Russia Between “Troubled Times” and Peter the Great

By | January 28, 2022

The Polish and Swedish invasion also accentuated the aversion against “foreigners” in the rebel camp; in the struggles against the Poles that followed this new situation, the Cossacks and the peasants on the one hand, the Russian conservative forces on the other, sometimes apparently fight as allies: in reality, however, they remain adversaries and try in favorable circumstances to set themselves apart again. agreement with the Poles. However, the strong and common aversion against foreigners made a compromise solution possible: neither a foreigner (Polish or Swedish) nor the representative of a specific class had to be at the head of the country (the revolutionary and conservative forces balanced themselves and the long struggles they had ended up tiring everyone).

The new tsar, who was responsible for the peacemaking task, was the young Michele Romanov (1613-1645) who satisfied the legitimists by his origins and who came from a family which had joined the “Tušino camp”, albeit to the more moderate wing of this field.

At the price of considerable sacrifices, a pacification was obtained with Sweden (1617) and with Poland (1618). Sweden, after all, had recovered the territories conquered by Ivan the Terrible, Poland kept Cernigov and Smolensk.

Under Michael, first tsar of the Romanovs, and under his successors Alexis, Theodore and John V, the social structure of Russia underwent a transformation. The immense surface of Russia, its small population, the numerous enemies, the very low political maturity of the peasant masses were the causes of the strengthening of serfdom. The state was financially too shabby to maintain a centralized army: the noble-warriors thus became owners of the lands as well as of the “souls” which, in times of war, from peasants became soldiers. The law of 1649 which legally established serfdom showed however some aspects of “compromise” as it also gave the peasants some rights. Over the next two centuries, these “rights” however, they were increasingly disappearing. The nobles, obliged to do military service, had a clear position of dominance; only, more and more they found themselves tied to the authority of the state. This explains that the peasant revolts, especially in the south of the country, where social struggles mingled with the wars against the Poles and the Crimean Tatars, never went out completely (see also poland: History).

The most important of these uprisings of the second half of the century. XVII, the one that left deepest memories in folklore and in the memory of the people, reconnects to the name of Sten′ka Razin. The fame of this daring adventurer begins with his expeditions to the Persian coast. He was generous to the poor and humble, proud and inflexible towards the rich and powerful: an extraordinary charm emanated from his personality. In 1670 Razin had taken possession of Caricyn, Saratov, Samara and was advancing decisively towards Moscow. Bands of peasants and the ordinary people of the numerous conquered cities followed him. But the enthusiasm of these heterogeneous forces was certainly greater than the discipline and organizational possibilities: the government managed to defeat the rebel forces;

Russian civilization before Peter the Great. – Already in the second half of the century. XVII Russian civilization presents some characteristic contrasts between native tradition and European influence, which will be accentuated under Peter the Great, and, subsequently, every time the West is considered the model to be followed more or less slavishly.

Alongside Russian art, more and more Western architects and painters will assert themselves; Boyars and court characters, accustomed to the norms of life of despotism and Asian-type orgies, with a primitive attitude, will try to get the creations of the latest French and English fashion: watches with precision machinery, ornaments for living rooms, guns and rifles, musical instruments. Rigid Orthodox and Byzantine tradition on the one hand, on the other hand a passionate interest in the latest European-made mechanisms: this is already a characteristic feature of Russian civilization, which we must not lose sight of; it will be a long time before it is realized that Russia itself can produce some items it imports from the West, but when this conclusion is reached, the new machinery will be the most recent and the most perfected; with a pedantic and self-taught mentality, the Enlightenment and the political-social reformers of France and England will be imitated; but from this contrast between a primitive, virgin, boundless world and the latest Western thought, a daring willing to sacrifice will also arise, a will to reach the goal without worrying about leaps into the unknown, an intensity of feelings and an originality of problems which will then find its most evident expression in the course of the 19th century.

Already in the activity carried out by the executioner Ordin-Naščokin, a trusted man of Tsar Alexis, we can see some traits of that reforming activity that under Peter the Great will acquire a concreteness and an accelerated pace: he requires a minimum of free initiative for the ambassadors abroad and for commanders of the armed forces; he sees great possibilities for future economic and political development from a conquest of the Baltic shores (his very careful study of European mercantilism fits into this vision); he is interested in projects for the transformation of the courts, as well as in the penetration into Russia of all that may appear “useful” of Western civilization. But in the mammoth and ataraxic organism of Russia, among the obstacles opposed by concrete conservative interests, the most notable ideas,

Russia Between Troubled Times and Peter the Great