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B. Stepan Razin

In the second half of XVII century in Russia, tsar's taxations in kind were increasing, and hence there was a rising number of runaway peasants. Some of these became Cossacks. A people's ideal hero of the times was a bandit who robs the rich.


Stepan Razin.

During a conflict in 1665, between the Don Cossacks and a tsar's general, prince Yuri Dolgoruki, the latter has ordered to hang Ivan Razin, who was an elder brother of Stepan Razin. The younger brother grew to hate the tsar's administration.

Cossacks, at the time, were split into "house Cossacks" (домовитые), i.e. those who possessed houses, and "the naked" Cossacks (голытьба), i.e. those who didn't posses anything, in effect, were naked. In 1667 Stepan Razin became a leader of a band of "naked" Cossacks who went on a marauding campaign. Gradually, this campaign has changed its character and has become a Cossack-peasant rebellion. On the one hand, the band of Razin defeated small parties of tsar's troops, plundered traders' and church vessels. On the other hand, Razin put himself as a leader of Volga peasants, those who supported him with local rebellions against own


Alyona of Arzamass

feudal lords. The Volga peasants were headed by a runaway nun named Alyona of Arzamass.

Similarly to Zaporozh Cossacks, Razin lived for a while on an island, in a hut, to


Stepan Razin with his cossacks in a boat. A painting by Surikov, 1906

show his desire for equality. Razin was against religious rituals, such as a church wedding. He tortured all whom the common people hated. Razin gave away material wealth to the people, called on the slaves to rise against their masters.

The rebellious peasants "killed tsar's generals, burned official papers, and introduced the Cossack social system". The principles of the Cossack system equal rights for everyone, democracy and obliteration of social classes.

The struggle against Stepan Razin was led by prince Dolgoruki. In the fall of 1670 Razin started a siege of a town of Simbirsk, but was not able to complete it, as he was forced to a battle with a regular army of 60 thousand troops led by a general Yuri Baratyanski. Razin's army was defeated, and Razin himself was wounded. The Cossacks carried him away to a small fortified town on the Don river. Razin thought that he would be able to regroup there. However, the "house" Cossacks decided to betray him, as they were afraid of reprisals. Hence, on 13 April, 1671 they stormed the town where Razin was hiding and handed him over to the tsar's generals.

105 razinas

The execution of Stepan Razin

Razin was brought to Moscow and remained silent under torture. He was quartered on 6 June, 1671 on the Red Square in Moscow.

So, nominally, the Stepan Razin rebellion was defeated because of: 1) better organization and training of tsar's army vis-a-vis poorly trained peasant army; 2) the betrayal of the better-to-do Cossacks.

However, this is only an empirical view of things. During the American revolution (1776-1783) a well trained army of Englishmen was defeated by recruits of George Washington, who were initially poorly trained.

A deeper view on the causes of Cossacks' defeat is offered by Marlene Insarov. He says that the Cossack social system signified a return to an early form of a feudal system. Cossacks were in essence a military band at the service of their leader. They lived at the expense of the peasants. Cossacks taxed the peasants just like the feudal lords did. The union between the Cossacks and the peasants was a shaky one.


Taras Bulba

The top brass of the Cossacks several times betrayed the rank-and-file Cossacks and simple peasants. The fate of the Tushino camp in the Time of Troubles, and the fate of Stepan Razin, are just two examples out of many. The top brass of the Cossacks exploited the peasants just as the feudal lords did. We see an example of this in the rich everyday life of Taras Bulba. Hence, the Cossack social system was no real alternative to the feudal system.

Why the Cossacks were not able to offer an alternative to the feudal social system, while at the same time the English revolution of XVII century has created a republic, and gave power to the "gentry", i.e. the class of rich farmers? The reason lies in the backward development of Russia. Compare the philosophers of England and Holland with those of Russia: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in England, Baruch Spinoza in Holland. But who was there in Russia? Compare the painters of the times: Bosch and Bruegel in Holland, but who was there in Russia? Compare the scientists of the times: Newton and Boyle in England, but who was there in Russia? Lomonosov has appeared in Russia only in the XVIII century and Shevchenko has appeared in Ukraine in XIX century.

C. Yemelyan Pugachev


Emelyan Pugachev

The history of rebellion of Emelian Pugachev , 1773-75, was in essence the repetition of the history of the Razin rebellion, except it was less noble in its aspirations: the system which the Cossacks tried to introduce was more similar to the feudal order, which they attempted to

A field gun of the Pugachev rebellion

overthrow. Just as the army of Razin, the army of Pugachev was defeated in a battle with the regular troops of tsar's government, after which Pugachev was captured and executed in Moscow in 1775.


Pugachev does his judgement.

The historian M. N. Pokrovsky writes in 1928: "The last peasant rebellion (i.e.of Pugachev) did not develop its own ideology even in such an infant form as was present with the Razin rebellion. The Razin men almost consciously tried to substitute the bureaucratic monarchism with the Cossack social system..." But what did Pugachev try to do? "Pugachev called himself Peter the Third. The whole organization of Pugachev's army was a copy of the government army, the commanding unit of the rebellion was called 'a Military college', and one of the most faithful and talented rebel commanders, Chika-Zarubin, called himself 'count Chernishev'. In the rebel documents the government troops were called by the same terms - 'the rebels', 'the betrayers', 'the evil men', as the documents of (queen) Ekaterina called the Pugachev men... the victory of the Pugachev men would mean a repetition of the cycle of Chinese history, where the old rotten dynasty is substituted by a new, revolutionary one, and everything returns to the usual run of things", writes Marlene Insarov. 

Our conclusion: in Russia, in XVII and XVIII centuries, there was no real alternative to the feudal system headed by the Romanov dynasty. An alternative social system would manifest itself by new social and economic relations, new ideas in various spheres of thought and living. Until such manifest themselves, all talk of rebellion and revolution is nonsense. 

Next: the theoretical fore-runners of Narodniks

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