History of Russia

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History of Russia
Early East Slavs
Kievan Rus'
Volga Bulgaria
Mongol invasion
Golden Horde
Khanate of Kazan
Khanate of Astrakhan
Siberia Khanate
Crimean Khanate
Imperial Russia
Revolution of 1905
Revolution of 1917
Civil War
Soviet Union
Russian Federation

The history of Russia begins with that of the East Slavs, the ethnic group that eventually split into the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. The first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next seven centuries. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state, leaving a number of states competing for claims to be the heirs to its civilization and dominant position. After the 13th century, Muscovy gradually came to dominate the former cultural center. In the 18th century, the principality of Muscovy had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia's awareness of its backwardness and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes in economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to cede autocratic rule.

Military defeat and food shortages triggered the Russian Revolution in 1917, bringing the Communist Bolsheviks to power. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, effectively an ideologically based empire which was roughly coterminous with the Russian Empire, whose last monarch, Tsar Nicholas II, ruled until 1917. From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the communists, as the Bolsheviks called themselves beginning in March 1918. However, by the late 1980s, with the weaknesses of its economic and political structures becoming acute, significant changes in the economy and the party leaderships spelled the end of the Soviet Union.

The history of the Russian Federation is brief, dating back only to the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. But Russia has existed as a state for over a thousand years, and during most of the 20th century Russia was the core of the Soviet Union. Since gaining its independence, Russia claimed to be the legal successor to Soviet Union on the international stage. However, Russia lost its superpower status as it faced serious challenges in its efforts to forge a new post-Soviet political and economic system. Scrapping the socialist central planning and state ownership of property of the Soviet era, Russia attempted to build an economy with elements of market capitalism, with often painful results. Russia today shares many continuities of political culture and social structure with its tsarist and Soviet past. The question of how well Russia's fragile democratic and federal institutions will fare in the meantime is in doubt, with recent signs of the presidency increasing its already tight control over parliament, regional officeholders, and civil society.


Early East Slavs

Main article: Early East Slavs

The ancestors of the Russians were the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought by some scholars to have been the wooded areas of the Pripet Marshes. Moving into the lands vacated by the migrating Germanic tribes, the Eastern Slavs – the ancestors of the Russians who occupied the lands between the Carpathians and the Don River – were subjected to Greek Christian influences. While the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire had been ebbing, its culture was a continuous influence upon the development of Russia in its formative centuries.


Main article: Khazaria

The Khazars were Turkic people who inhabited the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas from the 7th to 13th centuries. In the 8th century, the Khazars embraced Judaism. Itil, near modern Astrakhan, was their capital.

Noted for their laws, tolerance, and cosmopolitanism, the Khazars were the main commercial link between the Baltic and the Muslim Abbasid empire centered in Baghdad. In the 8th and 9th centuries, many East Slavic tribes paid tribute to the Khazars. Their dominance began to slip, however, at the end of that period, when Oleg, a Varangian warrior, moved south from Novgorod to expel the Khazars from Kiev and founded Kievan Rus' around the year 880. Slavic and nomadic Turkic invaders brought about the final downfall of Khazar rule in the 10th century.

Kievan Rus'

Main article: Kievan Rus'

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The Byzantine influence on Russian architecture is evident in Hagia Sophia in Kiev, originally built in the 11th century by Yaroslav the Wise.

Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Varangians" by the Byzantines, combined piracy and trade and began to venture along the waterways from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. The Slavic settlers along the rivers often hired the Varangians as protectors. According to the earliest chronicle of Kievan Rus', a Varangian named Rurik became prince of Novgorod in about 860 before his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev. By the late 9th century the Varangian ruler of Kiev had established his supremacy over a large area that gradually came to be known as Russia.

The name "Russia," together with the Finnish Ruotsi and Estonian Rootsi, are found by some scholars to be related to Roslagen. The meaning of Rus is debated, and other schools of thought connect the name with Slavic or Persian roots. (See Etymology of Rus and derivatives).

Kievan Rus', the first East Slavic state, emerged in the 9th century along the Dnieper River valley. A coordinated group of princely states with a common interest in maintaining trade along the river routes, Kievan Rus' controlled the trade route for furs, wax, and slaves between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire along the Dnieper River. By the end of the 10th century the Norse minority had merged with the Slavic population.

Among the lasting achievements of Kievan Rus' are the introduction of a Slavic variant of the Eastern Orthodox religion, dramatically deepening a synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next thousand years. The region adopted Christianity in 988 by the official act of public baptism of Kiev inhabitants by Prince Vladimir I. Some years later the first code of laws, Russkaya Pravda, was introduced. From the onset the Kievan princes followed the Byzantine example and kept the Church dependent on them, even for its revenues, so that the Russian Church and state were always closely linked.

By the 11th century, particularly during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, Kievan Rus' could boast an economy and achievements in architecture and literature superior to those that then existed in the western part of the continent. Compared with the languages of European Christendom, the Russian language was little influenced by the Greek and Latin of early Christian writings. This was due to the fact that Church Slavonic was used directly in liturgy instead.

Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of the armed struggles among members of the princely family that collectively possessed it. Conquest by the Mongols in the 13th century was the final blow. In later centuries, a number of states claimed to be the heirs to the civilization and dominant position of Kievan Rus'. Muscovy, the eventual heir, was located at the far northern edge of the former cultural center.

Volga Bulgaria

Main article: Volga Bulgaria

Volga Bulgaria was a non-Slavic state on the middle Volga. After the Mongol Invasion it became a part of Golden Horde. The Chuvashes and Kazan Tatars are descendants of the Volga Bulgars. By the 10th century Volga Bulgaria was converted to Islam, which made it independent of Khazaria. In the 16th century, Russia conquered the Bulgar lands under Tsar Ivan IV ('The Terrible').

Mongol Invasion

Main article: Mongol invasion of Russia

The invading Mongols accelerated the fragmentation of the Kievan Rus'. In 1223, the Kievan Rus' faced a Mongol raiding party at the Kalka River and was soundly defeated. In 1240 the Mongols sacked the city of Kiev and then moved west into Poland and Hungary. By then they had conquered most of the Russian principalities. Of the principalities of Kievan Rus', only Novgorod escaped occupation.

