September 26th, 2021
I wrote something and accidently hit backspace twice on the browser, wiping out what I wrote. The lesson learned here is to write it in notepad first, then copy it onto here. Since I can't organically reproduce what I had already written, I will be brief. I read the chapter on the reigns of the 6 emperors between Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, 1725-1762. There were a few interesting things of note. A lot of Peter's work was undone, such as his compulsive gentry service and his strong merit system for military and civil ranks. The rank system survived, though people who went to "officer school" could jump the ranks, and his rewards of nobility to higher ranks were removed. Thus the gentry became closed and was no longer obligated to serve the state. This robbed the "middle" classes, merchants or artisans, from access to the upper classes. The lowest classes, peasants and serfs, sank lower and lower into what was essentially slavery. I did not know about any of these tsars really, only hearing of Catherine the Great's husband Peter III. It was a very haphazard line of succession. I also did not know that under Elizabeth, Russia had done very well in the Seven Year's War. They had even occupied Berlin, although all this work was undone by Peter III's exiting the war.
September 27th, 2021
Read about Catherine the Great, and I feel that there will be a lot more of her coming. For an autocrat, she does seem rather "enlightened". A lot of forward progress in one direction, but a lot of backwardness as far as classes go. Another case of helping the nobility to the detriment of the lowest classes. It got me thinking about how the lowest wrung of people should be treated in society. Of course, any sort of hereditary class is unacceptable. Merit and ability need to determine where one goes. I'm not even opposed to the idea of keeping people tied to the land or a location. Forcing it is bad. Coercion is a bit more acceptable, but people should be attracted to the idea. You most likely could get people in this country to sign a contract where they stay in some sort of factory town for a few years, and if you give them nice things for free, no rent, they'd re-sign. I enjoyed reading about Pugachev's Rebellion, 1772-1774. A cossack pretending to be Peter III, Catherine's dead husband, he roused all the peasants/serfs, ethnic minorities, and religious oppressed into essentially burning the countryside. I always enjoy when someone pretends to be a dead claimant to the throne. Earlier in the beginning of the 17th century, I believe there were three separate people pretending to be Ivan the Terrible's dead son. It never ends well.
October 2nd 2021
This went over some of the international events that occurred during Catherine’s reign. The main concern was expansion of Russian territory. A couple of wars with the Ottoman’s earned Russia Crimea and some land on the coast of the Black Sea. Also discussed were the partitions of Poland, which I did not know there were three of. Poland at this time had a very powerful aristocratic “parliament” and a king, who I believe was elected, with very little power. This parliament had some odd rules that led to chaos and disorder, which Austria, Prussia, and Russia used as pretenses for invading and taking some land. In the 1790s, after two partitions, the Poles starting getting it together and had a whole new constitution, which a hereditary monarch and two legislative houses, the lower house which was composed of the middle class. This sounds very similar to the British model, or a European style of the new American constitution. Some of these Poles, I don’t know how many, had fought in the American Revolution. Poland, unfortunately for them, was not given enough time to implement to let is new system flourish, and all the lands were lost to the the strong monarchies it was surrounded by. The chapter ends on the Catherine’s son, Paul’s, short reign, who brought a sort-of counter “revolution” to Catherine’s Enlightenment inspired reign. He is probably best known for joining the Second Coalition against France, leaving, then allying with Napoleon. It seems everyone hated him, and he was killed in a coup. His son Alexander I becomes tsar, we enter the 19th century.
October 3rd, 2021
The next chapter was a short one about economics and society in the 18th century. I have very little interest in economics; I find it dry and boring. Like everywhere else in the world, Russia became more industrialized and had more international trade. Not much more to it than that. As mentioned before, the peasant class sank lower and lower throughout the century as the 1% aristocratic class consolidated more power over them and gained the legal right to force more labor or good from them. Although Paul created a law that limited the number of days a serf was required to work for the landlord, there was no way to enforce it. One interesting point is the decline in the position of the priestly class. Catherine the Great secularized church lands in 1764, and priests as a result became poorer and essentially depended on charity from the even poorer peasants. Russia significantly expanded its borders this century, and gained many different ethic populations. Germans, Jews, Poles, Muslims, Cossacks, and various Asian groups were now under the dominion of the emperor, but the state was, in general, largely tolerant or indifferent. This was a per-nationalistic era, so there was no great push for the Russification of minority groups. This will be a problem of the next century.
Also started a chapter on 18th century culture. Education was an important project for Peter the Great, who founded several higher institutions of learning. He was very focused on science and technology, though there were also military academies. He also replaced the Cyrillic numeral system with the Arabic. I had no idea a Cyrillic system existed; I assumed they used Roman numerals like other European countries. I think it is based on an old Greek system, most likely borrowed from the Byzantines. Apparently it still has use in Orthodox texts. Interesting! Education came under further prominence with the reign of Catherine the Great, who adapted the Austrian model of Joseph II to Russia. This brought elementary schools and higher levels of schooling to the empire. She even founded schools for girls. It's nice to see what good things international cooperation can bring about. Russian language also came into its own, become a more literate language and asserting itself in the face of the dominant Church Slavonic. It seems literature was building a strong foundation, though I think the 19th century is where the peak of Russian literature will be found.
