The Significance of Russian Leaders Throughout History – History Essay
“The history of Russia provides us with incontrovertible evidence of the significance of the individual in history. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine II, Alexander II, Nicholas II, and Lenin each altered the course of Russia’s political and social development, either through force of personality or failure to perceive the need for reform. For better or for worse, the trajectory of Russian history relied overwhelmingly on the actions of these personalities.”
Throughout Russia’s turbulent past, there were decision makers and rule breakers; individuals ruling with iron fists and solid wills greatly influenced the nation’s socio-political development. Ivan IV, Peter I, Catherine II, Alexander II, Nicholas II, and Lenin each prove that an individual may alter the course of history, whether for better or worse. Ivan’s oprichnina, Peter’s massive westernizing reforms, Catherine’s charter to the nobility, Alexander’s emancipation of the serfs, Nicholas’ failure to perceive the need for reform, and Lenin’s fight for the proletariat are some of the examples of individuals’ immeasurable impact on the history of Russia.
Describe what kind of impact he had. Ivan IV (the Terrible) ruled Russia from 1547 to 1584, and his reign as the first tsar was marked by two incontrovertibly different stages— pre-oprichnina and post-oprichnina. Before his reign of terror through the oprichnina, Ivan ruled as a fairly peaceful Tsar. He assembled the zemskii sobor (assembly of the land), which consisted of his leading subjects: mainly boyars and leaders of the church. However, the assembly’s composition—much like the intervals on which it convened—was unpredictable, sometimes consisting of the aforementioned groups and sometimes of the poorer nobility, merchants, and artisans who happened to be in the city at the time. The sobor had no real power under Ivan; it was used as a figurative seal of approval to legitimize his decisions. In 1613, it managed to play a significant role in Russian politics when it selected Mikhail Romanov as Tsar, effectively initiating the Romanov Dynasty and all of its future descendents. [How does this relate to an Ivan’s individual impact on Russia?] Another highpoint in Ivan’s reign was the conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan in 1552 and 1556, respectfully. Finally, Ivan purged the land of permanent Tatar presence, and advanced the Russian borders to encompass the Volga River system in its entirety. These Muscovite Victories against the Tatars were in part thanks to military reforms passed by the Tsar in 1550s, which included the creation of six companies of strel’tsy (musketeers), and in 1556, a decree on nobles’ military obligations. Before the formation of the strel’tsy, Russia lacked an artillery division; the reform served to modernize the army. The decree on the nobles’ military services stated that each noble must appear for mobilization or inspection with one fully equipped cavalry unit for every one hundred chetverti (four hundred acres) of land they possessed.
In addition to his…[restate what you talked about], he carried out sweeping reforms concerning the central and local governments. This was the first time a Russian ruler [I don’t like this word, change it] attempted to solve the problem of administrating over such vast distances. The new system aimed to minimize corruption among local officials, who had been inclined toward bribery. Locally, Ivan __ gave local residents the right to elect their local officials; nationally, Ivan attempted [did he fail?] to create a central bureaucracy, organized by prikazy (chancellery), which were responsible for their own aspects of government [such as…].
Ivan’s tumultuous period from 1565-1572, came with the oprichnina: a separate administration, court, and __ army that would carry out his orders. Best described, as a reign of terror against those Ivan believed to be his enemies—whether boyar, noble, countryman, or the entire city of Novgorod—the oprichnina caused mass casualties and brutality throughout the country. Novgorod, a great center of commerce, fell into a depression and declined after the oprichniki [you haven’t explained what the oprichniki are] sacked and killed much of its populace. By the end, it was no better than “a run-of-the-mill provincial town” . During this period, Ivan also waged war against Livonia, a war that caused great pains, especially __ considering that Livonia allied itself with Poland to defeat Russia [did they actually defeat Russia?] . The war, the oprichnina, and a minor case of the plague, contributed to mass depopulation and peasant migration [from where?] to lands more fertile and politically stable, such as the recently annexed regions around Kazan and Astrakhan. Ivan understood that such peasant movement negatively affected the well-being of the lower nobles and landlords, thus, in 1580 the Tsar put an end to peasant mobility, even during the two weeks that surrounded St. George’s Day, when mobility was previously allowed. This action essentially planted the seeds of serfdom, which, as an institution, dominated Russia’s economy and most of its population up to Alexander II’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1861. Serfdom is also believed to have contributed to Russia’s backwardness when compared to Western Europe, for serfs worked the land without ambition, compared to European farmers who had personal stake in their lands. [Now, sum up why Ivan has shown that an individual can change the history of Russia… put all of his “accomplishments” in a concluding sentence. You can’t just end it there. This will provide an opportunity to add a transitory sentence at the beginning of the next paragraph.]
