Russian Imperialism


Russian Imperialism

The concept of imperialism is very general and includes a number of features and causes. Nevertheless, it is possible to outline the most important of them using the theories in which these features are defined. Among the theories discussing the features and causes of imperialism there are three major theories of imperialism as described by Jan Palmowski (2003) which are briefly presented furthering. The first one is the acquiring colonies and dependencies. Here the underlying motive of imperialism is that European capitalists have the economic interests in an expansion of their markets.

It is so-called Marxists point of view. The second, more important reason for imperialism concerns events outside Europe, in the colonies themselves. According to this theory, individual soldiers or administrators proceeded to extend their country’s sphere of influence and created a situation which the home government then had to accept. The third and most potent set of arguments refer to non-economic circumstances in Europe and the USA. One theme has been the rivalry between European states. In other words, imperialism declared itself as a war for spheres of influence.

Another was the use of imperialism by state leaders as a technique to deflect attention from domestic problems. Russian Imperialism, as a particular form of imperialism can be broadly described within these theories however it also possesses its own distinctive features. One of the most prominent features of Russian Imperialism during the period of its flourish from Peter the Great to Czar Nicholas II is its transformation from the common war for survival (later for domination) into the war, the important factor of which was the concept of national, ethnical or religious affinity with focus on Russian superiority.

Peter the Great. The Russia as an equal player on the European map The individuality of Peter the Great plays a significant role in development of Russian Imperialism. Thus it deserves a particular consideration. Moreover, historians, and in particular Paul Dukes, believe that Peter the Great is a bright example of how one person is capable to change the course of history and turn the state development process into the direction which is considered to be correct.

As Paul Dukes describes, Peter the Great life and his reign both commenced without much intimation of future ‘greatness’, and with quite a few pointers towards a different appraisal or to no appraisal at all. And so we must give considerable attention to the early years, as Dukes points out. Young tsarevich played his first games of soldiers, as well as receiving his first lessons in Preobrazhenskoe village. The first tutor was Nikita Zotov, who duly attempted to instil the first foundations of reading and writing with the customary use of Holy Scripture.

Characteristically, Peter never became much good at writing, but he learned many texts and was fond of quoting them in later life. Later the young tsar’s war games became more serious and he developed his taste and talent for leadership along with a number of princes and commoners, Russian and foreign, while his keen if disordered curiosity concerning the wider world was satisfied in some fashion by the more educated members of this variegated crew. A Dutchman Franz Timmerman helped Peter study arithmetic and geometry, ballistics and fortification and was with him when he found an old English boat, The Father of the Russian Fleet.

The leading Russian member of Peter’s entourage became the “ignorant, nearly illiterate, but alert and jovial bombardier”; while another important foreigner was the “staid, punctilious old mercenary” General Patrick Gordon. (Dukes, 1990, 67) Dukes provides detailed reminiscences of the General Patrick Gordon (“The Diary of Patrick Gordon,” located in the Central Military-Historical Archive, Moscow, 7 August 1689), where he gives a good picture of the young tsar’s continuing education, and of the series of events in the summer of 1689, after which Peter received a real authority.

His closest companion now became the Swiss adventurer Franz Lefort. Dukes gives characteristic to Franz Lefort, in which he refers to the research results of Russian historian, Klyuchevsky. It should be noted that Peter the Great’s friends, Franz Lefort and ‘Alesha’ Menshikov, played a significant role in development of Russian Empire while they always had been a reliable support to Peter the Great in the implementation of his transformation of the Russian state. In 1694 there were naval maneuvers off Archangel, which was then the only Russian sea port.

The first successful military campaign, seizure of Azov, was waged by tsar in the summer of 1696. Peter took his first trip to the West in the spring of 1697 incognito, as Peter Mikhailov, in a Great Embassy of some two hundred and fifty in number headed by Lefort. The official purpose was to work towards a Christian crusade against the Muslim Turks, but as much and as unofficially as possible the tsar busied himself with the mastery of Western technology, especially navigation and shipbuilding. When Peter reached Vienna in July 1698 he learned about fresh revolt of the streltsy.

Back in Moscow by September, the Tsar took a keen interest in the bloody completion of the suppression of the streltsy, being especially anxious to confirm by torture of the insurgents his suspicions of Sophie’s, Peter’s step-sister, involvement. Very little hard evidence was forthcoming (Dukes arrives to such conclusion after the analysis of “materialy sledstvennogo dela” Vosstanie moskovskikh streltsov: 1698 goda), but Sophie was nevertheless forced to take the veil and kept in strict seclusion for the rest of her life. Peter proceeded to confirm the worst fears of the conservative streltsy, forcing the pace of the introduction of reform.

