Russia's First Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty / Edition 1 available in Hardcover
- Pub. Date:
- Penn State University Press
The Time of Troubles was a period of great upheaval in Russian history. It began when the ancient ruling dynasty died out in 1598 and Boris Godunov defeated rival boyars to become the tsar. For more than a decade thereafter, Russia was plagued by dynastic struggle, devastating famine, widespread uprisings, and invasion by Polish and Swedish armies. The Time of Troubles finally ended in 1613 with the establishment of the Romanovs as the ruling dynasty. Russia's state crisis had been so severe that it nearly destroyed the country and seriously delayed its emergence as a great power. Ever since then the Time of Troubles has occupied a unique place in Russia's collective memory.
Russia's First Civil War is the first major post-Marxist reassessment of the Time of Troubles and the first detailed study of that tragic era in English. Historians have long misinterpreted popular uprisings during the Times of Troubles as the first social revolution of the Russian masses against serfdom. Dunning overturns this view and demonstrates that at the heart of the "Troubles" was a long and extremely violent civil war that divided Russian society vertically instead of horizontally. He shows that serfs did not actively participate in the civil war and that the abolition of serfdom was never a rebel goal. Instead, most rebels were petty gentry, professional soldiers, townsmen, and cossacks who were united in fierce opposition to tsars they believed to be illegitimate usurpers.
Based upon exhaustive research, Russia's First Civil War is a masterful mix of social and military history, firmly placing the Time of Troubles in the context of the waves of wars and rebellions that swept through early modern Europe and Asia.
|Publisher:||Penn State University Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.78(d)|
About the Author
Chester S. L. Dunning is Associate Professor of History at Texas A&M University. He is editor and translator of The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Muscovy by Jacques Margeret (1983).
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A Comparative Approach to the Problem of Origins of the Civil War
Russia's first Civil war (1604-5, 1606-12) was extraordinarily complex and presents scholars seeking to explore its nature and causes with some serious challenges. Fortunately, it turns out to be extremely useful simply to focus on those ways in which Russia's experience was similar to other early modern state crises, rebellions, and civil wars. A comparative approach to the problem of origins of those traumatic events can shed considerable light on the material forces that destabilized many early modern agrarian-based monarchies and helped push them into crisis. In fact, comparative historians have produced some important generalizations that apply directly to the Russian case.
Russia's first civil war was in many ways similar to other civil wars of the early modern period. Of all the forms of early modern collective violence, civil wars were notable for plunging states into the lengthiest and most severe conflicts, for splitting the traditional political order most deeply, and for producing rebel forces capable of defying or defeating temporarily even the most powerful monarchies. Social participation in them was very broad, involving to some extent all social strata and at least enough elite participation to signify serious defection from the regime. Political and geographic space occupied by the rebels resulted in conflict in many parts of the state, not in just one region. Goals and targets of the insurrectionists often revealed a massive societal reaction to the growth of state power and the burdens it imposed on its subject. There was usually a high degree of organization among rebel forces, with leadership and mobilization being national in scale. Early modern civil wars generally produced broad movements creating well-developed ideologies and political and military organizations to facilitate resistance. They were long-lasting primarily because of the participation of a significant percentage of the elite, who provided essential political and social leadership capable of legitimizing revolt and drawing the masses into rebellion against royal authority. In fact, the strength of early modern civil wars was significantly enhanced by the absence of radical demands for alteration of the social structure or for significant redistribution of power and wealth. Early modern civil wars often included strong elements of both agrarian and urban rebellion, which were usually characterized by cooperation among social groups against an unpopular regime rather than by class antagonism and were provoked by conjunctures of circumstances rather than simply by social inequality. Early modern civil wars also often included, grew out of, and were profoundly affected by provincial rebellionsuprisings in newly acquired territories not yet fully integrated into the state structure. Provincial rebellions themselves were usually characterized by broad social participation, including local elites in leadership roles, and by fierce resistance to the growth and intrusion of state power in the region that violated traditional liberties and customary lifestyles.
Equally complex were the causes of early modern civil wars. Comparative study of those popular upheavals quickly yields the insight that no monocausal explanation is satisfactory and that it may be impossible to develop a general causal theory for such complex phenomena in which so many major and minor variables are at work. Instead, a multicausal explanation is called for. Several different factors operated simultaneously and sometimes synergistically to increase the likelihood of revolt or revolution, and the tabulation of a number of these factors may be the only way to explain complex early modern upheavals.
