The Polish Rebellions of 1830 and 1863 By Ainsley and Kendyle

The Polish Rebellions of 1830 and 1863 were in the name of independence from Russian rule, and ultimately ended with intense Russification of the Kingdom of Poland. In addition to this, each of the Polish rebels faced difficulty in gathering their own troops, rallying military support, and above all, an oppressive regime which ultimately destroyed them. These rebellions were significant to Russian history because it shows the progression of the people’s anger towards Russia, and could be an indication of the inevitable overthrowing of the government and monarchy.

In the November Uprising, the rebels of the Kingdom of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine united against Russian troops in an attempt to gain rights and autonomy. It began with an uprising in Warsaw on November 29th, 1830, with an attempt on the emperor’s brother’s life being unsuccessful overall but the rebels gaining weaponry. However, the insurgents did not necessarily have any type of strategy, with no unity or decisive leadership. Because of this, higher political figures took power and the rebels ultimately lost the uprising against the Russians because their cause was lost in the struggle of power and against the outrageous numbers of the Russian army, causing them to lose hope and surrender.

A little over 30 years later, the January Uprising of 1863 occurred under the rule of Alexander II, a leader who originally wanted to give the Polish people autonomy and rights under Russian rule, but was forced to put down the insurrection. Although this ruler was much more relaxed in terms of laws in comparison to Nicholas I, there were still conspirators who despised Russia. The rebels in this uprising included Poland, Lithuania, and the Belorussia territories, along with some Prussian and Austrian volunteers; they waged around 1,200 battles against the Russian troops, engaging in guerrilla warfare among the more poorly trained men. But what the rebels wanted most was backup from foreign powers. At this time, England and France were protesting against the tsar, but they would not loan their military; in the Treaty of Vienna, it was agreed upon that Poland was to gain rights and its autonomy after the insurrection ceased. However, the rebellion ended with its leaders either fleeing or suffering execution and the rebel countries receiving even harsher Russification than they had before, which included the forbidden use of anything Polish.

In conclusion, the Polish Rebellions of 1830 and 1863 may have ultimately been unsuccessful, but were significant in the Russification of the Polish people, as well as establishing which countries could potentially be a great power. Therefore, the Polish Rebellions are important in terms of World War I, as many battles were fought over Polish land, as well as Hitler’s obsession with Poland being “lebensraum” or the perfect living space. All in all, the Poles and Russians were not the only ones who desired the land, which would be fought over for decades. These rebellions, while small and short-lasting, show a lack of caring for the people in terms of the government, as well as the people’s longstanding indignation with them, and it set up the stage for decades more of similar causes.



A Conscripted Army of the “Damaged”

One topic that was explored in Garrels’ book Putin Country that I would like to explore further in a discussion post is the relationship between Russian citizens and the military. Garrels points out that Russia’s military is still conscripted, meaning that there is a draft in place. While students may be apathetic towards politics, they surely are not apathetic towards the military, “Kids at Lyceum 31 were adamant that no one wants to go into the military, calling it ‘a waste of time’” (Garrels 110). She explains that this idea is cultivated early on with parents actively working to get their kids deferments and higher education being an incentive to dodge the draft. This relates to the military being so unpopular. Garrels uncovers some of the reasons why the Russian military is avoided. She claims that the military has an image of fighting “bad” wars, starting with Afghanistan and continuing into the Chechen wars (111). Stories and reports of ill-equipped soldiers who were sent into battle without proper care of their bodies or possessions. Furthermore, corruption runs rampant in the military as dedovshchina (military hazing), torture, and sexual abuse are common practices. Garrels claims that the Russian military “regularly has twenty percent fewer recruits than it needs” (110). As a result, the military is forced to conscript citizens who are in prison, “mentally unstable,” “suffered from alcohol and drug abuse,” or were “malnourished” (110). In a sense, Russia has a damaged conscripted army.

When reading this section, I could not help but think of the parallels with the American military. There was a similar relationship between citizens and the draft during the American War in Vietnam. Most people of privilege who could afford to go to college or dodge the draft was saved from fighting the unpopular war. This left the burden on many working-class citizens. Due to the drafts unpopularity, the military moved to an All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973. However, due to economic incentives to get people to enlist, the military continued to disproportionately target lower-income minorities to fight America’s war. This led Noam Chomsky to famously claim that the AVF is a “mercenary army of the poor.” Today, America’s military continues to fight against that distinction. But understanding how a nation’s citizens relate to its military is crucial in identifying social relationships. As Russia continues on a path nationalistic fervor, a strong military presence comes hand in hand. But what if no one wants to fight? 

