Catherine’s conceptions of state and subject

Her reforms were progressive in the sense that they moved Russia towards modernization and brought the state in line with Western concepts of the relationship between a government and its subjects. One theme present throughout Catherine the Great’s reforms is an attempt to balance state powers and individual liberties. The Statute on Provincial Administration states that “the personal security of each loyal subject is quite precious to the Monarch’s philanthropic heart,”  and the establishment of an ordered, hierarchical bureaucracy within the provinces is one way to enforce order and protect personal security among and of the subjects. However, the bureaucratization serves a second purpose, which is to quantify and order a population in case the state wishes to mobilize them when they need labor or combat. Article 20 of the Charter to the Nobility mandates that no subject may “spare neither labor nor even life itself in State service,” reminding the nobility that they are subject to the same calls to war and work as the rest of the population.

However, Catherine’s reforms also implement checks on state power. According to the Charter to the Towns, no urban corporation may make regulations contrary to the laws of the state. Catherine’s reforms standardized the rule of law throughout Russia and ensured that no provincial power could infringe upon the rights of their subjects by creating their own regulations. Overall, Catherine’s reforms show the delicate balance, characteristic of many nascent modern states, between using a population as a resource and respecting the rights of that population to encourage their obedience to their government.


Did Catherine’s reforms favor either the subject or the state?

Catherine the Great

Catherine’s vision was to create a better Russia through helping the people.  She recognized how vast her empire was and decided it would be better managed if divided into separate provinces.  The Statute on Provincial Administration created “a much more significant administrative presence in the provinces than been there before” ((Kaiser and Marker 242)) .  The Statue on Provincial Administration creates a more structured, organized role of power for those in charge of the provinces by clearly stating  how the provinces are to be run; for example, “Each province shall establish a criminal court”  (Kaiser and Marker 242)) .   The Statute also establishes the difference in ranks, “The vice-governor, chief of police, chairman of the criminal court, chairman of the civil court,… shall be considered to have a rank of five…” ((Kaiser and Marker 243)) .  Catherine’s organization of the provinces allows her to govern more easily while providing more organization to the provinces throughout all of Russia.

The Charter to the Town truly encapsulates how Catherine was enlightened and what she wished to do for Russia.  Catherine wanted to reform all of Russia, and The Charter to the Town does just that by “clarify[ing] the status of several social groups, to define their privileges and responsibilities to the state, and to give a formal identity to their corporate existence” (Kaiser and Marker 321)) .  Laws in the charter clearly state how “inhabitants of each town” are encouraged and expected to participate in town actives, particularly economic, creating a sense of nationality ((Kaiser and Marker 322)) .  Catherine also provides numerous rights to the working class through this charter, securing the social structure even more and bettering the lives of the townspeople.  Catherine the Great was an enlightened monarch because she reformed Russia by creating a more organized ruling system and by helping to better people’s situations in Russia.




The Iron Bridle

Peter the Great was certainly a man of directness. Whether it was his reforms to westernize Russia or slaughtering those who opposed him, it was his way, or the highway. Through his reforms, the trend of servitude to the state for the sake of westernizing sticks out like a sore thumb. Peter enforced an education requirement for rights, while it seems harsh and that those rights should be unalienable, the education would teach the men to serve the state. These services were often directed towards progress and advancing the country towards what Peter wanted. He wanted people to have the same desire for progress that he had. “Peter wanted for Russia an elite composed of individuals capable of taking an active role in transforming society.” (Kaiser 247) He was such a passionate and powerful figure that he seized Russia with the iron bridle and dragged her with him to wherever he thought was best.

statue-315430_640 Peter’s desire to westernize was portrayed in many different ways, but through self portraits and statues, he shows a very clear image of how people should look. The Cap of Monomakh and emphasis on the Church was gone, in it’s place was well trimmed facial hair and clothing that would appear in a western European court.

