Russia And Japan - Industrialization Outside The West
Author: Stearns, Peter N.; Adas, Michael;Schwartz, Stuart B.
Date: 1992

Russia's Reforms And Industrial Advance

Neither Russia nor Japan generated significant changes during the first
half of the 19th century. Both countries were bent on maintaining the status
quo, though in Russia's case this involved pulling apart from Western patterns
more fully than had been necessary in the previous century. Yet the early 19th
century in both countries must be briefly probed in order to explain the
ability and willingness to react decisively to a new Western challenge after
1850.

Russia Before Reform

Russia's new fearfulness about Western patterns started in the governing
elite and it was rooted in the shock generated by the French Revolution.
Russian rulers, beginning with Catherine the Great in her later years, sought
means to protect the country from Western revolutionary contagion, and in the
process the sense that Western policies might serve as models for Russia faded
dramatically. Napolean's 1812 invasion of Russia also produced new concern
with defense. This turn toward renewed isolation was supported by conservative
intellectuals who seized the opportunity to vaunt Russian values over those of
the chaotic West. In the eyes of these aristocratic writers, Russia knew the
true meaning of community and stability. The system of serfdom provided
ignorant peasants with the guidance and protection of paternalistic masters -
an inaccurate social analysis, but a comforting one. To combat Napoleon's
pressure early in the 19th century some improvements in bureaucratic training
were introduced, and city administrations were granted somewhat greater
authority. A new tsar, Alexander I, flirted with liberal rhetoric, but he also
sponsored the Holy Alliance idea at the Congress of Vienna that grouped the
conservative monarchies of Russia, Prussia, and Austria in defense of religion
and the established order. The idea of Russia as a bastion of sanity in a
Europe gone mad was an appealing one.

The defense of the status quo produced some important new tensions,
however. A number of intellectuals remained fascinated with Western progress,
though they typically criticized certain aspects of it. Some praised political
freedom and educational and scientific advance, while deploring the West's
neglect of social issues amid the squalor of early industrialization. Others
focused more purely on Western cultural styles. Early in the 19th century,
Russia began to contribute creatively to European cultural output. The poet
Pushkin, for example, descended from an African slave, used romantic styles to
celebrate the beauties of the Russian soul and the tragic dignity of the
common people. Because of its compatibility with the use of folklore and a
sense of nationalism, the romantic style took deep root in eastern Europe.
Russian musical composers would soon begin their contributions, again using
folk themes and sonorous sentimentality within an essentially Western
stylistic context.

While Russia's ruling elite continued to welcome Western artistic styles
and took great pride in Russia's growing cultural respectability, they
increasingly censored intellectuals who tried to incorporate liberal or
radical political values. Many intellectuals were jailed or exiled to the
West, in a pattern that to some extent has continued until very recently.

Western values also inspired a minor but disturbing political revolt, the
Decembrist uprising in 1825. A group of middle-level army officers, many of
whom had served in western Europe during the Napoleonic wars and who deplored
Russia's backwardness compared to Western bureaucratic efficiency and
political liberalism, rose up in the name of change. The officers were not
well organized, and they were divided between a majority who wanted political
improvements and nothing more and a minority who talked vaguely of more
sweeping social change including peasant reforms. The revolt was easily put
down, but it inspired the new tsar, Nicholas I, to still more adamant
conservatism. Repression of political opponents stiffened, and the secret
police expanded. Newspapers and schools, already confined to a small minority,
were tightly supervised. What political criticism there was flourished mainly
in exile in places such as Paris or London, and had little impact on Russia.

Partly because of political repression, Russia was spared the wave of
revolutions that spread through Europe in 1830 and 1848. There was no
substantial middle class to spearhead liberal protest, and police activity
prevented the kind of ideological buildup that preceded revolution in the
West. The artisan class was small and lacked strong organizational traditions.
The huge peasant majority had grievances aplenty, and it continued to break
out in periodic regional revolts against landlord exactions, but these revolts
were not substantial enough to trigger a larger uprising. Russia seemed to be
operating in a different political orbit from that of the West, to the great
delight of most Russian officials. In its role as Europe's conservative
anchor, Russia even intervened in 1849 to help Austria put down the
nationalist revolution in Hungary - a blow in favor of monarchy but also a
reminder of Russia's eagerness to flex its muscles in wider European affairs.

While turning more fiercely conservative than it had been in the 18th
century, Russia maintained its tradition of territorial expansion. Russia had
confirmed its hold over most of Poland at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after
Napoleon had briefly sponsored a separate Polish duchy. While technically a
separate entity under the tsar, the Polish territory was ruled with a heavy
hand. Nationalist sentiment, inspired by the growth of romantic nationalism in
Poland and backed by many Polish landowners with ties to the West, roused
recurrent Polish opposition to Russian rule. An uprising occurred in 1830 and
1831, triggered by news of the revolutions in the West and led by liberal
aristocrats and loyal Catholics who chafed under the rule of an Orthodox
power. Tsar Nicholas I put down this revolt with great brutality, driving many
leaders into exile.

