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39.5 Russia Still a Grand Monarchy in 1914

While the world to the west of her was changing rapidly, Russia throughout the nineteenth century changed very slowly indeed. At the end of the nineteenth century, as at its beginning, she was still a Grand Monarchy of the later seventeenth- century type standing on a basis of barbarism, she was still at a stage where court intrigues and imperial favorites could control her international relations. She had driven a great railway across Siberia to find the disasters of the Japanese war at the end of it; she was using modern methods and modern weapons so far as her undeveloped industrialism and her small supply of sufficiently educated people permitted; such writers as Dostoievski had devised a sort of mystical imperialism based on the idea of Holy Russia and her mission, colored by racial illusions and anti-Semitic passion; but, as events were to show, this had not sunken very deeply into the imagination of the Russian masses. A vague, very simple Christianity pervaded the illiterate peasant life, mixed with much superstition. It was like the pre-reformation peasant life of France or Germany. The Russian moujik was supposed to worship and revere his Tsar and to love to serve a gentleman; in 1913 reactionary English writers were still praising his simple and unquestioning loyalty. But, as in the case of the western European peasant of the days of the peasant revolts, this reverence for the monarchy was mixed up with the idea that the monarch and the nobleman had to be good and beneficial, and this simple loyalty could, under sufficient provocation, be turned into the same pitiless intolerance of social injustice that burnt the chateaux in the Jacquerie (see Chapter XXXIV, sec 3) and set up the theocracy in Munster (Chapter XXXIV, sec 3). Once the commons were moved to anger, there were no links of understanding in a, generally diffused education in Russia to mitigate the fury of the outbreak. The upper classes were as much beyond the sympathy of the lower as a different species of animal. These Russian masses were three centuries away from such nationalist imperialism as Germany displayed.

And in another respect Russia differed from modern Western Europe and paralleled its mediaeval phase, and that was in the fact that her universities were the resort of many very poor students quite out of touch and out; of sympathy with the bureaucratic autocracy. Before 1917 the significance of the proximity of these two factors of revolution, the fuel of discontent and the match of free ideas, ‘was not recognized in European thought, and few people realized that in Russia more than in any other country lay the possibilities of a fundamental revolution.

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