Russian history is full of secrets and unusual moments when our country seemed to be on the edge of its existence. However in our history there were periods of calm, peaceful and progressive growth, welfare of Russian commonwealth and its nation. One of such periods is Autocracy or Absolute monarchy which existed in Russia in one form or another in XVIII-XX centuries.
Emperor Peter I
Of course appearance of Absolute monarchy is connected to the name of the first Russian Emperor Peter the Great, and his epoch can’t be called calm. For twenty years Russia participated in difficult war with Sweden which has lasted with variable success and has crocked up all participating countries. One of factors of it is Russia to have to buy northern territories from Sweden despite it have won the war. Both sides were unable to fight. In general any reforms and wars also mean change of current situation to which everybody got used. Sometimes it is very difficult to abandon from something less effective and modern in spite of obvious advantages of other even nowadays. For example, economical crisis in modern Russia has been lasting for two years already, the independence recession in economics has been lasting for more than 5 years nevertheless the government and the president do not hurry to change to situation happen. What to tell about XVIII century when people essentially have lived according to traditions, there were almost no communication tools. And despite of this Peter I took on reforms, accomplished them and gave a grounding for economical, political development of Russia for one and may be even for two hundred years ahead. Peter’s reforms have formed in Russia society, estates but nevertheless united and it understood responsibility for the Empire. The Empire itself appeared only when the society was established. The form of governance Peter I has established is called Absolute monarchy. Of course the term itself will be used much later, in the epoch of Empress Katherine II, however the main features of absolute monarchy appeared during Peter’s I governance.
What is absolute monarchy
Modern definition of the absolute monarchy says that it is a form of governance where the whole power is focused in one person’s hands – the monarch. The full power means legislative, executive and judicial. In some cases monarch becomes the head of the church also. In particular in Great Britain this feature of the Absolute monarchy is still existing – English King or Queen is the Head of English Church. The rest power in Great Britain is divided between the Parliament , Government and Court.
The absolute monarchy began to develop in XVI-XVII century in Europe when the whole system of state power was getting the unified form of legislation and the ideological basis of the autocracy was forming from works of Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke. This philosophers have worked out the worldview according to which the monarch to rule the country effectively has to maintain a big bureaucracy for the functioning of which the legislations and orders have to be issued. Legislative practice finally resulted protests which began in Europe. The English Revolution, Revolution in Netherlands and Great French Revolution are among them.
Also the epoch of the absolute monarchy coincides to the process of national states formation. National state is an established cultural-political identity where the key subject to determine the type of state structure, form of governance and political system is a nation. The Monarch, agreeably, moves from the absolute category to the category of submission. He is not allowed to argue against national interests as the conflict appeared will be solved not in favor of the monarch. That, in fact, happened in France and England. The absolute monarchy prefaces the national state, prepares it and after that it takes a backseat and becomes the element of the culture of one or another state.
Absolute monarchy in Russia
In Russia the absolute monarchy also followed the way of European tradition. In some way separate elements of autocracy have existed during the Tsar Ivan IV and the Great Duke Ivan III governance as the first Sudebnik – the Code of Justice of Russian state has been written already late in XV century. However, historical processes in Russia are tend to be delayed for so long that their continuation becomes the danger of the state’s existence. Peter I has reconstructed the Ivan’s IV system that offered Russia to live for two hundred years more. However the process of Nation’s formation in our country hasn’t come. It is said that the reason for it was a large Russian territory which in the Peter’s the Great epoch had already had modern bounds. Not having fast communication tools different parts of the Empire haven’t formed cultural-political identity. Regional identity seemed to be formed which encouraged large territories to withdraw from Russia in 1917 after October.
The Emperor in such circumstances was the main uniting source of Russian Empire – in Poland he was accepted as the Tsar of Poland, in Finland – the Great Duke of Finland. In Russia the Emperor was personification of the highest justice. For example it is interesting fact how the Emperor was appreciated by peasants who made from 70 to 80% of the nation even early in XX century. Peasants supposed that Emperor was also a Peasant he also turned up the soil and grew the bread. That is why he knows how to help to Russian peasants who suffer from landowners, noblemen and other civil servants. That is why peasants were not afraid to argue against landowners and to burn their houses. They were strictly sure that the Emperor would be on their side. It explains the fact that the Yemelyan Pugachev’s rebellion was supported by peasants – they believed he was Emperor Peter III who survived after the attempt by his wife Catherine.
Empress Catherine II
All the Emperors in Russia worked on maintaining of imperial mood. Any national unions or appearances were sorely suppressed as for example in Poland. To compare Russian Empire with the life of European national states where liberalism and socialism were an ideology, the Russian Empire abided conservatism. Conservatism meant keeping of old forms in new circumstances. In fact all reforms to be held by Emperors after Peter I were conservative because their main task was to adopt the current system to new conditions. Sometimes it worked out sometimes not. For example, reforms of Catherine II who was also called the Great, made Russian classes more modern and strengthened nobility – the supporting class of power. Alexander II reforms exceeded the scopes of conservatism that resulted revolution in 50 years after them. The main question is what was needed to do to escape revolution. Was there the chance of smooth transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy and when it was needed to do. Russia, to be sure, moved to the limited monarchy. Proclamation of 17 October 1905 has claimed rights and freedom and legislative limitation of the Emperor’s power also. From now no legislation could be accepted without State Duma approval, which met for the first time in 1906, However it didn’t help neither to Emperor nor to the country to escape revolution.
Emperor Nicholas II
Some historians suppose that the moment of the transition from absolute to limited monarchy was missed for 100years, some suppose that for 50 years. Objective processes of economical system complicacy tell about this, economical system needed economical classes existence and class but not estate society already early in XIX century. As a result these compulsory reforms and transition to new type of society didn’t happen, Russia was behind western countries before the revolution of 1917 almost in every field. The system to be established in Russia after revolution was based on two denials at once – denial of monarchy and denial of western social-economical system
Absolute monarchy in modern Russia
It is overwhelming but in modern Russia processes distinctive to absolute monarchy can be seen. Ignoring formal monarchial features the institute of private power or “manual operation” is being established in Russia. It is usual practice for absolute monarchy. The overwhelming situation – there are institutes in Russia which are established to perform state power however their performance itself reminds more a theatricals then really acting machine.
The new monarch?
Absolute monarchy in modern Russia is not the only power phenomenon. Some elements of the governance take us to much earlier epoch, to Middle Ages. For example, this is the power system in Chechen Republic where relations with federal center remind relations of the seignior and dependant. The seignior is Vladimir Putin of course and a dependant is Ramzan Kadyrov. The cooperation and people’s life in Chechen Republic is being built only on private arrangements.
In fact modern Russia is a residential republic so absolute monarchy exists only as a phenomenon of power and as a tendency to which modern political system is aspiring.
The Russian history shows that absolute monarchy and saving of this power institute was mainly a reason to the Russian Empire break out. When radical reforms were needed Russian Emperors were keeping their unshakable and absolute power. The main force of Russian Empire and the uniting source became its main weakness.