The rule of Peter the Great marked a turning point in Russian history. It is questionable whether Peter’s reforms and institutions proved advantageous to Russia’s development, even when taking into account the long years they endured. His implementation of the Senate lasted from 1711 to December of 1917, 206 years later; the Holy Synod, the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church, lasted 197 years, from 1721 to 1918; the Soul Tax, collected from all male peasants and townsfolk, endured for 163 years, from 1724 to 1887. He started out with the goal of turning Russia into a military power, but ended up changing the very essence of Russian life. He was not unlike the Bolsheviks of the twentieth century. Peter’s sweeping reforms—westernizing the military, government, and society—cannot be doubted as anything less than revolutionary [this would be an awesome concluding sentence for this point].
After Peter had taken his [you’re making the assumption that the reader knows about Peter’s journey, don’t!] journey throughout Western Europe, he believed that there was a connection between its superior military techniques and its cultural life. He forced a cultural reform of the nobility and peasantry, requiring nobles to shave their beards and wear clothing styled after the German fashion; Peter also forbade the wearing and selling of Russian styled clothing. For the first time in history, elite men and women had to socialize in public, and the terem (the women’s quarters of the nobles’ homes) was abolished. However, these changes only skimmed the surface.
The Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden marked the beginning of Peter’s more far-reaching and systematic reforms of Russia’s social and political institutions. Having suffered bitter defeat at the battle of Narva in 1700, Peter determined that a mass restructuring of the military was necessary. As Sweden turned its back to an enemy it perceived to pose no threat, Peter initiated his restructuring of the State to turn Russia into a military machine.
Peter set up a menagerie of military academies where officers were trained in the latest European military technologies and tactics. He introduced a regular conscription into the army composed of serfs and peasants, whereas previously, the Russian army consisted of the service gentry. Serf recruits were obliged to serve the state for 25 years; they were branded on the left arm with a special insignia, allowing escapees to be identifiable as fugitives. Peasants throughout the land passionately resented the military service.
In addition, military reform required arms production on a scale Russia had never before seen; the result was a phenomenal growth in industry to produce metal. Between 1695 and 1725, at least 200 individual manufactories had been created, compared with roughly 15 to 20 that had previously existed. Further alienating peasants, Peter passed a decree that allowed manufacturers to purchase peasants for work in their factories, and later, passed a decree that regulated the procedures factories implemented to employ workers. Under this decree, peasants had to have their landlord’s passport in order to be employed at an enterprise, otherwise they faced arrest and were returned(?) to the landlord. E. V. Anisimov, when commenting on this new form of serfdom, states, “forced labor in industry foreordained that economic backwardness of Russia which became increasingly evident in the nineteenth century.” It is my belief that Peter, through his necessity for immediate success in war and industry [change this, it sounds awkward], was completely oblivious to the long-term consequences of his actions. Russia remained economically backward through the succeeding centuries, until the revolution.
The formation of a bourgeoisie, or middle class, was impeded by serfdom in Russia. Manufacturers enjoyed state-granted privileges that were feudal in nature. Since it was easy and more profitable for enterprises to purchase serfs than free men, an unproductive use of capital materialized; estimates say that fewer than half of the serf labourers were fit for factory work. The existence of a viable middle class may have quailed Russia’s financial woes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Peter’s attitude towards the nobility created discourse between himself and the nobles. The nobles were the most __ affected by his reforms. Peter envisioned all nobles being servitors of the state. In his vision, every nobleman was to begin service at the age of fifteen and continue serving to the end of his life. Peter also instituted secular schools where sons of noblemen and the elite would learn geography, fencing, artillery, and navigation and anything that would be beneficial for their military expertise. To ensure that young men attended, Peter instituted another law stating that no nobleman could marry until he had passed examinations in reading, writing and arithmetic. As well, The Edict of Entail claimed that noblemen could not partition their estates among their children—the entire estate must go to one child. The others would thus be forced to take part in state service.
Further undermining of the nobility came with the Table of Ranks. Whereas the traditional ability to rise through the ranks in Muscovy depended on family wealth, Peter eliminated these privileges of the old aristocracy. The table listed 14 ranks in military, civil, and court circles; all nobles were obliged to begin at the very bottom of the ranks and rise to the top, based on their services and so forth. The noble status was achieved at different ranks for every one of the various circles. This played a very important role in Russia’s development for it was the common people, or the landless nobles that rose through the bureaucracy to become the intelligentsia who sponsored the abolition of serfdom. Many of these “landless nobles” were well educated and conscious of the plight of the peasants, and being landless, many had no personal ventures in serfdom, thus being favourable towards emancipation. However, for this exact matter, Peter only set the stage with his reform, Catherine II gave the bureaucrat nobles the tools and inspiration.