Liberals of the era of Nikolai Pavlovich and Alexander the Liberator


Eugene Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People” 1830, Louvre

The shackles fell. Law,
Leaning on liberty, proclaimed equality,
And we exclaimed: Bliss!
Oh woe! about crazy dream!
Where is the liberty and the law? Above us
One ax reigns supreme.
We have overthrown the kings. Murderer with executioners
We have chosen to be tsars. Oh God! oh shame!
But you sacred freedom
The goddess is pure, no, you are not guilty,
In impulses of violent blindness
In the despicable fury of the people,
You hid from us; your healing vessel
Cloaked with a veil of bloody:
But you will come again with vengeance and glory, –
And again your enemies will fall …
(“Andrey Chenier” by A.S. Pushkin)


History of Russian liberalism. We will begin our next material on liberalism in Russia, perhaps, with the assertion that Emperor Nikolai Pavlovich, who ascended the imperial throne of Russia under the most dramatic circumstances, was by no means the stupid and self-satisfied narrow-minded soldier on the throne, as Soviet historiography usually exhibited him in the recent past. … And far from all free-thinking he pursued. Yes, he forbade Griboyedov’s play “Woe from Wit” to be staged. But he allowed Gogol’s “Inspector”. And even personally attended the premiere of his production at the theater. Another thing is that he did not doubt that it was precisely unlimited autocracy that was a direct benefit for Russia. Of course, he also remembered the fate of his father, but he considered Peter the Great to be his political ideal.

Distrust of the European Enlightenment


Emperor Nicholas I. Portrait by Franz Kruger (State Hermitage)

Another thing is that he harbored a huge distrust of the European Enlightenment. And the revolutions of 1848-1849. in the countries of Europe only strengthened him in the opinion that it was he who was the root of all evil. Yes, the “freethinking” of their subjects was sometimes punished mercilessly. But (we cannot fail to see the paradox of the reign of Emperor Nicholas I) he also did a lot to educate Russia, which many for some reason forget about.

Thus, the newspaper “Gubernskiye Vedomosti” appeared with his direct permission already in 1838. Moreover, 38 weekly newspapers and two daily newspapers (in Penza and Kharkov) began to be printed immediately. Since 1857, they began to publish “Irkutsk”, “Tobolsk” and “Tomsk” vedomosti. The newspapers had two sections: the official one, the orders and orders of the local authorities, and the unofficial one, which published materials on local history, regional geography, ethnography and statistics. These publications contain a lot of the most valuable information about the prices of goods and services, the rates of working hours, data on births and deaths, crop failures, and much more. Those who say that statistics were bad in tsarist Russia simply did not read Gubernskie vedomosti – they contained the whole country and its entire economy. True, there was no fiction. Until 1864.


This is what Gubernskiye Vedomosti usually looked like.

The magazines for the education of soldiers of the Russian imperial army: “Reading for Soldiers”, “Soldier’s Interlocutor” and “Soldier’s Works” became absolutely unique for their time. The first began publishing in 1847. And what this magazine did not write about. “How to baptize babies correctly” and “Stories about Suvorov”, “About the furrier trade” and “Heroic assault of Geok-Tepe”, published stories of literate lower ranks and reports that “a private of the 90th Onega infantry regiment Ustin Shkvarkin on June 5 last year I saved a drowning woman in the river. Porusye is the daughter of the bourgeoisie Evdokimov Pelageya. ” These magazines taught the soldiers crafts and helped to open their own business after the release “outright”. And the gentlemen officers were ordered to read these magazines by order, without shifting this duty to non-commissioned officers.

It was Nicholas I who returned Speransky to participation in state activities, and he finally put in order the legislation of the empire. And General P.D. Kiselyov (known for his liberal views) was attracted to the development of projects of peasant reform.


Subscription to Reading for Soldiers in 1885

By the way, it was he (and to a greater extent than Alexander I) who was carried away by the peasant reform plan. So, in 1834 in his office, talking with General Kiselyov, the emperor showed him many folders that were in the closet, and said:

“Since my accession to the throne, I have collected all the papers relating to the process that I want to lead against slavery, when the time comes to free the peasants throughout the empire.”