A Few Discussion Questions to Consider

Does this distinction of a damaged military make the Russian military seem “weak”? 

Why do you think that the government does not intervene in the abuses of the military? Does the government have control of the institution, or is it an independent, outside institution?

What do you think will happen if the Russian government gets rid of the draft and moves to an All-Volunteer Force like the United States? 

And finally, in comparing the development of the American military to the qualities of the Russian military, is the military as an institution just an unpopular idea in the 21st century?

Discussion Questions 3/30/20

As mentioned by Erik, it has been discussed in class how Peter the Great’s era was a time of great social and political change. This unit, the focus of analysis comes to the degree at which Peter also affected the culture of Russia during his reign. Peter as leader realized that the world around him was changing, modernizing so to speak, and because of that the art/architecture/literature reflected that. Peter also added his own influence to the changes that were being made at the time and as historians it is our job to distinguish the two. Not only does this area of focus pertain specifically to Peter and Russian culture, but as well as the essential questions of what makes a cultural revolution in a particular society. Please consider the following questions in relation to this post:

  1. Similar to Erik’s question and the claim made by Cracraft, however my question takes a more fundamental approach. Instead of asking the validity behind the claim of Peter’s cultural revolution being at the “base” of all of his others- I am asking if it is possible for any form of revolution to take place without automatically and simultaneously ensuing all other forms of revolution? To more plainly put, the question becomes could Peter have still separately concluded is societal and political revolutions without naturally ensuing a cultural revolution as well? How does this thought process and question apply to the idea of “revolution” generally?
  2. Peter’s cultural era was known for its way of removing or replacing certain types of iconography or symbolism that had been associated with a previous era or culture. Historically and in terms of ethics, was this practice efficient? Is it the “morally” right thing to do to remove art in order impose one’s own definitions of what art is? Similar to the way historical narrative can be rewritten either by the victor or by some discovery down the road, does the manipulation of art/cultural narrative in real time equate to that of altering a historical event’s narrative as a whole?
  3. It is also very important to note that Peter did not just influence art and literature but also architecture as well. Even before the time of Peter, Russian architecture had its own distinct style. For the case of this unit the question becomes what were the super-imposing features of Petrine Architecture? At first glance, what does this form and style psychologically instill for a viewer? Feelings of intimidation, reverence, or welcoming perhaps? Could parallels between Peter’s style of rule and this style of architecture be made?
  4. Dr. Goldman in her slide show displayed the vast differences between Peter’s “Little House” and The Winter Palace that he would later move into. This momentous shift in size and architecture of his domicile obviously reveals something about his want to change Russian culture in this way. However, what can this transition reveal to us as historians about Peter’s life at this time? Were there any other distinct and large changes in Russian culture at the same time as this? Could it be argued that there was one distinct event/encounter that would lead to the way Peter shaped Russian culture? And for fun, where would you want to live- “Little House” or Winter Palace?

Peter’s Cultural Revolutions: Redefining Russia

As we have learned, Peter the Great’s Revolutions were expansive and grand. His revolutions of Russian culture were no different. Peter made vast changes to the Russian culture, Europeanizing and Secularizing Russian art, architecture, and language. While some changes were practical in the sense of “modernizing” Russia, other changes were made for the likeness and personality of Peter the Great. Overall, Peter redefined the “look” of Russia. According to Hughes, Western images and ideas described Russia with words like “exoticism” and “otherness” (54). Peter sought to change this perception. By changing the way Russia “looked,” with respect to its buildings, language, and art, Peter was revolutionizing Russia. Please consider the following discussion questions. Due to the inconvenience of remote learning, it was easier for John and I to make two separate posts. Please review both of our posts and questions. Thank You!

