The Emancipation of Russian Serfs

Alexander II issued a document of emancipation for the Russian serfs in 1861.  In it, he stipulates that the nobility agreed, for the benefit of their country, to release the serfs from their status at the end of a two year reconstruction period.  After serfdom is abolished, the nobles are required to give their former serfs land so that they may continue to earn a living.

This document echoed the Enlightenment principles of the former reformist monarchs. Firstly, the nobles are given a social duty to the lower classes as well as mandating that the now-free peasants give back to society.  Secondly, there is much discussion of the inherent rights of the free man like the ability to gather property and the benefits of freedom.  Also, the document decrees that the government will lend assistance to the freed serfs.  These stipulations are very reminiscent of Catherine’s charters to the nobility and the towns.

The way this document was written seems like a very clever manipulation on the part of Alexander II.  Although the monarchy is responsible for continuing the tradition of serfdom, he transfers the blame to the nobles for the failure of the institution, citing their lack of “paternal attitude” that was required.  Then it is repeated several times that the nobles made the decision to free the serfs voluntarily, although this is probably not the case since it was to their economic misfortune to free the serfs.  He also requires the nobles to establish their own terms when freeing their serfs, not developing a standardized practice throughout the country.  In using this language, Alexander is taking a preventative step against the failure of such an action, so that if freeing the serfs fails, the Tsar will not be the one to blame.  The nobles, which already harbor resentment from the serfs will have to defend themselves in the face of a new free body of peasants.  It is almost a means of further centralizing power to the monarch and making the nobles weaker.

On a related note, the best quote of this reading is as follows, “However beneficial a law may be, it cannot make people happy if they do not themselves organize their happiness under protection of the law.”  To me, this completely sums up what I know about Russian government, and it is highly ironic since laws put the serfs into poverty in which they were unable to organize their happiness.

The Overcoat

I think that Gogol is using this story to critique the flaws of the bureaucratic society that was created with the Table of Ranks.  Akaky is so involved in his government work that he has no time to experience life and in unable to do so because of the financial hindrances of his job.  That Gogol makes a point of discussing how Akaky was born for the job he has and remaining stagnant despite others movement seems to critique the harshness of legalized social status and emphasize the trap that is civil service.  Instead of striving to improve his situation, Akaky accepts his low place within the hierarchy and remains blow his peers.  One effect of the ranking system is that it seems to breed resentment between the different ranks, as the Important Person cannot bear to speak to someone lower than him and uses his power to criticize his employees.  The condition of civil service described in Gogol’s piece is akin to how one might imagine the conditions of serfdom, a “bureaucratic serf.”  The state is made strong at the disadvantage of the individuals that serve it.  The overcoat functions as a status symbol that endows Akaky with the respect of his peers and the confidence to step outside his closed world.

The Overcoat also seems to be a critique of materialism.  Akaky quite literally subverts his quality of life for the possession of a new good.  When he dies, Akaky is described in terms of his possessions, and the form that appears to him at death is a ghostly overcoat.  Even in death, Akaky is defined by an endless search for material possessions.  It could be possible that this anti-materialist sentiment was brewing in Russia at the time of print because of the rising imperialism and the promotion of nationality as folk identity in the face of modernization.

Document Analysis Paper

The introduction of this paper sets up a complex analysis of the primary documents because it links the documents through change over time between the two rulers.  The thesis statement is clear and direct, summarizing the most important aspects of the documents as a whole.

The topic sentences of each body paragraph are also easily identifiable and have the ability to be discussed from multiple viewpoints.  Within the paragraphs, the author uses specific aspect of each document to illustrate the point of the topic sentence.  For example, the Table of Ranks discusses the fines and articles written into the document.  It answers all of the contextual information about the document in a way that also provides analysis.  Also, when direct quotation of the document is used, it is accompanied with an explanation of the quote, which furthers its use as a supplement to the factual discussion.

The sentence structure throughout the entire paper varies between complex and simple sentence, creating a paper that is both easy to read and sophisticated.  There are no glaring grammar or spelling errors, which show careful paper construction and an attention to detail mirrored throughout the intellectual discussion as well.  The analytic interpretations come across with as much confidence as the factual information.

By the end of this paper, I felt like (had I not know this subject) I had a complex knowledge of the topic.  It was also useful how the conclusion incorporated secondary source material that corroborated the thesis statement and gave further validity to the argument taken in the paper.  However, the best part of the paper was that it did not have to rely on secondary source materials, and I really got the sense that all of the points came directly from the person that wrote this paper and that they understood all of the facts that enhanced their argument.

