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Russia History

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Brief History of Russia

The history of Russia is intertwined with the history of Europe. The people of Russia are largely Slavs from Eastern Europe but the first Russian state was formed by Vikings warriors in the 9th Century. The name "Rus" was first used to refer to red-haired Vikings. The populace first began to call themselves Russians in the 14th Century.

Russia thus became a country with a population comprised of a majority of Slavic Peoples, but ruled by a minority of powerful Scandinavians. It was an integral part of Christendom since the 10th Century. The Russian Orthodox Church long held sway over the worldview of the people.

The country was greatly influenced in its early history by Byzantium and in its later history by Europe. Russia has long struggled to come to terms with its relationship with the West. Russia was a small nation 500 years ago but by the mid-eighteenth century it had become a huge international power.




Vladimir the Great (958-1015) was the first prominent Russian Prince.  He and his country converted to Christianity in 988.  Vladimir was the Prince of Kiev, Ukraine.  Kiev was the capital of Russia until it was moved in 1308 to Moscow, which was founded in 1146.  Kiev was not the original seat of power for the Russian people—that would be Novgorod. 




Ivan III (1440-1505) was the first Tsar (Czar or Caesar) of Russia. He was the man who shook of the yoke of both Islam and Catholicism, while firmly establishing his nation as part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ivan III and his people considered Moscow to be the 3rd great city of Christendom, behind Rome and Constantinople.

Moscow was remote but not isolated, and Ivan III had remodeled the Kremlin (fortified city) in a triangular shape filled with splendor. The Red Square became the center of Moscow and Russia.



Ivan the Terrible

Ivan IV (1530-1584) is known as Ivan the Terrible.  He slaughtered almost the entire population of Novgorod to affirm the supremacy of Moscow in Russia.  Ivan IV separated the Russian Orthodox Church from Eastern Orthodoxy. 



House of Romanov

There was an interesting event in 1606. It seems an imposter named The False Dmitri I seized the throne for a year and was deposed in dramatic fashion: fired from a cannon in Red Square. Years of political confusion followed and the Swedes captured Novgorod while the Poles conquered Moscow.

After a year, the Poles were thrown out and the new Tsar was Michael Romanov (1596-1645). He was the first in a long line of Russian Tsars known as the House of Romanov, which ruled the country from 1613 to 1917.




A reform of the law in 1649 systematized serfdom.  The word serf means slave, though serfdom was a step up from outright slavery.  There were many different levels of serfs, but generally speaking they were bound to work for a baron or knight in return for protection and sustenance.  Russia had the largest peasant class in Europe and was the scene of major peasant uprisings in 1606, 1670, 1707, and 1773.  

One of the key moments in the creation of modern Russia as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, was its acquisition of Ukraine from Poland by treaty in 1667, under Tsar Alexei (1629-1676).  Ukraine is rich in mineral resources and boasts the finest agricultural soil in Europe.  



Peter the Great

Peter the Great (1672-1725) is the man credited with making Russia a contemporary European nation by civilizing and modernizing (Westernizing) the state and its laws. Peter was a large (6' 7"), energetic, determined man—and a moral monster. He was a drunkard who personally participated in sadistic tortures and was indifferent to the immense suffering of his subjects.

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Peter created 14 ranks of nobility; divided the country into provinces; created a municipal government and bureaucracy; and aggressively promoted trade, industry, education, literature, science, and the arts. Russia was now two nations: a highly cultured, sophisticated ruling class; and an utterly backward, impoverished peasant class.

The founding of St. Petersburg in 1701, on land taken from Sweden, gave Russia access to the sea for trade. The capital was moved there from Moscow in 1713. In 1717 the Russians signed a treaty with Poland whereby they agreed to protect Poland from the Saxons—in exchange Poland agreed to become a vassal state of Russia.



Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great (1729-1796) was both splendid and scandalous. She was a German princess who seized power by having her husband, Peter III, murdered. Catherine—inspired by the Enlightenment—modernized the legal code, granted rights of noble assembly, and allowed greater provincial autonomy.

A great territorial expansion took place, as Russia swallowed up parts of Sweden; Poland; Lithuania; the Ottoman Black Sea states including Crimea; parts of Persia and Central Asia. In the East, Russia took control of land across Siberia all the way to Alaska. There seems to have been an addiction to territorial conquest. It had become an inefficient and militaristic Empire.

800,000 people from conquered lands—mostly from Poland—were forced into serfdom. Russian peasants were relocated to Ukraine to "Russify" that society. A magnificent new seaport on the Black Sea was built in 1794 named Odessa.



Facts About Russia

Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825) provided the Russian Empire with the most liberal period of its history.  He founded a state school system.  His time saw the emergence of Intelligentsia in Russia, such as the prominent Freemason, Nikolai Novikov, who appealed to Russian conscience regarding social abuses.   Alexander also annexed the country of Georgia. 

Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812—his great mistake.  He made it to Moscow only to suffer a crushing defeat—after burning much of the city.  His army was starving and retreated in the Russian winter.  570,000 French soldiers died during the retreat.  The Russians went on the attack and marched all the way to Paris, as did its allies, the British and the Prussians. 

Upon the death of Alexander I, the Decembrist rebellion took place.  This rebellion was inspired by Nikolai Turgenev and sought a written Constitution with a Bill of Rights, an elected legislature, and the abolition of serfdom.  It was not successful.   



