PRE-REVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF THE USSR
17 March 1952
Director of Instruction, ICAF
School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
Publication No. L52-116
INDUSTRIAL COLLEGE OF THE ARMED FORCES
Washington, D. C.
I have heard it said that the Slavs have great fertility and I got the idea that it had something to do with the fact that they originated from a very small beginning and were able to expand over the whole of central Russia, absorbing all the invaders and gaining strength as they went along. Is that right?
They must have had a biological beginning; but, according to the Russians now, their chief characteristic is inventive fertility. It is true that their biological fertility has been simply amazing.
They did doubtless begin in the area of the Pripet Marshes. We have two bases for saying that. The first is that the first time we hear of them in history they were there. The second is that the Slavic language has been investigated in its earliest forms by philologists. They find Slavic words for certain trees and not for other trees, words for certain animals and not other animals. By putting together the zones where those animals and trees are found, they narrow their origin down to a relatively small area in what is today Poland. So it is quite clear, I think, that the Slavic people began around Poland. They have spread amazingly, I think due to their biological fertility. Why they should be biologically fertile I won’t hazard a guess.
A book has just been published called “The Geography of Hunger,” by a man named DiCastro, in which he shows how the biological fertility rises when the standard of living is low, purely in terms of nutrition. That is, if you shift your diet to nutritive elements of more expensive character, your biological fertility goes down. How convincing that will be to anyone I don’t know. The conclusion is that if we are worried about the spread of the populations of Asia, what we should do apparently is to feed them with filet mignon.
You indicated that Dimitri and the two Ivans rose to power through technological progress and kicked the Mongols out of Russia. But couldn’t it be attributed more to the fact that, because of certain things, for instance, the church at Constantinople, they could have gone on into Russia?
Notice that at the beginning I said that all these unilateral explanations are quite inadequate. If we are going to explain why the Slavs were able to get rid of the Mongols, we must consider at least five different causations.
The Mongols were declining; there is no doubt about that. Probably under any conditions they would have had to withdraw. The Russians, as I say, had a western technology. Notice that the date is pretty early for western technology. It may well be that it was the Russian biological fertility, which we have just mentioned, that did it. I don’t know. There are many explanations and to explain the event we must line them all up.
I didn’t quite get your point about the church. Do you mean, the Byzantines could have swung upward into the Slavic zone?
Yes, the Byzantines and the Turks too. Why was it that the Turks went up the Danube rather than to the Slavs?
Well, the reason they didn’t go to the Slavic zone is that they were interested in establishing an exploitative system which would be financial. That is, they conquered peoples and put a lord over them and he extracted financial contributions from them. They could get much more by going up the Danube than by going up the Volga and those other rivers. That way they got into very rich territory in central Europe.
I was interested in the amount of weight that you gave to the economics of firearms in determining the kinds of government they had in Europe and in Russia. Today most of our mass weapons of destruction are in the hands of the government.
I didn’t want to go into the implications of that but I am glad that you see them. In other words, I have thought about that. I have a manuscript that is going to be published in a few years, in which I talk about the ways in which weapons influence forms of government. There are two categories of weapons: I call them amateur weapons and specialist weapons. Amateur weapons are cheap and cam be used with relatively little training. Specialist weapons are expensive and require considerable training to use.
We can make up a kind of cycle between those. Let us look, for example, at the last 3,000 years. There is a cycle which you find going on between authoritarian governments and democratic governments. There is a similar cycle between specialist weapons and amateur weapons. You will find that the two cycles form almost the same curve, except that one, the shift in forms of government, came a little later than the other, perhaps 100 years later. Now, because something is later than something else doesn’t mean that the earlier thing is the cause; but, I think definitely there is a correlation there.
You mentioned that under Alexander the First there was a Polish revolt and that it was put down under Nicholas. Then you indicated there was a combination of reform and oppression going through history. Would you say that through such combination the Polish developed this spirit of independence which has tended to pull them away from Russia?
No. The Poles had been independent of great powers much earlier than that. The Poles had been independent of the Russians; they always have been separate from the Russians. I don’t want you to gain the impression that the Poles were just hostile to the Russians. The Poles were Latin Christians. The Poles used the Latin alphabet and Roman architecture. In other words, all the things which I said the Slavs got from Byzantium the Poles did not get. The Poles got these same things--alphabet; architecture and so forth; religion, Latin Christianity--from the west coming across western Europe.
