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LJ Idol IX - 23. The Fiction of the Fix (~1100 words)

Understanding when a revolutionary situation has developed is easy, or at least it is so according to our textbook definition thereof: the situation is revolutionary when "those who are high up cannot rule in the old ways anymore, and those who are far down won't live in the old ways anymore". If this is the case, and if the masses "have nothing to loose but their chains", the pressure builds, and it builds, and it builds until - BOOM! - it explodes, nobody knows what is happening anymore, rivers of blood are spilled, and then in a few decades if you are lucky, and in a century or more if you are not, you have new order in your land.


But what of the reverse, when well-meaning (or arrogant and self-assured) rulers wish changes upon their unwilling and often unsuspecting subjects? Things get interesting then as well.

Take Peter the Great for example, the famous Russian Tsar who had "hewed a window into Europe" and dragged Russia kicking and screaming into more modern times, or his view of them. His deeds are well known: renovated the army, built fleet from scratch, opened schools that admitted everyone regardless of birth, modified the judgment system and the internal government, defeated Sweden, a powerful foe, regaining some of the long-occupied lands, improved diplomatic relations with many countries, built towns, did not distinguish between noblemen and those of low birth and used and all promoted people that showed ability, willingness and loyalty...

But change is not easy, and interesting times are often a curse.

Imagine. You are a nobleman and count you line from the descendants of Rurik, the first prince of Rus'. You are proud of your heritage, your family and your hereditary place in the Tsar's court. Your long beard treated with precious oils shows you as a distinguished and wise elder, you floor-length coats of rich materials decorated with furs, precious metal threads and jewels worn to court in layers one on top of the other demonstate your wealth, your gravitas marks your ability to think deep and aid your Tsar in making important decisions.

And now this, this upstart of a Tsar makes demands on you that are ludicrous, unheard of. He orders you to change everything that you are. He arms court jesters with shearing scissors and lets them humiliate you, cutting the tails of your priceless coats, mutilating your beard. He elevates breedless scoundrels and sidelines your peers. He empties your coffers with endless taxes. He has no dignity, and nor do his favourites. His mottos are "tomorrow is too late", and "you suffer learning on the fly, but you will do it in the end"!

Imagine. You are a man of God, you have dedicated your life to serving Him, you have left idle hurry behind. But one day by royal decree your monastery is disbanded, its lands are confiscated, and you, you are not even allowed to become a wondering friar but sent to dig ditches in a swamp (what do you care for the future paradise of St Petersburg if you die of fever before the year is out?), or to build ships in the middle of a forest (are you going to be one of the hundreds that die dragging them over dry land to sea?), or made a soldier, not even an army priest.

Imagine. You are a peasant and you have five mouths to feed besides your own, but your land (if you and yours are even free and own any, and are not all owned by a nobleman, by a barin, instead) is poor and exhausted. And a new tax is announced, the chimney tax: everyone who owns a stove is affected. And the next day, a cross-kissing (when he swore loyalty to the crown) tax collector arrives, crowbar under his arm, and he threatens to break down your stove, the only provider of food and warmth during the cold long winters, the stove your children are cowering upon, if you do not pay the debt right-this-instant.

And people rebelled. And people pretended to comply, but clung to traditions with the skin of their teeth.

Sometimes, it was humorous, like this scene from a children's book describing early morning in a nobleman's house.

- Pet'ka, what's the stench?

- Kofey (coffee) is brewing, as per Tsar's decree, barin.

The barin spits bitterly into the chamber pot, stretches and scratches, accepting a cup of pickle brine from his peasant boy Pet'ka to help with the headache from last night's revelry (another royal decree, enforced by the Tsar's presence. The Tsar loves visiting his loyal subjects, all the court in tow).

He then gets up slowly, rubbing a disgusted hand over his naked chin which only last year proudly sprouted years' worth of beard, and puts on a dressing gown before entering the saloon (foreign word, blast it), where he hastily averts his eyes from the beastly image of a half-naked woman (curse another decree, curse the temptation).

And so each day begins.

Sometimes, humorous it was not at all.

Peter's eldest son Alexey was born to his first wife, Evdokia Lopukhina, a noble woman poor in money yet rich in family history. Alexey's tutors when he was young came from families close to his mother and her "old" way of thinking. With a father more absent on important state business than present at home, the entourage formed the heir into its image. The young tsarevich may have worn "German" clothes, he may have always shaved his cheeks and married a German princess (on his father's insistence), but he was of the "old" ways at heart, he later hated the changes his father was working, and avoided the duties his sire tried to rope him into.

With no overt support to be gained in his own country, not under the powerful and ruthless Peter's nose, Alexey ended up snapping under the pressure, deserting and fleeing abroad. He was then recovered, returned, jailed and judged for treason, and finally tortured. He died shortly after in his cell, and the rumours were he was murdered to clear the way for his younger brother to be the heir, despite an earlier abdication.

Change coming from top toward the bottom, if the bottom is not ready, takes time, persistence, power, ruthlessness and disregard of too many people to count. It never is what it seemed in the beginning and comes at a heavy price.


( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 2nd, 2014 10:41 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

Please do not look for exact true historical data in this entry. What is said here is true in spirit to what I have read about the era in numerous books, but I might have some of the those facts wrong, or extemporaneous.