The impact of the Mongol invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus' was uneven. Centers such as Kiev never recovered from the devastation of the initial attack. Immigrants who left southern Russia to escape the Mongols gravitated mostly to the northeast, where the soil was better and the rivers more conducive to commercial development. It was this region that provided the nucleus of the modern Russian state in the late medieval period. However, Novgorod continued to prosper and a new entity, Muscovy, began to flourish under the Mongols.

Golden Horde

Main article: Golden Horde

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Alexander Nevsky

The Mongols dominated Russia from their western capital at Sarai on the Volga River, near the modern city of Volgograd. The princes of southern and eastern Russia had to pay tribute to the Mongols, commonly called Tatars, or the Golden Horde; but in return they received charters authorizing them to act as deputies to the khans. In general, the princes were allowed considerable freedom to rule as they wished. One of them, Alexander Nevsky, prince of Vladimir, acquired heroic status in the mid-13th century as the result of major victories over the Teutonic Knights, the Swedes and the Lithuanians. To the Orthodox Church and most princes, the westerners seemed a greater threat to the Russian way of life than the Mongols. Nevsky obtained Mongol protection and assistance in fighting invaders from the west who, hoping to profit from the Russian collapse since the Mongol invasions, tried to grab territory. Even so, Nevsky's successors would later come to challenge Tartar rule.

The Mongols left their impact on the Russians in such areas as military tactics and the development of trade routes. Under Mongol occupation, Muscovy also developed its postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization. Eastern influence remained strong well until the 18th century, when Russian rulers made a conscious effort to Westernize their country.


Main article: Muscovy

The rise of Moscow

Daniil Aleksandrovich, the youngest son of Nevski, founded the principality of Muscovy based in the city of Moscow, which eventually expelled the Tartars from Russia. Well-situated in the central river system of Russia and surrounded by protective forests and marshes, Muscovy was at first only a vassal of Vladimir, but soon it absorbed its parent state. A major factor in the ascendancy of Muscovy was the cooperation of its rulers with the Mongol overlords, who granted them the title of Grand Prince of Russia and made them agents for collecting the Tartar tribute from the Russian principalities. The principality's prestige was further enhanced when it became the center of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its head, the metropolitan, fled from Kiev to Vladimir in 1299 and a few years later established the permanent headquarters of the Church in Moscow.

By the middle of the 14th century, the power of the Mongols was declining, and the Grand Princes felt able to openly oppose the Mongol yoke. In 1380, at Kulikovo on the Don River, the khan was defeated, and although this hard-fought victory did not end Tartar rule of Russia, it did bring great fame to the Grand Prince. Moscow's leadership in Russia was now firmly based and by the middle of the fourteenth century its territory had greatly expanded through purchase, war, and marriage.

Ivan III, the Great

In the 14th century, the grand princes of Muscovy began gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III, the Great (14621505), who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. A contemporary of the Tudors and other "new monarchs" in Western Europe, Ivan more than doubled his territories by placing most of north Russia under the rule of Moscow, and he proclaimed his absolute sovereignty over all Russian princes and nobles. Refusing further tribute to the Tartars, Ivan initiated a series of attacks that opened the way for the complete defeat of the declining Golden Horde, now divided into several khanates.

Ivan III was the first Muscovite ruler to use the title of "Tsar", derived from "Caesar," and he viewed Moscow as the Third Rome, the successor of Constantinople, the "New Rome." (Since Rome fell in 410 and the Byzantine empire in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, Moscow concluded that it now fell to the "Third Rome" to save Christian civilization.) Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival Lithuania for control over some of the semi-independent former principalities of Kievan Rus' in the upper Dnieper and Donets River basins. Through the defections of some princes, border skirmishes, and a long, inconclusive war with Lithuania that ended only in 1503, Ivan III was able to push westward, and Muscovy tripled in size under his rule.

Internal consolidation accompanied outward expansion of the state. By the 15th century, the rulers of Moscow considered the entire Russian territory their collective property. Various semi-independent princes still claimed specific territories, but Ivan III forced the lesser princes to acknowledge the grand prince of Muscovy and his descendants as unquestioned rulers with control over military, judicial, and foreign affairs. Gradually, the Muscovite ruler emerged as a powerful, autocratic ruler, a tsar.

Ivan IV, the Terrible

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Portrait of Ivan the Terrible.

The development of the tsar's autocratic powers reached a peak during the reign (15471584) of Ivan IV, and he became known as "Ivan the Terrible." Ivan strengthened the position of the tsar to an unprecedented degree, as Ivan ruthlessly subordinated the nobles to his will, exiling or executing many on the slightest provocation. Nevertheless, Ivan was a farsighted statesman who promulgated a new code of laws, reformed the morals of the clergy, and built the great St. Basil's Cathedral that still stands in Moscow's Red Square.

Time of Troubles

Ivan's death in 1584 was followed by a period of civil wars known as the "Time of Troubles" over the succession and resurgence of the power of the nobility.

The autocracy survived the "Time of Troubles" and the rule of weak or corrupt tsars because of the strength of the government's central bureaucracy. Government functionaries continued to serve, regardless of the ruler's legitimacy or the faction controlling the throne.

The succession disputes during the "Time of Troubles" caused the loss of much territory to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden during the wars such as the Dymitriads, the Ingrian War and the Smolensk War. Recovery for Russia came in the mid-17th century, when successful wars with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16541667) brought substantial gains, including Smolensk, Kiev and the eastern half of Ukraine.

The Romanovs

Order was restored in 1613 when Michael Romanov, the grandnephew of Ivan the Terrible, was elected to the throne by a national assembly that included representatives from fifty cities. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until 1917.

The immediate task of the new dynasty was to restore order. Fortunately for Moscow, its major enemies, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, were engaged in a bitter conflict with each other, which provided Muscovy the opportunity to make peace with Sweden in 1617 and to sign a truce with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1619.

Rather than risk their estates in more civil war, the great nobles or boyars cooperated with the first Romanovs, enabling them to finish the work of bureaucratic centralization. Thus, the state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return the tsars allowed the boyars to complete the process of enserfing the peasants.

