrian and Ottoman Empires
Objective #1: Peter the Great’s
Impact on Russian Identity
Rejected all of the major political, cultural, religious,
economic ideas coming from Western Europe:
- Renaissance, The Protestant Reformation, the
Enlightenment, The Industrial Revolution
A. Khomiakov
I. Aksakov
K. Aksakov
I. Kireevsky
Y. Samarin
Objective #1: Peter the Great’s
Impact on Russian Identity
2. Westernizers
Believed that Russia’s development depended on the adaptation of
Western technology and culture, liberal government, capitalist economy.
Some Westernizers believed Russia should convert to Catholicism. Many
were critical of the Russian Orthodox Church as the source of
backwardness and superstition in the country.
Viewed the westernizing reforms of Peter the Great as the beginning of
Russian history. Before that, Russia accomplished nothing.
Peter Chadaaev
Alexander Herzen
Vissarion Belinsky
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
Russia became a Christian nation in 988. Kievan
Prince Vladimir chose the Eastern (Byzantine) Christian
- Vladimir was first approached by Muslim Volga Bulgar
representatives who tried to persuade him to convert to
Islam. He rejected the Muslims on the grounds of their
prohibition against eating pork, drinking alcohol and
mandatory circumcision.
- Next, an emissary from Rome came to Vladimir but he
considered western Christianity “strange” and
inadequate compared to the Orthodox faith.
- Vladimir rejected conversion to Judaism because the
Jews were a people without a nation who lost the
support of God.
- Vladimir listened to a Greek Orthodox monk explain
how the Catholics went astray and why the Jews were
“punished by God for their sins.” He was impressed.
He sent representatives to Constantinople to witness
an Orthodox service. They were awe struck..
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
The conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity brought a
new alphabet – Cyrillic.
- Cyrillic – the alphabet of the Orthodox Slavic
people devised by Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 7th
century AD.
When the Eastern and Western Christian churches split in
1054, Russia went East.
The cultural / religious influence was from Constantinople,
not Rome.
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
According to Nikolai Berdyaev, Russians have
gained the following qualities from Orthodoxy:
- dogmatism
- asceticism
- the ability to endure suffering and to make
sacrifices for the sake of faith whatever it may be
- a tendency towards apocalyptic and nihilistic
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
“Moscow as the Third Rome”
Theory developed between 1523-1526 by Russian Orthodox Monk
As a result of the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire at the
hands of the Muslim Ottoman Empire (1459), Moscow must now become
the center of the true Christian faith. It was up to Russia to save
Christianity and all Christians.
Rome was the first Christian center / Constantinople was the center of
Orthodox Christianity until 1459.
An example of Russian “messianism.” Russia’s mission to save
Christianity. This messianic spirit will present itself in 1917 in the form
of building communism.
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
According to Berdyaev, the best period of the Russian
Orthodox Church was during the Tartar / Mongol
- it was spiritually the most independent
- led the liberation from Mongol
- Orthodox faith came increasingly to be seen by
Russians as “Russia faith.” Greek was no longer
seen as pure. Orthodoxy became a Russian
national idea.
Objective #2: The Orthodox Church
and Russian Identity
Russian messianic consciousness – the search for a kingdom
based on justice.
Russian messianism resembled Jewish messianism:
- Russian and Jewish identity intimately linked to religious
- Both set out to save civilization
- According to Berdyaev, this is why communism took hold
in Russia. A large proportion of Bolsheviks were Jews and
the majority were Russian.
Objective 3: Geography and Russian
Objective 3: Geography and Russian
Objective 3: Geography and Russian
“Half of Russia is Europe; half of Russia is in Europe.” – Vladimir
The Ural Mountains separate European from Asian Russia.
Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia / West and East / Christian
and Muslim civilization / Christian and Buddhist civilizations
Russia was occupied by the Mongols from the East for 240 years (12401480).
A significant direction of Russian expansion was eastward – Siberia,
Central Asia, Far East.
Russia’s Caucasian population descends from Turkic tribes from Central
Russia contains over 100 various ethnic groups.
Objective 3: Geography and Russian
Berdyaev: One of Russia’s major problems is how to organize its vast
- “The immensity of Russia, the absence of boundaries, was
expressed in the structure of the Russian soul.”
- “The landscape of the Russian soul corresponds with the landscape
of Russia, the same boundlessness, formlessness, reaching out into
infinity, breath.”
Russia’s geography: A major factor contributing to traditional Russian
- “The state expands, the people grow sickly.” Vasily Klyuchevsky
Russia’s Identity:
Vladimir Baranovsky
According to Vladimir Baranovsky,
three identities for Russia:
Russia is Europe
- part of a larger Christian civilization
- Russia and Europe belong to the same family
a. Russia is imperfect Europe
- underdeveloped / backward / failing European state
b. Russia is the best Europe
- Russian art, literature the best examples of European culture
c. Russia is another Europe
- representative of its eastern variant (through the Byzantine Empire)
Russia’s Identity:
Vladimir Baranovsky
2. Russia is Asian
- In opposition to the West
- The source of Christianity in Russia, the Byzantine Empire, was a deviation from
Europe and increasingly Asian
- Russia was under Mongol occupation for over 200 years (1240-1480)
> Alexander Nevsky, the great Russian hero, fought against Catholic
Sweden and the Teutonic Knights but did not do so against the
> The Renaissance did not reach Russia
> Increasingly, Russian economic relations expanded greatly into Central Asia,
Afghanistan, Persia
> Russia’s greatest expansion was into Asia: Siberia, Central Asia and the Far East
Russia’s Identity:
Vladimir Baranovsky
3. Russia is unique / a world in itself
- The Orthodox religion stands opposed to both
Western Christianity and Islam
- Russia is not based on one ethnicity / composed of
over 100 – “Rossiyane”
- Extremely culturally diverse
Russian Identity: Eurasianism
Eurasianism – conceived in the 1920’s
believe in the collectivist nature of Russian life
Western-style democracy to traditional Russian political culture
Criticized the West for not having a “grand goal” and for lacking a sense of “spiritual
The West was overly materialistic and morally bankrupt
Russia was more Asian than Slavic: “Turkic blood mingles in Russian veins.” N. Trubetskoi
Contrary to Russian nationalists who feel that Russians should be the dominant ethnic group
in Russia, Eurasianists feel that Russians are but one of many different ethnic groups that
should share leadership
The Eurasian landmass should be unified politically, culturally, and economically
Russian Eurasianists: Then and Now
Nikolai Trubetskoi
Lev Gumilev
Alexander Dugin
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