By the end of the seventeenth century innovations had been made in the armed forces and government, and in foreign policy. So, on his return, Peter took back with him about 60 specialists in shipbuilding, and he also started to recruit foreign naval and military officers, shipyard superintendents, academics, and others. In 1703 Peter had begun building the Baltic Fleet. The most important part of Peter’s imperialism was the Great Northern War with Sweden, which lasted for nearly his entire reign. The Baltic Fleet played a key role in Sweden defeat.

The results of the war made Russia the most powerful country in Northern Europe, and the undisputed master of the Baltic Sea. The Great Northern War also, and more importantly, made Peter revered throughout Europe as a powerful, successful, and ultimately Western style leader of a respected nation. Peter the Great had own development strategy for Russian Empire, and the basic element of the strategy was the building of a modern big army and powerful Baltic Fleet. In his decisions as related to establishing of military alliances or waging wars Peter the Great was guided solely by his plans to strengthen and expand the power of his Empire.

In conclusion, Dukes again emphasizes the individual role of Peter the Great: “To understand fully the achievement of Peter the Great, which is not to be lightly dismissed even if it has often been exaggerated, it needs to be appreciated not only in its wider European setting but also in relation to the work of his predecessors and successors. ” (Dukes, 1990, 109) Having understood what a huge jump had Russia made during Peter’s rule, it is easy to understand why he is called the Great. Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire

Another work, which gives the analysis of the development of Russian Imperialism, approaches the issue from the point of view of Grand strategy (stressing the military aspect). When speaking about Grand strategy Eric Lohr and Marshall Poe mean political objectives, and strategic planning. “Grand strategy also includes strategy in the narrower sense — which is the art of making war on the map and moving armies across the whole theater of operations—industrial policy, and an ideology of cultural symbols that embodies the vision, informs strategy, and rationalizes policy. (2002, 175)

Summarizing their view one can conclude that grand strategy, means the management of the totality of forces and resources in war and peace. The principles of the Grand strategy of the Russian Empire are outlined by the authors on the basis of modern studies carried out by other historians. Lohr and Poe discuss three principles on which the strengthening of Russian Empire was based. First, Russia must be able to carry out deep strategic penetrations in all three theaters either at the same time or in quick succession.

A second principle of Russia’s emerging grand strategy called for the concentrated deployment of troops in the Moscow region when the army was not engaged in offensive operations beyond the imperial border. The third principle guiding the imperial government and its ruling elite was the need to build a glacis of client states and societies through which imperial desires could be translated into reality without the use of force. This paper includes the scrutiny of only the third principle derived by the authors.

This glacis had three constituent parts: the friendly state, client states, and client societies. The friendly state was Austria, with which Russia had many common interests. There were three client states. First, the Treaty of Nystadt enabled Russia to interfere in Swedish domestic affairs, and Sweden became the battleground between French and Russian ambitions. The rivals spent large sums to win legislative elections, with the Russians supporting the Caps, who wanted peaceful relations, and the French supporting the Hats, who wanted war to recover the lost provinces.

The Russians also toyed with the idea of a Russo-Swedish dynastic union; when this failed, they imposed their own candidate on the Swedish throne. Poland was the second client state. The Saxon dynasty, which is synonymous with the country’s decline, was installed in 1697, not without Russian pressure. During the Northern War, Poland was a junior partner not represented at the Nystadt negotiations. To confirm that the ruling house owed its election to Russia’s assent, Petersburg ordered the invasion of Poland in 1733 to force the Poles to elect the son of Augustus II rather than the French candidate.

The use of force made it clear that Poland could resist Russian demands only at the cost of an armed confrontation. Prussia was the third client state. During the first half of the century, Prussia consisted of Brandenburg and East Prussia, separated by the Pomerelian corridor. East Prussia was always at the mercy of a Russian invasion, especially after the annexation of Livonia: Riga was only 380 kilometers from Koenigsberg. Brandenburg was poor with sandy soils and a barren coastline, and in the 1720s and 1730s it still had to follow the Russian line.

Russia was the ally of Austria, which resented the growth of Prussian power under the ambitious Hohenzollern kings. Moreover, Peter had married one of his nieces to the duke of Mecklenburg, hoping to make the country another client state and acquire a naval base. Brandenburg was thus surrounded, and Berlin had to be impressed by the “awesomeness” of Russian power. The issue of client societies is complex and the relation between the client societies and Russian Empire has certain peculiar features. Here relevant is the reference to the relation between Ukrainian Cossacks and the Russian Empire, described by Lohr and Poe.

