Desperate for Jeans

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This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

 

 

 

 

In the 1970s, the USSR is thought to go through a period of stagnation. However, there was little stagnation in the economy. Brezhnev’s Five-year plan from 1971-1975 had as its goal the improvement of the people’s standard of living.  To achieve this aim, pensions and minimum wage were raised to accommodate the higher cost of living.

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The government also mandated an increase in the production of goods, a goal that they tried to achieve by raising quotas. However, this had an unintended consequence of decreasing the quality of goods, because companies focused more on the number of goods they had to produce. As the quotas increased, the quality of the products decreased. This focus on quotas followed the earlier Liberman Proposal from 1962.

Later on, in the 1980s until the fall of the Soviet Union, the lack of high quality goods led to an underground economy. In the black market, foreign goods began to have enormous value, to the point where foreigners could sell their American-made or Finnish-made goods for high profits. A “jeans culture” began to emerge, in which the type of goods you had, and especially your clothing, told people what social class you were in.  In the article Knights of the ‘Jean Culture’, the author criticizes the youth of Russia for their emphasis on materialism. Not only were Soviet goods less well made, but they were also more expensive after the government raised the prices of goods.

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The government actively tried to fight the black market that emerged during this time period. The party declared a war on crime, even sentencing some ‘speculators’ to death. However, their attempts to stifle the underground economy were ultimately not effective.

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Will the Real Artist Please Stand Up?

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This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

After the Thaw, the arts were allowed to flourish, under certain guidelines. The artists’ union, which had existed since collectivization campaign, lessened their restrictions. Modern art emerged, and art for the sake of art became the prevailing trend. Art could be a profitable industry. If your work was acclaimed, you could open your own art studio and make a good living for yourself.

However, by 1962, Khrushchev decided that the art industry had gotten out of hand. The modern art trends disturbed him not only because they did not tout the party line, but also because the type of art that was being made emphasized the individual perspective.

Khrushchev deep in contemplation

Khrushchev deep in contemplation

The Soviet premier had long been able to interject their ideas on the art world through censorship. They controlled the artists’ union, which meant that they decided who could join and what members could publish. This meant that although Stalin and Lenin had not studied or practiced art, they created the trends and decided what art was.

Khrushchev decided to step into this same role. By speaking about art he hoped to pressure the artists to conform to the Socialist realism ideal that he deemed appropriate for Soviet artists.

Some golden quotes of criticism from Nikita:

“I don’t like jazz. When I hear jazz, it’s as if I had gas on the stomach. I used to think it was static when I heard it on the radio.”

“Or take these new dances which are so fashionable now. Some of them are completely improper. You wiggle a certain section of the anatomy, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s indecent. As Kogan once said to me when she was looking at a fox-trot, ‘I’ve been married 20 years and never knew that this kind of activity is called the fox-trot!”

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To Zheltovskii: “You’re a nice-looking lad, but how could you paint something like this? We should take down your pants and set you down in a clump of nettles until you understand your mistakes. You should be ashamed. Are you a pederast or a normal man? Do you want to go abroad? Go on, then; we’ll take you free as far as the border. Live out there in the ‘free world.’ Study in the school of capitalism, and then you’ll know what’s what. But we aren’t going to spend a kopeck on this dog shit. We have the right to send you out to cut trees until you’ve paid back the money the state has spent on you.”

None of the artists whom he criticized as personally as Zheltovskii responded to the comments for fear of being sent to a gulag or killed for speaking against the Premier. However one man decided it was worth the risk. Ernest Neizvestny responded to the comments made about him by tearing off his shirt and showing Khrushchev the scars he had received on the Ukrainian front during the Great Patriotic War. In the ensuing argument, Neizvestny was threatened with being sent to a Uranium mine, however, this threat was never carried out. However Neizvestny was kicked out of the Artists’ Union, and he would be readmitted and kicked out many times before he finally emigrated from the USSR.

Interestingly, in 1971, when Nikita Khrushchev died, it was Neizvestny who was given the grant to create the leader’s tombstone. The work he created featured a bust of Khrushchev surrounded by opposing forces of chaos made of white and black stone. By speaking against Khrushchev, Neizvestny was not only allowed to stay alive, he was also able to win the Premier’s respect.

khrushchevgrave

To free or not to free?

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This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

 

 

 

 

Women went through several phases during the Soviet period in which they were encouraged to leave the home, then discouraged, and so on. With each decade that went by, the flip-flopping continued. The emancipation of women can be viewed in two ways: either as the constant progression of women’s rights or as a series of reversals.