In the preceding century, the state had gradually curtailed peasants' rights to move from one landlord to another. With the state now fully sanctioning serfdom, runaway peasants became state fugitives. Landlords had complete power over their peasants and bought, sold, traded, and mortgaged them. Together the state and the nobles placed the overwhelming burden of taxation on the peasants, whose rate was 100 times greater in the mid-17th century than it had been a century earlier. In addition, middle-class urban tradesmen and craftsmen were assessed taxes, and, like the serfs, they were forbidden to change residence. All segments of the population were subject to military levy and to special taxes.1

Peasant uprisings

In a period when peasant disorders were endemic, the greatest peasant uprising in 17th century Europe erupted in 1667. As the Cossacks reacted against the growing centralization of the state, serfs joined their revolts and escaped from their landlords by joining them. The Cossack rebel Stenka Razin led his followers up the Volga River, inciting peasant uprisings and replacing local governments with Cossack rule. The tsar's army finally crushed his forces in 1670; a year later Stenka was captured and beheaded. The uprising and the resulting repression that ended the last of the mid-century crises entailed the deaths of a significant share of the peasant population in the affected areas.

Imperial Russia

Main article: Imperial Russia

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A map of Russian expansion from 1533 to 1896. Ivan IV conquered the Tatar states of Kazan (1533-84) and Astrakhan (1556), gaining control of the Volga River down to the Caspian Sea. In addition, from the 1580s, the fur trade lured the Russians deep into Siberia across the Urals. Peter the Great concentrated on achieving a window on the West, wresting the Baltic region from Sweden in 1721. Catherine the Great annexed the Tatar khanate of Crimea and acquired parts of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian forces subdued the Kazaks (1816-54), completed Russian control of the Caucasus (1857-64) and annexed the khanates of Central Asia (1865-76). China ceded to the tsar the Amur basin and parts of the Pacific Coast (where Vladivostok was founded in 1860), and leased Port Arthur (1898).

Peter the Great

Peter I, the Great (16721725), consolidated autocracy in Russia and played a major role in bringing his country into the European state system. From its modest beginnings in the 14th century principality of Moscow, Russia had become the largest state in the world by Peter's time. Three times the size of Europe, it spanned the Eurasian landmass from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Much of its expansion had taken place in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the reconquest of Kiev, and the pacification of the Siberian tribes. However, this vast land had a population of only 14 million. Grain yields trailed those of agriculture in the West, compelling almost the entire population to farm. Only a small fraction of the population lived in the towns.

Peter was deeply impressed by the advanced technology, warcraft, and statecraft of the West. He studied Western tactics and fortifications and built a strong army of 300,000 made up of his own subjects, whom he conscripted for life. In 1697-1698, he became the first Russian prince to ever visit the West, where he and his entourage made a deep impression. In celebration, Peter assumed the title of emperor as well as tsar, and Muscovy officially became the Russian Empire in 1721.

Peter's first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. His attention then turned to the north. Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport except at Archangel on the White Sea, whose harbor was frozen nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him in 1699 to make a secret alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden, resulting in the Great Northern War. The war ended in 1721 when an exhausted Sweden sued for peace with Russia. Peter acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland, thus securing his coveted access to the sea. There he built Russia's new capital, St. Petersburg, as a "window opened upon Europe" to replace Moscow, long Russia's cultural center.

The strains of Peter's military expeditions produced another revolt. Invoking the name of populist rebel Stenka Razin, another Cossack chieftain Kondraty Bulavin raised a revolt, ultimately crushed.

Peter reorganized his government on the latest Western models, molding Russia into an absolutist state. He replaced the old boyar Duma (council of nobles) with a nine-member senate, in effect a supreme council of state. The countryside was also divided into new provinces and districts. Peter told the senate that its mission was to collect tax revenues. In turn tax revenues tripled over the course of his reign. As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure, in effect making it a tool of the state. Peter abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a lay government official. Meanwhile, all vestiges of local self-government were removed, and Peter continued and intensified his predecessors' requirement of state service for all nobles.

Peter died in 1725, leaving an unsettled succession and an exhausted realm. His reign raised questions about Russia's backwardness, its relationship to the West, the appropriateness of reform from above, and other fundamental problems that have confronted many of Russia's subsequent rulers. Nevertheless, he had laid the foundations of a modern state in Russia.

Ruling the Empire (1725–1825)

Nearly forty years were to pass before a comparably ambitious and ruthless ruler appeared on the Russian throne. Catherine II, the Great, was a German princess who married the Russian heir to the crown. Finding him an incompetent moron, Catherine tacitly consented to his murder. It was announced that he had died of "apoplexy", and in 1762 she became ruler.

Catherine contributed to the resurgence of the Russian nobility that began after the death of Peter the Great. State service had been abolished, and Catherine delighted the nobles further by turning over most government functions in the provinces to them.

Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with actions including the support of the Targowica confederation, although the cost of her campaigns, on top of the oppressive social system that required lords' serfs to spend almost all of their time laboring on the lords' land, provoked a major peasant uprising in 1773, after Catherine legalized the selling of serfs separate from land. Inspired by another Cossack named Pugachev, with the emphatic cry of "Hang all the landlords!" the rebels threatened to take Moscow before they were ruthlessly suppressed. Catherine had Pugachev drawn and quartered in Red Square, but the specter of revolution continued to haunt her and her successors.

While suppressing the Russian peasantry, Catherine successfully waged war against the decaying Ottoman Empire and advanced Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by plotting with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she annexed half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Partitions of Poland and pushed the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had made Russia into a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's annexation of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809.

Napoleon made a major misstep when he invaded Russia after a dispute with Tsar Alexander I and launched an invasion of the tsar's realm in 1812. The campaign was a catastrophe. Although Napoleon's Grand Army made its way to Moscow, the Russians' scorched-earth strategy prevented the invaders from living off the country. In the bitterly cold Russian weather, thousands of French troops died in the snow.