Russia was clearly bent on maintaining full authority over its new
European holdings. At the same time the Russians continued pressure on the
Ottoman Empire, whose weakness attracted eager attention. A war in the 1830s
led to some territorial gains, though Western powers, fearful of a Russian
advance on Constantinople that would provide easy access to the Mediterranean,
forced some limitations. France and Britain recurrently tried to prop up
Ottoman authority in the interest of countering Russian aggression. Russia
also supported many nationalist movements in the Balkans, including the Greek
independence war in the 1820s - a desire to cut back the Turks here outweighed
Russia's commitment to conservatism. Overall, while no massive acquisitions
marked the early 19th century, Russia continued to be a dynamic diplomatic and
military force.

Economic And Social Problems: The Peasant Question

Russia's economic position, however, did not keep pace with its
diplomatic aspirations. As the West industrialized and central European
powers, such as Prussia and Austria, introduced at least the beginnings of
industrialization, including some rail lines, Russia largely stood pat - this
meant that it began to fall increasingly behind the West in technology and
trade. The patterns of the 18th century, which had suggested growing Russian
economic dependence on the West, resumed with a vengeance. Russian landlords
eagerly took advantage of Western markets for grain, but they increased their
exports not by improving their techniques but by tightening the labor
obligations on their serfs. This was a common pattern in much of eastern
Europe in the early 19th century, as Polish and Hungarian nobles also
increased labor service in order to gain ground in the export market. In
return for low-cost grain exports, Russia and other East European areas
imported some Western machinery and other costly equipment, as well as luxury
goods for the great aristocrats to display as badges of cultured
respectability. A few isolated factories were opened up using Western
equipment, but there was no significant change in overall manufacturing or
transportation mechanisms. Russia remained a profoundly agricultural society
based on essentially unfree labor, but it was now a visibly stagnant society
as well. Many Russian leaders were aware of the West's great economic
innovation and dynamism, but they papered over the differences by their
enthusiastic embrace of European cultural styles, keeping up to date on the
latest in costume, dance, or painting, while in some cases offering criticisms
of the social injustice of industrialization.

The widening gap between Russia and the West was dramatically driven home
by a fairly minor war in the Crimea between 1854 and 1856. Nicholas I had
provoked conflict with the Ottoman Empire in 1853, arguing among other things
that Russia had the responsibility for protecting Christian interests in the
Holy Land and that the Ottomans were not assuring the rights of churches and
monasteries there. Essentially this attack resumed the long-standing Russian
attempt to gain ground in the area. This time, however, France and Britain
were not content with diplomatic maneuverings to limit Russian gains, but came
directly to the sultan's aid. Britain was increasingly worried about any great
power advance in the region that might threaten its hold on India, while
France sought diplomatic glory and also represented itself as the Western
champion of Christian rights. The resultant Crimean War was fought directly in
Russia's backyard on the Black Sea, yet the Western forces won, driving the
Russian armies from their entrenched positions. The loss was shocking and
profoundly disturbing to Russian leadership, for the West won this little war
not because of great tactics or inspired principles, but essentially because
of their industrial advantage. They had the ships to send masses of military
supplies long distances, and their artillery and other weapons were vastly
superior to Russia's home-produced models. Here was a severe blow to a regime
that prided itself on military vigor, and a frightening portent for the
future.

The Crimean War helped convince Russian leaders, including the new tsar,
Alexander II, that it was time for a change. Reform was essential not to copy
the West, but to allow sufficient economic adjustments for Russia to keep pace
in the military arena. And reform meant, first and foremost, some resolution
of Russia's leading social issue, the issue that most distinguished Russian
society from that of the West: serfdom. Only if the status of serfs changed
could Russia develop a more vigorous and mobile labor force and so be able to
contemplate some version of industrialization. Russian concern paralleled
attacks on slavery in the Americas in the same period, reflecting a desire to
meet Western humanitarian standards and a need for cheap, flexible labor.

Other factors argued for reform of the serfs as well. Some aristocrats
were convinced that a freer labor system would motivate serfs to work hard and
thus produce higher agricultural profits. Several leaders were also stung by
repeated Western-inspired criticisms of the injustice of Russian society,
which focused on the harsh conditions of servile labor. Even more aristocrats
were concerned by the periodic peasant uprisings that focused on lack of
freedom, undue obligations, and lack of land. Stability required some dramatic
new moves that would protect the essentials of the social order while
contenting the peasantry to a greater degree. Peasant uprisings increased in
the 1850s, triggered in part by some bad harvests - unlike the West at this
point, Russia was still vulnerable to famine when crops failed - and in part
by the discontents of returning peasant veterans from the Crimea.

