Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Russian State Historically Separate from Impoverished Population, Yegorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Since even before the Mongol conquest, the Muscovite state has stood separate and apart from the population under its control and despotic toward that population because natural conditions did not allow the people to produce enough to supply the state’s needs and enrich themselves, according to Vladimir Yegorov.

            And that pattern has continued both institutionally and at the level of attitudes with the state viewing its interests as separate from the population and the population infected by “individual passivity, labor apathy and a lack of personal initiative,” the Moscow historian argues.

            (Yegorov makes his case in an article, “Civilizational Preconditions of the Political and Socio-Economic Evolution of Russia” (in Russian), Vestnik Moskovskogo gosudardstvennogo oblastnogo universiteta, 3 (2018) at; excerpted by Pavel Pryanikov at

“The socio-economic and political preconditions of the formation of the ancient Russian state were connected,” Yegorov says, “not with processes taking place within the Slavic community but with external factors.”  Those who emerged as rulers were outsiders interested in controlling the north-south trade routes and extracting resources from the population to do so.

As a result, the Norman rulers “could not bring the Slavs a higher culture or statehood” but instead formed an outsider state which promoted “the synthesis of the arrivals and the aboriginal population, the Slavs and the Finno-Ugrics,” the historian suggests, leaving a situation with two parallel worlds, the increasingly powerful Muscovite state and an impoverished people.

Princelings outside of Moscow could not extract sufficient wealth from the population to supply the center with its needs and build up their own position, he says. As a result, they sank to the level of agents of the center, further dividing the rulers and the ruled.  And that had two fateful and continuing consequences.

On the one hand, “the state from the moment of its appearance significantly distanced itself from the interests” of the population. And on the other, given the absence of social differentiation, reflecting the poverty of the population, “the single basis of the state could only be military” in its essential features, gradually suppressing any autonomous democratism.

The Mongol conquest intensified these processes, further suppressing any social advancement and guaranteeing the victory of the state over society, Yegorov continues.  “The distancing of the princely-druzhiniki power significantly increased,” and the state became increasingly “despotic” and committed to extracting resources from the people.

Had the climatic conditions been better in Russia, the peasantry would have been able to acquire some wealth on its own and that would have allowed regional powers to develop. But as Helene Carriere d’Encausse points out, “nowhere in Europe was agriculture over the centuries so unproductive and insufficient as in Russia, despite the enormous size of the country.”

As a result, Yegorov says, “the main consequences of the Tatar-Mongol conquest became the institutionalization of the centralization of the political system and the formation of the despotic character of state power, the interests of which extended throughout the course of all succeeding history.” The state, not society, in short became central.

These patterns continued, the historian argues, even when the Golden Horde was defeated and the Russian Empire continued. As before, the population was increasingly poor, and the state organized itself to extract from the people as much as it possibly could. Thus, there was less change than many have assumed.

            And those patterns have continued despite all the changes in names of the country or its institutions since that time. 

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