Women at the Wheel (1957)

Women at the Wheel (1957)

When Lenin came to power, he emphasized freeing women from “domestic slavery”. As I discussed in my week three post Social Women: This one’s for the Girls, Lenin focused on not only creating a revolutionary society, but on liberating women from their traditional roles in the house. One of Lenin’s most important contributions to the liberation of women was the Family Code of 1918, which legalized abortion, gave women property rights, and the right to divorce. Many of these reforms had the added benefit for Lenin of providing him with more workers. These changes did not make for immediate equality for women, but they did set society in the right direction.

In 1924, when Lenin died, the hope for women to become liberated from the home did not die, but it was pushed to the back burner. In 1936, Stalin enforced a ban on abortions, and publicly spoke about women doing their duty by having and taking care of children. The consumer economy also began encouraging female values that were centered around the home by selling ways for women to “pretty up” their apartments and selves.

 

An example of the advertising aimed at women from 1954

An example of the advertising aimed at women from 1954

The war also had a significant effect on the relationships between men and women, as I talked about last week in For the Motherland?. Traditional roles crept back up in a society that was supposed to have disappeared due to socialism. In a way, this period froze progress for women until Stalin’s death in 1953.

Part of the “Thaw” that happened after Stalin’s death was the re-ignition of the women’s civil rights movement. May 8 was declared International Women’s Day in April 1956, and the announcement declares that over 50% of doctors, teachers, and scientists are women. Other improvements include the ban on abortions being repealed, and journals began to write about the rights of women, including an article called It Is Her Right in Literaturnaia gazeta, which showed the first glimmers of the idea of the “double burden” of women, which became a more accepted idea in the 1960s. In this article, the author argues through case studies of women workers that they have the same burdens as men in the workplace and the added work of taking care of the home.

Video on women’s role in the Women’s Work Collective.

Some other interesting views of women’s rights in the USSR in the period directly after Stalin’s death come from A Poor Attempt, an article written in Oct 1956. This article refutes an article written in “Free Labor World” which accused the USSR of violating labor laws by making pregnant women work in mines until a month before their delivery. It does not say that the women do not work in the later stages of pregnancy, but it argue that the capitalist system is more detrimental to the rights of women by laying them off when they become pregnant.

These are the three big reversals for women: the start of Lenin’s policies, the start of Stalin’s policies, and the death of Stalin. In another way, women were constantly progressing in society. Even under Stalin, there were periods of brightness in which women were allowed to shine, such as the recruitment of women pilots during WWII.

For the Motherland?

This post earned a "red star" award from the editorial team.

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

Women made great strides toward equality in the first twenty four years of the Soviet regime. They gained the right to divorce, to own property, and to work outside of the home. However, these gains did not mean instant equality. Beginning in 1941, the nation began mobilizing for war.

The country had not been at war since before the October Revolution, and so the basis for the war effort was heavily influenced by old ideas. The old call went out: “For the Motherland!” This image of Russia was a symptom of the general return to pre-revolution gender roles that happened during the war. Men were fighting for not just the image of Mother Russia, but more concretely the women in their lives: wives, mothers, and daughters who could not defend themselves. And women were expected for the most part to passively rely on their men to defend them (Love and Romance). These ideas were seen in popular culture in such places as the songs of Klavdiia Shulzhenko.

Her song, “Blue Scarf” is a good example of a song that deals with women’s role waiting for their lovers to return from the front.

However, this was not the only story of the war for women. Much like the situation for American women in World War Two, women in the USSR found many benefits to the absence of men from society. The labor shortage allowed women to take over men’s jobs in the factories, and while a number of women had already joined the work force, the amount of jobs opened by the mass conscription of men let women work than ever before.

 

"We'll take your place!"

“We’ll take your place!”

Some movies also dealt with the increased presence of women on the front lines, such as “Frontline Girlfriend”, pictured below.

Movie poster for "Front-line Girlfriends" from 1941

Movie poster for “Front-line Girlfriends” from 1941

While some of the old stereotypes of women came back during the war, there was not a total reversion to the pre-revolution state of women. They made great strides to join the work force during this period of time.

 

Don’t Drink the Kool-aid, Comrade

This post earned a "red star" award from the editorial team.

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

An expressionist piece depicting Stalin in an armchair.

An expressionist piece depicting Stalin in an armchair.