October 4th, 2021
Finished the chapter on culture. There were some notes on literature as social commentary, the sciences, and the arts. There was a great borrowing and advancements gained from Western technology. Apparently, there was a brilliant Russian scientist in the first half of the 18th century named Mikhail Lomonosov, born a peasant. I'll have to look into him a little more. Also, this century saw a Westernization of architecture and some great works, including the entire city of St. Petersburg. Western arts were introduced at this time, such as opera, theater, and ballet. What starts off as imitation will become famously Russian in the 19th century.
October 10th, 2021
This chapter was about the reign of Alexander I, who usurped the throne and accidentally caused the death of his father. He was more liberal than his father, and would likely have been Catherine the Great's heir had she planned a little better before dying. Despite being more liberal than his father, he didn't do a whole lot of liberal things. He founded many schools and universities and replaced Peter the Great's governing system with various ministries. It would seem that the two wars with France put him off to the liberalizing and pushed him further into the old authoritarianism. In 1806 or 1807, after the Third Alliance was defeated by Napoleon, Russia was left as a major power, yet still somewhat subservient to France. They were forced to participate in the blockading England, a traditional ally and economic partner. Napoleon's establishment of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw from Prussian Poland also did not look promising for Russian Poland. This led to Napoleon's 1812 invasion, which we all know started off well but ended in a long retreat from Moscow and 400,000 dead French and allied soldiers. Napoleon most likely did not plan well, as usual, and only thought of the fighting. In between the wars, a man of low-class origins, Mikhail Speransky, was Alexander's right-hand man. He submitted many reform proposals and even a written constitution, but little came of it immediately. His constitution would have broken the country up into districts with various levels of legislature, with a national Duma, and some federalization/self-government of provinces. These ideas were taken up decades later, even up the 1917, which obviously was too late to do much. Alexander tried to set up some alliances after the war with the other great powers, in a pseudo-EU fashion, but it didn't really work out. He died mysteriously in 1825, or, as rumors said, became a hermit and reappeared 40 years later. His oldest brother was skipped over for marrying a non-noble, so the next brother Nicholas became tsar. During the end of Alexander's reign, some educated officers formed societies to promote further westernization and individual rights, including the abolition of serfdom. This culminated, after Alexander's death, in the Decemberist protests which tried to force the middle brother Constantine on the throne. Of course this failed, the protest was dispersed with artillery and the leaders executed. Thus begins the reign of Nicholas I.
October 11th, 2021
I began the chapter on Nicholas I today. He was quite different from his older brother. He was a much more orderly and military man compared to Alexander’s flip-flopping compassion. A true autocrat, he distrusted both the aristocrats and the peasants alike. He had no interest in the systems that diverted power from him and create several departments to enact his will. One of these were the secret police, or the Third Department. I feel like I’ve heard of that before. Nicholas was also behind notoriously terrible censorship, stifling the literature and even music of the day. I look forward to reading about the Crimean War. That’s one of those strange blindspots where I’ve heard much about it, yet still don’t really know anything.
October 13th, 2021
Nicholas I was a big supporter of the status quo. Despite victory wars with Turkey and Persia, he did not press his victory, so that the empires may remains stable. He was opposed to the 1830 French Revolution and Belgian Revolution, though could not act because other nations recognized them. He did put down rebellions in Poland and the Ottoman Empire. He prepared to march on France during the 1848 revolution, but revolution spread far too quickly. His attention was required in the east. He had to put down Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian nationalists, all to keep the status quo and legitimate governments in power. The Crimean War is still confusing. There was some spat in the Holy Land between Catholics and Orthodox(es), which turned into the Russians trying to be protectors of all Orthodox in Ottoman territory. This somehow led to war between the Russians and Ottomans, and for some reason the British and French intervened on the side of the Ottomans. They apparently were sick of Russia putting their nose in everyone’s business, and may have been exacting difficult demands to start a conflict. The Austrians, semi-hostile to the Russians, blocked the border between Russia and the Balkans. Russia and Turkey waged war in the Caucuses, with the Russians doing well, while eventually the British and French (and Sardinians) invaded Crimea. This turned into a year long siege of Sevastopol, during which time Nicholas I died. After the surrender of the city, his son Alexander II and the allied powers signed a peace treaty. I don’t thin much came of it other than Russia losing some land, but Russia’s international standing had fallen significantly.