Although the Russian Empire would play a leading political role in the next century, secured by its defeat of Napoleonic France, its retention of serfdom precluded economic progress of any significant degree. As West European economic growth accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the second half of the 18th century, Russia began to lag ever farther behind, creating new problems for the empire as a great power.

Imperial Russia since the Decembrist Revolt (1825–1917)

The Decembrist Revolt

Russia's great power status obscured the inefficiency of its government, the isolation of its people, and its economic backwardness. Following the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander I had been ready to discuss constitutional reforms, but though a few were introduced, no thoroughgoing changes were attempted.

The relatively liberal tsar was replaced by his younger brother, Nicholas I (18251855), who at the onset of his reign was confronted with an uprising. The background of this revolt lay in the Napoleonic Wars, when a number of well-educated Russian officers traveled in Europe in the course of the military campaigns, where their exposure to the liberalism of Western Europe encouraged them to seek change on their return to autocratic Russia. The result was the Decembrist Revolt (December 1825), the work of a small circle of liberal nobles and army officers who wanted to install Nicholas' brother as a constitutional monarch. But the revolt was easily crushed, leading Nicholas to turn away to the Westernization program begun by Peter the Great and champion the maxim "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism." Russian tsars had also to deal with uprisings in their newly acquired territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: the November Uprising in 1830, the January Uprising in 1863.

Ideological schisms and reaction

The harsh retaliation for the revolt made "December Fourteenth" a day long remembered by later revolutionary movements. In order to repress further revolts, schools and universities were placed under constant surveillance and students were provided with official textbooks. Police spies were planted everywhere. Would-be revolutionaries were sent off to Siberia; under Nicholas I hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps there.

In this setting Michael Bakunin would emerge as the father of anarchism. He left Russia in 1842 to Western Europe, where he became active in the socialist movement. After participating in May Uprising in Dresden of 1849, he was imprisoned and shipped to Siberia, but eventually escaped and made his way back to Europe. There he joined forces with Karl Marx, despite some ideological and tactical differences.

The question of Russia's direction had been gaining steam ever since Peter the Great's program of Westernization. Some favored imitating Europe while others renounced the West and called for a return of the traditions of the past. The latter path was championed by the nationalistic Slavophiles, who heaped scorn on the "decadent" West. The Slavophiles preferred the collectivism of the medieval Russian mir, or village community, to the individualism of the West. Later, Communism in Soviet Russia would owe a debt not only to the doctrines of Karl Marx but also the long-established social pattern of the mir.

Alexander II and the abolition of serfdom

Tsar Nicholas died with his philosophy in dispute. One year earlier, Russia had become involved in the Crimean War, a conflict fought primarily in the Crimean peninsula. Since playing a major role in the defeat of Napoleon, Russia had been regarded as militarily invincible, but the reverses it suffered on land and sea in the Crimean War exposed the decay and weakness of Tsar Nicholas' regime.

When Alexander II came to the throne in 1855, desire for reform was widespread. A growing humanitarian movement, which in later years has been likened to that of the abolitionists in the United States before the American Civil War, attacked serfdom. In 1859, there were more than 23 million serfs living under conditions frequently worse than those of the peasants of western Europe on 12th century manors. Alexander II made up his own mind to abolish serfdom from above rather than wait for it to be abolished from below through revolution.

The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 was the single most important event in 19th century Russian history. It was the beginning of the end for the landed aristocracy's monopoly of power. Emancipation brought a supply of free labor to the cities, industry was stimulated, and the middle class grew in its numbers and influence. However, instead of receiving their lands as a gift, the freed peasants had to pay a special tax for what amounted to their lifetime to the government, which in turn paid the landlords a generous price for the land that they had lost. In numerous instances the peasants wound up with the poorest land. All the land turned over to the peasants was owned collectively by the mir, the village community, which divided the land among the peasants and supervised the various holdings.

Although serfdom was abolished, since its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants, revolutionary tensions were not abated, despite Alexander II's intentions.


In the 1860s a movement known as Nihilism developed in Russia. For some time many Russian liberals had been dissatisfied by the empty discussions of the intelligentsia. The Nihilists questioned all old values, championed the independence of the individual, and shocked the Russian establishment.

The Nihilists first attempted to convert the aristocracy to the cause of reform. Failing there, they turned to the peasants. Their "go to the people" campaign became known as the Narodnik movement.

While the Narodnik movement was gaining momentum, the government quickly moved to extirpate it. In response to the growing reaction of the government, a radical branch of the Narodniks advocated and practiced terrorism. One after another, prominent officials were shot or killed by bombs. Finally, after several attempts, Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms in addition to the abolition of serfdom designed to ameliorate revolutionary demands.

Autocracy and reaction under Alexander III

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Portrait of Tsar Alexander III (1886)

Unlike his father, the new tsar Alexander III (18811894) was throughout his reign a staunch reactionary who revived the maxim of "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism" of Nicholas I. A committed Slavophile, Alexander III believed that Russia could be saved from chaos only by shutting itself off from the subversive influences of Western Europe.

The tsar's most influential adviser was Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, tutor to Alexander III and his son Nicholas, and procurator of the Holy Synod from 1880 to 1895. He taught his royal pupils to fear freedom of speech and press and to hate democracy, constitutions, and the parliamentary system. Under Pobedonostsev, revolutionaries were hunted down and a policy of Russification was carried out throughout the empire. The Jews were signed out as another corrupting influence and were massacred in drives called pogroms, which Alexander III offered official state sanction. Thousands sought asylum in the United States and western Europe.

Nicholas II and a new revolutionary movement

Alexander was succeeded by his son Nicholas II (18941917). The Industrial Revolution, which began to exert a significant influence in Russia, was meanwhile creating forces that would finally overthrow the tsar. The liberal elements among the industrial capitalists and nobility believed in peaceful social reform and a constitutional monarchy, forming the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets. Social revolutionaries combined the Narodnik tradition and advocated the distribution of land among those who actually worked it—the peasants. Another radical group was the Social Democrats, exponents of Marxism in Russia. Gathering their support from the radical intellectuals and the urban working class, they advocated complete social, economic and political revolution.