The Cossacks were both within the empire — like those on the left bank of the Dniepr and the basin of the Don — and outside it, like the Zaporozhians in that indeterminate zone between the Dniepr and the Crimea. Such situation caused bound to the Russians by Orthodoxy Cossacks to complement the imperial infantry with their light cavalry and keep the Crimean Tatars away from the Russian center. Relations between the Russians and the Cossacks were not friendly, but the Cossacks operated in an environment which left them no choice but to do the Russians’ work: they were surrounded by Catholic Poles and Muslim Tatars.

Unfortunately, the authors don’t infer conclusions, though close reading helps to infer certain conclusions. The relationship between Russian Empire and Ukrainian Cossacks became the first instant of how common Slavic origin as well as same belief was successfully used by Russia Empire with the aim to involve another country within its sphere of influence. Also it can be noted that later on repeated occasions Russia acted in similar way in different circumstances.

Eventually Russian Empire dominated and dissolved the state of Ukrainian Cossacks during the reign of Catherine the Great. Russian Empire and the West order It is also interesting to consider the development of Russian Empire in the light of how Russian is being incorporated into overall conception of Western world order. Paul Dukes carries out the study of this issue in his work World Order in History: Russia and the West. He has selected two different kinds of world order for particular attention — the constitutional and revolutionary, respectively indicating continuity and change.

He has attempted to describe the manner in which two outstanding Western individuals, Montesquieu and Marx, in turn formulated influential views of constitutional and revolutionary order, and the manner in which Russia was included in them. Here we consider only the influence of the Montesquieu on the order in Russia. In 1748, Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws was first published. Montesquieu’s masterpiece gives special attention to the relationship between the four major continents of the world — Europe, Asia, Africa and America — as they were known before 1748, the year of publication.

Montesquieu was at pains to show why, among all these continents, Europe had achieved supremacy. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, Europe was the Western world. As for Russia, the philosopher suggested that its relationship with Europe was border-line. Having looked at the manner in which The Spirit of the Laws outlined the relationship of Europe — the then West — with frontiers, the Dukes book proceeds to depict the way in which the book was utilized during the composition of the Russian ‘constitution’, that is the rationale for enlightened absolutism.

Empress Catherine devoted a lot of time to study of French Enlighteners’ works and so she could be considered an educated ruler. Montesquieu was the first major writer to attempt to apply the principles of modernization to the world as it was, or rather as it appeared to be in the first half of the eighteenth century. Possibly, this is why the Empress Catherine made the most extensive use of The Spirit of the Laws in the composition of her Nakaz or Instructions to the Commission for the Composition of a Plan of a new Code of Laws.

She wrote of this work to d’Alembert in 1765: “For the benefit of my empire I have robbed President Montesquieu, without naming him; I hope that if he sees my work from the other world, he will forgive me this plagiarism for the good of twenty million people, which must come from it. ” (Duke, 1996, 27) But, as Dukes notes the plagiarism was not without a measure of adaptation and improvisation, as the Empress discounted her mentor’s implication that Russia was bound to remain to some extent a despotism and his description of the desirable structure for the state.

For example, while Montesquieu’s constitution was basically class-monarchical, Catherine’s was bureaucratic-autocratic. For his social composition of intermediate powers, she substituted a bureaucratic variant. Separate as well as intermediate institutions would prevent despotism as well as favoring the monarch’s own enlightenment. After all, Montesquieu himself had observed that despotism would not hold sway where judicial, legislative and executive powers were separate and the sovereign was enlightened. Dukes as other historians consider Catherine’s Nakaz and other projects as a foundation of a Russian imperial constitution.

While studying Russian Empire within the context of western enlightenment ideas, Dukes constantly compares his own conclusions with the research results on this issue derived by other historians, and most often with Kliuchevsky. Russian Messianism as a component of policy of Russian Empire One of the important peculiarities of the development of Russian Empire is a gradual establishment in the minds of rulers and common people of the idea of a special mission of Russian Empire. Peter J. S. Duncan in his book (2000) studies the progress of Russian Empire from this perspective.

First he focuses on the origin of Russian Messianism doctrine, stressing its long history. In the second half of the fifteenth century and the early sixteenth century, the idea developed that Moscow had a unique religious and political mission as the successor to Rome and Byzantium. It was when emerged such messianic doctrines as “Moscow, the Third Rome” and “Holy Russia”. These doctrines became deeply enrooted in the conscious of common people though in practical politics they became apparent much later. So Peter the Great was indifferent to the “Russian selectness” concept in his policy.

Generally, the messianism ideas became especially popular after the French Revolution of 1789, when nationalist movements appeared one after another. Duncan says that “it is impossible to divorce ideologies of nationalist messianism from the nationalist movements that appeared in Europe after the French Revolution. ” (2000, 10) So, in the nineteenth century, many Americans became convinced of the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States to carry the torch of liberty throughout the world. A prominent nineteenth-century advocate of the view that revolutionary France was “chosen to lead and enlighten the world” was Jules Michelet.