The paper also adhered to all of the “Tips on Writing for Me,” which definitely kept this paper at the level it deserved.  Good job and congratulations!

18th Century Serfdom

Something that stood out to me in this chapter was the quote by Sumner at the beginning of the reading.  He states that serfdom lasted longer in Russia than in the West because “humanitarian and other ideas of the value of the individual spirit were little developed.”  It is strange to attempt to reconcile that fact that Catherine the Great set up a Noble Wardship and a Bureau of Public Welfare for the peasants but that she was also the monarch responsible for entrenching serfdom the most.  I understand that there was a division between peasants and serfs, but I do not agree with Sumner’s statement.  I think that in Russia, at least on a theoretical level, there was a conception of individual rights and social duty.  In the “Charter to the Towns” for example, the merchants were granted private property based on their individual right and under law.  Obviously the concept of individual rights applied more to the upper classes than to the peasants, but I would go as far to say that serfdom became so important because of the new Enlightenment value placed on the individual.  The serfs became the patrimony of the nobles and the merchants because the upper classes were entitled to them by virtue of being a human with an inalienable right to property.  It is hard to apply humanitarian and spiritual concerns to a group of people barely considered human by law.

On a related note, I was surprised to learn that merchant run factories had the ability to own their own peasants as “industrial serfs.”  I do not think of Russian factories at this time period to be mechanized enough to support unskilled labor and had assumed that there would be more unindustrialized craft involved.

Domostroi (Chapters 1-18)

The Domostroi represents the many facets of life for the “fortunate few” in Muscovy’s social hierarchy.  Those living under this social system were subjected to strict and detailed standards of behavior and expectations.  We have determined that at the crux of this system was a “culture of fear” that was responsible for ensuring proper social conduct.  This means that this group of people followed the Domostroi‘s guidelines not because it was necessarily beneficial but because they were motivated by fear of consequences.  These consequences were social, political, and most strikingly, religious.  There is a heavy emphasis on how one should appear to God and to his peers, as he represented his family’s name and place within the religious and social hierarchy.  It seems then, that the household was not restricted to its physical space, but extended into the city, society, and religion of Moscow.

There were many expectations for Christians at this time. Specifically, the head of the household was expected to “Do God’s will faithfully and keep His commandments” (65).  If one did not, he would “…answer for [himself] on Judgement Day” (65). In turn, he was expected to teach these values not only to his wife and children, but also to his servants. However, these values were not to be taught through abuse or violence, but rather through love and by example. Throughout the document there was an emphasis on maintaining the social hierarchy already imbedded within the culture, especially with the emphasis on the importance of both priests and the Tsar. The Domostroi notes to “Always approach bishops eagerly and offer them the honor that is due… Fall at their feet and obey them in everything, as God commanded” (69). Regarding the Tsar, one was expected to “Fear the Tsar and serve him faithfully… Do not say anything false to him, but tell the truth, deferentially, as though you [speak] to God Himself” (71). Throughout the document, explicitly stated within each section were the expectations for Christian individuals and then subsequently the rewards and punishments for adhering to or disobeying these mandates. In addition, another way this order was maintained was through the emphasis on helping others less fortunate than oneself. By encouraging people to donate what they could to the poor, there was no emphasis on rising socially, but rather on staying where you were, and helping those poorer than you. By applying this mentality to the social hierarchy, this document allowed the nobility to maintain order. The culture of fear emphasized not only applied to God and His wrath, but also to the clergy and Tsar.

Another part of the Domostroi lays the rules of savoir vivre attached to hosting events. This section possessed two main parts. The first described the manner in which a priest should be received on holy days. The host was the master of his home and in charge of preparing, inviting, and offering food, while the guests had to show humility and respect. The priests invited were supposed to perform the ritual appropriate for the occasion. The priest had to pray for the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, the members of the clergy and finally “all that is profitable to the man of the house, his wife, children, and servants” hinting the role genders played in the society. It is also interesting to point out that the host had to invite as many priests as possible; it might suggest that such actions were also used to show one’s wealth as well as nobility. The second section regarded the behavior to possess should one invite guests. It demonstrated that not only the host was in charge of the preparation, and conducting the gathering, but that it was also his role to respect God through the evening’s interactions. It was the host’s responsibility that guest behaved appropriately, eat and drink enough to honor God, but not too much. This chapter also used fear as the method of choice to convince its reader. Shall you guest misbehave or utter blasphemy and food will turn into dung in their mouths, angels will report your actions to the Devil as opposed to God and “such deeds will stand on Judgment Day.”