In 1903 the party split into two wings—the Mensheviks, or moderates, and the Bolsheviks, the radicals. The Mensheviks believed that Russian socialism would grow gradually and peacefully and that the tsar’s regime should be succeeded by a democratic republic in which the socialists would cooperate with the liberal bourgeois parties. The Bolsheviks, under Vladimir Lenin, advocated the formation of a small elite of professional revolutionists, subject to strong party discipline, to act as the vanguard of the proletariat in order to seize power by force.2

The disastrous performance of the Russian armed forces in the Russo-Japanese War (19041905) was a major blow to the Tsarist regime and increased the potential for unrest. In January 1905, an incident known as "Bloody Sunday" occurred when Father Gapon led an enormous crowd to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to present a petition to the tsar. When the procession reached the palace, Cossacks opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds. The Russian masses were so aroused over the massacre that a general strike was declared demanding a democratic republic. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity. Russia was paralyzed, and the government was desperate.

In October 1905, Nicholas reluctantly issued the famous October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (legislature) to be called without delay. The right to vote was extended and no law was to go into force without confirmation by the Duma. The moderate groups were satisfied; but the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organize new strikes. By the end of 1905, there was disunity among the reformers, and the tsar's position was strengthened for the time being.

Russian Revolution

Main article: Russian Revolution of 1917

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Vladimir Lenin following his return to Petrograd

Tsar Nicholas II and his subjects entered World War I with enthusiasm and patriotism, with the defense of Russia's fellow Orthodox Slavs, the Serbs, as the main battle cry. However, the weaknesses of the Russian economy and the inefficiency and corruption in government were hidden only for a brief period under a cloak of fervent nationalism. Military reversals and the government's incompetence soon soured much of the population. German control of the Baltic Sea and German-Ottoman control of the Black Sea severed Russia from most of its foreign supplies and potential markets.

By the middle of 1915 the impact of the war was demoralizing. Food and fuel were in short supply, casualties were staggering, and inflation was mounting. Strikes increased among low-paid factory workers, and the peasants, who wanted land reforms, were restless. Meanwhile, public distrust of the regime was deepened by reports that a semiliterate mystic, Grigory Rasputin, had great political influence within the government. His assassination in late 1916 ended the scandal but did not restore the autocracy's lost prestige.

On March 3, 1917, a strike occurred in a factory in the capital Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg). Within a week nearly all the workers in the city were idle, and street fighting broke out. When the tsar dismissed the Duma and ordered strikers to return to work, his orders triggered the February Revolution.

The Duma refused to disband, the strikers held mass meetings in defiance of the regime, and the army openly sided with the workers. A few days later a provisional government headed by Prince Lvov was named by the Duma. The following day the tsar abdicated. Meanwhile, the socialists in Petrograd had formed a soviet (council) of workers and soldiers' deputies to provide them with the power that they lacked in the Duma.

In July, the head of the provisional government resigned and was succeeded by Alexander Kerensky, who was more progressive than his predecessor but not radical enough for the Bolsheviks. While Kerensky's government marked time, the Marxist soviet in Petrograd extended its organization throughout the country by setting up local soviets. Meanwhile, Kerensky made the fatal mistake of continuing to commit Russia to the war, a policy extremely unpopular with the masses.

Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland, with the help of Germany, which hoped that widespread strife would cause Russia to withdraw from the war. A tumultuous reception by thousands of peasants, workers, and soldiers took place as Lenin's train rolled into the station. After many behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the soviets seized control of the government in November 1917, and drove Kerensky and his moderate provisional government into exile, in the events that would become known as the October Revolution.

When the national assembly, which met in January 1918, refused to become a rubber-stamp of the Bolsheviks, it was dissolved by Lenin's troops. With the dissolution of the constituent assembly, all vestiges of bourgeois democracy were removed. With the handicap of the moderate opposition removed, Lenin was able to free his regime from the war problem by the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) with Germany, with great sacrifice of Russian territory.

Russian Civil War

Main article: Russian Civil War

A powerful group of counterrevolutionaries termed the White movement began to organize to topple the Bolsheviks. At the same time the Allied powers sent several expeditionary armies to Russia to support the anti-Communist forces. The Allies feared that the Bolsheviks were in a conspiracy with the Germans because of Brest-Litovsk; they also hoped that the White Russians might renew hostilities against Germany. In the fall of 1918 the Bolshevik regime was in a perilous position, opposed by Russia's former allies and internal enemies.

To counteract this emergency, a reign of terror was begun within Russia as the Red Army and the Cheka (the secret police) destroyed all enemies of the revolution. However lofty their goals were, the Bolsheviks did not have the consent of all elements of society and thus had to force their rule over Russia during the civil war. They swept away the tsarist secret police, so despised by Russians of all political persuasions, along with other tsarist institutions, but ensured the survival of their own regime by replacing it with a political police of considerably greater dimensions, both in the scope of its authority and in the severity of its methods. By 1920 all White resistance had been crushed and the foreign armies evacuated, but at the cost of perpetuating Russia's long pattern of autocratic rule in new forms.

As Russia was bogged down in civil war, the frontiers between Poland and Russia were not clearly defined by the postwar Treaty of Versailles and were further rendered chaotic by the civil war. The Polish-Soviet War (1919–1921), which ended with the defeat of the Red Army, determined the borders between Soviet Russia and Poland.

Soviet Union

Main article: History of the Soviet Union

Creation of the Soviet Union

The history of Russia between 1922 and 1991 is essentially the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union. This ideologically based union, established in December 1922 by the leaders of the Russian Communist Party, was roughly coterminous with the Russian Empire. At that time, the new nation included four constituent republics: the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, Belorussian SSR, and the Transcaucasian SFSR.

The constitution, adopted in 1924, established a federal system of government based on a succession of soviets set up in villages, factories, and cities in larger regions. This pyramid of soviets in each constituent republic culminated in the All-Union Congress of Soviets. But while it appeared that the congress exercised sovereign power, this body was actually governed by the Communist Party, which in turn was controlled by the Politburo from Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, just as it had been under the tsars before Peter the Great.