That is, he had such an intention. But I could not figure out how to bring it to life without prejudice to the interests of the landowners. Therefore, he did not dare to take such a radical measure.

Well, as for the liberal movement under Nicholas I, it was by no means exhausted by the activity of only a few tsarist dignitaries. The main event of both intellectual and social life of Nicholas Russia was the battles between Westernizers and Slavophiles. The former were naturally close to the liberals, while the Slavophiles firmly believed in the Orthodox autocracy and the patriarchal peasant community.

Although the same Westernizers did not represent a single movement. Someone advocated the development of Russia along the evolutionary path, like the historian T.N. Granovsky. But V.G. Belinsky and A.I. Herzen (the one who wrote: “Call Russia to the ax!”) Fought for the European path, modeled on the revolutions of 1789-1849.

As a result, Nicholas I was terribly influenced by the events of the Eastern (Crimean War), for the failures of which he blamed exclusively himself. So there is even a version that he took poison (albeit slowly acting) and managed to say goodbye to his family.

Coming out of the underground

During the reign of Emperor Alexander II, a period of emergence of Russian liberalism from its “underground” began. And here three main trends were finally formed among the Russian liberals. First: liberal officials, who hoped to carry out reforms by the power of the monarchy, but slowly and carefully. The second direction is various groups of the Russian intelligentsia who are ready to cooperate with the authorities. But there was also a third trend (also belonging to the intelligentsia), or rather that part of it that became disillusioned with the evolutionary path of the country’s development and tried to find a common language with the revolutionaries, first Narodnaya Volya, and then with the Marxists.

At the very top of the liberal views (in the 60s and 80s of the 19th century), even such representatives of the Romanov family as the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich and the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna adhered to. The “Liberal” was the chairman of the State Council D.N. Bludov, Minister of Internal Affairs S.S. Lansky, close to the emperor J.I. Rostovtsev and Minister of War D.A. Milyutin. And, of course, Alexander II the Liberator himself, who initiated not only the abolition of serfdom, but also many other reforms (judicial, rural, military). All of them literally “pushed” the country towards the constitution. But the king was in no hurry with her. It seemed to him that the reforms that had already been carried out were quite enough for the near future.


Such magazines were also published for soldiers

Russian liberals participated with great enthusiasm in the reforms of the government of Alexander II. Thus, the famous professors of St. Petersburg University K.D. Kavelin, M.M. Stasyulevich, V.D. Spasovich, A.N. Pypin began publishing the liberal journal Vestnik Evropy. In “Gubernskiye vedomosti” articles of critical content began to be published, pushing the government to deepen the reforms.

But the liberals of that time had neither a single political organization nor a well-thought-out ideology. In fact, they insisted only on the continuation of the reforms, and above all the constitutional one. There could be no question of any support from the bulk of the population of Russia (that is, the peasants). The peasants did not trust them, considered them “bars”, and even strange, and even “dashing”. And a very significant part of the nobility, which was disappointed with the difficulties that fell on it after the reforms, openly took the position of conservatism. Entrepreneurs were consistent supporters of liberal values ​​in Europe, but in Russia at the end of the 19th century they did not play any independent political role and did not even dare to think about participating in politics. They were completely captured by the industrialization that was beginning in the country and preferred to make big money on this under the protection of a strong monarchy.


And even there were publications that came out in separate shelves.

Seeing that the government clearly did not want to accelerate the pace of transformations, the liberals turned to outright revolutionaries for help. In 1878, a clandestine meeting of liberal constitutionalists with Narodnaya Volya terrorists took place in Kiev. And the authorities did not pay even the slightest attention to this, apparently considering that they would talk, “let off steam,” and that would be the end of the matter.


Emperor Alexander II on his deathbed. Photo by S. Levitsky

True, already in 1881, Emperor Alexander II, seeing that the situation in the country was heating up (and besides, it was aggravated by the terror of the Narodnaya Volya), gave instructions to the Minister of Internal Affairs M.T. Loris-Melikov to prepare a draft constitution. And the tsar was ready to sign this document when on March 1, 1881, the bomb of the terrorist Grinevitsky cut off his life.

Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *