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Old September 18th, 2012, 07:59 AM   #1
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Why Russia?


So me and my friends had a discussion about Russia and its failure as a state and the slow economic development the past 1000 years or so. We did not start this coversation based on hatred towards Russia but based on trying to understand why Russia with so vast resources failed to build up a healthy state that could have had became the strongest country in the world.

The russian people been slaves to their own state for centuries. Serfs in russia were traded between the Boyars like cattle untill the late 19'th century, and in the 16'th-18'th century it was common that serfs escaped to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a better life.

The economical/industrial and social development always been lower in Russia then in the west, why?

They been neighbours to so many cultures around the world, why didn't they use the knowledge from all those cultures to become the political/economic powerhub of the world?

What went wrong?
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Old September 18th, 2012, 01:17 PM   #2
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So me and my friends had a discussion about Russia and its failure as a state and the slow economic development the past 1000 years or so.
any evidence it was more "failed" or less "developed" then?
We did not start this coversation based on hatred towards Russia but based on trying to understand why Russia with so vast resources failed to build up a healthy state that could have had became the strongest country in the world.
[/QUOTE] Russia has expanded very much since thee Middle ages - the old "Muscovy" was not that big. And for some periods it was among the mightiest states.
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The russian people been slaves to their own state for centuries. Serfs in russia were traded between the Boyars like cattle untill the late 19'th century, and in the 16'th-18'th century it was common that serfs escaped to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a better life.

The economical/industrial and social development always been lower in Russia then in the west, why?

They been neighbours to so many cultures around the world, why didn't they use the knowledge from all those cultures to become the political/economic powerhub of the world?

What went wrong?
One reason may be the territory is so open to invasions and counterinvasions. That may make the people in an unfavourable position towaeds the princes and their concentration of military power. And those invasions may have had long term costs.
Then add so much of the country is far from the sea, and much of economic activity depended upon seatransportation in earlier centuries in particular.
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Old September 19th, 2012, 04:08 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnate View Post
So me and my friends had a discussion about Russia and its failure as a state and the slow economic development the past 1000 years or so. We did not start this coversation based on hatred towards Russia but based on trying to understand why Russia with so vast resources failed to build up a healthy state that could have had became the strongest country in the world.

The russian people been slaves to their own state for centuries. Serfs in russia were traded between the Boyars like cattle untill the late 19'th century, and in the 16'th-18'th century it was common that serfs escaped to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a better life.

The economical/industrial and social development always been lower in Russia then in the west, why?

They been neighbours to so many cultures around the world, why didn't they use the knowledge from all those cultures to become the political/economic powerhub of the world?

What went wrong?
You cannot come to the certain consensus in your dispute because you use initially wrong base.

1. There never was any state in the world history which always was number 1 in every respect. Russia has more than 1000 years of the history and it has the periods of prosperity and decline as any other state. So you should discuss the separate periods of prosperity and decline and their reason.

2. There have never been slaveries in Russia. The word a serfdom (which you use ) is just the English translation of Russian word krepostnichestvo. Which has other meaning and the maintenance. These are different things. And this is my first time I hear about Russians who escaped to Lithuania and Poland for the best life. This is the nonsense as the serfdom in these countries was not less severe than in Russia. Moreover the serfdom was amplified with ethnic oppression. Some Russians escaped to so called Wild Field. Now this is the territory of Volga region, the south of Russia and Northern Black Sea Coast. People escape there including from your favourite Poland and Lithuania. Later these people formed cossacks.

3. As to economical/industrial development. These are different things. As to industry of XVIII-XIX centuries, the most advanced country of the world at this time was Britain. So all countries were backward in comparison with it, not only Russia. As to economical development. Being the agrarian country like the majority of the countries of Europe of XVIII century Russia was enough prospering for that time.

4. As to neighbours. Russians always used cultural achievements of neighbours. But if we speak about the Western Europe there was one problem - the so-called Polish-Lithuanian barrier. We could break this barrier completely just at the beginning of XVIII century.
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Old September 24th, 2012, 12:07 AM   #4

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On the contrary Magnate, Russia has been a very successful state.