October 15th, 2021
This was a rather boring chapter about economics and society in the first half of the 19th century. There was some growth. More factories were built, they became more industrialized, there were railroads, etc. Like the rest of Europe, but worse. That's pretty much why they lost the Crimean War. The growth was not quick enough compared to France and England. Possibly it was strangled by the absolutism. Population grew, there were more ethnic groups after all the conquests, free labor was on the rise. Serfdom will be abolished soon. Let's see where that goes
October 16th, 2021
This chapter was about culture of the first half of the 18th century. It focused a great deal on literature, as this century was really the golden age of Russian literature. The most notable writer of this era was Pushkin. Others include Gogol and Krylov, and Dostoevsky began writing during this period. Realism and Romanticism dominated the genre. Satire of the upper classes was also popular, exemplified by Griboedov’s “Gore ot uma”. Other topics included the growth of education under Alexander I and its subsequent stifling under his brother. Theater was still growing, as was dance such as ballet. A large section was about various philosophical groups of the era. It mainly discussed Slavophiles, influenced by German Romanticism, who believed in some sort of purity of Orthodox and Slavic society and strongly favored authoritarianism to keep society pure. Another group was the Westernizers, influenced by Young and Old Hegeliansim, who generally supported individuality and abhorred serfdom and other forms of oppression. The latter is a broad category that included anarchists, like Bukinin, socialists, and liberals
October 18th, 2021
The reign of Alexander II is covered in this chapter. He is best known for the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. It took several years of planning on how to accomplish this, and how to compensate the gentry owners. The serfs got a bit of a bad deal since they ended up with less land and had to overpay for it. The land was distributed to peasant communes, not individuals, so their day to day lives were the same minus the forced labor. An interesting note in the chapter was that at about the same time, 52 million Russian peasants were peacefully emancipated, while in the US there was a bloody war for 4 million slaves. Sometimes the autocrats beat the democrats. There's your freedoms. There were some other reforms, too. I just don't remember them. So far, Alexander II seems alright, though I know it doesn't end so well for the poor guy.
October 19th, 2021
The remaining bits of the chapter on Alexander II covered some uprisings in the 60s and 70s and foreign policy. Despite the reforms of Alexander, he was not that much of a progressive. The reforms gave people the idea that more would be on the way. There were peasant uprisings and uprisings in Poland, which wanted more autonomy. This was put down by the Russian army, though much of Europe was in support of Poland. The Romanticism of the 40s gave way to realism and nihilism in the 60s. This younger generation wanted no part in the established systems and rules of society. Some of this group were "populists" who tried to appeal to the peasants, but this backfired. The peasants were overall not interested and often reported them to the police. A fringe group of these revolutionaries were determined to undermine the government through assassinating the tsar and many attempts were made. Ultimately, Alexander II would be killed in 1881, though the chapter did not end with this. It mentioned it once in the beginning, so I assume the chapter on Alexander III will begin with it. In foreign policy, the tsar was supportive of Bismark's Prussian consolidation of Germany and gained an ally in anti-Polish sentiment and other interests. Austria was mainly forgiven for its Crimean War actions after its defeat by Bismark. Russia expanded largely into the east, getting land from China that would contain Vladivostok, but sold its North American holdings to the US. Russian consolidated its Caucus territory and expanded more into the Central Asia region, towards Persia. There were rebellions in the Balkans the led to war with Turkey. A long and costly war ended with the Treaty of Berlin, which gave Romania more land and became and independent country, as did Serbia and Montenegro. Austria was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina as compensation for the creation of large Slavic territory on its border. Bulgaria, where the conflict began, was left as an autonomous region within Ottoman territory. We know that peace in the Balkan will not last!
October 20th, 2021
After Alexander II’s assassination, his son Alexander III became tsar. Alexander III was not like his father and very against reforms to the autocratic state. He worked to undo a lot of his father’s work, but died in 1894. During this time there was a large growth in Russian nationalism and oppression of non-Orthodox religious groups. Jews were forced to live in certain locations and were the victims of many pogroms. Even the loyal Finns were treated as second class citizens, which led to rebellion and disdain for Russia. The alliances between Russia and Germany and Austria-Hungary fell apart. Russia and Austria were vying for the same land of the Balkans. Bismark tried to keep an alliance with Russia, but he was forced out in 1890 and Alexander’s nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II, did not have the same love for Russia. In response, Russia and France, also an isolated country, began to form an alliance. British was hostile towards Russia over its Central Asian expansion; both had an interest in Persia. Nicholas II became tsar after the death of his father, and was a softer, weaker, very religious man, but still had the same ideas of autocracy. He tried to organize peace conferences for all of Europe, but not much came of it besides a few “rules of war”. One major outcome was the establishment of an international court in the Hague. This chapter ends in 1905, a year of revolution. Before that, there was an embarrassing war with Japan. Russia had stepped into Manchuria and was working land out of China which Japan was trying for. Japan destroyed two Russian fleets and took their Chinese holdings. The Treaty of Portsmouth gave Japan land on the mainland, but not everything Japan was seeking. Japan would not forget the unfair treatment it got from Western powers as a result of this war.