Stalin’s Cult of Personality:

By the end of the 1930s, the cultural war against bourgeouis culture was still in full flower. The Writers’ Congress in 1936 set a new style for literature. Although the Congress allowed professional writers to be part of this new movement as opposed to the party line worker-writers, there was still widespread censorship and government control.

The Party controlled who could write, what they would write, and what they would publish through the Writers’ Union. Later on, an Artists’ Union, would also be created. The entire goal of the Party was to encourage a new style in art and literature. This style was called Socialist Realism, and it encouraged the “realistic” depiction of the revolution, and the evolving society. However, since the government would censor anything that did not adhere to the Party’s optimistic version of reality, this effectively meant that the literature and artwork became overly optimistic too.

The restraints on writers and artists left them little room to choose their material. One of the safest things that people could discuss was Stalin. I know this sounds far-fetched, after all, if the man with the mustache did not like the way you depicted him then you were sure to end up somewhere bad, probably in a ditch somewhere. However, as long as you adhered to the Party line, it was fairly easy to get your work published.

This led to a slew of artwork and literature with Stalin as the subject. In fact, by the end of the 1930s, the famous Cult of Stalin had developed. This included not only party propaganda, but also histories that were rewritten to show Stalin and socialism at the forefront. getimage-idx (1)

This poster shows Marx, Engels, and Lenin next to Stalin, emphasizing his connection to the Party. In this picture, the order of the people shows that Stalin is only the latest in a long line of venerated men taking up the Communist vision. By connecting himself to history and claiming the inheritance left to him by these other men, Stalin became much like the Tsar had been in imperial Russia: a loving father figure of the communist revolution.

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Other pictures, like this one, showed Stalin with his two children. The image of Stalin as a father was a powerful one because it furthered his reputation as the caretaker of the people of the USSR. It also shows the glory of the Revolution, by emphasizing the children’s role in the new world.

There was dissent within the literary community, however, it was heavily censored. Osip Mandelshtam’s Ode to Stalin is heavily critical of the dictator, saying that “each execution for him is raspberry sweet”. Mandelshtam only read this piece to a small circle of friends, but it still led to his arrest and exile from the USSR in the next year.

Overall, the cult of Stalin developed because of the overwhelming censorship of anything negative about Stalin and the amount of propaganda glorifying him.

Images:

Stalin in Armchair

Political Poster

Stalin’s family

 

Out with the Old: The Death of Aleksandr Blok

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This post received a “Red Star” award by the editorial team.

Monument to Tsar Aleksandr III, Petrograd. The victorious proletariat did not demolish the memorial of the tyrant, but instead had the following verse of the poet Demian Bednyi inscribed on the base: Scarecrow Their well deserved hangman's fee My son and sire received. But I, A specter of ancient slavery, Shall ride through all eternity, Derided by humanity.

Monument to Tsar Aleksandr III, Petrograd. The victorious proletariat did not demolish the memorial of the tyrant, but instead had the following verse of the poet Demian Bednyi inscribed on the base:
Scarecrow
Their well deserved hangman’s fee
My son and sire received. But I,
A specter of ancient slavery,
Shall ride through all eternity,
Derided by humanity.

 

After the Bolsheviks had succeeded in taking control of Russia in a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, they still had a long way to go in achieving socialism. The next step was to change the culture of Russia.

 

Aleksandr Blok was one of the leading poets of the intelligentsia during the late imperial period. He, like most members of the intelligentsia, was from a wealthy bourgeois family, and through his education had come to support the Revolution. There was a shared sense of duty among some of the educated upper class that they had to free the working class because they were benefiting from the unfair conditions in the factories.

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However, when members of the intelligentsia actually saw the violence of the revolution, there was less enthusiasm. Blok wrote Scythians in January of 1918. In the poem, he addresses the “Old world”, asking it to be as “sage as Oedipus before the ancient riddle of the Sphinx”. The allusion used here is to the story of the ancient Greek legend about Oedipus meeting a Sphinx when he was on the road coming back from the oracle at Delphi. The Sphinx asked him a riddle: “What has one voice, is four-footed, two-footed, and three-footed?”

Everyone coming down the road before Oedipus had not answered the riddle correctly, and had been eaten alive by the beast. Oedipus answered “Man”, which was correct, and as a result, the Sphinx killed herself by jumping off a cliff. This illusion is helpful in understanding Blok’s work, because he is asking the bourgeois and intelligentsia who are now out of power to be patient and use their advanced education to outwit the Sphinx of the Russian proletariat, which would then perish.