Russia History

In 1861 the serfs were emancipated and given their own land, by Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881). He enacted drastic reforms in the hopes of bringing Russia into modernity. Autonomy was granted to universities and criminal courts. Censorship was abolished.

The emancipation of the serfs only increased the frustrations of this peasant nation, whose life was based on the village commune and the Russian Orthodox Church. The Polish peasants revolted, demanding an independent Poland, only to be suppressed. 80,000 Poles were exiled to Siberia. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish peasants left Russia in the late 19th Century because of persecution.

The Russian peasants were increasingly influenced by populist, socialist, and nihilist ideologies. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by men holding these views.

Russia sold Alaska to America for $8M in 1867 but was still hungry for more territory, scarfing up the Caucasus, Turkestan, and parts of China and Japan. They then occupied Manchuria. But their eyes were on the Balkans and more so, the grand prize: Constantinople and the Bosphorus.



Czar Nicholas

By the turn of the Century, Russia was described as a magnificent beast. It was defective but powerful. Russia was the largest nation on Earth and the most populous. It boasted the most massive army; had enormous mineral resources; and was the chief supplier of food to Europe. Culturally, Russians were prominent worldwide led by writers Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov; the composer Tchaikovsky; the Ballet Russe; and the Stanislavsky Theatre School.

Nicholas II (1868-1918) was the last Tsar of Russia. He was obsessed with order and discipline. He took the unprecedented step of touring the Russian heartland and was impressed by the devotion to him by the peasantry. Nicholas II was a charismatic, religious man who believed in a divine source of his authority.

In 1905 Japan inflicted a humiliating defeat on Russia's land and sea forces. That same year there was a revolutionary outbreak in Moscow that was violently put down. Nicholas II granted civil liberties to all Russians, and proposed a constitutional monarchy such as we have in Britain today. He legalized political parties for the first time in Russia and instituted a real legislative body, the Duma.

During his reign literacy and a free press arose. The new freedoms granted by Nicholas II backfired. Cultural decadence, and the rejection of morality and order were the result of these new liberties. Amoralism, sensualism, escapism, subversion, mysticism, fatalism, and various cults prevailed.



St Petersburg

The Great War began in August 1914, and was widely expected to last only a few months.  It went on for four years and changed human history in profound ways.  Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire lined up against Britain, France and Russia. 

At this time, St. Petersburg changed its name to Petrograd.  It was one of the most magnificent cities in Europe, with a population of two million, featuring a brilliant cultural community; a major port; a huge industrial base; an important commercial and banking center; and exquisite palaces.  Ten years later its name was Leningrad.

Russia was in the midst of internal revolution and therefore failed to be the major force in the war its allies expected.  Its Army did not have enough weapons, ammunition, food, or uniforms.   Ten times more of its soldiers than those of any other army simply surrendered—300 for every 100 killed in battle.  They had no will to fight for the Tsar. 





Vladimir Lenin

The time was right for a true revolutionary. Onto the stage strode Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin was an exiled Marxist living in Switzerland. He had appeal to certain Russians who would cheer on anybody opposed to the Tsar.

Lenin had no chance of success with the peasantry so he devoted himself to conspiracy. He reckoned that a small cadre of dedicated revolutionaries could seize power without popular support. He had competition from anarchists. But first, the world's attention was to become riveted on World War One.




The Russian Revolution took place in 1917. The Tsar had long since lost the allegiance of non-Russians under his yoke in the far-flung Empire. Now even Russians wanted out from under the Tsar. They wanted Hope—and Change.

The Bolsheviks (Communists) seized power in Petrograd, led by an obscure man from Georgia, Josef Stalin. Several of the non-Russian provinces declared their independence. The Bolsheviks pretended to be in favor of this development, since it temporarily aided their fight against the Tsar, though they fully intended to include all of existing Russia in their new Marxist state.

The revolutionaries took advantage of the ill-fated decision of the Tsar to personally command the Russian army at the front. Since he was absent from court, his German wife, Alexandra, and her advisor, the "mad monk" Rasputin, were de facto running the country. As Germany was who Russia was at war with, Alexandra was immensely unpopular. Rasputin was murdered in 1916.

Russia was suffering through wartime inflation and food shortages; strikes and demonstrations ensued; and then 160,000 peasant soldiers mutinied. Tsar Nicholas II soon abdicated his throne. He and his entire family were brutally executed in 1918 by the Communists.



Soviet Union History

Alexander Kerensky became Prime Minister for eight months and declared Russia a Republic. He granted complete civil liberty; freed thousands of political prisoners; welcomed home exiles; abolished flogging and the death penalty.

The Bolsheviks then seized power by force. Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) took command of the Red Army, and Lenin then took over the country. It seems there was simply no one with the will to resist. The Communists had successfully drummed up class hatreds amongst the populace.

Lenin's core beliefs included the need for an authoritarian dictatorship; repression; violence; censorship; Atheism; and government control of industry, agriculture, the economy, and the health care system. But he effectively hid these beliefs from the people, pretending to want freedom and democracy while he consolidated power.

Over the next five years Lenin reconstructed every aspect of Russian life. He put out a series of statements and decrees—all out and out lies—regarding his intentions. Lenin did not value political freedom or individual rights. He claimed to represent the "workers" but in fact felt a vanguard led by himself must force the people by any means necessary to accede to the creation of an Atheistic State based on the ideology of Karl Marx.