War communism and the New Economic Policy

The period from the consolidation of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 until 1921 is known as the period of war communism. Banks, railroads, and shipping were nationalized and the money economy was restricted. Strong opposition soon developed. The peasants wanted cash payments for their products and resented having to surrender their surplus grain to the government as a part of its civil war policies. Confronted with peasant opposition, Lenin began a strategic retreat from war communism known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). The peasants were freed from wholesale levies of grain and allowed to sell their surplus produce in the open market. Commerce was stimulated by permitting private retail trading. The state continued to be responsible for banking, transportation, heavy industry, and public utilities.

Although the left opposition among the Communists criticized the rich peasants or kulaks who benefited from the NEP, the program proved highly beneficial and the economy revived. The NEP would later come under increasing opposition from within the party following Lenin's death in early 1924.

Changes in Russian society

While the Russian economy was being transformed, the social life of the people underwent equally drastic changes. From the beginning of the revolution, the government attempted to weaken patriarchal domination of the family. Divorce no longer required court procedure; and to make women completely free of the responsibilities of childbearing, abortion was made legal as early as 1920. As a side effect, the emancipation of the women increased the labor market. Girls were encouraged to secure an education and pursue a career in the factory or the office. Communal nurseries were set up for the care of small children and efforts were made to shift the center of people's social life from the home to educational and recreational groups, the soviet clubs.

The regime abandoned the tsarist policy of discriminating against national minorities in favor of a policy of incorporating the more than two hundred minority groups into Soviet life. Another feature of the regime was the extension of medical services. Campaigns were carried out against typhus, cholera, and malaria; the number of doctors was increased as rapidly as facilities and training would permit; and infant mortality rates rapidly decreased while life expectancy rapidly increased.

The government also promoted atheism and materialism, which formed the basis of Marxist theory. It opposed organized religion, especially in order to break the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, a former pillar of the old tsarist regime and a major barrier to social change. Many religious leaders were sent to internal exile camps. Members of the party were forbidden to attend religious services. The education system was separated from the Church. Religious teaching was prohibited except in the home and atheist instruction was stressed in the schools.

Industrialization and collectivization

Missing image
The construction of steel-producing city of Magnitogorsk in 1932 appears above. Magnitogorsk was at the forefront of Stalin's Five-Year Plans in the 1930s.

The years from 1929 to 1939 comprised a tumultuous decade in Russian history—a period of massive industrialization and internal struggles as Joseph Stalin established near total control over Russian society, wielding unrestrained power unknown to even the most ambitious tsars. Following Lenin's death Stalin wrestled for control of the Soviet Union with rival factions in the Politburo, especially Leon Trotsky's. By 1928, with the Trotskyites either exiled or rendered powerless, Stalin was ready to put a radical program of industrialization into action.

In 1928 Stalin proposed the first Five-Year Plan. Abolishing the NEP, it was the first of a number of plans aimed at swift accumulation of capital resources though the buildup of heavy industry, the collectivization of agriculture, and the restricted manufacture of consumer goods. With the implementation of the plan, for the first time in history a government controlled all economic activity. While in the capitalist countries factories and mines were idle or running on reduced schedules during the Great Depression and millions were unemployed, the Soviet people worked many hours a day, six days a week, in a thoroughgoing attempt to revolutionize Russia's economic structure.

As a part of the plan, the government took control of agriculture through the state and collective farms. By a decree of February 1930, about one million "kulaks" were forced off their land. Many peasants strongly opposed regimentation by the state, often slaughtering their herds when faced with the loss of their land. In some sections they revolted, and countless peasants deemed "kulaks" by the authorities were executed. A serious famine broke out and several million peasants died of starvation. The deteriorating conditions in the countryside drove millions of desperate peasants to the rapidly growing cities, vastly increasing Russia's urban population in the space of just a few years.

The plans received remarkable results in areas aside from agriculture. Russia, in many measures the poorest nation in Europe at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, now industrialized at a phenomenal rate, far surpassing Germany's pace of industrialization in the nineteenth century and Japan's earlier in the twentieth century. Soviet authorities claimed in 1932 an increase of industrial output of 334 percent over 1914, and in 1937 a further increase of 180 percent over 1932. Moreover, the survival of Russia in the face of the impending Nazi onslaught was made possible in part through the capacity for production that was the outcome of industrialization.

While the Five-Year Plans were forging ahead, Stalin was establishing his personal power. The secret police gathered in thousands of Soviet citizens to face execution. Of the six original members of the 1920 Politburo who survived Lenin, all were purged by Stalin. Old Bolsheviks who had been loyal comrades of Lenin, high officers in the Red Army, and directors of industry were liquidated in the Great Purges.

Stalin's repressions led to the creation of a vast system of internal exile, of considerably greater dimensions than those set up in the past by the tsars. Draconian penalties were introduced and many citizens were prosecuted for fictitious crimes of sabotage and espionage. The labor provided by convicts working in the labor camps of the Gulag system became an important component of the industrialization effort, especially in Siberia. Perhaps around five percent of the population passed through the Gulag system.

The Soviet Union on the international stage

World War II

Missing image
Marking the Soviet Union's victory, a soldier raises the Soviet flag over the German Reichstag in the Nazi capital, Berlin

Following the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, the Soviets invaded eastern portions of Poland and fought a war with Finland known as the Winter War (1939–40). It was won by the Soviet Union, the aggressor, which gained part of the Karelian Isthmus. Despite Stalin's efforts to stay out of a war against Germany, Germany declared war on the Soviet Union and swept across the border on June 22, 1941. By November the German army had seized Ukraine, begun its siege of Leningrad, and threatened to capture the capital, Moscow, itself.

However, the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad proved decisive, reversing the course of the entire war. After losing this battle the Germans lacked the strength to sustain their offensive operations against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union held the initiative for the rest of the war. By the end of 1943, the Red Army had broken through the German siege of Leningrad and recaptured much of Ukraine. By the end of 1944, the front had moved beyond the 1939 Soviet frontiers into eastern Europe. With a decisive superiority in troops, Soviet forces drove into eastern Germany, capturing Berlin in May 1945. The war with Germany thus ended triumphantly for the Soviet Union.

Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, its economy had been devastated in the struggle and the war resulted in around 27 million Soviet deaths.

