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HW Assignment #1 3. What problems kept Russia from truly modernizing?

Fifteenth century Russia faced many obstacles in its efforts to modernize. These obstacles were mostly as severe as they were numerous. Among the chief issues were shaking off Mongol control, solving political woes, securing economic stability, and addressing social ills. To begin, Russia was still under the control of the Mongols, to whom they were required to pay tribute. The first step in Russias rise to power was to gain freedom so that modernization could begin. By 1480, Russia had gained autonomy from Mongol control and vast territory from the borders of the Polish Lithuanian kingdom to the Ural Mountains. Although Russia had shaken Mongol control, the Mongol period had lowered literacy levels (among the priesthood) and reduced trade and manufacturing. Russia had become an agricultural economy dependent on peasant labor. Russia had also fallen behind in cultural aspects something that was becoming increasingly important to modern nations. Also troubling were the conflicts between the aristocratic landlords or boyars and the tsars during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Notably, the Time of Troubles (1604-1613) delayed progress. Tsar Peter I or Peter the Great (1689-1725) began a policy of Westernization, selectively importing or imitating military, economic, and cultural aspects from the West. However, despite greatly increasing trade and manufacturing as well as making Russia culturally respectable to the West, Peter the Greats changes only served to benefit the upper-class. He did not introduce

wage labor, which was becoming popular in the West. In fact, the situation of the serfs was becoming increasingly helpless. In addition, Peter the Greats policies of Westernization caused no small amount of tension between the tsar and the elite and between the peasants and their landlords. The years following the death of Peter the Great were dominated by weak leaders installed by military officials until the reign of Catherine II (the Great) (1762-1796). Like Peter the Great, Catherine was a selective westernizer. She brought in Western art and law reforms, encouraging upper-class education. However, she did not allow the seditious writings of liberals and democrats. She also gave nobles greater power over their serfs. Serfdom was possibly the largest factor preventing Russia from truly modernizing. With the vast majority of its population tied to the land, there was next to no social mobility or urbanization drivers of economic growth in the West. This trend, combined with outdated farming practices, led to Russias increasing economic subordination to the West. The serfs had little reason to learn newer agricultural practices, as any surplus would simply go to the landlord or the state. Neither did the landlords give much of an effort towards improving agricultural methods. Even though Russia was one of the great land empires, it was unusually agricultural and behind in several other key aspects of Western nations. Periods of weak rulers, political infighting, selective modernization that only benefitted the upper-class and other continued backwardness served to prevent Russia from truly modernizing.