In 1918 the Bolsheviks engaged in an all out war against their opponents soon followed by a war on Russian villages. It was not long before they asserted a monopoly on prices and food supply; and dissolved the Constituent Assembly.

Russian civil war raged from 1918 to 1921. Eleven different groups vied for power. The Red Army had the support of industrial workers. Eventually, the Red Army brought all of the former Russian Empire under its control, confounding military experts to this day. This must be attributed the lack of unity amongst their opponents—and the genius of Trotsky.

The Bolsheviks were opposed by 76% of all Russians—yet prevailed. They began to murder all of their suspected enemies. By the time the Soviet Union was proclaimed, more Russians had been killed by other Russians than all the deaths of all counties in World War One.

Communists took the first steps toward the Communist ideal of abolishing the family, viewing the family as a competitor with the state for the control of hearts and minds. Soviet social planners dreamed of a country where all people lived alone in cells. Campaigns were launched to abolish religion. Lenin believed that to stay in power the Soviets must persuade or coerce the peasants to accept Socialism. And he intended to take this ideology worldwide.



Josef Stalin

By 1926, the economy had improved but crime was rampant; living conditions were terrible; the people were still backward, impoverished, and a subordinate class. Trotsky began calling for freedom of independent thought and expression—and thus was promptly removed from office and exiled from the country. A Soviet agent assassinated him in Mexico.

Josef Stalin (1878-1953) was the dictator of the Soviet Union for over 25 years—until his death—and a brutal, murderous, tyrannical Atheist. Stalin was rebellious, defensive, and insecure. From 1927 to 1930 he attacked peasant farmers by confiscating their food, leading to massive starvation.

By 1930 the Soviets had taken all agricultural land in the country away from the farmers. The lower middle class people or "kulaks" were exterminated en mass. Stalin also launched a "cultural revolution" which really meant arresting any bourgeois experts, such as engineers. Estimates are that these actions by Stalin resulted in the deaths of 14.5 million people. Despite this, he was idolized by the American Left.




In the 1930s Stalin focused on indoctrinating the population through propaganda, and a reign of terror ensued against all real and imagined enemies. An Iron Curtain (named by Winston Churchill) surrounded the Soviet Union by absolute censorship of any press, books, pamphlets, magazines, movies or music from outside the country—and travel abroad was strictly forbidden.

Stalin insisted on uniformity among all citizens—except himself and other party leaders, of course, who lived like kings. Stalin built a cult of personality around himself (and Lenin, now dead) by erecting huge pictures and statues of himself across the country (and of Lenin).

He was paranoid and to purge anyone else with any power—even if utterly loyal to him—he conducted show trials in 1936-1938 where his perceived enemies were tortured into confessing implausible crimes so he could have them executed without tarnishing his public image.

American Socialists went to visit Russia and Stalin set up phony little towns called "Potemkin Villages" for them to see. They were like Hollywood movie sets and the happy, smiling villagers were actors. But the Liberal Americans saw what they wanted to see and New York Times reporter Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his series on the wonders of the Soviet Union.

Stalin wasn't done yet. He arrested military officers, scientists, dissidents, and non-Russians, 20 million of whom were sent to the Gulags in Siberia. Children were encouraged to turn their parents in—and all people to report their neighbors, friends or family members—for any negative criticism of the Soviet Union.

Millions of people were murdered by their government in a few short years ("The Great Terror"). Stalin's reaction? He invented a new national slogan: "Life has become more joyful." I kid you not. He figured the people wanted change and change he gave them.





Tale of Two Socialists

In 1939 Stalin signed a pact with Adolf Hitler, leader of the German National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis), to destroy Poland and divide up Eastern Europe between them. Both were murderous Socialist dictators—and Democracy was the enemy of both Stalin and Hitler.

But in 1941 Hitler turned on Stalin and Germany attacked Russia—as usual a big mistake. The Germans did reach Moscow, lay siege to Leningrad, and conquered Ukraine. By this time Stalin regretted murdering all those army officers. But an early winter saved Moscow. The Germans, with overextended supply lines, were forced to retreat. Britain and the United States supplied the Soviets with weaponry and ammunition.

After World War Two ended, the people living in the Soviet Union had expectations of a better life. It was not to be. Instead, collectivism strengthened and the people suffered from shortages of food and housing. Jews and doctors were arrested and condemned. Independent thinking was anathema and the "Cold War" ensued against the West as the Soviet leadership was rightly fearful that their citizens would learn how fantastic life really was in America.



End of Cold War

Nikita Khrushchev (1984-1971) took power for 12 years after Stalin died and he openly critiqued the Stalin regime. In 1963 an American Communist who lived in the Soviet Union for thirty months, Lee Harvey Oswald, assassinated the President of The United States, John F. Kennedy.

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) then led the country for 19 years. Under Brezhnev, at least the Elites of Soviet society enjoyed a life similar to everyday common Western Peoples. The "Black Market" came to compose 25% of the entire Soviet economy.

As the society became more urbanized and educated they began to see through the propaganda and perceive the truth: the United States was a far superior country in regards to freedom, food, housing and civil rights. Subtle forms of everyday defiance developed. Absenteeism and tardiness ran rampant through the work sector. When at work, people did not do their best, having nothing to gain if they did (similar to unionized workers in America). The country was full of bribery, theft, drunkenness and moral nihilism.