His directness in getting what he wanted shines through in his Table of Rank. Peter established a hierarchy in the military and civil service that allowed him to give out rewards for serving the state. It was a way to undermine boyars, similar to how Ivan gave out control in the appanage system. By their way of achieving rank through the actions of Peter, they were more loyal to him. People could now go and achieve higher stations in society by serving the state. This new nobility could be passed down hereditarily as well, adding even more incentive to give one’s life to the state. (Kaiser 229) The Chin system allows for Peter to have nobility that are dedicated to serving the state rather while at the same time serving their own personal interests. He brilliantly combines their personal interests with the path to achieving higher levels of nobility.

How effective was the Table of Rank, and did it the newer nobility have any authority in society?

Daniel H. Kaiser, and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860’s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

How Terrible was Ivan the Terrible?

Ivan the Terrible is a very complicated ruler to label as simply “a good guy” or “a bad guy.”  Both good and overlapped throughout his life, coming up at different times, but I don’t believe one is more prominent than the other.  Even more interesting and important to remember is all of Ivan’s personal troubles while he was young and how they could have possibly affected his future as Tsar.

Ivan was successful in bringing change to Russia, although it can be difficult to view his rule as a reformation rule.  Ivan implemented a new law code, paid order to the church, strengthened the military and ordered out bureaucracy.  Ivan was creating an honest and efficient administration.  These reforms were positive towards Ivan’s rule and Russia benefitted greatly.

However the bad of Ivan also has to be analyzed.  Because Ivan was so skeptical of who to trust, he began to “wipe out all the chief people of the oprichnina” ((Kaiser and Marker 153)).  Brutal, horrific deaths began occurring; Ivan’s brother in law “was chopped to death by the harquebusiers [musketeers] with axes,” “Prince Vasilii Temkin was drowned,” “Peter Seisse was hanged from his own court gate,” and more ((Kaiser and Marker 153)).  What was the cause of these awful deaths?

It is interesting to analyze the beginning or early periods of Ivan’s life.  Many tragic things, the death of his mother when he was a young boy and the death of his beloved wife, could be possible reasons as to why he was so agonized.  Ivan also came to power at age three, so it’s possible he never knew who to trust from the beginning since his mother and wife died early on.  His life and personality are too difficult to label as just good or bad; regardless he was a powerful ruler.

Can Ivan the Terrible be classified as just good or bad?

Is it wrong to blame the tragedies of Ivan’s early life for the brutality in his later life?


Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H., and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860’s. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Ivan IV, the Confused Puppy

The regime of Ivan IV was not terrible as his epithet might scream. Ivan’s reign was filled with rather level-headed ideas of the time such as more control over your kingdom and personal safety from enemy assassins. His creation of the district elders in cities and later other parts of the country made complete sense. Criminals needed to be punished without every petty crime involving the Prince. Ivan increased the amount of justice served in Rus’ and the communities in which these elders resided were happy to be rid of crime.

To protect his person from bodily harm, Ivan instituted a body of government to weed out those who were against him, publicly or  not. It was here that Ivan received his title of “the terrible” because of how this institution, the oprichnina, operated and more so because of Ivan’s mental disability that impaired his judgement on who was actually out to get him. He was so paranoid that everyone was inherently against him that there were seven “[y]ears of absurd denunciation, sudden arrests, and horrifying executions”1 carried out by the oprichnina.

Ivan IV was not a ruthless leader who would stop at nothing to harm innocent citizens in a sadistic type of way. Ivan simply wanted a guarantee that no one would hurt him. He was an important Grand Prince and world leader of orthodoxy; there’s a price to pay for that kind of power and Ivan thought it was in his safety. But, he was not “the terrible”. He was more like a wayward puppy, confused as to who was friend or foe, and not being able to see the difference between the two.

1Crummey, Robert O. Ivan IV: Reformer or Tyrant? in Daniel H. Kaiser, and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860’s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. p 162.

Gorbachev: What were his Aims?