Cold War

Main article: Cold War

Collaboration among the major Allies had won the war and was supposed to serve as the basis for postwar reconstruction and security. However, the conflict between Soviet and U.S. national interests, known as the Cold War, came to dominate the international stage in the postwar period, assuming the public guise as a clash of ideologies.

The Cold War emerged out of a conflict between Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman over the future of Eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. Russia had suffered three devastating Western onslaughts in the previous 150 years during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War, and Stalin's goal was to establish a buffer zone of states between Germany and the Soviet Union. Truman charged that Stalin had betrayed the Yalta agreement. With Eastern Europe under Red Army occupation, Stalin was also biding his time, as his own atomic bomb project was steadily and secretly progressing.

In April 1949 the United States sponsored the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a mutual defense pact in which most Western nations pledged to treat an armed attack against one nation as an assault on all. The Soviet Union established an Eastern counterpart to NATO in 1955, dubbed the Warsaw Pact. The division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocs later took on a more global character, especially after 1949, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly ended with the testing of a Soviet bomb and the Communist takeover in China.

The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union maintained its dominance over the Warsaw Pact through crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, suppressing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and supporting the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s.

As the Soviet Union continued to maintain tight control over its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Cold War gave way to Dtente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs in the 1970s. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons in treaties such as SALT I, SALT II and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

U.S.-Soviet relations deteriorated following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, a staunch anticommunist, but improved as the Soviet bloc started to unravel in the late 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia lost the superpower status that it had won in the Second World War.

The Khrushchev and Brezhnev years

Main article: History of the Soviet Union (1953-1985)

Missing image
On April 12, 1961, Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Here, a crowd in Red Square listens to him speak.

In the power struggle that erupted after Stalin's death in 1953, his closest followers lost out. Nikita Khrushchev solidified his position in a speech before the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 detailing Stalin's atrocities and attacking him for promoting a personality cult. As details of his speech became public, Khrushchev accelerated a wide range of reforms. Downplaying Stalin's emphasis on heavy industry, he increased the supply of consumer goods and housing and stimulated agricultural production. The new policies improved the standard of living, although shortages of appliances, clothing, and other consumer durables would increase in later years. The judicial system, albeit still under a complete Communist party control, replaced police terror, and intellectuals had more freedom than before.

In 1964 Khrushchev was ousted by the Communist Party's Central Committee, charging him with a host of errors that included Soviet setbacks such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the deepening Sino-Soviet Split. After a brief period of collective leadership, a veteran bureaucrat, Leonid Brezhnev, took Khrushchev's place.

Despite Khrushchev's tinkering with economic planning, the economic system remained dependent on central plans drawn up with no reference to market mechanisms. As a developed industrial country, the Soviet Union by the 1970s found it increasingly difficult to maintain the high rates of growth in the industrial sector that it had enjoyed in earlier years. Increasingly large investment and labor inputs were required for growth, but these inputs were becoming more difficult to obtain, partly because of the new emphasis on production of consumer goods. Although the goals of the five-year plans of the 1970s had been scaled down from previous plans, the targets remained largely unmet. Agricultural development continued to lag in the Brezhnev years.

Although certain appliances and other goods became more accessible during the 1960s and 1970s, improvements in housing and food supply were not sufficient. The growing culture of consumerism and shortages of consumer goods, inherent in a non-market pricing system, encouraged pilferage of government property and the growth of the black market. But, in contrast to the revolutionary spirit that accompanied the birth of the Soviet Union, the prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change.

Impending breakup of the Union

Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. After the rapid succession of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, transitional figures with deep roots in Brezhnevite tradition, the relatively young and energetic Mikhail Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy and the party leadership. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of government repression. But Gorbachev failed to address the systemic crisis of the Soviet system; by 1991, when a plot by government insiders revealed the weakness of Gorbachev's political position, the end of the Soviet Union was in sight.

At the end of World War I, the vast empires of the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, and the Romanovs collapsed, leaving Eastern Europe and Eurasia in turmoil. Only the Russian empire was reconfigured, under Bolshevik leadership. Stalin led it through industrialization and the Nazi onslaught to become a superpower rivaling the United States. Yet the Soviet Union remained essentially an empire, held together by a party rather than tsar. The command economy proved progressively less able to cope with postindustrial technologies and with the demands of the new industrial middle class and well-educated bureaucracy forged under its tutelage. Gorbachev's Perestroika spelled deconstruction of the economy; and glasnost allowed ethnic and nationalist disaffection to reach the surface. When Gorbachev tried to reform the party, he weakened the bonds that held the state and union together.

The emergence of the Russian republic in the Soviet Union

Gorbachev has accused Boris Yeltsin, his old rival and Russia's first post-Soviet president, of tearing the country apart out of a desire to advance his own personal interests.
Gorbachev has accused Boris Yeltsin, his old rival and Russia's first post-Soviet president, of tearing the country apart out of a desire to advance his own personal interests.

Because of the dominant position of Russians in the Soviet Union, most gave little thought to any distinction between Russia and the USSR before the late 1980s. However, the fact that the Soviet regime was dominated by Russians did not mean that the Russian SFSR necessarily benefited from this arrangement. In the Soviet Union, Russia lacked even the paltry instruments of statehood that the other republics possessed, such as its own republic-level Communist Party branch, KGB, trade union council, Academy of Sciences, and the like. The reason of course is that if these organizations had had branches at the level of the Russian SFSR, they would have threatened the power of Union-level structures.

In the late 1980s, Gorbachev underestimated the importance of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic emerging as a second power base to rival the Soviet Union. A Russian nationalist backlash against the Union came with many Russians arguing that Russia had long been subsidizing other republics, which tended to be poorer, with cheap oil, for instance. Demands were growing for Russia to have its own institutions, underdeveloped because of the equation of the Russian republic and the Soviet Union. As Russian nationalism became vocal in the late 1980s, a tension emerged between those who wanted to hold the Russian-dominated Union together and those who wanted to create a strong Russian state.