Religion, though officially banned, started making a comeback as people searched for meaning. An underground movement of forbidden literature and art grew widespread that was critical of the Soviet system. The people longed for democracy.



Collapse of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader in 1985. Recognizing that the Soviet system of controlling every aspect of the lives of its citizens was a failure, his solutions were perestroika (a restructuring of the economy and politics) and glasnost (open civic discussion of the past and present).

In Eastern Europe a wave of popular revolutions swept Communists out of power. Non-Russian provinces demanded independence. Finally, Communist rule of Russia collapsed and the USSR was dissolved.



Evil Empire

Ronald Reagan became President of the United States in 1981. During the preceding administration of Jimmy Carter the American Left thought and hoped the Soviets would win the Cold War, and blamed America for its existence.

President Reagan publicly shattered these illusions by demonstrating the difference between our free and incredibly prosperous society and economy, and that of the Soviet Union, which he rightly called "The Evil Empire."

He confronted the Soviets and challenged them to tear down the Berlin Wall: the first wall in history designed to keep people in; not to keep invaders out. The contrast between Soviets with constant shortages of basic necessities; and America with huge supermarkets stuffed full of food became known to Russian peoples for the first time.

The astronomical difference between the pitiful socialized medical care in the USSR and the American free market health care system—the best in world history—became apparent to Russians for the first time.

Much to the chagrin of American Liberals, Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II freed the Russian people from 70 years of bondage to Socialism.

When the USSR fell apart, its archives were made public and it became apparent that Russian agents had worked inside the United States for decades, assisted by Liberal Americans, some of whom still defend Soviet Socialism, that caused more grief, suffering and death than any political system ever devised by man.






James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 12, 2015:

AJRG~ You are quite welcome. I find it fascinating that you wrote a book about his second wife. Congratulations. At the time I wrote this piece, I used some of the 3,000 books I have in my possession to get the gist of this enormous story in such a way that I could condense it down to very few words for those with short attention spans. I did not present footnotes as this is not an academic paper, nor am I an academic. I took down notes on paper from dozens of books and then later assembled the story as I wanted to tell it.

Alice Gordon from Atlanta, GA on June 09, 2015:

What he said was that Europeans do not know what I had to put up with and this was true. What expert says he is a disgusting thug and a brute? He was a despot and as he said when fire meets hay it explodes but if it meets a brick it stops. I am not sure your sources really were objective or fair in describing him. He made a point to say that he was harsh but he did not punish those who were not guilty. As my teacher in Russian history and language said if the people were anything like his family it would take a lot to get them to change. Anyway I probably know too much about him because I wrote a book on his second wife. You have done a good summary. Thank you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 09, 2015:

AJRG--- Thank you for reading my Hub and for commenting. Solzhenitsyn has condemned Peter the Great for his brutality toward his subjects. While many, including me, laud his achievements (I still call him 'the great'), he is also described by objective historians as a despicable, wicked, vicious, disgusting thug; a despot and brute who exhibited barbaric cruelty. Although many of the people caught in his dragnets were innocent, the torture was so brutal and sadistic they would eventually confess to anything just to get it over with. At this point they were beheaded. Peter himself often took part in the beheadings himself. Their heads were impaled on spikes and left up there for public display for months. Not exactly Mother Theresa.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 09, 2015:

Sergey~ Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I appreciate your fascinating comments. I think it is pretty well known that Soviet Russia had constant and plentiful breadlines due to the slavery of socialism.

Alice Gordon from Atlanta, GA on November 13, 2014:

Your facts on Peter the Great are terrible. You do not know what you are talking about. There was method in all his projects and direction. He was neither a sadist nor insane. He was said to be very good in his personal life and as he said harsh but not unfair as a Tzar. He once wrote it was better to pardon 10 guilty men than convict one falsely. Yes the process he started did end in two Russias but his daughter Elizabeth started this. This was not his intention. He caused great suffering but this was not for the sake of his enjoyment. He thought God had made him Tzar and it was his obligation to do what needed to be done to make Russia a great nation feared by his neighbors. He succeeded in this beyond his expectation at the time of his death.

Sergey on October 25, 2013:

The picture where the bread line does not apply to the Soviet Union because there is a Cossack with a sword - a typical snapshot of the Tzar's time - probably since the 1st World War.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 13, 2012:

snroys— You are quite welcome! Thank you very much for your kind comments. I appreciate you taking the time to read my article. :)

snroys on March 11, 2012:

I absolutly loved your story it really helped me better understand russia and it's history so once again thankyou!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 28, 2011:

John Sarkis— It is hard to go wrong with a Dostoevsky story by the bedside, or Tchaikovsky roaring from one's speakers. Great stuff. I appreciate your kind compliments. Thank you for reading my work.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on April 27, 2011:

Excellent article - essay really.... I love Russian literature and music. Especially Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 21, 2011:

JamaGenee— Thank you very much. We can all relate to computer jones. I agree with you that without the web what's the use? :D

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on April 19, 2011:

You have my sympathies. My IP screwed up recently and I was without internet for a week. IMHO, a computer is little more than a device to play Solitaire if one can't connect to the web. ;D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 19, 2011:

JamaGenee— Sorry it took so long to respond. I was sans computer for several days.