Gorbachev was a reformer without question, but to what end? What were the aims of his reform attempting to achieve?  Gorbachev was not a Stalinist era child, he was a Khrushchev child.  Khrushchev was the first General Secretary to introduce new reforms to the Soviet Union since the reign of Stalin.  All of his policies were centered around forgetting Stalin and his dark era.  Gorbachev saw this as a child and learned that Khrushchev would be remembered as the “Great Reformer” by many.  Others would see him in another way as simply a bad Communist and a weak leader.  When it was Gorbachev’s turn to take the office of General Secretary, he would attempt to re-emulate his policies in his “Glasnost”, “Perestroika”, and other general policy shifts.  The time for the Soviet Union to reach modernity was now in the mindset of Gorbachev, he felt that in order to achieve this his country must have a sense of free speech and purpose.  Less spending on the military as well as withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and more open trade in the international market meant more profit and capital for the people of the USSR.  These were a few of Gorbachev’s aims  and goals during his office as a social reformer.

Nikolai II: Two Little Too Late

The document detailing Nikolai’s abdication in 1917 shows to readers that the tsar either possessed a very poor grasp on reality or that he couldn’t bear to really tell the Russian people why he chose to abdicate. In the opening of his abdication, Nikolai remarks that ‘it pleased god to send Russia a further painful trial’ (( l)). This frame of thinking completely neglects the real reason Nikolai abdicated–namely that his subjects felt angry and didn’t see him as a fit tsar if he couldn’t (and wouldn’t) change with the times and create liberal-minded policies to appease the general public.

That being said, it’s important to look at his family history in order to fully understand why he chose to be a reactionary monarch, rather than a proactive and forward-thinking one. Members of the Narodnaya Volya assassinated Nikolai II’s grandfather, Alexander II, a great reformer. Nikolai II’s father, Alexander III, adopted reactive tendencies upon ascending to the throne, presumably in response to his father’s violent death.

While there’s a chance that Nikolai didn’t know precisely why he failed as a tsar, it seems unlikely that he would know so little about the feelings of Russians in the time. Rather, did he want to change and make reforms, but felt too afraid to actually follow through with them in the end? Did his grandfather’s death, the death of a reforming tsar, frighten him into not providing the Russian people with the reforms and privileges they so desperately wanted?

Black & Grey

The Slavophiles and Westernizers were both “reformist” intellectuals who, on different ideological avenues, envisioned changes for the future of Russia that would progress the state to new plateaus. The Slavophiles were upperclassmen who expressed a fundamental vision of integration, peace, and harmony among men (Riasanovsky 362). They were strict followers of the Russian Orthodox Church and believed it was their mission to help the church reclaim power it had lost. A notable Slav – Constantine Aksakov – described the Slavophiles as a “moral choir” (363). The Slavs were Russian romantics who attempted to tie in their romantic ideals with reason. Slavophiles could be considered peacekeeping anarchists because they stressed free will and free thought, and although they didn’t like the presence of the government they recognized the importance of having a governmental institution in place to keep the peace.

The Westernizers, although also reformists in nature were antithetical to the Slavs in many other aspects. While the Slavophiles were fairly organized and concentrated in their mission of peace and harmony throughout Russian society the Westernizers had diverse and often unclear goals for their reformations. Unlike the Slavophiles, the Westernizers didn’t lean on religion and quite frankly didn’t support religious ideologies to nearly the same degree as the Slavs. It is important to note that the roots of the Westernizers’ differing views probably comes from the fact that the Westernizers came from a variety of different social classes, while the Slavophiles were basically all upper-class citizens. The Westernizers also seemingly had varying degrees of their beliefs in comparison to the Slavophiles, what I mean by this is, some Westernizers simply wanted to promote their ideas of free-will and anti religion while extremist Westernizers wanted to do away with the church and government entirely, a complete redo of the system. Westernizers’ views and goals also changed because they spanned a great period of time in Russian history. For example, Alexander Herzen and Michael Bakunin, two Westernizer authors lived past the reign of Nicholas I (Riasanovsky 365). In other words, these two authors lived through a shifting dynamic of Russian politics, so their goals (in their writing) had to have changed over this time period. Ironically, both of these writers apparently left Russia during their later years, leaving their final marks on Russian society.