October 23, 2021
The next chapter discussed the Revolutions of 1905 up to, not including, the Revolution of 1917. As mentioned, during the end of the century many factions of liberal and socialist groups rose in opposition to the government. The government tried to organize “unions” of peasants who they though would be loyal to the tsar. A group had marched towards the Winter Palace in January1905 to ask the tsar to address their grievances, when police shot at them and killed 130 people and wounded many others. This event is known as “Bloody Sunday”. The tsar, who was not in St. Petersburg at the time, began to lose loyalty of even the peasants. Various uprisings occurred through the year and a country wide strike in October led to some concessions by the tsar. A national elected Duma with legislative powers was to be setup. In reality, the tsar did not give up much power nor change his opinions on autocracy. The Duma had a mass majority of left wing deputies, but the first two were dissolved by Nicky. After changing the elections such that the Duma would be mostly gentry and right wing and no minorities, the 3rd and 4th Dumas were to serve out their terms. During this time, the rapprochement of Russia and France went further, and France brought in Great Britain, forming the Triple Entente. Britain and Russia came to some agreements in Central Asia and tensions subsided. The main event of this era is obviously the First World War. After being humiliated by Austria when it seized Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Russia was blocked from occupying the Bosporus, the tsar was determined to not suffer further humiliation. When Austria gave Serbia an ultimatum after the assassination of the Archduke, Russia backed its fellow Slavic country. Its worth noting that the Russian Empire as a “Slavic” nation had less than 50% native Russian speaks. Lumping in Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Poles, you would be able to achieve a Slavic majority, but not a Russian one. But Austria declared war on Serbia and we know how it went from there. Russia suffered terrible defeats in 1914 and 1915 with the population back home suffering terrible shortages and inflation. While they made some gains into Germany, Austria, and Turkey in 1916, they were to loose much territory afterwards. Soldiers, some sent to the front even without guns, were poor conscripts who began to oppose the war and desert in large numbers. The tsar came to the front to rally the troops, with the tsarina and Rasputin left in the capitol. In December 1916, Rasputin is killed by a conspiracy of nobles. There is talk of a coup, but before this can occur, the lower classes begin their own revolution. If you can't tell, I'm very interested by this period of European history.
October 24, 2021
Today's chapter was about economics and society from Alexander II to end of Nicholas II, or 1861-1917. The economics is rather boring, just information on industrialization and the rise of capitalism. A majority of Russian industry was invested or partly owned by the French, German, or British. Most of the industrial growth was organized by the government, as there was not really a “market” in Russia which would incentivize the wealthy into investing. For society, it went on at great lengths on the rural peasants. After their emancipation, they mostly carried on their communal life. The communes, with their regular redistribution of land, may have kept individuals from being personally invested in a plot and gave no incentive of making improvement. Population skyrocketed and there were no technological adaptations needed to feed more people. They were also heavily taxed. This led to much unrest and uprisings against landlords. Land reform in the first decade of the 1900s permitted peasants to take land and leave the commune, which around 25% of the population had done by the war. During this time, there was a large increase in the urban working class. Like many other countries at this time, urban living conditions were deplorable and working conditions were unfair. The government passed some working reform conditions and after 1905 legalized unions, but there was constant struggle with the owners and the government/police. Strikes were regular. Good. Power to the people. If the government would treat people like humans and not machinery, there would be much more rational action and less emotional. The moderate socialists would be able to represent the people, but unfair practices cause people to turn to radicals such as the Bolsheviks. Urban life also let to the working class becoming cultured and literate. Education makes people more aware of just how awful they're being treated.
October 25th, 2021
I started the chapter on culture of the post-emancipation era. It repeated again how education expanded after the death of Nicholas I and how it got a big boost under Alexander II’s left-sympathizing early years. Then there was a bit on the maths and sciences. It was mostly just naming various mathematicians and scientists who had major contributions or some who had done important work that was overlooked by the rest of Europe. The main section was on literature. There was a continuation of the 19th century’s golden age with writers like Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. I’ve never read any of their work. I started War and Peace but got distracted and started reading something else. I should follow up the Napoleon book with that. Then there was some talk of a “silver age” at the end of the century with writer’s like Chekhov. That was the end of the interesting part. It closed literature with poetry, but I really couldn’t care less about poetry. Verse is really not my bag. Prose I can get behind.
October 30th, 2021
I finished the chapter on culture between the Crimean and Great wars. It continued about art, which I’m not interested in. In music, this time is best know for Tchaikovsky. I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra perform some Tchaikovsky and it was not for me. I guess I’m more of a baroque kind of guy. In regards to thoughts/philosophy, there were many movements. I can agree with the utilitarians/populists in their view that the happiness of the individual is paramount, with the understanding that the best society is also one that makes the most people happy. This can be interpreted in many ways. Does democracy achieve this goal? Does a benevolent autocrat? Does socialism? It leads to many arguments. Its open-endedness could be a strength as it is not tied down to a certain ideology. You also had liberals, conservatives, socialists, and Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Society was being pulled in many directions, though that is probably a constant in most societies, even the most oppressive.
Also read the chapter on the 1917 revolution and the end of the empire. It did not take much to kill the empire. Mass strikes and protests in March (February Julian) intensified over several days as Petrograd Cossacks refused to break up the strikers. Nicholas II abdicated for himself and his son in favor of his brother Michael. The Duma had created a provisional council which was now to govern the country and Michael abdicated in favor of the council. This was an extremely liberal council who immediately established universal suffrage and planned for a new national council. They even abolished capital punishment, something the Freest Country in the World can’t manage to do. However, they didn’t end the war and they didn’t help the working class and peasants with their immediate needs, food and land. The council replaced ministers and slowly became more socialist. A general Kornilov, representing the right wing, tried to expunge the socialists and help Kerensky’s ministry, but was treated as a usurper and troops were mobilized against him. The peasant and working class grew angrier and in July led more mass strikes demanding for the Soviets to take the government, to no avail. As the situation deteriorated, Lenin appeared in Petrograd in November (October Julian) and the Soviet took over the council. This was repeated in Moscow and other cities and the Soviet era had begun.
