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The Road to Progress – Russia (1815-1855

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By 1815, Russia was the largest,
most populous nation in Europe.
Despite efforts from Enlightened
Despots Peter and Catherine the
Great, Russia remained in a state of
“backwardness” compared to the
rest of Western Europe. By the
middle of the 19th century, Russia
was still very unindustrialized and
economically undeveloped. They
had no factories, have not had a
science revolution, and have not
discovered the power of steam, coal, or iron. Russia had an immense (large) number of
natural resources needed for industrialization, but Russian czars thought
industrialization and modernization would lessen their absolute rule over their country
and people.
A great obstacle (problem) to progress was
the social structure in Russia. Landowning
nobles dominated society and rejected any
change that would threaten their status and
privileges. The landowners preferred Russia’s
”backwardness” to the advancement of their
nation. Another problem in Russia were the
serfs. Most people in Russia were serfs, who
were farmers who worked for the landowners.
Serfs were uneducated, unable to read or
write, and were denied natural rights. They
could not have a voice in society, vote, or own
property. Many landowners also argued serfs
could never work inside a factory, due to their
“inferior status” and due to lack of an
education and skills. Thus, industrializing
Russia would be a great mistake. Many Russian rulers knew that serfdom caused
problems. Landowners were making a lot of money by the serfs working on their farms.
Thus, they had no reason to let the serfs gain freedom or to invest in a factory system
like that of Britain. With farms prospering and the landowners getting wealthier, serfdom
remained intact in Russia.
For centuries, czars ruled with absolute power, imposing their will on their people. The
changes brought about by the Enlightenment and French Revolution had almost no
effect on Russian government or politics. Russian czars after Catherine the Great
would close Russian boarders, to keep Enlightenment and revolution ideas out of
Russia and from reaching the people. Many Russian rulers feared the serfs from
becoming “enlightened”, and thus becoming aware of their rights, and perhaps becoming

a threat to rebel. To scare the people, the czars ruled
harshly. Russian czars used their power to keep the
minorities of Russia happy, instead of the majority.
Russian czars feared loosing power to the nobles,
just as King Louis did in France. After seeing what
happened in France, Russian czars used their
absolute power to censor the newspapers in Russia.
This means that only the czar could approve of what
goes in the newspapers. The czar had to approve all
textbooks used in schools. They wanted to keep all
ideas about progress coming out of Western Europe
away from the Russian people. Any outsiders who
came to Russia preaching or discussing what was
happening in Western Europe was imprisoned by the
czar, and declared mentally insane. Some were sent to mental hospitals, while others
were executed. Russian czars used all their power possible to keep the ideas and
progress coming out of Western Europe from his people.
Russian czars of the 19th century saw the need to modernize and improve Russia.
However, they could not see a way to change Russia without completely angering the
landowners and weakening the absolute power of the czar.

Turn the Page >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Part 1 – On the map, label or draw an arrow locating 1) Russia 2) Italy 3) France 4)

Britain

Part 2 – Choose TWO questions to complete in a response of AT LEAST EIGHT
SENTENCES. Everyone must do question #3. Be sure to provide evidence, examples,
discussion, and analysis.

1) Why is Russia considered to be “backwards” as described in paragraph one? Who are
they “backwards” to? In what specific ways or areas are they “backward?”
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2) In your own words, name and describe three problems in Russia in the 19th century.
Why is this a problem for Russia?
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3) Who is more to blame for Russia not keeping up with Western Europe? The
landowners? The serfs? The czar? Somebody else? Why? Be sure to discuss by using
specific examples from the reading, and be prepared to defend your responses with the
class.
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Extra Credit: If done early, try the extra credit questions below. Use the bottom or back
of this page to write your response.
4) Could a compromise have been reached between the czar, landowners, and serfs? Yes
or no, and defend your response with evidence and examples. What might the
compromise look like if one could be reached?

5) What predictions can you make about Russia after reading this article? Will change in
Russia ever occur? If so, when? How? If change will not take place, why not?