Influences of note: Aleksander Volkov's "Two Brothers" and Aleksey Tolstoy's "Peter the First".
Oct. 3rd, 2014 12:00 pm (UTC)
This was very insightful and well done. Good job.
Oct. 3rd, 2014 12:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Oct. 3rd, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
this is completely fascinating. pretty much all that americans learn about peter the great in school is that he dragged russia kicking and screaming into the modern world, made st petersburg a more european city, and cut off everyone's beards. we don't learn a whole lot about how the russians felt. interesting to look at his reign as an example of good intentions but bad execution.

Edited at 2014-10-03 03:28 pm (UTC)
Oct. 4th, 2014 01:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, from the modern point of view, the loss of a beard is not really a big deal (unless it is someone who has always worn one), but for those people it was a sign of manhood first, because a hairless face is the one of a child, and who would want to marry a child or take him seriously?

I am currently in a weird headspace where I feel that change is necessary but fear it. So other ordinary people's reactions in such situations fascinate me.

Thank you :)
Oct. 3rd, 2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
The details on the idealistic goals (equality! Educate everyone!) vs. how other choices affected individuals (including taxes on those with no money, to help them pay for grand ideas) really shows how good and bad can be mixed in a person and his choices... and how sometimes, they do not balance enough for others to tolerate.

I expected to see the
Oct. 4th, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
Your comment got cut off in the middle.

And yes, it is fascinating to be able to look at both sides of the coin. Even though seeing its underside makes you wary of change...
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - Oct. 4th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 4th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
It sounds like Peter had one or two respectable ideals, but no regard for their impact on his citizenry, and a fair bit of power-drunk insanity. Sometimes I feel like we are only a decade or two from a revolution here, if we even make it that far. It's important to know where you've come from.
Oct. 4th, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
Well, he certainly thought that everyone should just get in line with him (and why the hell are they resisting if he knows what way of life is better?)

Thank you for reading and taking time to comment :)
Oct. 4th, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
Revolution... either top down or bottom up... are nasty, unpleasant affairs.

I like how you discussed it.
Oct. 4th, 2014 04:43 pm (UTC)
They are. I keep fearing we are going live to see one at the same time I keep hoping it's going to happen. :/

Thank you.
Oct. 4th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this, it was a nice mix of the historical and the personal. I had forgotten that the eldest son ran away, was captured, imprisoned, and probably killed. Sad that a man with such vision could fail his family so completely.

Oct. 4th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
We will never know, but probably the time run away from Peter. He was not that old when Aleksey was born, either, 18 years old. Which was of course older than then it is considered now, but he was still pretty young.

Thank you.
Oct. 4th, 2014 05:22 pm (UTC)
Interesting take in the topic! AW
Oct. 4th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Oct. 4th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
This is a fascinating bit of history. Any revolution when seen from individual view points is likely to be difficult, even if it gives you things you want.
Oct. 5th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Oct. 4th, 2014 09:42 pm (UTC)
I like the opposing view that you portray here. The glimpses of Peter the Great that I've seen always emphasized the modernization of his people.
Oct. 5th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
They generally do that. But there was a great price to pay, as well.

Thank you. :)
Oct. 5th, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
Fascinating tale that both serves the topic well and taught me a lot of history with which I was unfamiliar.
Oct. 5th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
I am glad I managed to do both. Thank you :)
Oct. 5th, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
I was just reading Poul Anderson's Mother of Kings where he describes how some of the early Norse kings tried to drag Norway into Christianity and how well it didn't go. It's the same thing you point out here: revolution only really works when the majority of people are willing to change. Charging headlong into it without making sure you've got support is a great way to fail.
Oct. 30th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Now that I think about it, what you say about the Norse was also true about some of the "barbarian" Siberian tribes here. They were encouraged to join the Christian church through a payment of some amount of money, but many got baptized several time over to get it, and still remained true to the old gods. :-)
Oct. 6th, 2014 12:21 am (UTC)
Wow, what a complicated time. He would have done better to change things more slowly, and let people catch up.
Oct. 6th, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC)
But if he did that, the change would've lasted more than his lifetime, and who knows what the successors would have done.

There is a story about that, too, whether true or not. Both his sons died before him, and even though daughters could inherit, he also made it so he could name the next emperor. But as he lie dying he only had time to scribble "Give everything to..." Sounds very fanciful, but who knows where we would've been if he had a little more strength. :)
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Oct. 7th, 2014 05:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 6th, 2014 08:23 am (UTC)
I love reading your narratives about Russian history and politics. For most of my formidable years, much of it was kept away from history classes and the like. Well done.
Oct. 30th, 2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

And I understand your feelings. Even in a subject as important to our history as WWII, there are enormous white spots in what is taught in our schools. There is a Brit (I believe) on Twitter who does a day-by-day posting of facts and events, and while they cannot reconstruct the atmosphere of events in countries other than their own, the scope of it and the all the countries and events they keep bringing up are astounding and frightening. (I only was really aware of what was happening in 'continental' Europe, and new next to nothing about Japan's, China's, Australian, etc involvement.)
Oct. 6th, 2014 02:15 pm (UTC)
Strong envision of those ancient times, and a very good examination of the concept of revolutions, why they happen and how people are affected. Are we on the verge of another??
Oct. 6th, 2014 02:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

As for our country, we need one, but are nowhere near ready for it (I mean that there is no such feeling in the air. It's difficult to explain, but maybe you have also felt 'it' during the times of deep sorrow or strong joy). Also, the idea of living through it terrifies me...

Edited at 2014-10-06 02:25 pm (UTC)
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