October 31st, 2021
The first chapter on the Soviet Union gives a brief overview of Marxism and Leninism. It just talks about the “dialectic materialism” of the communists and Marx's ideas about the progression of history as defined by class struggles and economic systems. Lenin adapted this and modernized it. He added an emphasis on the rural peasants, ignored by Marxists in favor of the urban working class, and focused on colonialism and the international effect of capitalism. Despite the unscientific qualities and moralism of populism and utilitarianism of Chernyshevsky, Leninism had its roots in the movements and the Bolsheviks were inspired by the People's Will's violent and terroristic tendencies. It's worth noting that while Mensheviks and other socialists admired the egalitarianism of universal democracy, Lenin said the Communists did “fetishize” democracy, using it only as a tool to further their revolutionary agenda. I'll had to actually read about it, but Lenin's ideas on the colonial aspects of capitalism seem legitimate, though the Soviet Union did not really do away with these ideas. They were equally guilty of trying to expand and control their sphere of influence. I guess this is what makes them “state capitalists” as opposed to proper socialists.
November 1st, 2021
I read part of the next chapter about the first decade, or “Pre-Stalin”, Soviet era. It’s pretty confusing and complicated. The proper elected National Council, or whatever it was called, finally was inaugurated but without a Bolshevik majority. They had 25%, and overall the various socialist groups had somewhere around 75%, but it wasn’t enough for them to resume control. Somehow they managed to dissolve the council and transfer power to the various soviets around the control. War with Germany was ended thanks Lenin, who convinced Trotsky and other Bolsheviks to take a very unfavorable deal that gave independence to Poland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belorussian, Ukraine, and possibly more. There was also opposition from many different groups, such as conservatives, liberals, nationalists, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries (whatever SR stands for) and eventually even the left-wing SRs. This led to uprisings, assassinations, and civil war, with the above groups being condensed into the “White” label. The Whites were also assisted by Britain, France, the US, Japan, and various other nations. This was also a confusing period, but it is worth noting that the Tsar and his family were killed at this time, and it is not known whether this was ordered by Lenin or not. The Communist party was also contradictory and full of “double-think”. For example, they want to give power to the peasants, yet robbed them of their food and forced them to work. They believed national groups had a right to independence, yet invaded various countries and forced them into the USSR. They believed in utopian worker’s right to self determination and democracy, they consolidated everything to state enterprise and became more and more authoritarian. Like I said, this period is hard to grasp.
November 5th, 2021
Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds, the Red Army won the civil war. Though looking a bit deeper, the odds were more likely to be in their favor. The Allied coalition essentially did not nothing but occupy some border regions and provide minimal support for the Whites. The Allied soldiers and sailors themselves often had no desire to be there and several mutinies were recorded. The wars against Poland and other countries seeking independence were serious, but not a threat to Russia. Poland succeeded in its war and sought no further gains. The other bids for independence could be crushed one by one. The Whites were far from a unified front and by the poorer classes were viewed as worse than the Communists. The Whites often wanted to restore the status quo, taking the gains away from the peasants and workers and crushing independence seekers. The Communists also had Moscow and Petrograd along with all the war supplies. An interesting note is that there was also a “Green” movement, which were armed peasants or anarchists who wanted neither government interfering in their lives. After this war, the country was in famine and the economy was a fraction of its pre-1914 size. Workers and peasants led uprisings throughout the country, who wanted a multi-party government and power to the local Soviets. Lenin devised a New Economic Policy, which as a retreat from Communist policy in that it allowed some private enterprise and helped landlords profit. Not everyone in the party agreed with this plan, but it was successful. After Lenin died in 1924, the party was fractured and there was a power vacuum. There was a more militant “left”, with its most famous leader Trotsky, a “right” who wanted to “win” the peasants and working class over instead of forcing them at gun point, led by Bukharin, and there was Stalin, who was in charge of membership. Stalin, who could fill the party with his own supporters, got rid of the left before turning on the right and then declared that there would and could be no dissenting from the party line. No more factions. It was thus that Stain gained control of the Communist party. Unlike many members at the time, he thought the “world-wide revolution” was a silly concept, and that Russia could maintain a socialist country on its own accord.
November 6th, 2021
The Stalin era began with the abandonment of the New Economic Policy and the first of the Five Year Plans. The Communist party focused on quickly industrializing Russia, especially heavy industry. In this they were successful and became 2nd to the US in many industries, while simultaneously bringing electricity to various new locations in the wide country. A less popular aspect was the forced collectivization of agriculture, which ended all private ownership and took much of the produce away from the peasant class. After intense opposition, Stalin lessened the forcefulness of this program and also let peasants use a small plot of land for private use. This brought many more peasants into the program. This program, however, initially led to mass starvation and millions died, especially in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian historians today believe this was an intentional genocide, though we’ll never know. It was probably more a result of indifference to their lives or deaths as opposed to planned murder. One reason for the mass support of this program was to stick it to the rich peasants, or kulaks. Many kulaks ended up in forced labor camps with their entire families. Forced labor was a big theme in Stalin’s plans, and his Communist purges of the mid to late 1930’s filled the camps. The vast majority of the Lenin era Bolsheviks were eliminated, many army officers, and even a million of the 2+ million regular party members were arrested. Similar to the French Reign of Terror, Stalin acted as the Committee of Public Safety and anyone who was a member of an unfavored group, or just happened to be in a region where the arrest quota hadn’t been met, was in mortal danger. Anyone who has read Orwell’s 1984 will readily see the inspiration. The second Five Year Plan focused on military mobilization, especially after Hitler’s 1933 rise to power, but it also brought more focus on consumer goods. Stalin’s propaganda focused heavily on “happiness”. The third Five Year Plan was interrupted by the Second World War. In 1936, Stalin created a new constitution to replace the original 1922(?) constitution. This essentially legitimized single party rule and outlawed deviation from it. It created some arbitrary Soviets and Congresses and mainly acted as propaganda. Stalin and the Communist party never intended to act within the law.
