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.

blok2

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.

bloksmall

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