So the Poles and Russians have always been antithetical. It is not something that began in 1825; it occurred way back, when there was a great Polish state and Moscow was still a relatively small village.
You glossed over the effect of the Mongols on the Russians. Did they leave anything of importance with them?
Yes. I said they left what seems to me to be a centralized financial system and a centralized Judicial system, which were both centered on Moscow. Many of the techniques of financial exploitation and the militarization of Russia--all those things, it seems to me, and there are unquestionably others--were affected very powerfully by the Mongol domination.
I seem to recall having read that the Ukrainians were of Germanic origin. If that is so, I am surprised that they didn’t have a greater impact on Russian history.
No. I do not think that the Ukrainians--and I don’t want to fight with any nationalists on this issue, because, of course, it is one of the great issues with historians--are pure Germanic or pure Slavic people. They are very much mixed. For instance, there is a history of the Ukraine by Grushevsky, which has been translated into English, in which you read that the Ukrainians were always a great people; that all these things that the Russians claim to have invented were just copied, and in a very imperfect way, from the Ukrainians.
I think they are unquestionably Slavs but they are somewhat different from the Russians. The Slavs developed into many different people--like the Croatians, the Bohemians, and many others; but they are all Slavs. I think the reason that the Ukrainians could not contribute too much was because they were right at the western end of that highway from central Asia and they were being hampered constantly.
In a people like the Russians, who have developed from a history of oppression by the government, where they have developed an evasive nature, it seems to me that they could legitimately develop into a philosophy of opposition where an oppressive government would always be in great danger of revolution. Isn’t that so? That is the first question.
The second question is, how could a people with this philosophy ever understand, much less adopt, a philosophy which holds for a gradual and voluntary withering away of the state?
The second part of that I will take up right away. I don’t believe the state is withering away in Russia, and I don’t believe that any of the Russians who are studying Marxism are putting any emphasis on that. That is one aspect of Marxism which is not discussed among Marxists nowadays.
On the first question, as to whether I think there would be danger of revolt when there is oppression by the government of the people, you can either have an increased danger of revolt or you can have a decreased danger of revolt, depending upon how they regard the situation. If they had a hope of revolting successfully, it might lead to a revolt. But if they feel that a revolt is hopeless, they will lie down and be submissive, if they think they will get less blows if they are submissive.
What will influence that Judgment? I think that depends on a practical question: Can they overthrow the government? Among the Russians the answer to that question has pretty clearly been throughout their history that they cannot.
It is true that Russian governments have been overthrown. It is true that czars have been assassinated. But in most cases it was an inside job. Paul the First was killed while sleeping in bed by his chief adviser--things like that; they have been done by other people inside the government, not by people outside.
Here I might add one thing. There is a professor in this city, teaching a course in psychological warfare. Recently he made a speech about how we should begin to work with the Russian underground; that we should begin sending information to “encourage the freedom-loving Russian people to build them up to overthrow their government.”
My lecture this morning is in some ways an answer to that. Are these freedom-loving people? I don’t think so. That is, the fissure between the government and the people still exists, but it is not a fissure based upon a hope of revolt at all. As technology develops and weapons become better, the chances of a revolt by the masses against the government become less rather than better.
There has been considerable pressure exerted under the czarist governments and under the various Five-Year Plans to move population into Siberia; but the only success they have had is a very limited population in that area. Do you have any information as to whether the Russian Government has been able to populate that Siberian area?
I won’t touch on the Soviet period, because that is one of the things you are going to work on this week and there is information on that.
The movement eastward of the Russian people in the czarist period was largely separate and independent from, and was discouraged by, the government. The government tried to prevent it.
For example, the ordinary person in Russia under the czarist government generally was not allowed to move without an internal passport. There were police regulations and things of that kind against it. Nevertheless, the peasants did, in order to escape the pressures, flow eastward, and always faster than the government. The government only expanded its rule over these areas after the people had flowed out into them.
