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Russia has always played a major roll in
global politics, economics and thought. However, in the past two centuries,
Russia has had probably the greatest influence on the international world
in modern times, surpassed only by the United States. The Russia that we've
known this century though, has its roots in last centuries Russian. At
the end of the nineteenth century, Russia experienced great changes internally,
politically, socially and spiritually. The half century leading up to the
Communist revolution in 1917 was a time filled with sweeping changes, literary
triumphs and military defeat. All of these factors played in the eventual
revolution and not only affected politics and thought in Russia, but in
every nation on earth.
After the defeat of the Russian army in
the Crimean War, Russian realized that it needed to modernize its country,
socially and militarily. Alexander II realized that to modernize mean that
Russia needed to westernize. So in 1861 he emancipated the serfs from bondage.
The emancipation was mean to bridge the gap between the elite and the general
population, but was not the first of such liberal western type reforms.
Catherine and Peter the Great had also made western type reforms during
their respective reigns. All of their reforms, and especially Alexander's,
were influenced by western thought. These thought were introduced into
Russia by its Western European educated ruling class. Under Alexander II,
the ruling class began to see serfdom as an immoral part of society. This
moral problem was accompanied by the economics of the day, and the ethical
conclusion was that serfdom must be dismantled.
The abolition of serfdom was Alexander
II greatest contribution to history. However, the 'Liberating Czar' enacted
a whole series of fundamental changes including; comprehensive reform of
the judicial system that finally introduced the unheard of idea of equality,
trial by jury, public proceedings in legal matters and the impartiality
of the courts.
In the end though, none of these reforms
really solved any of Russia's social or economic problems, eventually called
the 'accursed questions'. These were taken up by the various political
groups and writers of the time. The writers however were the most important.
To Russians, the writer is not only looked upon as an artist of the word,
but also as a guide and teacher in a deeper sense. The writer is supposed
to understand life better than ordinary mortals, so it's his duty to impart
this knowledge to others in appropriate shape and form.
The reign of Alexander II was an age of
great literary achievement, the 'Golden Age' of the Russian novel. Almost
all of the great works of Russian fiction were produced during this time.
The best minds were attracted to the novel, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky
and Asakov all produced some of the greatest literary works of all time
during this period.
All of the writers during this time belonged
to a political school of thought, and while some of the schools worked
for similar aims, they were all different and each one possessed its own
The Slavophiles were probably the oldest
of the political schools at the time. The Slavophiles during the reign
of Alexander II were of the second generation, and they were the ones to
turn the Slavophile myth of old into a real modern political program. This
program included the endorsement of the Orthodox religion and a patrimonial
monarchy. The Slavophiles believed in the inherent virtue and goodness
of the Russian people and culture. A main part of this culture was the
ideal of 'sobornost', that is, the communal spirit. The Slavophiles saw
this in action in the peasant communes, and believed that communalism in
conjunction with Christian communal worship would become the source of
Russia's sorely needed moral and cultural regeneration. In accordance with
Russia's regeneration, Slavophiles saw the west as corrupt and immoral.
They saw Russia's destiny as one in which it would save the west from spiritual
Fyodor Dostoevsky was Slavophilisms more
down-to-earth and democratic member. He was also the movements' most effective
proponent. In his book "Discourse on Pushkin", Dostoevsky describes the
The major opponents of the Slavophile
position were the western influenced Nihilists. These leftist radicals
rejected religion, the authority of the state, the family, social conventions
and aesthetic values as irrelevant. They were highly influenced by Western
Europe in their atheism and material positivism. They flaunted the social
rules and conventions of the day, they wore dark sunglasses, men wore their
hair long and the women short. They were also socialists, but unlike their
Slavophile counterparts, they did not believe in a utopia. The nihilists
had many sympathizers in the literary and journalistic worlds, but most
importantly Turgenev, who's novel 'Fathers and Sons' expressed the nihilist
point of view, and was widely acclaimed.
The other main political force
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Russian nationalism, Russian Revival architecture, Russian culture, Slavophilia, Knights of the Garter, Knights of the Golden Fleece, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Obshchina, Alexander II of Russia, Russia, Nihilism, history russia, nineteenth century russia, alexander, crimean war, serfdom, global politics, russian history, centuries, economics, russian army, communist revolution, military defeat, serfs, judicial system
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