Similarly latter passages of The Domostroi bring that culture of fear to the daily religious lives of the people. Men were told that they should attend church services daily. And women should go as they are able and have their husbands permission. Church goers were instructed to stand like pillars while praying “with fear and trembling, with sighs and tears, {turning the eyes of your body towards the abyss}”(13). Fortunately there were ways to make amends, unceasing prays for long periods of time was said to allow the holy spirit to enter your body. A good priest was also considered an acceptable remedy. A priest was to be held in fear when you come to him in love to confess your sins. This fear was doubtlessly preached throughout Russia and was a significant part of every true christian’s life. The father was taught by the church and he taught his family what they said. That adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and slanderers will not possess the kingdom of God.

The discussion of daily life and family relationships shows the importance of children in families and society.  Parents were expected to care for and protect their children or be ridiculed by their neighbors.  These relationships were also highly gendered, as mothers were responsible for their daughter’s instruction in female crafts and fathers were responsible for teaching their son a specific trade.  Education was considered important because it made the daughter or son more marriageable, thus enabling families to improve their social position through their children.  The same concept applies for the establishment of a dowry, which was considered a father’s responsibility.  The culture of fear began early in children’s education, even before the children started learning themselves.  Parents that failed to instruct their children away from sin would pay the price on Judgment Day and be publicly shamed, possibly having their house dishonored and paying a fine to the government.  As part of their education, children were taught to fear God, but they were also taught to fear their parents.  The Domostroi references biblical passages that advised fathers beating their sons so that they might behave properly, and there is little mention of affection between parents and children (96).  Even the discussion of caring for parents in old age is framed in terms of cleansing sins instead of familial love.  It is clear from these chapters that the level of respect between family members was a means of establishing social position and proving one’s religiosity and merit to the community.

State-Building in Post-Kievan Rus’

These readings illustrate the diverging types of states that developed after the fall of Kiev, and geography is a main factor in the separation of different governments.  Novgorod and the north attempted to establish restrictions to princely power and set up a system of elections and assemblies to limit the influence of the elites.  In the southwest, the elites had more power than the prince, who was subject to the will of the boyars.  Finally, in Moscow and the northeast, princely power grew and became more entrenched as land rights were transformed into personal property.  These documents demonstrate the way in which each area was reevaluating their relationship with the state, and this was responsible for bringing about new requirements for good rulers that protected the new form of government.

On thing that stood out in all three readings was the relationship of Christianity to the state.  In the Treaty of Novgorod, the document protecting property rights had to be sealed with a kiss to the cross so that the prince would be held accountable to God if he broke the treaty.  In the Galician Chronicle, the underlying message was that good rulers are Christian because God favored the devout and helped them to achieve their status.  Finally, in the will of Dmitrii Donskoi, he condemned any that violated the testament to be judged and punished by God.  Because Christianity had already spread throughout Rus by the time of the fall of Kiev, it seems that it played a much larger role in the state than it had at the beginning of the Kievan state.  Whereas princely law and church law were once separate, now we seem them becoming combined.  The separation between church and state jurisdiction is now blurred as things once under state jurisdiction, like private property, are now answerable to God.

On the Kievan Economy

The nature of the economy in the Kievan state reflected the geographical diversity of the region.  Indeed, some of the sources on the economy are derived from the commentary of outsiders, such as the Byzantine Constantine Porphyrogenitus, reflecting the wide space of influence exerted by the merchant-prince of Kiev.  The foundation of the trade system was tribute, which moved furs, wax, honey, and slaves throughout the state from north to south.  Tribute, besides being an effective means of gathering money and subordinating rival merchants, reflected the importance of trade because it was designed to protect Kiev’s commercial interests from rivals.  Economic rivals were clearly an area of concern for the Kievan princes because trade and foreign policy were connected, and Russo-Byzantine peace treaties included provisions that aided Russian commerce.   With the exception of importing amber from the Vikings, the Rus moved raw materials outside of the state and received manufactured and luxury goods from their trade partners.

