The Last Tsar

March 15, 1917 signifies the end of the Russian Tsarist autocracy. After continued pressure from Russian citizens demanding change and a grim international and domestic environment, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate his throne. A series of events and proven inadequacies of the Tsar made the end of his rule inevitable. The Dumas, or representative assemblies, attempted to coerce Nicholas II into allowing them greater responsibility in managing the war effort, to which Nicholas II replied, “I shall maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my dead father.” ((Revolt)) It was only a short time before he proved he was not unflinching, and failed the autocracy miserably – by ending it.

Conditions in Russia at this time reflected a severe food shortage caused by the war. With many people coalescing in cities and becoming vagrants, the strain placed on food production only increased tensions between the government and Russians.

Ultimately, it was the revolt in Petrograd which forced the Tsar out of government. Violence and anger echoed the streets until Nicholas II had no choice but to abdicate. Supposedly not wishing to separate from his son, Nicholas II transferred his power to his younger brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, who, one day later, transferred power yet again to a Provisional Government. (( It was from this moment on that a new form of government would rule Russia.

A question is raised about the nature of autocracy: was an end to tsarist autocracy inevitable or was Nicholas II simply unfit to rule Russia during this era of strife? If Nicholas II had been able to successfully manage the conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is it possible Russia could be a Tsarist autocracy today?

Che Guevara and American Economic Imperialism

Che Guevara was your stereotypical revolutionary. Raised in a rich household, he was trained to be a doctor before he realized his interests were helping the poor. The son of a leftist father, he grew up listening to socialist ideologies from Spanish Republicans. After allying with the Cubans Fidel and Raul Castro, he helped to liberate Cuba from Batista’s rule and gained political influence within Cuba society because of his role within the revolution. In 1964, he was sent to address the UN in regards to Africa and Caribbean decolonization. In his speech to the UN, Che builds the Cubans as a reactive nation as opposed to proactively provoking the United States and challenging their imperialist rule within Africa (indirectly) and more specifically the Caribbean. While Che states that the US’s military influence has helped to oppress many a person, their economic system dwarfs that of the socialist states and prevents any attempts at economic freedom for them and their citizens. “So long as the economically dependent peoples do not free themselves from the capitalist markets, and as a bloc with the socialist countries, impose new terms of trade between the exploited and the exploiters, there will be no sound economic development, and in certain cases there will be retrogression, in which the weak countries will fall under the political domination of imperialist and colonialists” (Blaisdell 273). Che believes that these economics will prevent the burgeoning socialist states from ever truly freeing themselves from imperialism and in turn prevent them from ever truly breaking free of capitalism. Without an equal power base, capitalism and socialism will never resolve their conflict and continue to fight one another in an unequal relationship instead of peacefully coexisting, which is what Che wants to see happen.

Original source as delivered by Che:


Inspiration and the Soul

Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist and art theorist, was one of the first painters noted as an abstract artist.  He wrote On the Spiritual in Art in 1912 during the time in which he was a member of the artist group ‘The Blue Rider,’ a group of abstract painters who were planning on doing an exposition but was curtailed because of the onset of World War I.  The language was one geared towards artists and those who were interested in understanding and observing art, using terms and phrases such as ‘observer,’ ‘inspiration,’ and ‘spiritual in art.’  Kandinsky’s intent was to help those less informed about art understand how to observe art and what it takes to create a truly ‘inspired’ work.  Kandinsky’s message ultimately was that “”Understanding” is the approach of the observer to the to the artist’s viewpoint” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)), which further explicates the concept that observers must do their best to see the art from an artist’s perspective.

Inspiration for art in itself is a very abstract concept; one in which I probably will never understand.  Learning about this concept of inspiration and understanding art was incredibly fascinating to read about, especially Kandinsky’s assumption that “Each painting mysteriously contains an entire life, a life of many sufferings, hours of doubts, of enthusiasm and of delighted inspiration” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)).  This statement helped me understand the agony and jubilation an artist may experience during the process of trying to find inspiration in the world around him.

It made me think of how much that inspiration truly matters in the real world no matter what our field is; be it to better the field or find a better life, every person must have inspiration behind their passion.  Because without inspiration, there is no ‘soul’ in whatever one strives to accomplish; it is without base or foundation.

My question: what do you think inspiration came from during this time period (the early 1900s)?  Have these same things changed throughout time?  How could an artist’s inspiration differ from a professor’s, for example?

Gladstone: A Theologian, Scientist, or Both?