The conclusion Blok had come to once witnessing the Revolution was that it was too violent, which is why he likened it to a Sphinx devouring everything about the old culture. He even says near the end of the poem that the “cruel Huns” would “rummage the pockets of corpses, burn cities, drive cattle into churches, and roast the meat of our white brothers!” This violent imagery shows that Blok’s feelings had changed by his death. He no longer supported the Revolution and wanted the old world to wait for its chance to retake power. He also alludes to the war between the red Bolshevik army and the white monarchist army in these last lines.

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With Blok’s death in 1921, the age of bourgeois art had come to an end. Gone were the days of the intelligentsia running the show. Instead the literary and art scene increasingly belonged to the emerging proletariat culture, which was supported by the state. Lenin had called for an emphasis on proletariat values and art through a mandate passed by the Proletkult Congress in 1920, and before his death in 1924 called for a Cultural Revolution that would rock the country from 1928-1932.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge.

Works Cited:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print

Blok’s Scythians: http://max.mmlc.northwestern.edu/mdenner/Demo/texts/scythians_blok.html

William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984), pp. 469-474: http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1921rapp1&SubjectID=1921blok&Year=1921

V. I. Lenin, Selected Works in Two Volumes (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1952), Vol. 2, pp. 316-317:            http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1921pcult2&SubjectID=1921blok&Year=1921

Information on Sphinx:  http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~loxias/sphinx.htm

 

Social Women: This one’s for the girls

This post earned a "red star" award from the editorial team.

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.*

“The Liberation of Women Workers is the affair of the Women themselves!” – N. Lenin

This poster says "Women, Liberate yourselves!" and quotes Lenin saying "The Liberation of Women Workers is the affair of Women themselves!"

This poster from 1920 encourages women to take the initiative in gaining liberties for themselves. Many groups of women workers nominated some of their members to represent them in government.

In the years after the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks began a new war, one that targeted the old society which had been based on oppression, not only on workers, but also on other groups, chief among them women. In the old society, women were confined to traditional roles, which included staying in the home and taking care of children. They could not work in factories or hold other jobs. Their rights were also limited by marriage. Once a woman was married, they lost the ability to own property and had to take their husband’s surname.

The main reason that the Bolsheviks wanted to change this was to gain more workers, both in the field and the factory. Their ideology also stressed that the only social barrier was class, which meant that no other markers held importance. Because of this, they tried to create a society based on equality. One of the first legal changes they made, the Family Code of 1918, gave women more freedom than anywhere else in the world.

Some interesting points in the code are the naming rights for women, which still required a marriage name for a couple, but expanded the options to the husband’s name, the wife’s name or their combined surnames. The law also states in section 105 that property is not communal in a marriage, which is interesting given that a basic tenant of communism is the communalization of land and property. But giving women their own property not only encouraged them to get jobs, it also gave them a degree of independence that they had never had before. Women did not have to get jobs however, because while a marriage did not mean that the husband and wife shared resources, the law still required unemployed spouses to be taken care of by the employed spouse.

Divorce was also made legally acceptable in this set of laws, and it only required one member of the marriage to be carried out, which meant women could successfully leave their husbands if they wanted to. And even after a divorce, a husband was still legally bound to take care of his wife, or vice versa, if they were unemployed, which meant that getting a divorce would not leave you destitute. Children would also be taken care of financially under the laws, with half of the money coming from each parent. To ensure that fathers would pay, the laws made mothers register the father of their child within three months of birth. The named father of the child could then appeal within a certain period of time, and if he did not, it was admission of his having fathered the child. This prevented (financial) single parenthood.

The laws did not only affect women. They also undermined the authority of the church by granting legal marriages to all members of the clergy (if they wanted them), even if they had taken a vow of celibacy. The laws also, interestingly, gave children born out of wedlock the same rights as children of a marriage, which defied old prejudices.

A poster for a women's work league.

A poster for a women’s work league.

Women workers also began sending delegates to the Soviet to represent their issues with society, which helped he women’s cause greatly. Maria Fedotovna Filipenko’s story of her awakening to the joys of communism is an interesting piece of propaganda in which a loyal member of the party recounts her conversion. She was “afraid what would happen next, how the children would live”. She forbid her husband from joining the Party or participating in social works because she did not believe it would come to anything good. Then she discovers the benefits of socialism, like nurseries for the children (she was locking them in a windowless room before; true story). Maria later becomes very involved in the Party and is voted by her co-workers to represent the women in the factory in the Soviet.