The precursor to today's Russia is the Principality of Moscow which managed to
unite/take-over the Rus principalities not incorporated in the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania (basically excludes modern day Belarus and Ukraine). Due to the climate,
these lands were not very productive and only a limited number of grains/crops
could grow here. Also the growing season was short. Not favourable starting
conditions for a diversified, sophisticated society.

A major positive for a strong state was actually seen as a major detriment of the
time - the "tartar yoke", the crippling annual tribute paid to keep off tartar
raids. The tartars were only interested in the economic benefit and politically
left the Rus to their own devices. By 1320 the Grand Prince earned the right to
collect the tribute from all Rus provinces, not just his own. I speculate that he
would have, as all good tax collectors did, took a cut for himself. The Grand
Prince role was lucrative and set off a period of political contests for the
position of the Grand Prince that resulted in Moscow emerging pre-eminent. As
Moscow grew stronger it would stop paying the tribute to the tartars. By 1480 the
tartars were too weak militarily to demand payment.

The tribute should be seen as a "centralised taxation policy" that was collected
and controlled by the Grand Prince. The political contests also lead to a
restructuring of Rus society that saw the Grand Prince in a pre-eminent position,
but the control of society left with the boyars without interference from the
Grand Prince, now calling himself Czar.

The Czar was now well funded without any direct ties to management of the economy and could direct his attention to regaining his "patrimony" - the lands of former Kievan Rus, now largely in the hands of GDL that was now in a personal dynastic union with Poland (converted to a political union in 1569). The Muscovites also became adept at settling the lawless steppe lands and eventually displace the
tartar khanates. The lands he gained were free of any rights/obligations
associated with the original Muscovy lands, so it enhanced his position and
quickly could redefine the relationship with all the boyars. Soon the boyars
became dependent on royal privilege for the their landholdings and economic
benefits.

The expansionary trend would become a feature of the Muscovite state (renamed
Russia by Catherine the Great).

Muscovy was also assisted by its isolation. After tartar control weakened there
was no other power to compete with it - GDL reached the full extent of its organic
growth before Muscovy officially overthrew tartar domination. So it did not
matter how ineffectively Moscow was ruled, there was no-one to take advantage of
it. The most serious threat was in the Times of Troubles (early 1600's) when the
Polish king almost got himself elected Czar. Once the Romanov's got established
the strengthening cycle started again, and with increasing success.

Isolation also meant being off the main trade routes, so commercial activity was
not enhanced, reinforcing the depedence of boyars on royal privilege.

Thanks to the weakening of Poland/Lithuania, the Muscovites were able to expand
westward, culminating in the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 1700's. Now
Russia could interact directly with the rest of Europe, and utilizing the Slavic
connection, dominate central Europe.

Tsarist Russia eventually gave way to the communist Soviet Union, but the ethos of
dependency on the ruler and expansion seems to have continued.

Pretty much a success story to me. Maybe not as rich as the rest of Europe, but
none-the-less a success story.
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Old September 26th, 2012, 01:58 AM   #5

