A CRUDE modernity characterized Tsarist Russia in the eighteenth century. At a time when almost the entire European continent bore the stamp of Absolutism Peter the Great and Catherine II were progressive rulers. And in days that saw the Congress of Vienna, Alexander I could afford to be more liberal in European politics than either Metternich or the King of Prussia.
The scene underwent a change during the reign of his successor, Nicholas I. The ideals of the French Revolution began more and more to penetrate Russia, where they were enthusiastically welcomed by the intelligentsia, which from this time onward walked step by step with the radical theorists of western Europe. Moreover, the criticism of existing conditions on the part of the intelligentsia found its justification in the misery of the vast Russian peasantry, which was still cumbered with the chains of serfdom.
Russia in the nineteenth century was still a feudal State. On the one side were the Tsar, the aristocratic landowners, the Church, Army, Police, and bureaucracy; on the other were the serfs. Between these two opposing forces stood a numerically small commercial and industrial middle class and a proletariat that was slowly coming into existence. The intelligentsia in Russia played a very important role in hastening the development of events. For the most part the educated and independent Radicals were aristocrats by birth. A father would sit in his office as Chief of Police or Governor while his daughter stood at a street comer throwing bombs. The social and intellectual history of the Russian Revolution reveals the very strong suicidal tendency at work in the Russian nobility as a class. Young students of noble birth themselves destroyed all that their fathers had constructed and venerated. The French aristocracy destroyed itself in a similar fashion in the eighteenth century before the outbreak of the French Revolution. As soon as the feudal organization of the State was felt to be intolerable by the masses, and once