What everyone thinks the Russian Empire was like.
“Tsarist Russia was this superstitious land of icons and cockroaches with Cossacks on thot patrol with nagaikas in hand – and it was absolutely horrific!” – Liberals, Marxists.
“Tsarist Russia was this superstitious land of icons and cockroaches with Cossacks on thot patrol with nagaikas in hand – and it was absolutely great!” – Neoreactionaries.
Reality: It was in many respects socially liberal even by the standards of Western Europe.
Yes, Stolypin’s neckties and all that. What Communist propagandists don’t like to mention as much is that just during the three years 1904-1907 some 4,500 Tsarist officials were murdered by what would today be classified as Far Left terrorist groups. In contrast, there were just 6,321 executions from 1825 to 1917. This is basically a rounding error by the standards of the Bolsheviks’ multicultural Coalition of the Fringes, including during their “progressive” Trotskyist phase that Western leftist academics and journalists love to laud so much. It doesn’t even compare unfavorably with the 16,000 or so executions in the US since 1700.
The Okhrana secret policy only numbered one thousand in 1900 in an empire of 150 million – it was a little baby relative to the Cheka. Exiles to Siberia essentially took the form of holidays that the “inmates” could cancel at will. Dzhugashvili (Stalin) “escaped” from Siberia around seven or nine times.
Stalin enjoying the Siberian sunshine.
All forms of corporal punishment were abolished in 1904, ahead of the UK and the US. Despite modern Russia’s 70 year legacy of official atheism, the irony is that Pussy Riot would have spent a maximum of three months in jail under blasphemy laws in the Russian Empire (had they gone to prison at all).
Really, if anything, the Russian Empire had become too progressive, too liberal, too humane for its own good. It was doomed by its own kindness and decency to aspiring Pol Pots. A few contemporary equivalents of free helicopter rides or just stronger enforcement of normal treason laws would have done so much good in 1917.
Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x.
Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country – and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-ed education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.
British suffragettes? Russia raises you a Women’s Batallion of Death.
Fully half of the four mosques in Moscow were constructed under late Tsarism (including the biggest one that nationalist critics of Putin like to harp on about; he merely restored it). The other Moscow mosques include the historical Old Mosque (constructed in 1823), the Moscow Memorial Mosque (more of a war monument than a place of worship), and one that is part of a complex of religious buildings that also includes a Buddhist stuppa (so not really so much of a mosque as a political monument).
Of Saint-Petersburg’s three mosques, by far the most impressive, with capacity for 5,000 worshippers, was opened in 1913. One of them is actually more of a room than a mosque, being part of the Dagestan Cultural Center.
The Russian bobos and aristos of the late Empire loved their tattoes.
Here’s a Russian conservative in 1909 lamenting Social Decline (TM) in the Vekhi:
The vast majority of our children enter university having lost their virginity. Who of us doesn’t know that in the senior classes of the gymnasiums there is hardly a boy to be a found who has yet to be acquainted with a maid, or a brothel
Even in France, which is associated in our minds with all sorts of sexual degeneracies, even there, in that land of the southern sun and frivolous literature, there isn’t this prevalence of “fast-ripening fruits” as in cold, northern Russia.
According to a survey of 967 students, of those who clarified their age at first sexual contact, 61% said not later than 17 years, and of them, 53 boys started it before 12 years, 152 – before 14 years.
This was reflected in the high culture of the late Empire: The Russian avant-garde, the first major penetration of post-modernism into traditional art.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring causes a scandalous sensation in Paris, not in Moscow or Saint-Petersburg.
Scriabin, the consummate bohémienne.
The Shukhov Tower.
He painted his stupid black square in 1915.
Really at this point one can almost sympathize with Mayakovsky:
“Eat your pineapples. Chew your grouse. Your last day is coming. You bourgeois louse.”
It need also be hardly pointed put at this point that the extreme social liberalism – legalization of homosexuality, abortion – and SJWism – abolition of university extrance exams – of the 1920s didn’t come out of a complete void. To the contrary, all this enjoyed the approval of some significant percentage of the Russian intelligentsia.
Stalin of course reversed this, and not only made university exams competitive again but reintroduced tuition fees. After murdering some significant percentage of the professors, and blanketing the country in a stiffling ideological orthodoxy for decades ahead that annulled any meaningful freedom of speech and relegated Russia to the margins of global culture to this day.
Russian Empire 2017
What would Russian culture have been like without the Communist occupation?
Probably a great deal more liberal, actually.
That said, one has to make allowance for the fact that the liberal-leftist strain in Russian cultural life was balanced by liberal-conservative and even a certain conservative-libertarian trend.
For instance, gun rights were very strong in the Russian Empire, unlike in the Soviet Union and its successor the Russian Federation.
Fin de siècle Chelyabinsk gunshop – remove the Cyrillic, and it might as well be in the Wild West.
There were also no shortage of conservative and nationalist pundits, who under a normal 20th century trajectory might have developed into US-style conservative talk radio.
Moreover, there are always cycles of social liberalism and social conservatism. To take the example of the US, you had liberalism in the 1920s, conservatism in the 1950s, liberalism in the 1970s, conservatism in the 1980s, liberalism again now – Russia was evidently in a liberal phase during the waning years of the Empire and the 1920s, but this doesn’t mean it would have stayed that way indefinitely. A moderate correction would have been expected by analogy with any other country on a normal development trajectory.
One would also have to account for there being less American influence – Russian (and European) culture would itself have been far stronger, not having undergone a ruinous World War and the stiffling effects of the twin totalitarianisms of Nazism and Stalinism. For that matter, Nazism itself is a significant – if not altogether crucial – component in Europe’s guilt complex, that would have been exceedingly unlikely to arise in the absence of the Red Menace in the early 1930s.
So overall, it doesn’t seem unlikely that Russia would have been in the European mainstream in terms of social attitudes – but that that same European mainstream would be far less “cucked” than it is today.
One undoubtedly negative aspect of the Russian Empire (from a conservative/traditionalist viewpoint) would have been the likely absence of a propiska system regulating internal migration within a surviving Russian Empire, so we can expect there to have been far more Central Asian immigrants to the Russian heartlands – especially since Russia would have been far wealthier without central planning (though their percentage of the population would have been diluted by the Russification of Belorussia and most of Ukraine, as well as a ~30% larger total ethnic Slavic population).
However, it’s not very clear that even this “silver lining” from the Soviet period is of any value. The Putin regime has in recent years made it increasingly clear that it sees Russia’s future in tight integration with Central Asia; just the other day, a Kremlin-linked think-tank released a report advocating an increase in pro-immigration propaganda and the introduction of administrative liability for politicians and bureaucrats who “feed false numbers to the media about immigrants” and “mention ethnic crime.”
So in all likelihood Russia will end up getting the worst of both worlds anyway.