John Hall Gladstone’s interest in science and religion began during his childhood. He and his three brothers were tutored throughout their youth. They became quite interested in natural science through this education. Gladstone furthered his interest in science while attending chemistry lectures during his time at University College London. Additionally, during his adolescence, he held a great passion for religion and claimed he wanted to work for the ministry. In 1850, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious group of European scientists who contributed a fair amount of research and work to the natural sciences. Gladstone’s interests ultimately focused on both science and religion.


Gladstone wrote “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science” in 1872. This work showcased his support for both religious and scientific hypotheses associated with creation. When considering his interest in both of these fields, it is evident why he supported these conflicting views on creation. Gladstone wrote this piece about a decade after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Darwin made controversial arguments regarding how species were created in this work. He claimed that God was not the sole creator of all beings. Instead, he believed that evolution and natural selection were the root cause of this phenomenon. A great deal of Europe’s population, a society dominated by Christian ideology, felt frustrated by these assertions. Gladstone, however, was not horrified by Darwin’s views. He stated that while reading On the Origin of Species, “I felt no shock to my religious faith: indeed the progressive development of animated nature seemed to harmonize with that gradual unveiling of the divine plan which I had loved to trace in the Bible.”[1] Rather than seeing Darwin’s claims as an attack against Christianity, Gladstone believed they helped solidify many of his religious ideas regarding creation. He believed that scientific and spiritual beliefs regarding creation could coexist. By writing in this way, it is possible that both scientists and theologians agreed with his work.

Rather than solely supporting religious or scientific hypotheses on creation, Gladstone interestingly supports both in “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science.” How do you think Europe’s population reacted to such claims? Although he exerted an interest in both ideologies throughout his life, do you believe he should have supported only one side on this controversial topic?

[1] Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science, 1872.

Passing the Torch: Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”

In 1899 Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “The White Man’s Burden” in response to the American colonization of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. With his tone of command urging the white landowners of the United States to “Take up the White Man’s burden” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), Kipling is implying that the USA must now carry the torch of imperialism once held by Great Britain as well as other European nations. Kipling’s message is one of command and warning, by implying that if the United States is to become an imperial power it must commit fully to the duty and complexities inherent with this position of power. It is clearly no small task, as it requires large economic burdens as well as a large commitment of manpower to travel and conquer foreign lands.

When I first read this last year I thought it was satire. Kipling seemed to be bashing the United States for its growing imperial presence in the world with what I confused as his almost-sarcastic tone. However once I realized he was serious, consequences and costs were easier to understand. However after taking my Senior Seminar on Empire last semester, I learned about the many different imperialist nations throughout history as well as what it takes to be not only an empire, but imperialist as well. In this poem, Kipling outlines several of the tenets to imperialism:

To be imperialist, a state must dehumanize a civilization and use them as the foundation for a colonialized civilization. In the first stanza Kipling highlights this with “Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), inferring that a powerful state has overtaken a much smaller, foreign state and dehumanizing its people in the process.

As our class established last semester, a state must not only dominate indigenous folk, but it must also exploit them in favor of the colonizing state. Kipling highlights this in the second stanza with “To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), explaining that colonists are using the indigenous people’s economic source for the benefit of the colonizing state.

In those two stanzas Rudyard Kipling clearly outlines two of the most important tenets to imperialism: dominating a foreign population and siphoning their natural resources into the economy of the colonizing nation. Although this is essential to the imperialist process, it is a cruel and unforgiving ritual. The colonized state is reduced to little more than a slave state through the process called imperialism, and those indigenous people’s lives suffer as a consequence.

For class tomorrow, I pose these questions:

Where else in history have we seen these same things happen? When has a world power taken over a much weaker power in order to exploit it for various (economic, military strategic, etc.) reasons? What was the reasoning behind this takeover? Was it easily justified?

Deities of Derivatives

In Zamyatin’s bizarre and ingeniously sobering novel of “We”, ((Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. New York: Modern Library, 2006.)) rationality triumphs emotion as mathematics reigns as the supreme dogma of the individual’s life and mind. Of course, in this case, the term “individual” refers to the collective mass of workers known as ciphers who exist as mere figures in the long string of omnipotent code that is the dull and gray One State. Freedom is condemned as an uncouth crime while whimsical dreams and fits of inspiration are cruelly filed under the category of epileptic anomaly. The hero, and eventual martyr, of the story is D-503, a thirty-two-year-old cipher who is in charge of building the Integral, a marvelous product of modern science and technology purposefully constructed in order to integrate extraterrestrial societies into the blissful monotony of the One State. D-503 venerates mathematics and the exquisitely logical “Table” that dictates every hour of his daily life apart from his sexual, and even that is governed by the rules of “Paternal & Maternal Norms” and pink tickets. His life changes drastically as he is violently birthed into a world of vibrant color and independent thought propagated by a female cipher, I-330, who quite literally grasps him by his shaggy, primitive-like hands and pulls him out.

