The Revolutionary Masses
of the reform cycles lasted from the 1690s to the 1850s and is
described by Lieven as Ďcatching up with Louis XIVí. Its aim was
to make Russia the equal of the other great European absolute
monarchies which dominated the continent in the eighteenth
century. The best-known figure associated with this cycle is
Peter the Great, who by defeating the Swedes made Russia a
European great power. But the attempt to catch up with Russiaís
European neighbors would achieve full success only later in the
eighteenth century, in the reign of Catherine the Great. By the
end of the century Russia had secured the position as one of the
continentís three or four greatest military powers and was
universally recognized abroad as the equal of Habsburg Austria
or Bourbon France.
Iís defeat of Napoleon further increased his countryís prestige,
and in the first half of the nineteenth century Russia was generally
perceived to be the continentís leading military power. However, it
was during that time when under the impact of the industrial
revolution the factors which determined a countryís power were
undergoing fundamental change. Capitalism was transforming agrarian
societies of the leading European states, revolutionizing their
industrial bases and increasing urban populations. The persistence
of traditional institutions, and serfdom in particular, now seemed
to place Russia behind other countries of the continent. By the
close of Nicholasí reign the picture of a powerful Russia,
dominating the international order, had disappeared. As Russia fell
behind the rate of development of other nations, so her foreign
policy became less successful, declining from the tremendous triumph
over Napoleon to the disaster of the Crimean War.
War had demonstrated Russiaís military and economic weaknesses to
the Russian government in a shocking and humiliating fashion.
Russiaís ruling circles were compelled to accept the fact that in
the second half of the nineteenth century it was no longer possible
to retain serfdom and manage without a rationally organized legal
system, local self-government, or a modern army, and at the same
time, continue to aspire to the status of a leading European power.
As a result, the government initiated the second great cycle of
modernization, which lasted from the 1850s to the 1970s. Lieven
describes it as ĎRussiaís attempt to remain a great power in the
smokestack eraí. The renewed process of catching-up with the West,
begun by the imperial regime and interrupted by the First World War
and the revolution, was completed under the communist government.
Stalinís industrialization and the routing of the Nazi Germany in
1945 marked the Soviet Unionís achievement of great-power status in
the industrial era.
By the 1970s
the Soviet Union had achieved seemingly assured superpower status
through military parity with the USA. Not since the days of
Nicholas I had Russian power been rated so high at home or abroad.
Realities were, however, as deceptive in the Brezhnev era
(1964-1982) as they had been in the reign of Nicholas I. The factors
of power in the world were changing quickly. In Nicholasís day it
had been the spread of the industrial revolution in Western Europe
which had jeopardized Russiaís status as a great power. Under
Brezhnev it was the revolution of the micro-chip and the computer.
Gorbachev (1985-1991) initiated the third great cycle of
modernization from above in order to catch up with Russiaís Western
competitors in the new era of the scientific and technical
description of Russiaís development of the last three centuries in
terms of the three cycles of modernization allows to see more
clearly the place and the significance of Alexander IIís ĎGreat
Reformsí within the entire perspective of Russian modern and
contemporary history. It also helps to demonstrate some striking
parallels between Alexanderís era of the ĎGreat Reformsí and the era
of Gorbachevís perestroika 130 years later. In both periods a
new generation of young, reforming politicians launched sweeping
changes from above after a prolonged era of political oppression and
economic stagnation. The results, however, were expressly different:
in one case, the reformed system survived for another 60 years; in
the other case, it collapsed.