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Don't write the russians off yet.
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Old September 26th, 2012, 08:38 AM   #6
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Again, as a student of Russian literature, for all its perceived backwardness, socially and economically Russia, with its over 100 different nationalties and languages produced some of the greatest writers in 19th century Europe.
Dosteoevsky; Turgenev; Chekhov' ; Gogol; Pushkin; Tolstoy;Lermontov; giants all. As were their musical equivalents -Tchaikovsky; Rimsky-Korsachov; Shostakovich; Moussogrsky;
In world cinema the colussus that was Eisenstein ,whose influence was still underscoring Hollywood movies like the 1987 American film''The Untouchables'' where the scene with the baby carriage on the Chicago railway station steps was derived directly from Eiisenstein's movie scene set on the Odessa steps.
Serfdom was abolishd in Russia 1861-two years BEFORE the supposedly more advanced U.S.A. ABOLISHED SLAVERY IN 1863.
Politically, though, Russia had no back catalogue of democratic tradtions to fall back on.
Autocracy being the norm. Similarly, Russia was positively the last European country that Karl Marx and his Communist co-founder Engels thought would embrace Communism. Because a mainly agrarian subsistence economy like 19th century Tsarist Russia had not yet developped into the advanced industrial state that Marx claimed would be the sine qua non of the rise of the industrial proletariat who were supposedl to spearhead the Communist revolution, replacing capitalism.
Never forget that Soviet Communism was an alien construct smuggled into Tsarist Russia by the Imperial German Military Command Staff leadership in 1917 when the German smuggled Lenin into Russia from Switzeraland in a sealed train.
Or to use Winston Churchill's memorable words- ''The bacillus of Communism (Lenin) was smuggled into to fatally infect the Russian body politic...''
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Old September 26th, 2012, 09:39 AM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnate View Post
They been neighbours to so many cultures around the world, why didn't they use the knowledge from all those cultures to become the political/economic powerhub of the world?
It's not always easy to imitate your neighbors when there are forces inside your country that don't want it to evolve. This is something people often forget. Sometimes inovation is not allowed within a country because it will change the equilibrium of power and take power away from the rulling class.
Besides in the modern world countries with an historical tendency to an over controlling state have found difficulty in progressing. Because this kind of state destroys and stifles business and entrepreneurship.
In Sweeden at the beggining of the XIX century 100% of the people knew how to read. This was a victory of Protestantism, but not all countries benefited from this kind of mentality.
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Old September 26th, 2012, 12:25 PM   #8

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I agree with Potop; the base of your premise is problematic. Specifically, it's when you use the term "healthy state." What exactly is a healthy state and by what, or whose, standards?

Many people (experts included) look at Russia the wrong way because they are using Western rationality, concepts and discourse to try and understand a country that has a rationality and discourse of its own. Economic development often comes up as an argument, i.e. why is Russia so backward (it does not have a copy model of Western capitalism), but the same can be argued about the West - Why are Western economies dominated by a financial system that is highly unstable, poorly understood (bogus financial instruments and misconceptions on how economies actually work) and de-industrialising their countries?
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Old September 26th, 2012, 01:07 PM   #9

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Russia wasn't backward, it did develop slower than other European powers though.
There are many reasons for the slower growth, one of them is indeed the clinging to feudalism which only ended in 1861.

Russia is a huge country, and since the 17th century a multi-ethnic one as well.
It's not easy governing such a huge mass of land and having so many nationalities as your subjects.
To keep things simple, make everyone a peasant and make them pay taxes to the nobles so that they could buy nice French and German art for their mansions, and read some Pushkin poems at recreation time.
That way, everyone's happy.

Let's only deal with maritime trade for this one: With all its huge size Russia has relatively small coastal areas with access to the oceans, the Turks pretty much governed who will exit the Black Sea and the East Asian ports were remote and half-frozen in the winter. In the western side, once you got out of the Baltic Sea, you had to deal with the British.
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Old September 26th, 2012, 01:15 PM   #10

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Originally Posted by Barbarossa View Post
Russia wasn't backward, it did develop slower than other European powers though.
There are many reasons for the slower growth, one of them is indeed the clinging to feudalism which only ended in 1861.

Russia is a huge country, and since the 17th century a multi-ethnic one as well.
It's not easy governing such a huge mass of land and having so many nationalities as your subjects.
To keep things simple, make everyone a peasant and make them pay taxes to the nobles so that they could buy nice French and German art for their mansions, and read some Pushkin poems at recreation time.
That way, everyone's happy.

Let's only deal with maritime trade for this one: With all its huge size Russia has relatively small coastal areas with access to the oceans, the Turks pretty much governed who will exit the Black Sea and the East Asian ports were remote and half-frozen in the winter. In the western side, once you got out of the Baltic Sea, you had to deal with the British.
Roads and communication systems were also hard to establish. Russia is huge and the weather is extreme in many parts of the country. Getting to ports was problematic to begin with.
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