November 7th, 2021
The next chapter covers Soviet foreign policy and the war years. World War 2 is one of the most discussed “historical” periods, so very little of this information is new. The beginning of Soviet foreign policy, after Trotsky moved to the war ministry, was anticipating a global revolution. This never developed, as Lenin explained, because the working classes of the west were pleased with consumer goods made available by the subjugation of colonial nations. The plan turned towards preventing invasion and forging non-aggression or defensive treaties with France, eastern European countries, and even Germany. In the late 20s Britain and other countries began to recognize the Soviet government, though the US and several eastern European countries would not until the 30s. The Soviets lessened their hostile views towards capitalist countries with the rise of fascism in Europe, though this did not stop them from taking any advantage of expanding their spheres of influence in the east. They look Bessarabia from Romania, invaded Poland, forced the Baltic states into the USSR, and started war with Finland in a territory grab. It's no wonder several of these countries joined the Nazis in the invasion of Russia. I believe general opinion in the US at the time was “hopefully they'll wipe out each other”. After getting whooped at the beginning of Barbarossa, the Nazis got held up in a multi-year siege of Leningrad and got pushed back by Zhukov outside Moscow. The Nazis did better in the south, where the next year they made it to Stalingrad, though they got bogged down and Hitler refused to retreat. This cost him an army. I guess it's recognized that if the Nazis were less gung-ho about their racial ideology, they could've have fairly easily convinced the locals to rise against the Soviet government. However, they were too busy shooting them in ditches and giving them CO poisoning in trucks. It's also necessary to mention the Russian atrocities, such as massacring Poles in the Katyn forest, letting the Nazis annihilate the Warsaw uprising, and untold acts committed against German civilians. Just for good measure, fire bombing and atomic bombings were war crimes and those who authorized attacks on civilian targets should've been hanged at Nuremberg too. Up next are the final years of Stalin.
November 8th, 2021
We’re moving quicker and quicker into living history. Though I was not alive for it, there are still many people who remember the post-war Stalin years. Obviously, the USSR did not allow free elections in its conquered nations. It backed communist dictatorships throughout. The countries that already had strong Communist parts, like Tito’s Yugoslavia, were more of a thorn in Stalin’s side than an asset. Nationalism was stronger than international party unity. Also in these years, the Chinese Communist party won its civil war, creating essentially a second capital of Communism. Within the USSR, there were two more 5 year plans with more of the same. Improve heavy industry, rebuild, and force the peasants into collective arrangements to control them. The party would continue to have a hard time bringing the massive peasant population into the fold. The USSR also was brutal towards minority “suspect” ethnic groups, such as Volga-Germans, Cossacks, and various Central Asian groups, deporting them and sending many to labor camps. The Gulags were full to the brim in the post war years, with millions dying in them. What can you say, Stalin was a jerk. Stalin’s last years also saw the creation of NATO and the UN, the Berlin Airlift, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. It was a busy time in the international scene. Then he died.
November 10th, 2021
The history is going well into living memory. Since many people alive today lived through this, it isn’t often written as history but more as “news” which still resonates today. That said, I don’t know much about the post-Stalin USSR. This chapter is about the Khrushchev years up to Gorbachev’s. I should say Malenkov was the first party secretary post-Stalin, but he dropped out quickly. Khrushchev, an old revolutionary, denounced Stalin and Stalin’s cult of personality, and many of the horrible acts. His acknowledgment of past, recent atrocities is refreshing from a political leader is refreshing, though it was probably more for his own gain. Though his speech was not public, it got around, and it would be hard to back the hardline Staliners. Khrushchev had his rival for power, secret police head Beria, executed and began to put his reforms forward. He tried to promote and improve agriculture, give a little more freedom to the press and revoke a lot of Stalin’s oppressive systems. He was pushed out in 1964 for “age” and the Brezhnev years began. This was the time for the next generation of Communists, for those who grew up during but were too young to participate in the revolution and civil war. They stepped back from Khrushchev’s attempted reforms and focused on “stability”, but ended up with stagnation. They took steps backwards and were more oppressive than Khrushchev, bringing the KGB back into prominence, but with less terroristic tendencies. Brezhnev was general secretary until he died in1982. Then there was Andropov, who seemed like he would’ve been more oppressive, but then died after around a year. Chernenko was next but also died after around a year. This second generation was very aged now and dying out. In 1985, Gorbachev, one generation younger, was elected by the Politburo as general secretary.