Giuseppe Mazzini saw the Messiah in the Italian people. When Tsar Nicholas I crushed the 1831 Polish rising, the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz depicted Poland as the “Christ of the nations”. Hence, it seems true to say that almost every national group in nineteenth-century Europe, as well as the Americans, found their “prophets” who informed the group that it had been chosen for a particular mission. Unlike the western messianism tendencies, Russian messianism was based on the grounds different from enlightenment ideas and became apparent in the form of slavophilism.

It was in the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855) that the Slavophils formulated their ideas. While the extent to which each of them embraced Russian messianism differed, they shared a belief in Russia’s uniqueness Duncan investigates their ideas, the influences on them and the political consequences of their views. On the surface, there are several similarities between the ideology of Nicholas I and Slavophilism. Nicholas’s reign had begun with the Decembrist revolt; he feared revolution and the Westernizing ideas which were popular among independent public opinion.

His ideology has been referred to, since the late nineteenth century, as official narodnost’, usually rendered in English as “Official Nationality”. The ideology was expressed in 1833 by Nicholas’s Minister of People’s Enlightenment, Sergei S. Uvarov, here Duncan refers to the translation of Uvarov’s speeches, published in 1959. The three elements of Uvarov’s triad — Orthodoxy, autocracy and narodnost’ — were all believed in by the Slavophils, although their interpretation of these concepts usually differed from the official view.

Both the official ideology and Slavophilism were hostile to the Western ideas of liberalism and socialism, and they both postulated that Russia was in a certain sense different from the West. The Slavophils nevertheless fundamentally opposed the path of development pursued by Russian officialdom. While there were differences among the Slavophils, they generally rejected the Westernizing reforms of Peter I, which the official ideology embraced, the lifestyle of the elite; and they sometimes idealized the Muscovite past.

In this there was a continuity going back to the concept of “Moscow, the Third Rome”. Furthermore, the Slavophils idolized the Russian people, especially the peasants, rather than the State, and protested at the lack of freedom in Nicholas’s Russia. In support of his words, Duncan provides numerous quotes from early Slavophils. However, the early Slavophilism did not go further than into cultural concepts. As time lapsed, the new branch of Slavophilism emerged, Pan-Slavophilism, which had been already applied in the sphere of practical politics.

It manifested itself as a pan-Slavic movement for the unification of all Slavic people under leadership of the Russian tsar and for the liberation of the Balkan Slavs from the Ottoman yoke. The Crimean War of 1854–1856 was, for Pan-Slavophils (Pogodin, Tiutchev and Khomiakov), the time for the enactment of Russia’s world-historical mission. Pogodin demands a total reversal of Russian foreign policy, the encouragement of Slav revolutions and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. For both security and religious reasons, he argued, Russia should take Constantinople, which would become the capital of the Slav federation.

Tiutchev also expected the capture of Constantinople, a united Slavdom and the realization of the Orthodox Kingdom. He was filled with messianic, eschatological expectations of the final decisive struggle between Russia and the West. Russia was at the “edge of the abyss”, and it was “quite simply, the end of the world”. Konstantin Aksakov hoped for Constantinople and the creation of independent Slav states under Russian protection. Ivan Kireevsky and Khomiakov saw the Crimean War as a “holy war” waged by Catholic France, allied with Britain and Turkey, against Russia.

Obviously, for the official authorities the war itself was also of exclusively practical purposes such as control over Crimean peninsula. In the ensuing historical periods, Russian authority on repeated occasions used to adopt decisions on the grounds of Pan-Slavophilism. One of such decisions, for example, was the declaration by Nicholas II of the war against Keiser Germany in 1914 that resulted in collapse of Russian Empire. Noteworthy is the idea supported by virtually all Slavophils according to which the Russians are superior Slavic people and other Slavs must acknowledge this superiority.

Exemplary is the case with Ukrainian people which found themselves under the pressure of Russian superiority complex. In conclusion the author once more emphasizes that Russian messianism, the concept of the Russians as the chosen people, has persisted as a trend of thought in one form or another since the sixteenth century, with roots going back much earlier. It has usually been linked with Russian Orthodoxy. It has by no means always been a dominant trend, but has emerged and re-emerged periodically throughout Russian history, up till today.

The ideas have been transmitted from one generation to the next in a number of ways: through the Russian Orthodox Church and the Old Believers, through literature, through revolutionary organizations and in its Marxist variant through the propaganda apparatus of the Communist Party. The contemporary policy of the Russia also can be labeled as Russian messianism. The study of Russian Imperialism history is interesting and didactic while it helps to understand that ideas and doctrines, formed in ancient times, still influence the decisions made by contemporary politics and states.

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