Russian society was founded on the collectivist principle of the
commune, all members of which were united by common interests. The
next important element of Russian life was the Orthodox religion
which, by its precepts, had strengthened even more the original
ability of Russians to sacrifice their individual interests for the
sake of collectivist good, taught them to help the weak and bear
patiently hardships of life. As for the State, it had traditionally
looked after its people, defended it from aggressive neighbors,
maintained order and stability, but had not interfered in the
spiritual, private or communal life of the people.
All this was
changed, in the Slavophilesí view, by the reform of Peter the Great.
As a result of his transformation the original harmonious structure
of Russia society and the co-operative spirit of Russian life were
destroyed. In their opinion, it was Peter who introduced serfdom
which split the Russian nation into masters and slaves. Peter also
attempted to inculcate Western morals, manners and culture in the
governing class, thus completely separating it from the popular
masses. In contrast, the common people retained what was best in the
old Russia, namely, communal traditions and the Orthodox faith.
Peter was also responsible for creating a despotic State which
treated the population merely as building material for the
establishment of a grand empire.
condemned Peter for importing Western ideas and institutions,
Slavophiles called for the revival of Russiaís old ways of social
and state life. The principal objective of any reform program, in
their view, was the re-establishment and revitalization of the
spiritual unity of the Russian nation. To achieve this, it was
necessary, first of all, to abolish serfdom which like an
impenetrable wall separated the peasants from the rest of society.
The political regime of autocracy was to be cleansed of the
repulsive traits of despotism, but preserved. The lost link between
the State and the people would be restored by the infusion of wide
glasnost, i.e. openness, in public life, and by the revival of
some traditional institutions, such as, for instance, zemsky
sobor (ĎAssembly of the Landí) -a popular assembly in medieval