The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

THE RESPONSE OF THE POPULATION OF MOSCOW TO
THE NAPOLEONIC OCCUPATION OF 1812
Alexander M. Martin

The wars with Napoleon disrupted Alexander I's efforts at domestic reform, a fact that is often blamed on the dynamics of Russian elite politics. However, the calamitous experience of Moscow in 1812 suggests that, similar to many of their contemporaries in Spain, the Papal States, and elsewhere along the periphery of the zone of Napoleonic domination, the trauma of the French invasion may have strengthened many Russians' attachment to the old regime, and the tsar's thinking may have been in harmony with the sentiments of many humble people whose only contact with the “age of the democratic revolution” had involved foreign soldiers who had destroyed their homes, vandalized their churches, and unleashed social chaos. The dominant cliché in the Russian historical literature, popularized most famously in Tolstoi's War and Peace, posits that a barbaric Grande Armée was met by the stolid resistance of a Russian nation that stood united in its patriotic determination to defend the Fatherland.1 As in the case of nationalist myth-making with regard to anti-Napoleonic resistance in Spain (after 1808) and Germany (in 1813), however, this may be an instance of the educated classes projecting their own values and assumptions onto a population that felt little attraction to modern nationalism of any sort, whether of the conservative variety advocated by spokesmen for the regime or the liberal sort endorsed by the future Decembrists.

This impression emerges from a reading of eyewitness accounts of the occupation of Moscow by Russians who belonged to what might loosely be termed the city's “middle class”—the roughly 40,000 minor officials, merchants, and members of the clergy, and their dependents, who were literate enough to write accounts of their tribulations, and who had sufficient property or privileges to give them a stake in the social order, but were little affected by the elite culture

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1
See, for example, Nikolai A. Troitskii, 1812: Velikii god Rossii (Moscow: Mysl', 1988), 308.

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