So Russia returned, for two decades, to a policy of reform, based in part
on Western standards and examples - manorialism had been fully abolished in
western Europe after 1789 and in east-central regions such as Prussia and
Hungary, in the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848. As before, however, the
intention was not to duplicate Western measures down the line, but to protect
distinctive Russian institutions including the landed aristocracy and tightly
knit peasant communities. The result was an important series of changes that,
with tragic irony, created more grievances than they resolved while opening
the way to further economic change.

The Reform Era And Early Industrialization

The final decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861 came at roughly the
same time that the United States and, soon, Brazil decided to free slaves.
Neither slavery nor rigorous serfdom suited the economic needs of a society
seeking an independent position in Western-dominated world trade.

In some ways the emancipation of the serfs was more generous than the
liberation of slaves in the Americas. While aristocrats retained part of the
land, including the most fertile holdings, the serfs got most of it - in
contrast to slaves who received their freedom but nothing else. Russian
emancipation, however, was careful to preserve essential aristocratic power;
the tsar was not interested in destroying the nobility, who remained his most
reliable political ally and the source of most bureaucrats. Even more,
emancipation was designed to retain the tight grip of the tsarist state. The
serfs obtained no new political rights at a national level. They were still
tied to their villages until they could pay for the land they were given - the
redemption money going to the aristocrats to help preserve this class.
Redemption payments added greatly to peasants' material hardship, and they
were infuriating, for peasants thought the land belonged to them with no need
to pay for its return. Enforcement of redemption obligations meant many
peasants could still not move freely or even sell their land, though some
became more mobile. High redemption payments, in addition to state taxes that
increased as Russia sought funds to build railroads and factories, kept most
Russian peasants miserably poor.

Emancipation did bring change; it helped create a larger urban labor
force. But it did not spur a revolution in agricultural productivity, as most
peasants continued to use traditional methods on their small plots. And it did
not bring contentment: Indeed, peasant uprisings became more common as hopes
for a brighter future now seemed dashed by the limits of change. Rural unrest
in Russia was furthered also by substantial population growth, as some of the
factors that had earlier swelled the West's population now spread to Russia,
including growing use of the potato. Peasant crowding would by itself have
created hardship, while also providing new migrants in search of other work;
in combination with grievances about emancipation, it was a truly explosive
force.

Russia, in sum, provided after 1861 a classic case of a society in the
midst of rapid change where reform did not go far enough - perhaps, given
traditions and established interests, it could not go far enough - to satisfy
key protest groups. Peasants used their village structures so often praised by
Russian conservatives to provide organization and goals for recurrent attacks
on landlords and state tax officials, while usually still professing loyalty
to the tsar.

To be sure, the reform movement did not end with emancipation. Alexander
II introduced a host of further measures in the 1860s and early 1870s. New law
codes cut back traditional punishments now that serfs were legally free in the
eyes of the law (though subject to important transitional restrictions). The
tsar created local political councils, the zemstvoes, that had a voice in
regulating roads, schools, and other regional policies. Some form of local
government was essential now that the nobles no longer directly ruled the
peasantry. The zemstvoes gave some Russians, particularly middle-class people
such as doctors and lawyers, new political experience, and they undertook
important inquiries into local problems. The councils, however, had no
influence on national policy, where the tsar resolutely maintained his own
authority and that of his extensive bureaucracy. Another important area of
change was the army, where the Crimean War had shown the need for reform. The
officer corps were improved through promotion by merit and a new organization
of essential services. Recruitment was extended, and many peasants learned new
skills, including literacy, through their military service. Some strides were
made also in providing state-sponsored basic education, though schools spread
unevenly.

These adjustments, like emancipation itself, were important. They
imitated some Western principles; the new law codes, for example, included a
more humanitarian approach to punishment for crime as well as technical
equality before the law. The reforms were sufficient to spur the beginnings of
Russian industrialization. They were not sufficient to provide a stable social
base for this inherently traumatic economic upheaval.

From the reform era onward, literacy spread rapidly in Russian society. A
new market developed for popular reading matter that had some similarities to
the mass reading culture developing in the West. Interestingly, Russian
potboiler novels, while displaying a pronounced taste for excitement and
exotic adventure, also attested to distinctive values; Russian "bad guys" for
example were never glorified in the end, but always were either returned to
social loyalty or condemned for their obduracy, a clear sign of the limits to
individualism. Women gained new positions in the climate of change. Some won
access to higher education, and, as in the West, a minority of women mainly
from the upper classes began to penetrate professions such as medicine.