This tension came to be personified in the bitter power struggle between Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Squeezed out of Union politics by Gorbachev in 1987, Yeltsin, an old-style party boss with no dissident background or contacts, needed an alternative platform to challenge Gorbachev. He established it by representing himself as both a Russian nationalist and a committed democrat. In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, he gained election as chairman of the Russian republic's new Supreme Soviet in May 1990, becoming in effect Russia's first directly elected president. The following month, he secured legislation giving Russian laws priority over Soviet laws and withholding two-thirds of the budget.

The August 1991 coup by Communist hardliners was later foiled with the help from Yeltsin. The coup plotters had intended to save the party and the Union; instead, they hastened the demise of both.

The Soviet Union officially broke up on December 25, 1991. The final act of the passage of power from the Soviet Union to Russia was the passing of the briefcases containing codes that would launch the Soviet nuclear arsenal from Gorbachev to Yeltsin.

Russian Federation

Main article: History of post-Soviet Russia

Missing image
The shelling of the Russian White House, October 4, 1993

By the mid-1990s Russia had a system of multiparty electoral politics. But it was harder to establish a representative government because of two structural problems—the struggle between president and parliament and the anarchic party system. Although Yeltsin had won plaudits abroad for casting himself as a democrat to weaken Gorbachev, his conception of the presidency was highly autocratic. He either acted as his own prime minister (until June 1992) or appointed men of his choice, regardless of parliament.

Meanwhile, the profusion of small parties and their aversion to coherent alliances left the legislature chaotic. During 1993, Yeltsin's rift with the parliamentary leadership led to the September–October 1993 constitutional crisis. The crisis climaxed on October 3, when Yeltsin chose a radical solution to settle his dispute with parliament: he called up tanks to shell the Russian White House, blasting out his opponents. As Yeltsin was taking the unconstitutional step of dissolving the legislature, Russia came the closest to serious civil conflict since the revolution of 1917. Yeltsin was then free to impose a constitution with strong presidential powers, which was approved by referendum in December 1993. But the December voting also saw sweeping gains for communists and nationalists, reflecting growing disenchantment with the costs of neoliberal economic reforms.

Although Yeltsin came to power on a wave of optimism, he never recovered his popularity after endorsing Yegor Gaidar's "shock therapy" of ending Soviet-era price controls, drastic cuts in state spending, and an open foreign trade regime in early 1992 (see Russian economic reform in the 1990s). The reforms immediately devastated the living standards of much of the population, especially the groups that had enjoyed the benefits of Soviet-era state-controlled wages and prices, state subsidies, and welfare entitlement programs. In the 1990s Russia suffered an economic downturn more severe than the United States or Germany had undergone six decades earlier in the Great Depression.3

Economic reforms also consolidated a semi-criminal oligarchy with roots in the old Soviet system. Advised by Western governments, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, Russia embarked on the largest and fastest privatization that the world had ever seen. By mid-decade, retail, trade, services, and small industry was in private hands. Most big enterprises were acquired by their old managers, engendering a new rich (Russian oligarchs) in league with criminal mafias or Western investors.4 At the bottom, many workers were forced by inflation or unemployment into poverty, prostitution, or crime. Meanwhile, the central government had lost control of the localities, bureaucracy, and economic fiefdoms; tax revenues had collapsed. Still in deep depression by the mid-1990s, Russia's economy was hit further by the financial crash of 1998.

Nevertheless, reversion to a socialist command economy seemed almost impossible, meeting widespread relief in the West. Russia's economy has also recovered somewhat since 1999, thanks to the rapid rise of the world price of oil, by far Russia's largest export, but still remains far from Soviet-era output levels.

After the 1998 financial crisis, Yeltsin was at the end of his political career. Just minutes before the first day of 2000, Yeltsin made a surprise announcement of his resignation, leaving the government in the hands of the little-known Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official and head of the KGB's post-Soviet successor agency. In 2000, the new acting president easily defeated his opponents in the presidential election on March 26, winning on the first ballot. In 2004 he was reelected with 71 percent of the vote and his allies won legislative elections, but with international and domestic observers citing flaws. International observers were even more alarmed by late 2004 moves to further tighten the presidency's control over parliament, civil society, and regional officeholders.


1 For a discussion of the development of the class structure in Tsarist Russia see Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge U Press, 1988.
2 For an analysis of the reaction of the elites to the revolutionaries see Manning, Roberta. The Crisis of the Old Order in Russia: Gentry and Government. Princeton University Press, 1982.
3 Peter Nolan, China's Rise, Russia's Fall. Macmillan Press, 1995. pp. 17–18.
4 See Fairbanks, Jr., Charles H. 1999. "The Feudalization of the State". Journal of Democracy 10(2):47–53.


Pre-revolutionary Russia

  • Becker, Seymour. "Nobility and Privilege in Late Imperial Russia", in American Historical Review 92:4 (October 1987) pp. 1006–1007.
  • Russia : a country study / Federal Research Division, Library of Congress; edited by Glenn E. Curtis. Washington, DC : Federal Research Division, Library of Congress,1998. DK510.23 .R883 1998
  • Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848 Vintage, 1996.
  • Manning, Roberta. The Crisis of the Old Order in Russia: Gentry and Government. Princeton University Press, 1982.
  • Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge U Press, 1988.

Soviet era

  • Cohen, Stephen F. Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Goldman, Marshall I. "Economic Problems in the Soviet Union", Current History, 82, October 1983, 322–25.
  • Paul R. Gregory and Robert C. Stuart, Russian and Soviet Economic Performance and Structure, Addison-Wesley,Seventh Edition, 2001/
  • Lewin, Moshe. Russian Peasants and Soviet Power. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968.
  • McCauley, Martin. The Soviet Union 1917–1991. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1993.
  • Remington, Thomas. Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.

Post-Soviet era

  • Cohen, Stephen. Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
  • Fairbanks, Jr., Charles H. 1999. "The Feudalization of the State." Journal of Democracy 10(2):47–53.
  • Paul R. Gregory and Robert C. Stuart, Russian and Soviet Economic Performance and Structure, Addison-Wesley, Seventh Edition, 2001.
  • Medvedev, Roy. Post-Soviet Russia A Journey Through the Yeltsin Era

Related histories

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