New, revolutionary ideologies spread within D-503 like a cancer, resulting in the proliferation of disinformation and disaggregation that are so dreadfully toxic to the prosperity of the One State. The cast-iron hands that of the Benefactor that seem to preside over all are defied, rejecting one of the core principles of the later Russian Revolution; the worship of industry and enthrallment of efficiency, as seen through the famed ideas of Taylor the economist that are so imbued within the novel. Zamyatin sees the dark side of the revolution, and generates an unsettling world that causes one to fear philosophies such as that of the poet Kirillov in his work The Iron Messiah. ((Kirillov, Iron Messiah)) The novel continuously examines the effects of antireligion, in which old, conservative traditions are ironically replaced with new progressive ideals embodied in the exaltation of mathematics and machinery. Through the terror of the guardians and vice-like grip of Communism, the people are forced to march along with eyes lowered and minds shut. Nonetheless, the subjugation by the One State of its people is not infinite; as per the existence of the irrational root of negative 1, there will always exist a number that rational governance is unable to enslave.

The Multi-Ethnic Empire

As the Russian empire began expanding its borders through the acquisition of new land, Russia became home to became convoluted  with foreigners.  Non-Russians approximately made up more than half of the total population according to the first general census conducted in 1897.  This information was actually pretty shocking for me, as it gave me an understanding of how hard it must have been to govern an empire that was filled with so many ethnicities.

The Russian empire appeared to be mostly tolerant of other religions besides orthodoxy being practiced.  This is very different compared to how the old believers were persecuted against in the 17th century.  71 percent of the population belonged to the Orthodox Church, while other major beliefs included Islam, Catholicism, Judaism, and Lutheranism.  The orthodox church was still a unifying force, although there was still a major presence of other religions.

The position of a hereditary noble became harder for most non-russians to achieve through government service.   However, those who had achieved hereditary nobility before the reforms that were put in place to emphasize Russification were able to retain their position.  It’s even noted that, “The Muslims of Azerbaidzhan and the Germans also had a considerably higher proportion of hereditary nobles than the Russians” ((Kappeler, Andreas. “The Late Tsarist Multi-Ethnic Empire between Modernization and Tradition.” Chap. 8, In The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic Empire. Translated by Alfred Clayton, 283: Longman, 2001.)).  It seems that the non-russian populations that were more educated, according to the census, were more likely to have higher government positions.

Some minorities, however, seem to have been treated worse than others.  Non-russians made up a significantly large portion of revolutionary groups which shows that there must have been unrest in their treatment.  Ukrainians and Jews were especially well represented in revolutionary parties and eventually representing the Bolsheviks after the 19th century.  The Russian government seemed to restrict groups they disliked or that they felt were a threat to their rule.

More Than an Overcoat

In Gogol’s Overcoat, the reader is overcome with a great sense of pity for Akaky. He’s a sad man – not just because of his relative linguistic incompetency or his inability to perform tasks that extend beyond a simple copy job but because all of his peers see him as utterly beneath them. He is unfit of any type of respect. They can torment him without any sort of recognition for the important tasks he can complete without fail. Much of this ridicule comes from his “night gown.”

Here the “night gown” is a reflection of the role of social status in the Russian Society. His coat reflects his rank and stance in society. He lives in the dank part of St. Petersburg and occupies a lower rank than his peers who sport lavish coats with beaver fur collars. Gogol shows that performance and capability matters little. Prestige is really just superficial. Akaky’s stance and acceptance by his peers fluctuates with his appearance. When he finally obtains his new coat his coworkers notice him but this is only temporary.

Gogol is absolutely critiquing the manner in which power and respect is garnered in Russian Society. I guess one of my questions pertains to the significance of Akaky’s ghost and how he haunts the city. Is this a foreshadowing of how the lower gentry or bureaucracy will eventually rise up and take “revenge” on the self absorbed and entitled upper class? If yes, how would such literature be perceived by those Russians who could read and appreciate Gogol’s work?