Discussion Questions

  1. On page 75, Cracraft makes the claim, “A cultural revolution thus underlay and ultimately linked up all of Peter’s revolutionary projects…” (75). Recall the political and social revolutions of Peter the Great. Is Cracraft true in saying that Peter’s cultural revolutions (the architectural, visual, and verbal) are the foundation of his other revolutions? Could Peter’s political and social revolutions survive without a change to culture? Consider one of many cultural revolutions that Cracraft details in Chapter 4. Is there a connection with this change, whether explicit or implicit, to other changes that Peter enacted in Russia?
  2. In Chapter 6, Cracraft details the development of St. Petersburg. He includes Pushkin’s description of St. Petersburg, calling it the “Window on the West” (155). What does this description mean? What does this tell us as to why Peter the Great relocated to St. Petersburg. Cracraft later critiques this descriptor of St. Petersburg as “too passive” (155). Do you agree with his critique? Why or why not?
  3. View the portraits of Tsar Alexei and Peter the Great, as showed in Hughes’ secondary source. Recall that “the only surviving dated image of Aleksei to be signed by an artist appears in the lower left-hand corner of an icon, The Tree of the Muscovite Realm (1668), by the court icon-painter Simon Ushakov” (Hughes 53). Peter’s portrait was an oil painting by Dutch painter, Carel Moore. What do the differences in artists tell us about Peter’s visual revolution? Peter’s lack of Orthodox iconography in his portrait is significant. Do you have to remove certain cultural aspects in order to establish a cultural revolution?
  4. The final question deals with the images and video of the Grand Peterhof Palace. What was your original reaction to the images and video? How does the background music in the video add (subtract) to (from) your reaction? Compare your reaction of the Grand Peterhof Palace to the pictures of slides 3-5 in Dr. Goldman’s slideshow. How do you make sense of the websites’ presentations of the Grand Peterhof Palace with Peter’s development of St. Petersburg?

Rasputin’s Revolutionary Spark by Blake and Casey

When researching and discussing Grigori Rasputin, it quickly becomes clear that his presence in the Russian court took the Russian monarchy down a path for destruction. It is incredibly intriguing that a Siberian peasent was able to hold the ear of Russia’s most powerful family.

However, it is important to note that by the time Nicholas II came to the throne absolute monarchy was not the way it had been before. The monarchy was weak, especially once the Duma was put in place- which is essentially a constitution. Moreover, the question of a male heir was a huge conflict within the Romanov household, as Alexandra, the tsarina, did give birth to a boy but he was ill for his whole life. With the weak foundation of the monarchy, a desperate mother let a suspicious man in to the court in order to save her son.



Tolstoy’s Pacifist Philosophies

Our placement of Leo Tolstoy will rely heavily on a section of his 1884 book, What I Believe, in which Tolstoy outlined his personal interpretation of Christian theology.
Was Leo Tolstoy an absolute pacifist or a contingent pacifist? Without a doubt, Leo Tolstoy was an absolute pacifist. Take this quote from What I Believe, “The whole organization of our lives, the complicated mechanism of our institutions, whose sole object is violence, are but proofs of the degree to which violence is repugnant to human nature. No judge will ever undertake to strangle with his own hands the man whom he has condemned to death… Not a single general, not a single soldier, would kill hundreds of Turks or Germans, and devastate their villages – no, not one of them would consent to wound a single man, were it not in war, and in obedience to discipline and the oath of allegiance.” Within this quote, Leo Tolstoy laid out the insincerity of society’s violence and how society tricks individuals to go against their own nature and conduct destructive acts against others. Tolstoy pointed out that all violence is against human nature, thus placing him into the camp of absolute pacifism.
Would have Leo Tolstoy been a maximal pacifist or a minimal pacifist? Once again Tolstoy would have sided with the extreme form of pacifism, maximal. And again What I Believe offers proof of Tolstoy’s maximal ideals, “Who will deny that it is repugnant and harrowing to a man’s feelings to torture or kill, not only a man, but also even a dog, a hen, or a calf? I have known men, living by agricultural labor, who have ceased entirely to eat meat only because they had to kill their own cattle. And yet our lives are so organized that for one individual to obtain any advantage in life another must suffer, which is against human nature.” Not only did Tolstoy reject all violence onto other humans, he also rejected violence against animals as well. Tolstoy would have supported the maximal approach to pacifism.



The Sixth World Festival (1957) by Liam Sullivan and Chase Weiland

The Iron Curtain developed through 40 years of harsh communist leadership. It blocked the world from viewing what was happening during Stalin’s reign. The 6th world festival for youth and students was an opportunity for eyes around the world to view not only Russia but how a communist nation could function. This short broadcast gives a thorough overview of the festival and its historical significance in Russian and World history. This report is based on primary and secondary sources as well as the information provided by Russian Historian, Natasha Comerford.


