• “This is not just a matter of how much the Russian population suffered during the war. As is always true, victory legitimized and consolidated the existing regime, which in Russia was rooted in autocracy and serfdom. The sense that Russia was victorious and secure removed an incentive for radical domestic reform. The conservative regime of Nicholas I, who ruled from 1825 until 1855, was partly rooted in an assumption of Russian power and security. This assumption was only undermined by defeat in the Crimean War of 1854–6, which unleashed a swath of modernizing reforms under Nicholas’s son, the Emperor Alexander II. In 1815, however, Russia did not have the means –which meant above all the educated cadres –to carry out radical reforms of the type undertaken two generations later. It is naive to believe that defeat by Napoleon would have unleashed a programme of successful liberalization in Russia. Even less well founded is the belief that Nicholas’s conservatism was the basic cause of Russia’s growing backwardness in 1815–60 vis-à-vis north-western Europe. The Industrial Revolution had dynamics well beyond the control of the Russian government of that era. It required levels of education and population density which Russia lacked, and the bringing together of coal and iron deposits, which in Russia’s case was only possible with the introduction of the railway. In any case, the question whether the sacrifices made in 1812–14 were worthwhile implies that the Russians had a choice.”

Advertisement

Topics

Advertisement

Advertisement