Thank you very much for reading my work. I am gratified to receive your gracious laudations! :D

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on April 14, 2011:

James, I wouldn't have thought it possible to condense the history of Russia into one hub, but you've done an excellent job! Bravo!! ;D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 14, 2011:

john.jackson— Thank you! This is definitely the condensed version. I enjoyed the research and writing this article. I very much appreciate you taking the time to read it. Good of you to comment, too.

john.jackson from London, England on February 13, 2011:

Nice hub! Very interesting, great to have a 'brief' history of Russia without having to read a books worth of information. I had never really thought of Russia before the days of Tsar Nicolas.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 29, 2010:

OLGA— Welcome to my Hub Page. I am well pleased to receive my visitor from Russia. I greatly appreciate your insightful commentary.

I agree that this article presents only a superficial view of Russia. On HubPages the attention span is short, so while I read hundreds of entire books on history; these articles need to be 3,000 words or less. This makes it difficult to present a full picture of anyplace.

I found your comments fascinating. Thank you for visiting and leaving these words for us.

OLGA on June 27, 2010:

I'm russian and I would like to say ( with all my respect to the author of this blog ) that it's a pity if you read this all info.... pity cause you will come to Russia with very superficial ideas of it's history, culture and traditions.

I would like to offer to your attention this information:

Russia Profile published an article by Olga Nikitina “Combining a Rude and Very Hospitable Reputation” on a very interesting topic about Russian culture. How can the same people be so rude and so hospitable in different situation?

Olga Nikitina writes:

Foreigners who come to Russia are often struck by the indifferent, closed, or even hostile looks from people on public transportation and in the streets. One widespread opinion is that Russians rarely smile. On the other hand, Russians are also well known for their hospitality, and have a reputation for being extremely generous friends.

There are sociological reasons behind both types of behavior. According to Elena Zdravomyslova, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg and research coordinator at the Center for Independent Social Research, the apathy demonstrated by Russians in public could be a means of psychological defense. “In post-Soviet Russia, the level of personal security has decreased dramatically,” she said. “If you are attacked in the street, the police cannot help you. Nobody can really defend you. The instability of social structures also makes people avoid contacts that could jeopardize their safety, or even develop aggressive behavioral strategies. Being autonomous is safer.”

This conclusion is very surprising and to my mind unprofessional. I don’t think it’s correct to explain a cultural phenomenon that is at least 500 years old by some 15 years post-Soviet period. The opinion about Russians as at times unsmiling and rude but in other circumstances as very friendly and hospitable one easily finds in the accounts of European travelers on Russia already in the 15th and 16th century. For example, E. de Corte compares French peasants who are friendly when they are sober and very aggressive when drunk to Russians – when sober they are sullen but when drunk hug and kiss each other.

One only needs to read about Levin’s relationships with his peasants in “Anna Karenina” to find the “secret” of this paradoxical behavior. Bezukhov’s adventures during the French retreat from Moscow in “War and Peace” also give a lot of insights.

Russian culture is basically the culture of Russian peasantry communes. I believe hundreds of ethnographers wrote about it. Commune here is a key word. Why is this culture so prevailing today? In 1917 before the Communist Coup 87% of Russian population was rural. At the beginning of 1970’s only 18% of Russians were engaged in agriculture. Most of Russians can live in big cities but they still behave as if they belong to a small community and the nearest village is a hundred miles away.

When you live in Siberia in a small rural commune you should be very distrustful of every stranger. Moreover – strangers should feel immediately that you are hostile towards them. Only when a stranger proves beyond doubt that (1) he wants to belong to the commune, (2) he accepts all laws and traditions of this particular commune, (3) he can be trusted; only then he is accepted. And an accepted member of the commune enjoys so much trust, friendliness, openheartedness and sincerity that is very surprising to Europeans and who think that Russian openness is over the top.

Actually the “secret” of Russian democracy is also rooted in the culture of peasantry communes. Inside the commune people have their own laws, traditions, judges, principles and values. Every time the government tries to impose its laws, its attempts are met with peasants’ revolts and revolutions. On the other hand people delegate the tsar and the Orthodox Church all the problems outside communal life. The tsar can make any laws he likes as long as such laws help keeping this huge country together and do not contradict the laws of the commune. Not “commune” in general but every particular commune with its particular laws, be it in Siberia, in the Far East, in the Northern taiga or in the Southern steppes.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 12, 2010:

Anonemuss— Thank you for the kind compliment. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community.

Anonemuss from Belmont, Massachusetts on May 06, 2010:

Nice work, I like the way you moved from ancient to modern


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 10, 2010:

annoshka— Thank you for your kind compliment. I appreciate you coming to visit my Hub. Welcome to America! :)

annoshka on April 09, 2010:

good job.i usually thought you americans would be as dim-witted as usual.i am immigrant but am getting used to everything here. respond!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 02, 2010:

rosa— I think that because I have worked in a union shop and I have a multitude of friends and family who have. I have worked for every penny I have made. I am glad that you enjoyed the article. I must say I strongly disagree with these words:

"Every worker in this world is a slave. We are no better of than the serf's in Russia."

I hate to be blunt, but this shows a pitiful grasp of history. I am from Michigan and I explain the source of my views about unions in another article:

rosa on March 31, 2010:

Why do you think unionized workers do not work to their full potential? My father, uncles, and brother worked to build the USA. They would never work for a company that didn't have a strong union. If you ever had a job that you worked and sweated for every penny you made. you might not think so poorly of unions. Every worker in this world is a slave. We are no better of than the serf's in Russia. We work so we can eat and have a roof over our head, very little else. But overall, I enjoyed your essay on Russia's history very written....

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 27, 2010:

Michael Shane— Thank you. Thank you very much.

Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 26, 2010:

Great hub James!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 15, 2010:

KARLA--- Thank you very much for reading my article. I'm so glad you liked it and I appreciate you letting me know. When you get back to Russia I hope you have a great time there.

KARLA on February 15, 2010:


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 20, 2009:

stars439— Thank you. Thank you very much. (Elvis has left the building.)

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on December 20, 2009:

Great Hub and Fantastic Photography. God Bless You

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 06, 2009:

prettydarkhorse— You are welcome. I sure enjoy your visits. You are one fine woman.

I would love to visit Moscow myself. I agree with you that without God any society will eventually go into ruin. Communism is a great idea. Let's just share everything! But it does not work in the real world because people by nature are motivated by reward. I will visit your Hub right now!

prettydarkhorse from US on December 05, 2009:

Hi James, thanks so much for the piece of History, I reaaly appreciate it, Someday I want to Moscow. To be honest a system which doesn't involved the culture of a belief in GOD is doomed, thats my opinion, thats what happened to Russia.Communism in its true meaning is equality, but without a belief, well it crumbled,

Have a good day, Maita (if you have time visit my hub I am grateful to HP, I mentioned you there)!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 02, 2009:

RKHenry— I searched Elisabeth under your name and nothing came up? May I have the link?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 02, 2009:

RKHenry— I have a passion for all history. Many of my Hubs are about history. They'd all be about history if I wasn't afraid of boring my audience. :)

Thanks for visiting and leaving your fine compliments. I am going to visit Elisabeth now.

RKHenry from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA on December 02, 2009:

This hub is also linked in my article under Elisabeth. I didn't realize you had a passion for Russian history. Interesting. Another great hub. Thanks for sharing.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 13, 2009:

Kendall H.— You are welcome. Yes, I am familiar with Roberson, who was a great talent. Many leftists praised the USSR back in those days. Only after the KGB files were opened, and the Verona something was disclosed, did the American Left stop lauding Stalin, murderer of 20,000,000 souls. They had a Potemkin Village for poor old Paul, eh?

Thank you for the visit and the keen insights. Welcome to the HubPages Community. I look forward to reading your work.

Kendall H. from Northern CA on November 12, 2009:

Thanks for the great hub on the extensive history of Russia! When I took a Russian History class in high school I believe our professor said that after Alexander Kerensky left Russia he became a professor at Stanford University. That would definitely be a professor I would want to meet.

In the comparison you make to the communists of the 1900s advocating 'hope and change' just like the left did in 2008; it is also interesting to note how actors have not changed either. The actor/singer Paul Robeson who sang 'Ole Man River' was a self-proclaimed communist and traveled over to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to try to convince the American people how happy the Soviets were. While Stalin and the rest of the cabinet made sure that everything was perfectly staged for Robeson visit.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 13, 2009:

Angela_1973— Thank you! And welcome to the Hub Pages Community!

I appreciate the compliments. I will go read some of your work tomorrow. I bookmarked your profile page. You have interesting titles.

Angela_1973 on September 13, 2009:

I enjoyed the narrative and the pictures, I will link this hub to mine about Russian people.

You really could not have written this any better. Great work!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 11, 2009:

hardtimes— Thank you. I do appreciate your complimentary words. I put days of research into it, so your comments are gratifying.

hardtimes from USA on September 11, 2009:

Mostly well done. A great effort. You know things about Russia that most Americans are totally ignorant of and could care less about, of course, unfortunately. It is interesting.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 26, 2009:

ButterflyWings— Beautiful avatar. Thank you for your gracious comments. I appreciate the visit.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 26, 2009:

Tina Irene— I remember Dag was widely considered a great statesman but I didn't know much about him, at least that my poor old brain can remember. Your comments about him are very interesting. It sounds like a blessing for you to have known this fine family. Thanks for telling me about them.

Joilene Rasmussen from Ovid on August 26, 2009:

This hub is a keeper. Fascinating, as usual.

Tina Irene on August 26, 2009:

James -

Thanks for the clarification. I agree. Yeah...that Rasputin was a genuine, far-off-the-deep-end nut; thus, far, far off from having been given the gifts associated with Christian (and Catholic) Mystical Theology.

By the way: Perhaps you recall Dag Hammarskjold, Second Secretary General of the United Nations? In any case, he is an example of a Christian Mystic (Lutheran; Swedish). I had the honor to know his widow and his stepsons. The sons attended Catholic HS, or in another word, Catholics; and a fine, intelligent and outwardly caring family is what Mr. Hammarskjold fostered.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 26, 2009:

ethel smith— You said a lot in that one sentence. Gee, I could have saved myself all this typing! :D

Thank you for the visit and the pithy summation. You hit the bulls eye.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on August 26, 2009:

Such troubled people and they still have a long way to go

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 25, 2009:

jlswenson— Thank you. I hadn't heard of that book but I will give it a look. Thanks for the tip!

I did decide to quit at one time over a bit of a dispute involving my Hub "Founding Fathers." Kind of a long story but it was resolved to my satisfaction so here I am. :)

You are welcome. I look forward to reading your work. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community.

jlswenson from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA on August 25, 2009:


Great synopsis of Russia's history. I'm just finishing a novel called Russka by Edward Rutherford. It is fiction built around historical events and provides a great insight into the cultural basis for much of Russia's political institutions. I thought you might enjoy it if you haven't already.

I'm also confused by your post on leaving due to excess quotations. I hope you keep writing as I enjoy your material.

Best regards and thanks for joining our fan club.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

jill of alltrades— I have missed you! Thank you for the kudos. Well, I am an amateur but I noticed a dearth of information on this subject on Hub Pages so I did the best I could.

jill of alltrades from Philippines on August 24, 2009:

What an interesting and informative hub!

My knowledge of Russian history is very sketchy so this hub is really an eye opener for me in many ways.

You are truly a great historian James!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

no body— Some folks are totally unfamiliar with the history of this world. I hope to make a small difference to a few by attempting to elucidate some of these facts about political systems. Utopias always lead to disaster. Our Founding Fathers knew this well. Thank you for your comments.

Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on August 24, 2009:

It gives me great concern the parallels between the Left and different regimes of the past. I really can't understand how socialism is so attractive to so many. Great hub as usual James.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

Tina Irene— Thank you so much.

You asked a great question. I was referring to the casting off of Russian Orthodoxy by many people as they experimented with gnostic cults and mystics such as Rasputin. This was a part of the disintegration of the society.

Tina Irene on August 24, 2009:


Beautiful and informative. How are you defining "mysticism", used in the last sentence of the last paragraph under the sub-heading "Czar Nicholas", if I may ask?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

GPAGE— I have not been to Russia. It is my first travel history without a first hand visit but, it was what I wanted to write about so there you go. :)

You are welcome and I thank you for an enthusiastic response! I'm sorry I haven't been reading your work, or any work lately. I have been on a writing track. After I publish one more Hub tonight, I am taking some time off to catch up with the work of my favorite Hubbers, like you! :D

GPAGE from California on August 24, 2009:

VERY cool! GREAT information. THANKS JAMES!!!!!!

I have a lot of family history in Odessa. Interesting that you wrote about this....

I have been talking about traveling there in the near future.....G

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

Steve Rensch— Thank you, sir! Always a pleasure to hear from you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

DynamicS— I am glad to get back on your good side! :)

Thank you for your gracious remarks. I appreciate you for them.

Steve Rensch on August 24, 2009:

Well done!

Sandria Green-Stewart from Toronto, Canada on August 24, 2009:

Now this is a treasure! Thanks James for the lesson in Russian history. I have book marked this hub. Great job!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

maven101— Well! Reading that yours are the comments of a history teacher made my day. And your comments are great—tragedy, sadness, fascination.

I encourage everyone to read Satomko's commentary in this thread because he fills in an important hole in my story.

It is difficult to edit a story this huge. As it is, 3424 words were required for this simple sketch.

I will tell you a funny story. When I was young (and ever since) I was a voracious reader. When I was 13 and 14 I read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. In High School my dad went to a parent-teacher conference and it so happened he had attended high school with my history teacher. He saw him and asked, "How's my boy doing in your class?" Mr. Rakauski said, "Well. He sleeps through my class usually. But if I make a mistake, he suddenly wakes up to correct me."

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

douglas— You are welcome. I thank you for the kudos. :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

Nemingha— Strange days! :-)

Thank you for coming by and leaving your comments.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

advisor4qb— Well, thank you. Your warm words please me greatly. I appreciate the complimentary comments. :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

ecoggins— I do see a multitude of ironies in the Russian story. It's pretty wild over there. Putin, like Chavez and Castro—the darlings of the American Left—plans to rule for life. It seems odd to me, but apparently the Russian populace wants him to.

I appreciate the visit and your remarks.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 24, 2009:

Melody Lagrimas— Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate your support. :)

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on August 24, 2009:

Well researched and well written Hub...As a former history teacher I congratulate you on a comprehensive rendering of Mother Russia, covering all the bases with clarity and flow...A fascinating country that seems almost adolescent in its dealings with the much sadness and tragedy in Russian history... so wonderfully expressed by Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and others...Larry

douglas on August 24, 2009:

Wonderful history of Russia, James. Thanks for putting it into an interesting and rich capsule.

Nemingha on August 24, 2009:

That's a little creepy - I was watching a documentary earlier today about Russian composers under the Stalin regime. Then I check my emails and here is another of your excellent Hubs - about Russia no less!

advisor4qb from On New Footing on August 24, 2009:

Small wonder your list of fans is growing, James. You are so talented at making beautiful and informative hubs!

ecoggins from Corona, California on August 23, 2009:

Wow! This is an extremely thorough and scholarly sketch of Russian history. Do you find it ironic that the seeds of freedom and democracy were sown by Lenin with the Free Farmers?

Russia has always been resistant to western political ideas and has lagged some two hundred years behind the west in political reforms. It is no wonder the pendulum is swinging from the freedom side back to the restricted side under Vladimir Putin.

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on August 23, 2009:

A very comprehensive overview. I didn't know that Leningrad was the same as St. Petersburg. Have read a true story once written by a former coomunist who became a Christian.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

ReuVera— I always wanted a cool stage name.

I do like the sound of Vladimir. I was thinking of Putin. And our own Vladimir Uhri.

Stalin must have had a self-hatred thing going. I'm sure they were ready for him on the other side.

Thanks again for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

ReuVera from USA on August 23, 2009:

Haha, I was wondering about Misha’s criticism as well. He is sleeping probably, though too early for him I would say. I am going to bed too.