While these laws did not mean the immediate acceptance of the “new woman” by society, it did give the younger generation a chance to change.

Works Cited:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print

International Conciliation (1919), pp. 35-37.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917family1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917#4

William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984), pp. 139-141.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917filipenko1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917

Soviet Russia. Vol. III, No. 5 (31 July 1920), pp. 109-110.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917bukharin1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917

*This post is also won the Students’ Choice Award for Week 3 on the Motherblog.

What constitutes a Constitution?

This post was selected by the editorial team for the Comrade's Corner.

This post was selected by the editorial team for the Comrade’s Corner.

 

 

 

 

 

Increasing challenges to autocratic rule reached a boiling point in 1905. In order to avoid total disaster, Sergei Witte called for a reform of the political system. Witte wrote the famous October Manifesto, which calmed the unrest following the shooting upon civilians in the massacre known as Bloody Sunday.

The closing of the Russo-Japanese War and the riot known as Bloody Sunday were ultimately what led the Tsar to sign the October Manifesto, which was the precursor to the Fundamental Laws of 1906.

The closing of the Russo-Japanese War and the riot known as Bloody Sunday were ultimately what led the Tsar to sign the October Manifesto, which was the precursor to the Fundamental Laws of 1906.

The Manifesto promised that the Tsar would look into reform which would liberalize the Russian state. It promised three things, the “essential foundations of civil freedom”, the expansion of suffrage for the classes “completely deprived of voting rights”, and an “unbreakable” rule which would require the elected Duma to approve any laws.

These promises, and the ending of the Russo-Japanese War, quieted the unrest by appeasing those who were calling for moderate change. However, within these promises there were some principles that were disturbing to the autocratic nature of government in Russia. The most troubling was the requirement that the Duma have the power to approve laws. Such a power would theoretically limit the power of the Tsar, and such a challenge, if not met by strength, would end the days of the autocracy in Russia forever.

An end to the autocracy and movement towards a constitutional monarchy similar to Great Britain’s was one of the goals that Sergei Witte envisioned when he wrote the October Manifesto. However, in its implementation he had so many disagreements with the Tsar that by the end of April 1906 he was forced to resign from his position as head of the council of ministers.

Sergei Witte, influential adviser to Tsars Alexander III and his son Nicholas II, wanted the fundamental laws to move Russia toward a new political system.

Sergei Witte, influential adviser to Tsars Alexander III and his son Nicholas II, wanted the fundamental laws to move Russia toward a new political system.

Due to disagreements between Witte and the Tsar, the Fundamental Laws turned out to fall short of what had been promised the previous October. First of all, they were called Laws, not a full-fledged constitution. Secondly, all of the liberal ideas were severely limited to keep control firmly in the hands of the Tsar, and part of that meant including some harsh language which limited the powers of the Duma so that they could not pursue legislation on their own initiative.

The first twenty-six of one hundred twenty three clauses focus solely on the “Essence of the Supreme Autocratic Power”, part of which limits the promised power over legislation that the Duma was supposed to get through the reforms (namely the power to approve laws) by requiring all laws to be approved by the Tsar before they are legal. In some ways it is similar to the American system of veto except that there is no override to the veto. The Tsar was also given by the Fundamental Laws all of the powers that Americans and all other liberal powers associate with the elected body (which in Russia would be half the Duma). Tsar Nicholas II had the power to levy taxes, to coin money, and control all aspects of the country within the way the law was set up.

The Fundamental Laws also outlined the rights of Russian citizens, giving them more rights than they had had in hundreds of years. But the Laws limited the rights of their citizens by adding after enumerating each right that the right was only to be exercised as the law previously allowed. For example, the Laws grant the freedom of religion, but adds that the “terms of enjoyment of this freedom are determined by law”. In addition, the Fundamental Laws only name the people of Russia as citizens once, and don’t really outline who is a citizen. Instead, all Russians are categorized as “subjects” and are expected to preform certain obligations, such as paying taxes and serving in the military.

Pictures:

http://everydaysaholiday.org/sunday-bloody-sunday/

http://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/politics-and-society/sergei-witte/

Works Cited:

http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE%7CCX2878100047&v=2.1&u=viva_vpi&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&authCount=1

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/514017/Russo-Japanese-War

Click to access Manifesto.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_(1905)

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/424878/October-Manifesto?anchor=ref161906

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/October_Manifesto

A Band-aid that didn’t stick: Russian reform in the 1860s and 70s

This post was selected by the editorial team for the Comrade's Corner.