British Pathe. “Closing Of The Sixth World Youth Festival (1957)” YouTube video, 3:12. April 13, 2014.

Cash, Tony. “Moscow Summer Nights: Impressions of the 1957 International Youth Festival.” East-West Review: Journal of Great Britain-Russia 14, no 1 (2015): 13-16.

Egorov, Boris. “How the Soviet Union Discovered Jeans and Rock-n-Roll.” Russia Beyond, 28 July 2019, Editors. “Nikita Khrushchev.” A&E Television Networks, November 9, 2009.

Ilic, Melanie, and Jeremy Smith. Soviet State and Society Under Nikita Khrushchev. Routledge, 2009.

Jeffery-Wall, Rowan. “Cracks in the Curtain: The 1957 Moscow Youth Festival.” Explorations in History, 9 May 2018,

Ludolph, Emily. “How Folk Rock Helped Crack the Iron Curtain.” The Week – All You Need to   Know About Everything That Matters, The Week, 4 Nov. 2017,
Our Video:

Soviet Rock and Roll

By Erik Blasic, Lauren Griswold, and Kate Sullivan

Imported from the West and combined with traditional folk and bard music, Soviet Rock and Roll demonstrates the emergence of a new generation that infused foreign with long-established artistry. The Iron Curtain and censorship attempted to keep any form of rock music out of the Soviet Union because Soviet officials feared the ability of rock to unravel communist ideals through its energy and messages embedded in its lyrics. These fears were unfounded in actual practice, but officials were still worried and wanted to protect their carefully produced propaganda machine. Soviet Rock and Roll was started through people listening to western rock and roll from records that were smuggled over or radio stations that were broadcast over the political barrier which illustrates how technology really helped Soviets to listen to rock and roll. To copy these records, people would imprint the recordings on used x-rays and share them around. Small rock and roll communities emerged, and Soviet artists began to experiment for themselves with producing their own music. These artists could not gain as much as a following as their Western counterparts because they had to stay underground, yet their music still carried messages of change. In our project, we wanted to present different bands and the reactions of “judges” to the music, lyrics, and “tusovka.”


Important Announcements for Going Online!

  • Every week, you must respond to two lessons. Check the Plague Syllabus for details! Remember that your posts are due each week by Friday at 5pm.
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  • You do not need to respond to all of the questions I ask! You can focus on the one that interests you most.
  • You can rent an eBook version of David Saunders’ Russia in the Age of Reaction and Reform for free! Go to . Scroll down and click on “Access Free eBooks.” Then use the search bar to find the book.
  • As you start working on your final papers, remember to read carefully through the HIS 315 Writing Handout and other resources, which you can find here.

Help Wanted: Red Experts

After the end of the Russian Civil War, Communist dominance reigned throughout the Soviet Union. But in order to establish a true dictatorship of the proletariat, Soviet leaders to revolutionize Soviet society, particularly with work in the fields and in industrial centers. Since most of Communist membership came from the working class, they were not considered “experts.” As a result, the Soviet Union industrialized with the intelligentsia basically still in control of the means of production. In order to make this a true dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers (“reds”) needed to replace the “experts.” As explained by Fitzpatrick, “By using the word ‘intelligentsia’ for the administrative and specialist elite, Stalin was able to articulate a principle that had long guided Bolshevik practice – that the Soviet regime, like any other, needed its own elite, and that this elite should be recruited primarily from the working class” (155). However, Stalin carried this out by purging Old Bolsheviks and the elites.

Similarly, in the agrarian sectors of the Soviet Union, Pasha Angelina describes how she was able to become an expert. With the kulaks (rich peasants) how the means of production on farms, Pasha took part in Stalin’s campaign in dekulakization, “Dekulakize the rich. Take their land and implements away from them. Use those things to start the kolkhoz. Start the kolkhoz come what may, even if there are only seven of you!” (Angelina 311). In order to gain the means of production, the “reds” and to eliminate the “experts,” effectively becoming their own “Red Experts.”

As we then read in Ekaterina Olitskaia’s recount, the elimination of experts and party members to create a Soviet society of Red Experts was brutal. In order to fully create a Soviet society, was eliminating the intelligentsia, kulaks, and Old Bolsheviks necessary? Could there be a truly successful Soviet Union without integrating Communist ideals into society? Do you see Angelina and other Red Experts as heroes or opportunists?