The History of Pugachev Discussion Leaders by Liam Sullivan and Chase Weiland

Pushkin’s retelling of the Pugachev Rebellion flows like a story. He introduces the Yaik Cossack clans first and tells the story from a third person point of view. The chapters are broken up into specific points in time. The rebellion was due to an accumulation of issues the Yaik Cossack clan faced during their transition as Russain citizens. Pugachev led the rebellion into many pillages and attacks on villages throughout Russia. His rebellion frightened citizens in Moscow which led Catherine the Great to be on high alert. His rebellion left a lasting impact on poor citizens, serfs, and other enthic groups. Although the rebellion was quelled in the end, complete order of all cossacks was a long road. The rebellion still rang in their ears. 

Pushkin’s retelling of this history allows for a lot of questions to be asked both about his style of writing and the rebellion itself. Here are a few questions that we have: 

  • How is Catherine portrayed throughout the novel? 
  • Why did Pushkin spend time introducing the history of the Yaik Cossacks? Why is it important? 
    • What is the importance of detailing all of their grievances?  
  • Do you think that Mikhelson was obsessed with catching Pugachev? Or just passionate about protecting his country? 
  • On page 37 and on, Pushkin writes that Pugachev had no absolute authority. What is the importance of this? How did this impact how the rebellion continued, if at all? How did Pugachev feel about this? 
  • Throughout Mikhelson’s military campaign he allows people he had captured to join his ranks, do you think this was a smart move? Why or why not?
    • Who do you think had the higher level of military strategy, Mikhelson or Pugachev?

All Sorts of Confusing Things: Catherine the Great’s Possible Delve into Satirical Media

In chapter 8 of the reading, Madariaga discusses the mystery behind satirical journals, such as All Sorts of Things, which is believed to involve Catherine on some proverbial level. The journal takes its inspiration from contemporary English journals, and lampoons areas of “Russian society” (Madariaga 92). Because of the dichotomy of Catherine being an absolute ruler and being involved with media that openly attacks parts of Russian society, it really is confusing why she would take part in it at all. Is it because she is so “enlightened” that she can poke fun at a society she helped mold? The author states, “What induced Catherine to promote this kind of public criticism of the defeats of Russian society […] at this particular moment, when she had just been thrust into war, had never been satisfactorily explained” (Madariaga 92). Moreover, to this argument the author remarks that she feels Catherine would not have involved herself in this type of media. Do you agree with Madariaga that Catherine would outright not be involved with these journals? Or, do you think she would take part in the journals in some aspect. For whatever stance you take, why?

Catherine’s Educational and Publishing Revolutions Discussion by Kate Sullivan and Lauren Griswold

Summaries of the readings:

Chapter 8: Catherine’s Influence on Russian Cultural Life

Catherine admired “the brilliant and orderly court life.” (91) This entailed her to revise the ranks and rules to create a more orderly court function. Catherine was quite talented in her range of skills, such as with writing and music. She wrote for the newspaper All Sorts of Things which was possibly edited by one of her high ranking officials. Printing was one of the main focuses of this chapter with the ideas of censorship and more accessibility of printing. Catherine’s ideals of censorship had much to do with no offensiveness. She dealt with education and the Russian language with spelling and grammar.

Chapter 9: Catherine’s Educational Policy

Society can be improved through education. Education was available to “everyone,” though it was fairly difficult for many serfs to go to schools or get permission from the landowners to go. Catherine and Betskoy were the main runners of the education reform. However, they made no general education rules for Russia. Betskoy was looking to form a ‘new kind of man’ through education systems and teaching basic manners and behaviors. (106) The Statute of National Schools was issued in August 1786, and decided to modernize education. The curriculum consisted of subjects such as math and history. One key element of the education policy was no corporal punishment.