November 11th, 2021
Continued the chapter on the post Stalin years. This bit went on about the economy. Very boring. There were some gains, Khrushchev tried to spread the workload out form Moscow to incentivize the other districts, agriculture did not grow as needed. The 70s saw shortages and stagnation. There were a bunch of more 5 year plans and even a 7 year. Zzz.
November 13th, 2021
Finished the chapter on the post-Stalin years. It continued with a short discussion on “The Thaw”, which was a lessening of the oppressiveness and intolerance of the Stalin years. Millions of people were released from Gulags and prison and some were posthumously “redeemed”. Political freedom and press freedom were not on the menu, but light dissent was tolerated. There was a longer section on foreign policy during this 30 year period. Malenkov, and then Bulganin and Khrushchev, were more open to communication and cooperation with Western countries. Khrushchev pressed his luck with the Cuban Missile Crisis and found out that the USSR could not place such extreme pressures on the US. The chapter doesn’t mention anything about the US in Turkey, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. Relations with the West improved for a time, but worsened with the East. They lost standing and butted-heads with China, and the Warsaw Pact countries were pressing for more independence. Czechoslovakia had uprisings in the 50’s and 60’s that were suppressed by the Soviets, and more brutally in Hungary. The Soviets intervened in Poland often and sponsored a military coup. Overall, the USSR was losing its grip on the East. In 1979, to support the Afghan Communist revolutionary government, the USSR invaded and began a 10 year war that lowered their international standing even more. That’s when the US and Osama started a long friendship.
The last chapter before the collapse of the Soviet Union is about society and culture. It tries to cram a lot of diverse information and a period with a rapidly changing society in a short chapter. A lot of it has already been discussed. The initial Soviet years were more revolutionary and idea in the sense that there was more support for women, workers, and minority groups. The Stalin era saw the suppression of this, encouraging women to focus on the home and children, taking rights from workers and moving towards a top-controlled economy and factories, and keeping a leash on any sort of nationalist movement. The post-Stalin years relaxed a little, but not much. Nothing would approach the era of the revolution. Education followed the Empire system, but with a wider reach and stronger focus. Literacy improved rapidly and schools spread quickly for ages 7-17. The Communist party focused on putting a Marxist-Leninist spin and a pro-Russian emphasis on any subject they could. The education was heavy on the sciences and math, which is evident in the many scientific achievements of the year. They didn’t mention the Communists changing the alphabet, which seems like a big deal to me. I can’t imagine the English alphabet changing any time soon, though it could use some alterations. The sciences were in pretty good shape under the Soviets, though they suffered from doctrine and dogma. The dialectic had to be applied and unfounded theories that supported Marxist ideology sometimes overshadowed reality. The arts were stifled. Anything that veered from the party line of socialist realism, or was too heady for the “working class” had to be rewritten. All the good stuff had to be published outside of the USSR. Religion was adamantly suppressed, as the Communists were militant atheists. The majority of people remained religious, however. A limited degree of religious worship was eventually allowed. Overall, it seems like a depressing time and place. It’s hard to comprehend what living in a censored society would be like, as it is very dissimilar to life in the US. Here you can pretty much say anything, no matter how stupid or offensive. Sure, you may get some hate and death threats, or “canceled” as they like to say today, but with the internet it all can be side-stepped.
November 14th, 2021
We finally get to see the Soviet Union collapse. The Gorbachev years, 1985-1991, seem to be a bit contradictory. It's sort of hard to follow how a government collapses. Gorbachev himself seemed an idealist but also unsure and unable to commit. He wanted to rebuild Soviet society to essentially kill the vice and apathy. He wanted to bring in economic and political reforms, but hesitated between working with the liberal and conservative sides of the party, alienating both. He also began to change the government, removing single party rule and other oppressive clauses in the constitution. At the same time, he was abandoning the party and creating more power in the new office of the presidency of the USSR. Then there was also a presidency of the Russian Soviet Republic, which seemed to slowly be recognized as the official government of Russia. In 1990, Yeltsin was the president of this office. Nationalistic movements were gaining power in the more open Gorbachev years, and their Soviet Republics began to push their supremacy over the USSR. Starting with the Baltic states, they began to declare their independence from the USSR. The Warsaw pact countries in 88/89 began to force out their pro-Soviet Communist parties and turn toward democratic governments. Gorbachev refused to use the military to suppress these uprisings, and thus they succeeded. The Red Army was the only thing that kept the system alive for as long as it did. Despite the attempted reforms of Gorbachev and moving more towards a market economy, the economic situation got worse. Inflation was through the roof and there still many shortages of basic necessities. Maybe they shouldn't have been using half of the economy for the military. Things got worse, there was a military coup that deposed Gorbachev and met huge opposition. 3 days later, he was back, but by the end of 1991 he resigned. Not much of a resignation when your country is more or less non-existent any more. Too little, too late for poor Gorbachev. Though good riddance to the USSR. It only existed through force and fear. The democratic socialists of western Europe have the superior system and don't need to kill millions in order to exist.
