I began reading the Riasanovsky textbook this week about the conditions in Russia leading up to the Revolution of 1905. Some things immediately jumped out at me in the section describing Nicholas II ad his nature as a ruler. On page 390, he is described as having admirable personal qualities such as modesty and self-discipline. However, the author then states that his qualities failed him in situations requiring strength and adaptability. This reminded me of a discussion in my Islamic Empires class from last week. In it, we discussed an article by Jane Burbank & Frederick Cooper in their book “Empires in World History.” They describe the ideal empire to be one that retains the diversity of its people in order to profit from the skills of distinct communities, that has to be flexible in all situations, and that avoids ascribing to a centralized ideology because it leads to rival claims of authority and revolts.
I immediately drew a parallel between the Nicholas II section and this article. Compared to the ideas of Burbank & Cooper, it seems Nicholas II failed at maintaing his empire and that the revolt of 1905 was inevitable. I think the key problem of his reign as Tsar was his inability to adapt. Raisanovsky states that his “traditionalist political blinders” made him unable to conform to new situations, by which I mean the removal of serfdom, the rise of the middle class, and Russia’s military and economic decline (p390). He believed in the unrestricted power of the tsar based on an orthodox ideology to which he expected all citizens to conform. Nicholas seems to have ignored it when this ideology no longer served the changing socio-political structure of Russia that called for reform through a national assembly. His belief in social hierarchy no longer served the rising middle class that was torn between legal status as peasants and physically possessing more wealth than the fallen elite. Diversity could no longer be maintained within the empire because there was a gradually closing gap between the upper and lower classes.
It is interesting to see a practical example of an empire in which retaining diversity had actually served it well. I did not believe in the validity of the claim that making clear distinctions between peoples actually ensured peace, but before 1861 Russia, as witnessed through the eyes of Firs in the Cherry Orchard, diversity is what kept operations running because the peasants did not question their place in the hierarchy. With a Tsar stuck in the ideology of this previous time and unwilling to adapt to the current state of the empire, an “ineffective relic of the past,”, the building of a revolution was inevitable (p392).