Chapter 15: Catherine and the French Revolution

Most articles and stories published in Russia during the French Revolution tried to highlight the “seditious nature of events” and the violence occurring in France and to compare it to the Pugachev Revolt, yet readers were able to make sense of the actual facts (Madariaga 189). The French Revolution made Catherine the Great nervous about her own reign, and starting with Radishchev who wrote A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, she began persecution of intellectuals. He took advantage of Catherine the Great’s decree in 1789 that allowed individuals to have their own printing press. A Journey was able to be published in full because the Department of Public Morals may have “cut out substantial parts of it” when he submitted it, but the local police did not think to reread his submission in which he did not adhere to the Department’s editing (Riha 263). In A Journey, Radishchev touches on serfs’ situations, nobility’s greed, and the overwhelming inequal distribution of justice in society. He writes,

“Instead of encouraging such violence, which you regard as the source of the country’s wealth, direct your humane vengeance against this enemy of society. Destroy the tools of his agriculture, burn his barns, silos, and granaries, and scatter their ashes over the fields where he practiced his tortures; stigmatize him as a robber of the people…” (268-269).

Catherine the Great accused Radishchev of being “infected with the French mania” (Madariaga 195).      

 Catherine the Great started intellectual censorship with Radishchev, but then in 1792, she turned her attention to the freemasons who she also thought were influenced by the French Revolution to be revolutionary. Dr. J.G. Zimmermann had convinced her that “freemasonry lay at the root of the French Revolution,” and Catherine cracked down on the Moscow masons by sentencing Novikov to imprisonment (199). She set up the first formal system of censorship in 1796.


Why was Catherine the Great’s decree of January 15, 1783 so culturally important?

How did the foundling homes affect women?

What did Betskoy look for is his ‘new kind of man’? What kind of schooling did the men have to go through? Or what did the schooling focus on?
What does Catherine the Great’s policies on education illustrate about her values and the values of Russian society at the time?
Why would Catherine the Great leave out religion from her education program?

How did the French Revolution influence Russian culture?

How did Catherine the Great perceive its influence?

What made Radishchev and his work, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, so dangerous? Why did Catherine the Great write notes on the piece when she was fighting two wars?

Why did Catherine the Great fear masonic activity even if a significant proportion of masonic groups were not revolutionary? What did she do in response to her fears?

What do you attribute the shift from Catherine the Great’s younger reforms to the censorship of the later years of her reign?

Would you want to live in Catherine the Great’s society?

Westernizing through the razor

In Peter the Great by Lindsey Hughes, it states “and the razor eliminated the ancient fashion” (Page 53). Was Peter truly obsessed with westernizing Russia to get the smallest details, such as shaving beards, to be up to pair with Europe? Many of his men would abandon their clothes in exchange for European clothes while they traveled with Peter, but was Peter taking it too far? Hughes would later on state “It was of evil omen to make show of reluctance as the razor approached the chin”. These were small yet big actions, and Peter would consistently have people shave their beards on events such as Muscovite New Year.

The Drunk Assembly

Lindsey Hughes in “Russia in the Era of Peter the Great” spends a good bit of time discussing Peter’s “All Drunk Assembly” and “Mock Court”. Through discussing this we can see that Hughes lists a number of opinions of historians as well as her own for the reason that Peter created and continued these two bodies. These explanations begin on page 256 of “Russia in the Era of Peter the Great”. After reviewing these, why do you believe Peter created and continued to utilize these institutions? Was it as simple as trying to blow off steam or was there a deeper symbolic meaning behind these?

The Secret Speech Aftermath

To me it seems as though Khrushchev was abundantly clear in what he meant through the Secret Speech. He sought to bring to light the wrongdoings of Stalin as a leader and revert to the neo Leninist model. After the speech there was widespread confusion to how the general populous should respond. There were some that wanted nothing to do with the de-Stalinization movement while many others upon hearing the speech followed a philosophy of iconoclasm, or rejecting the Stalin’s various iconography. This included destroying or refusing to show portraits, statues and monuments of Stalin. To me, this effectively lines up with the intention of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech. However, the desecration of these artifacts led to a crackdown on the criminality of it. There was no real violence to these acts, they only appeared to be acts of vandalism. Making these sort of acts criminal seems to go against what Khrushchev wanted. I understand there was a widespread fear of anarchy from these actions but the question I pose is this: do you feel as though the fear of anarchy was enough to make these actions criminal? In addition to this, do you feel as though the destruction of Stalin iconography was what Khrushchev had in mind?