They never were numerous. It is true that they did not fill Asia or anything like it. But under the czarist period they had quite a different situation from that under the Soviet period. While under the Soviets they try to encourage this movement, under the czars generally up to 1865 they tried to discourage it.
We hear a great deal about the Russian mentality, about their logic not being the same as our logic. Is that due to the impact on the Russian mentality of the Mongol invasion, with their fatalism and ruthlessness?
I think on the whole that is quite true. But I think we can attribute that to their whole experience and not Just the Mongol invasion. The Mongol invasion unquestionably did assist in developing these characteristics.
At the beginning of your question you said there is a difference in psychology between us and the Russians. There is no doubt at all about that. There is also a difference between ourselves. It is merely a greater difference. They find it extremely difficult to look at the world the way we look at it, and we find it extremely difficult to look at the world the way they look at it. They do have powers of stoicism, patience, and so forth which we do not have; and those powers come from their whole long history, in which the Mongol invasion was only one principal factor.
Since Marxism is tied up so closely with industry, why should it have taken such a hold on the least industrialized country in Europe?
Merely because they were defeated in 1917 by the Germans. I think that is the answer, very bluntly. The Bolsheviks would never have come to power except that the czarist government was defeated in war by the Germans. They had failed as an autocracy and they had to be replaced.
The Russians first tried to replace the czarist government with a western liberal government. The Kerensky government was a parliamentary regime. It just wouldn’t function in Russia. The Russians did not have the point of view for it. They didn’t have the experience. just didn’t understand it.
They then took another western importation--Marxism. It wasn’t Russian but German. They did that because it was better fitted to their past experience of autocracy, totalitarianism, and so forth. I think that is the answer.
I think you said that you didn’t actually expect any revolt on the part of the Russian people. Could we expect any support from the Russian people if we invaded Russia? That is my first question. Second, I notice you speak in your outline about the election of Michael Romanoff in 1613. If it was a totalitarian government, what kind of election could they hold?
To your first question--I would say that I think we probably would get a certain amount of support. You remember, when the Germans first went into Russia, they went into the Ukraine, where there were dissident people anyway because they were Ukrainians rather than Russians. The Germans got a considerable amount of cooperation and undoubtedly would have gotten ranch more except for the brutal way in which they treated them, which led to a reaction. Then they had guerrillas all along their lines of communication, until the situation became almost hopeless. If we go into Russia in any way, I think we could expect a certain amount of collaboration, particularly if we treated them well. But it is not something I would advise trying.
As to the second question, I pointed out that since the Russian Government was private property in effect, there was no established method of inheritance. It was bequeathed and so forth. This election was an election by the landlords, largely. There was a considerable group of upper-class people who assembled to put in a czar or ruler after a time of disturbance.
Following up the question before the last, why didn’t Kerensky’s scheme work? You said it didn’t work. What was wrong with it?
There were several reasons. The first one would be that Kerensky had tried to continue the war with Germany and to maintain the existing land system. The Bolsheviks didn’t talk about
Marxism at all. They said, “Peace and land.” The Russian people wanted peace and land, so they took the Bolsheviks. Whether they got the peace and land I don’t know, but at least they got the Bolsheviks.
I think that the chief reason why Kerensky’s regime failed was because the Russians were not prepared for it. In the long run, even if Kerensky had given them peace and land, his regime would have had a very difficult time, because a parliamentary form of government requires considerable training. It requires a considerable amount of cooperation on the part of the participants, a willingness to work in accordance with the ground rules on both sides, with confidence of one in the other.
It is very much like a game of cricket. If you have a feeling that the ground rules should be lived up to, that you are not going to cheat your opponent, but will cooperate with him so the whole thing will function, the game will go on. If you have a parliamentary system, you must have ways in which you can appeal to the public opinion.
None of those things exist in Russia. The Russians are largely illiterate. You can’t appeal to public opinion. They couldn’t have had a functioning parliamentary system, because they didn’t know what a parliamentary system was. They didn’t have a two-party system. There was no way for the government to appeal to the masses or for the masses to appeal to the government. That was the real story of the failure.
On behalf of the student body and the faculty I thank you very much for an excellent condensation of some 1,900 years of history in 40 minutes.
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