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The Westernizers and Radicals


In contrast to the Slavophiles, the Westernizers  were a diverse group united by their rejection of the view that Russia was unique. They firmly believed that Russia advanced along the European path of development, which was the only possible way for a civilized country to follow. Russia had taken this path later than most European countries - at the beginning of  the eighteenth century, as a result of Peter the Greats Reform. Naturally, she lagged behind advanced countries of Western Europe in the level of development. But her progress in the Western direction would continue and would lead to the same changes as other European countries had already gone through, namely, the replacement of serf labor by free  labor and the transformation of the despotic system of government into a constitutional one. The main task of the educated classes was to instill in Russian society an awareness of the inevitability of change and to work to impress this idea on the authorities.  The State and society in close collaboration would prepare and implement judicious and consistent reforms that should enable Russia to close the gap with  Western Europe. 

Vissarion Belinsky

The Radicals, represented by thinkers like Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) and Vissarion Belinsky (1811-1848), shared the main ideas of the Westernizers. Nonetheless, the early stages of the Great Debate had revealed serious theoretical differences between representatives of these two intellectual trends, and the division between them would continue to grow. While fully agreeing with Westernizers that Russia was following a common path with other European nations which would inevitably lead to the abolition of serfdom and the introduction of a constitutional system of government, the more radically-minded intellectuals were, at the same time, not inclined to idealize contemporary Europe.

What raised their particular objections was the prospect of the importation to Russia of the European bourgeois system. In their view, Russia should not simply strive to catch up with advanced countries of the West by borrowing uncritically their institutions, but should, together with them,  make a bold leap towards a totally new and in principle different system of life - socialism. The Radicals were also inclined to more direct, revolutionary methods of social change than the Westernizers who considered  reforms introduced from above to be the only acceptable way forward for Russia.

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