The Secret Speech and its Intentions

The Secret Speech was meant to sway public opinion into de-Stalinization; however, “it was an unmitigated disaster” (Jones 42). The speech was meant to slowly integrate into society, top-down, to transform the public idea of Stalin and his ‘cult’. Unfortunately, the speech dissemination was not slow, and it was met with distress, outrage, and shock. Jones writes, the speech dissemination “might have been intended to minimize disruption and controversy, but it in fact provoked frenzied speculation and frustration” (Jones 42). The way the speech was written was to invoke Leninist ideas while sharing the dark past of Stalin. I want to question why the authors wrote the speech in that way. Jones mentions that even the best speakers could get the speech wrong, claiming that different voice inflections could conjure a harsh reaction. Why did the authors of the Secret Speech write it in such a way to avoid as much confrontation as they could? In the speech, Nikita Khrushchev refers back to Lenin in many paragraphs to compare the two leaders and their ideologies. Why were Lenin’s ideals so important to mention in this speech? Lastly, the speech made its way into the public rapidly and caused anti-Stalinist reactions amongst the public. Was this what the writers of the speech were intending? Why or why not?

Discussion Leadership Questions – Kendyle and Ainsley

For class today, our questions cover a wide range of all three of the readings. First, looking at the Fitzpatrick reading, we would like to discuss the differences between populism, socialism, Marxism and the Social-Democratic leaders. After that, why is Karl Marx so important and what made Russian communism different from other countries? Next, on page 41, it states that the Marxist party “broke the rules” by seizing power from the socialists. Do you agree with them or do you think this could be seen as hypocritical? Why? Lastly, for the Fitzpatrick reading, in comparison to serfdom, did the conditions of the peasants improve in regards to the Red Army vs. White Army? That is, did the peasantry prefer the Red or White Army? Why? Then from the next reading, we talk about Lenin and what he believes in. First on page 372 we ask about on what you think are the reason that the people do not want to get into revolts? Is it because they are scared of the punishment that they will receive? Then we ask what is your opinion on Lenin’s question of wiping out a dozen wise men or a hundred fools? Do you believe Lenin is correct to use the “Dozen wise men” over “a hundred fools”? that he talked about on pages 376-377 Finally, for the reading Imperial Russia, we ask Do you guys believe that there cannot actually be no revolution movement if there is no revolutionary theory? Why or why not? For the final reading in the first question we cover a quote in Leon Trotsky’s piece. Therefore, what do you make of this quote: “Consequently, comrades, militarization of labor, in the root sense indicated by me, is not the invention of individual politicians or an invention of our War Department, but represents the inevitable method of organization and disciplining of labor-power during the period of transition from capitalism to Socialism…” What are your opinions on Leon Trotsky and his beliefs? What do you think his motivations are? And then finally with Trotsky, based on this speech, what do you think Trotsky’s views on terrorism are? Do you think he is an anarchist?

Trotsky on Terror and Militarization

Generally, in history “the great leaders” of revolutions have been revered for their military and violent conquests. This historic trend to label violent and victorious leaders as revolutionary is something we can see to be very prevalent in our own nation’s history. In Russian history, the same case can be argued and supported by individuals such as Trotsky. With Trotsky’s strategy of any “means” at all, including all out terror, to reach a certain end for a revolution a certain question arises about the nature of revolution itself. As seen by the efforts of Katherine The Great, violence does not necessarily have to be the way of facilitating social change. Does by nature a revolution have to imply some form of violence or terror on either side of the struggle? Does a leader who achieves victory through inhumane forms of violence deserve historical reverence? Who is the better leader, a calculating leader who converses about decisions or a militarized leader who will quite literally kill anyone who gets in their way?

Lenin’s concept of the Revolution

As stated in the document, “Why do the Russian workers still manifest little revolutionary activity in response to brutal treatment of the people by people… etc.?” (Lenin, 372) Do you agree with Lenin’s statement that “It is because the ‘economic struggle’ does not ‘stimulate’ them to this, because such activity does not ‘promise palpable results,’ because it produces little that is ‘positive’?” (Lenin, 372) Or what other reasons are possible that the people don’t want to start or participate in revolts? Or do you disagree with Lenin’s statements?

While reading this passage on page 372, I believe that the original quotation marks he used on certain words, such as “economic struggle” and “stimulate” were almost used in a sarcastic kind of way to urge the people to stop using the “economic struggle” as an excuse and to go out and start/ participate in the revolution(s). And with “stimulate” as well, to me seems as a “is this not goof enough for you the people.”