This post was selected by the editorial team for the Comrade’s Corner.

 

Reform. Counter-reform. One step forward and two steps back. This pattern can be seen in many places throughout history, and usually leads to a period of explosive reform started by the people. Examples of this pattern are the reforms begun by Qing China before the 1911 Revolution and even the connection between post-civil war reforms in America and the Civil Rights Movement. The same form holds true in the history of Russia. Leading up to the explosive revolutions in 1905 and 1917, there was a period of reform under Tsar Alexander II and then the reversal of those policies under his son Alexander III. The period of reform due to a number of factors. One was a growing trend towards liberalism in Europe that began as a result of the French Revolution. Liberalism (lowercase L) is defined by its emphasis on free trade, individual rights, democracy and the rule of law.

By 1948, calls for liberal constitutions were widespread in Europe. Russia, being a west-ward looking nation, was sure to feel the pressures of such trends.

By 1948, calls for liberal constitutions were widespread in Europe. Russia, being a west-ward looking nation, was sure to feel the pressures of such trends.

This trend towards liberalism could not fail to make an impact. Serfdom was the most obvious contradiction to liberal ideals, but it was not the only one. Education posed its own problems, as serfs had neither the time nor the inclination to learn, and democracy depends on the education of the everyday man. Likewise, the bureaucracy and the church were seen to be corrupt.

Another, more immediate factor in the beginning of the period of reform was Russia’s embarrassing defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856). This war pit Russia against Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire in a struggle for the increased rights of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire and Palestine. After being soundly defeated by the superior modern equipment of industrializing Britain and France, the aforementioned problems in Russia became even more glaring.

It was in this climate that Alexander II ascended to the throne. It had become obvious to all by the 1860s that something needed to be done to modernize Russia. As a result, Alexander II issued a number of more liberal-minded reforms. The emancipation of the serfs was the biggest change that came about, but it was not the only thing that needed to be modernized. There were many things about Russian society that were a result of centuries of serfdom, and these needed to be cleaned out like so many cobwebs. These remnants of the old system were especially prevalent in the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church of the Resurrection is a classic example of the ostentatious style of the Russian Orthodox Church. Photo by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

The Church of the Resurrection is a classic example of the ostentatious style of the Russian Orthodox Church. Photo by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is an autocephalous part of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Big words aside, that means that the ROC has a head bishop called a Patriarch who functions as head of the church (like the Roman Catholic Pope) and does not report to any other bishop. For centuries, the ROC worked almost like a second bureaucracy in Russia. Under a weak Tsar, the ROC would even rule de facto in Russia. In addition, the ROC parish priests were required to get married, and their sons would typically succeed them, effectively rendering the church into a self-perpetuating oligarchy.  This created a caste-like status for the clergy, as seminaries were closed to people of other social classes. Bishops were also very privileged but they were not allowed to get married. The effects of this were  corrupt and ineffective church administration and courts. Another issue was that although some churches were usually richly furnished and decorated like the one above, most local clergy got little monetary support.

A special commission was tasked with finding solutions to remedy these issues. In 1867, the clerical caste was formally abolished, and the ecclesiastical schools were opened to all classes. To help “downsize” the number of parishes, a reform in 1869 combined small uneconomic parishes. The reforms also created parish councils in 1864 to help raise funds for local parishes. In addition, the church courts and censorship were liberalized through these reforms.

In the end, all these reforms did not solve any of the problems facing the ROC. If anything, the local priest was in a worse situation than before. Conglomerating the parishes did not increase their income, as the parishioners did not increase the tithe they gave and even decreased it in some circumstances.  In addition, the ending of the caste system gave the clergy’s sons an opportunity to leave, which many of them did. This created a vacuum of new candidates. Likewise, the reform of the seminaries proved ineffective. The curriculum was improved, and it was open to everyone, but the reform also shifted much of the financial burden to the local parish, which could already not afford the task.

The religious reforms are just one of the many types of reforms instituted by Alexander II in the 1860s. But like the reforms of the ROC, the other reforms generally did not alleviate the problems facing Russia. In fact, almost all of them led to more problems or did not adequately solve the initial issue. They were band-aids that just didn’t stick.

 

Pictures:

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Church of the Resurrection in the Grove, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03975 (48)

http://www.amitm.com/thecon/lesson4.html

Works Cited:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143040/Crimean-War

http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/view/Entry/107863?redirectedFrom=liberal#eid

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Orthodox_Church

https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/chinese-rev

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/exhibits/reconstruction/introduction.html