As these examples suggest, Russia had been launched on a process of
considerable transformation, going well beyond the official political reforms.
Even sexual habits began to change, as had occurred in the West a century
before. Fathers' control over their children's behavior loosened a bit,
particularly where non-agricultural jobs were available, and sexual activity
before marriage increased.

The move toward industrialization was part of the wider process of
change. The tsar's government was not always in agreement over
industrialization goals, with some conservatives rightly fearing the impact of
economic change on the existing social and political structure. On the whole,
however, state support for industrialization continued even after the reform
era ended in the late 1870s. And state support was vital for this shift toward
industrialization, for Russia lacked a preexisting middle class and
substantial capital; state enterprises had to make up part of the gap, in the
tradition of economic activity that went back to Peter the Great.

The first step toward industrialization came with railroads, a clear
necessity for military and political coordination as well as economic
development in the vast land. Russia began to create an extensive railroad
network in the 1870s. The establishment of the trans-Siberian railroad, which
connected European Russia with the Pacific, was the crowning achievement of
this drive when it was substantially completed by the end of the 1880s. The
railroad boom directly stimulated expansion of Russia's iron and coal sectors.
Rails also allowed fuller utilization of Russia's rich holdings in both
minerals, for in contrast to England and Germany (and to an extent the United
States) Russia lacked waterways that could do the job, as the north-south flow
of rivers did not link up coal and iron deposits. Railroad development also
stimulated the export of grain to the West, which now became essential to earn
foreign currency needed in payment for advanced Western machinery. The
railroads also opened Siberia up to new development, which in turn brought
Russia into a more active and contested Asian role.

By the 1880s, when Russia's railroad network had almost quintupled
compared to 1860, modern factories were beginning to spring up in Moscow, St.
Petersburg, and several Polish cities, and an urban working class was growing
apace. Printing factories and metalworking shops expanded the skilled
artisanry in the cities, while new works in metallurgy and textiles created a
still-newer, semiskilled industrial labor force from the troubled countryside.

Under Count Witte, minister of finance from 1892 to 1903 and an ardent
economic modernizer, the government enacted high tariffs to protect new
Russian industry, improved its banking system, and encouraged Western
investors to build great factories with advanced technology. As Witte put it,
"The inflow of foreign capital is . . . the only way by which our industry
will be able to supply our country quickly with abundant and cheap products."
By 1900 approximately half of Russian industry was foreign-owned and much of
it was foreign-operated, with British, German, and French industrialists
taking the lead. Russia became a debtor nation as huge industrial development
loans piled up. And while an important class of Russian industrialists
emerged, the early phases of Russian industrialization did not clearly improve
Russia's autonomy in the world economy. Witte and others were confident that
strong government controls could keep the foreigners in line rather than
converting Russia into a new imperialist playground, and certainly foreign
influence over basic government policy was not extensive. While the foreign
presence and foreign profit-taking created resentments from workers and
conservatives alike, there was some clear payoff: By 1900 Russia had surged to
fourth rank in the world in steel production, and was second to the United
States in the newer area of petroleum production and refining. Russian textile
output was also impressive. Long-standing Russian economic lags were beginning
to yield.

This was still an industrial revolution in its early stages. Russia's
world rank was a function more of its great size and population, along with
its very rich natural resources, than of really thorough mechanization. Many
Russian factories were vast - on average, the largest in the world - but they
were not usually up to Western technical standards, nor was the labor force
highly trained. Many workers continued to go back and forth from factory to
countryside, which helped ease the adjustment to often appalling urban and
factory conditions but did not encourage full conversion to new work regimes.
Agriculture also remained backward, as peasants, often illiterate, had neither
capital nor motives to change their ways. Poor agriculture limited the growth
of cities - which did surge forward impressively nevertheless - and made
famine a recurrent threat.

Other reforms also produced ambiguous results. Russia remained a
traditional peasant society in many ways. Beneath official military
reorganization, many peasant-soldiers continued to regard their officers as
landlord-patrons. Discipline and military efficiency were lax. It was not
clear that the Russian masses had experienced the kinds of attitudinal changes
that had occurred in the West around the time of initial industrialization or
even before. Even more obvious was the absence of a large, self-confident
middle class of the sort that had arisen earlier in the West. Businessmen and
professional people grew in numbers, but they were often dependent on state
initiatives - through zemstvo employment for doctors, or economic guidance for
businessmen - and simply lacked the class size and tradition to become as
assertive as their Western counterparts had been, for example, in challenging
aristocratic power and values. The limitations of change in Russia reflected
the recency of the process; by 1914 Russia was really only in its third decade
of outright industrial revolution. It also reflected distinctive features of
the process itself, and of earlier Russian tradition.

 

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