The other facet of the Kievan economy was agriculture.  The emergence of the agricultural theory is based on linguistic data on agricultural terms, spiritual beliefs surrounding nature, archaeological discoveries, and written sources.  Agriculture differed between the south and the north because of the diversity between the steppe and dense forests, and forest agriculture evolved into a two and three field perlog system that increased the importance of livestock.  Archaeology shows advancements in soil cultivation and technology preceding the primary chronicle.  The idea of private property is a contested issue among scholars of Kiev, with some believing it emerged in the 11th century and others thinking it may have been in place before.  This is an interesting question to consider in tandem with the law code’s penalties for moving field boundaries.  Does this suggest there was direct individual control over the land to use it at will or does it suggest the princes were the only ones with the authority to administrate land holdings?

Russian Ark

I watched Russian Ark this week.  I might preface by saying that I was a little confused by this movie, not only because of the artistic license  but also because, having no real knowledge of what early Russian figures looked like, I had no idea who some of the people were until I looked it up online.

In any case, I was very impressed by this movie.  It clearly required so much painstaking choreography to film this movie in a single shot.  As a museum buff, I loved the fact that it all took place in the Hermitage.  It could be said to be a metaphor of Russia because it stood strong through so many years, and each person the European and the narrator met there had a special love and nostalgia for some part of the museum.  I found the scene of the man building his own coffin during the siege of Leningrad to be very haunting, showing how a sign of aristocratic authority could be transformed into a graveyard.  A;so, the scene of the museum directors discussing their problems of trying to foster culture under Stalin and their paranoia over being discovered echoed everything we have discussed in class this semester.  It was made even more moving by the narrator trying to refute what he said, as if he was being interrogated by a Soviet official.  Finally, Alexandra thinking she hears gun shots as Anastasia dances through the gallery was sad because it showed a happy family on the brink of total destruction.

There was a strong sense of nationalism in this movie.  There was a strict line drawn between Russia and Europe, as if they are two separate entities.  Strangely, there was a disdain for imperialism echoed by the European, but though he was meant to be French, it was hard to tell for whom this was a criticism.  There was also commentary on the government, wondering about its state and whether it could be called a republic.  After our two discussions this week, I can see where that concern stems from, since the government does not always work for the people.  The phrase the stood out the most was “In Russian, freedom knows no price.”  I think this accurately describes the attempts to reconfigure the Russian government after 1917, but freedoms have taken to mean different things to different people.


On Saturday I went to see the Dickinson Orchestra’s performance of Augural Years in Music.  The pieces from Stravinsky’s The Firebird particularly stood out from the rest of the performance because of the tone and feeling that I associated them with.  At first, it honestly reminded me of the waltz from the Godfather, low, dark and haunting, the kind of thing my father said he would play to scare all the non-Italians at my wedding, but I digress.  The “Berceuse” gave me the feeling of a lone figure walking on a deserted street at night.  Gradually as the violins rose and sounded like they were at a different pace than the wind instruments, I was filled with a sense of anxiety, like I was watching someone follow the figure with questionable motives.  The “Finale” when it was played was a relief, a triumphant rise out of the darkness and an end to the falling sensation created by the violins.

Both pieces worked very well to encapsulate the Russian folk experience, often filled with suffering but rising to a glorified end, especially during the Soviet period even though this piece was written before it.  Unlike some of the other selections in the concert, both of the pieces felt very personal and very specific to the Russian experience as I imagined it was. This was aided by the fact that each part of the orchestra, like the Russian people, seemed to be working separately for most of the piece, moving at different paces and through different pitches, but at the end all came together to create this unified “Russia” that was one of the people.

Russian Civil Liberties and Social Uncertainty

I thought that Angela Stent’s brief mention of the reaction to Putin’s reset in her US-Russian relations talk this evening was interesting because of the contradiction set up between class and civil rights.  She said that the urban middle class believed that the Duma election was rigged and that they had no say in the matter.  She then went on to say that the thing the US has the most in common with Russia is a concern for civil rights.  While the demonstrations exhibited by the middle class seemed to be similar to those found in the US before and after elections, it seemed interesting that on a national and international scale that Russia would politically disregard an entire influential sector of the population, which does not seem to be in line with the pursuance of a policy of civil rights.  I think it can also be widely agreed that demonizing the US in response to the elite’s protest was definitely not the right solution, although it can be likened to our own Red Scare of years past.

This made me think of the relatively unsuccessful quests of activism we have studied in this class and references a history when demonstrations were the only means of participation in a political party under the Tsar.  From this incident and Stent’s answer to the democracy question, it seems clear that Russia’s government is unable to leave behind a past of power leaders with little respect for the people over which they rule.  In the absence of democracy, authoritarian leadership certainly provides for the social certainty she said was wanted by the Russian people, but only because there can be no choice but to be certain of one’s station when the government ignores the ideas of its people.