Oh, btw, name Vladimir means “owner of the world” in Russian. No more, no less! Were you thinking about Putin? He is Vladimir too. Should be just a coincidence. Vladimir is a very popular name in Russia and a very beautiful sounding name as well.

“Lenin” and “Stalin” are pseudonyms. Lenin was born Ulyanov. Stalin’s real name was Dzhugashvilli, and he was a Jew. Just to think that he was murdering Jews with special cruelty.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

ReuVera— I am thrilled (and relieved) to have your seal of approval. I know you've been there. Now if I can get past Misha . . .


Thank you so much for your gracious remarks. I feel like I've had a warm glass of milk so now I'll go to bed and sleep well.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

Kebennett1— You're funny! He was fired alright! :-)

I agree with all of your comments. Catherine the Great was naughty all right. I couldn't recount the saltier details of her shenanigans since this is a family publication. :)

I am always glad to see your comments. I hope you are recovering OK. God Bless You!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

Duchess OBlunt— Thank you very much. I appreciate your affirmation. And Satomko did add a crucial missing piece that I read about but skipped ahead of too lightly.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

R Burow— It seems they have a new strongman. Some say Russians must have one. I don't know.

Thank you for visiting and you are welcome.

ReuVera from USA on August 23, 2009:

Wanderlust, great comment!

satomko, valuable addition!

James, you did an amazing job! You put in one hub what I was studying in my History classes through my entire secondary school in USSR! I am serious, good job! Of course, History after 1915 was taught completely different to us, soviet students. When we were growing up, some were able to see the real truth, but the most cautious kept their mouths shut; if not, they would end in GULAG ("The Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies", or in other words, concentration camps).

The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 and what followed it, was made knee deep in blood with the total "joyful" facade.

You gave just a small glimpse into it and it was very time- right. People should know the history.

Unfortunatelly, history tends to repeat itself if people are not vigilant...

Thank you, James, you are great! (Not like Peter the Great great. LOL). BTW, Peter I (the Great) was a really Great Czar for development of Russia. As far as simple people are concerned.... well, there's NO Czar (Emperor, King, Ayatollah, Governor, President, you name the title) who are good for simple people...

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

Vladimir Uhri— I couldn't help but think of you as I studied up on Vladimir the Great and Vladimir Lenin. :)

Thank you for your fine comments. I'm with you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

satomko— Wow! You know your history! It is a pleasure to meet another history buff, friend. You are correct, I did leave that crucial part of history out and I shouldn't have. Thank you for adding it as you did. I agree, that was a big shaper of the Russian psyche. Great work on your part.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

Wanderlust— LOL! I figured this sad tale could use a bit of levity. I'm glad you "got it." :)

Thanks much for reading and for your fine comments. I went to the Orlando Tea Party yesterday and gathered up literature, took a lot of photos, and my next Hub will be about that "mob." :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 23, 2009:

asalvani— Thank you for being my first reader! And I very much appreciate the kind things you said in your comment. To see that reaction makes it all worthwhile.

Kebennett1 from San Bernardino County, California on August 23, 2009:

If I ever need a researcher, I know who to get in touch with! :) Another great Hub! Russia sure has gone through a lot! Elizabeth the Great was a naughty girl! Ivan was definitely terrible, The false Dimitri was definitely fired from his job :) Stalin and the Gulag, unspeakable :( And yea, I agree with Wonderlust, I am a little worried myself!

Duchess OBlunt on August 23, 2009:

Again James, a well written hub.

I'm not a Russian history buff but some of this information was very interesting.

@satomko, thanks for your additional information.

R Burow from Florida, United States on August 23, 2009:

The people of Russia have suffered greatly. Though they enjoy a brief respite, I'm sorry to say I believe there will be rough days ahead. Thanks James for a fine historical hub.

Vladimir Uhri from HubPages, FB on August 23, 2009:

Great hub James. You have an interesting parallel comments. If people only learn from the history.

Seth Tomko from Macon, GA on August 23, 2009:

Pretty good overview of Russian history, but you left out that from around 1223 until 1400's most of Russia was actully ruled by Mongols and their descendants and they kept Russia out of most of Europe's affairs meaning that much of the cultural achievements to come from the Renaissiance and Reformation movements didn't touch Russian and the country was always viewed thereafter as being behind. This history has engendered a bittereness toward any foreign power that threaten's Russian soverignty and those in Europe who have not helped Russia but viewed it as a poor, country cousin even as they envy the advancements those countries have. The Russian worldview has been permanently altered by this prolonged occupation in the same way peoples in the Balkans still despise Turkey for the oppresive reign of the Ottoman Empire that cut them off from the many changes that modernized Europe from the 1400's until the end of World War One.

Wanderlust from New York City on August 23, 2009:

The tragic history of the "Mother Russia" in a very frivolous and funny manner :) With some discrepancies, of course. But what I personally like and you got it absolutely right describing the October revolution of 1917 as "They wanted Hope—and Change". Doesn't it sound familiar? I always compare Obama's election campaign and unfortunately his present administration with "Changes" in Russia in 1917. Some people there wanted Change and they got it, and actually they still paying for that!

asalvani from London, UK on August 23, 2009:

James, thanks for bringing into live a great nation that is undergoing a prosperity because of their unique way of being. I adore this hub. It's an instant treat!

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