November 16th, 2021
We’re now in the modern era. This penultimate chapter deals with the presidencies of Yeltsin and Putin (the first time around). It sounds like the 90s were pretty rough in Russia. After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian economy did not get much better. Yeltsin was adamant about opening up a market economy and aggressively forced it. The Russian state had a strong executive and weaker bicameral legislative, but strong executive power seems to be a constant in Russian history. Over his 8 years of presidency, 1991-1999, his popularity plummeted, despite being re-elected. The legislature combated him every step of the way, with the “progressives” only getting a quarter of the seats. Communists and nationalist parties made up about 50% of the legislature. The economy only got worse. On top of that, the province, or whatever they call them in Russia, of Chechnya declared its independence, and war broke out. The weakened army embarrassingly could not suppress this uprising, a bloody conflict ended with the acknowledgment of Chechnian autonomy. In 1998, a global economic crisis started in Asia and had a large impact on the unstable Russian economy. Oil prices also dropped, which was half of Russia’s output. A second war in Chechnya broke out with similar results. On New Year’s Eve 1999, Yeltsin resigned and his Prime Minister Putin, who was a bit of an unknown, was named acting president. He was then properly elected with over 50% of the vote and re-elected with over 70%. People like Putin. Russia, like many other countries, is more or less a fake democracy. There is active suppression of information that is unfavorable to the state. Putin is like a modern Napoleon, arresting the dissidents he doesn’t want around and putting forward a view that is government is legitimate and chosen by the people. Maybe in an open democracy, people would still elect him. Who knows? During his tenure the economy improved, and that tends to be enough for people. The Russian constitution only allowed (I think Putin changed this now) two consecutive terms, so in 2008 he was replaced by Medvedev. There are still 60 or so pages more, but this is essentially where my political awareness begins, internationally at least.
November 17th, 2021
More about the Putin years. It just talked a more about what was already covered. Putin continued the centralization of power in the presidency, restricted the electorate by making political parties get a certain percentage of the vote before they could enter the legislature, and tried to weak extra-political power such as the wealthy oligarchs. The oligarchs were men who made a lot of money in the chaos of the 90s. The economy did really well until 2008, especially due to the high prices of oil. Maybe the biggest internal problem was a decade of combating the Chechens. There were many terrorist attacks in Moscow and other cities throughout the decade, and the Chechen capital was destroyed. The point was to show the strength of the state and warn anyone else who might seek to leave Russia. A Russian puppet government was set up in the region afterwards. The army was in poor condition, as we saw in the first Chechen War, but Putin increased military spending significantly. He also allegedly “reformed” the army, but I’m pretty sure that today they still abuse recruits and the suicide rates are high. That’s Russia.
November 19th, 2021
Finished the chapter on the politics of modern Russia. It ended with a discussion of foreign policy. In brief, Russia wanted to get back to its high standing it had in the Soviet era. Yeltsin and Putin did not want the west to look on Russia as a dead empire or third world country. Clinton pushed the limits a bit far. All of the Warsaw Pact countries ended up joining NATO, and many eastern European countries became members of the EU. Russia of course saw this as encroachment. Russia intervened to stop US bombings in the two Yugoslavian wars of the 90s. 9/11 humbled the US a bit, and Putin sympathized with the struggle against radical Islam. Now Russia is a major player again, especially in its control of much oil and gas that goes to Europe. With its neighbors, things aren’t all so great. Russia has had for decades an ally in its Belorussian lapdog Lukashenko. Things were tenser and have only gotten worse in Ukraine. The west and east meddle in Ukrainian elections to get a favorable leader. This book was written before the civil war and taking of Crimea, so relations are at an all time low. I remember watching on the news the Russian invasion of South Ossetia in Georgia in 2008, so there are still some Soviet tendencies in Putin. I think mainly Russia has been trying to forge an alliance with China as opposed to the west, which is a good move. They are the new powerhouse, like it or not.
November 20th, 2021
The final chapter of the book discusses the society and culture of modern Russia. It is difficult to describe a living culture. For better or worse, religion made a strong return to public life, though service attendance did not take off. Unfortunately, religious revivals tend to go hand in hand with nationalism, which is what was seen in the 90s and 200s Russia. Other religions and ethnic groups are put down as “corrupting” the proper Russian views and culture. Nationalist groups make up a large portion of the Duma, and skinheads and other gangs are not unknown. On the topic of gangs, the privatization of business gave a boost to gangs and “mafias” who provide “protection”. This same era in the 90s led to rise of new upper classes, oligarchs and billionaires, who profited from the chaos. Meanwhile, the average Russian’s life got worse. Homelessness increased, villages were abandoned for the cities, pensions were worthless, despair and suicide increased. “Immorality” increased with the opening of casinos and widespread prostitution. Western culture infiltrated with imported goods, music, movies, and even the use of the dollar. At the beginning of the era, many were not paid in cash but in materials. As far as culture goes, the Soviet censorship was over. Newspapers, books, movies, TV could say or show what they want. Putin has since put a clamp on TV and journalism, but books and movies may still be safe. Instead of the Communist enforced optimism, the new culture favored sex, violence, and the real darkness of life. Grittiness had taken the place of phony hope, though you still have reactionaries who view the past with rose-colored glasses. I don’t know what it’s like 10 years later, but unless the Putin indoctrination programs have worked really well, I can’t imagine optimism making a comeback.