It turns out that many of the tasks and dilemmas facing post-Marxist historians of the Time of Troubles are, not surprisingly, the same as those facing revisionist scholars studying early modern Western revolutions. There is currently a certain degree of disarray in the historiography of the French and English Revolutions produced by the decline of traditional interpretations that focused on long-term social, economic, and structural processes and that emphasized the primacy of "absolutism," capitalism, and class conflict as explanatory factors. Revisionist scholars studying those early modern revolutions now emphasize such things as short-term causes, historical contingencies, ideas, belief systems, and other unique social, cultural, and institutional characteristics of each country. Similar approaches can help us understand some of the causes of Russia's first civil war. For example, historians have long focused on the dynastic crisis produced by the death of Tsar Fedor in 1598 as a principal cause of the Time of Troubles. That crisis sharpened the split within the ruling elite and contributed to the pretender Dmitrii's success in 1605. The terrible famine of 1601-3 was also a contributing factor to the civil war, sharpening Russia's already developing social crisis and contributing to the delegitimization of Tasr Boris Godunov. The existence and activities of the pretender Dmitrii were obviously of great significance, as was his assassination in 1606. Russian Orthodox culture itself provided rebels with motivation and a powerful tool to use in the struggle against the usurper Tsar Vasilii Shuiskii.
What about long-term causes or preconditions? Perhaps trying to avoid the pitfalls of developing comprehensive interpretive theories to replace the Marxist paradigm, some revisionist scholars of early modern Western revolutions have gone so far as to argue against searching for any long-term causes. That strikes me as too extreme, as an unfortunate and unsatisfactory leap from sociological determinism to what might be called the "contingent and unforeseen" school of history. As will be demonstrated in later chapters, there is certainly much to be gained by a focus on short-term causes or immediate triggers, but exploring long-term causes or preconditions can also be valid and useful. According to Michael Kimmel, neither long-term preconditions nor short-term triggers on their own are sufficient for adequate analysis; both are needed. Focus on long-term causes can help place short-term causes in perspective and demonstrate the significance of long-term social, economic, and structural changes in a non-Marxist framework. With no claim to theoretical significance, Perez Zagorin has suggested the essentially practical idea of distinguishing long-range causes or preconditions of state crises from their immediate precipitants, which are likely to be unique and not susceptible to generalized causal formulation. For something as complex as Russia's first civil war, that approach seems wise and this book will follow it.
Although there is no longer a consensus that the Time of Troubles was caused primarily by serfdom, there is still general agreement that a principal contributing factor was the catastrophic decline of the Russian economy by the 1570s, which led to massive flight of peasants and urban taxpayers, many of whom sold themselves as slaves, became bandits, or ran away to the southern frontier. The result was a huge loss of state revenue and a steep decline in the gentry's peasant labor force. Eventually, the Russian government (dominated by Boris Godunov) was forced to take drastic steps to shore up the declining militia and to rebuild the tax base. In the 1590s the peasants were enserfed, townspeople were bound to their taxpaying communities, and short-term contract slavery changed to real slavery. All these harsh measures failed to solve the problems of the government and the gentry, but they did help turn Russia into a rigidly stratified, caste-like society and contributed to the outbreak of civil war. Serfdom, for example, increased the status of the gentry cavalry force, which emerged as something like a warrior caste. Unfortunately, serfdom also ossified the economy. A number of scholars believed that Boris Godunov was able to straighten out state finances and that Russia underwent a period of "recovery" in the 1590s. In fact, Russia did not emerge from the crisis that actually deepened in the 1590s, leading to even more empty villages and vacant land in much of central Russia. Although some peripheral areas showed signs of increased activity, continued depopulation and decline of the agricultural economy kept Russia in crisis at the end of the sixteenth century. Some so-called signs of recovery, such as a decline in grain prices, were actually because of a decline in demand and a reversion to a natural economy. That in turn proved disastrous for many already depopulated and hard-pressed towns that lost rural markets at the same time that urban taxes were rising and the taxpaying population was shrinking. Hit by so many forces, trade in almost all Russian towns withered, which pushed even more townspeople to flee from the plummeting economy and rising taxes. Many Russian towns became ghost towns in the 1590s. At the same time, a sharp increase in labor demands on some serfs, the growth of land-based taxes, and the lack of innovation in agriculture acted as a brake on any possible recovery of the agricultural economy. Many more peasants fled from the tax rolls, and huge amounts of land continued to fall out of production, devastating an already failing agricultural economy. Among other things, that meant the government faced an increasingly critical shortage of land with peasants to distribute to already hard-pressed, land-hungry gentry and their sons. That in turn deepened a developing crisis of the gentry militia service system that Ruslan Skrynnikov has identified as one of the main preconditions of Russia's first civil war. The continuing economic crisis also sharply reduced state income, and the fiscal crisis lasted right into the Time of Troubles.
What caused the catastrophic decline of the Russian economy in the late sixteenth century that provoked such a severe crisis? It was due to many factors, some unique to Russia. For example, the constant threat of Tatar attacks and slave raids contributed to the militarization of Russian society and an increase in social stratification by the end of the sixteenth century. Unique characteristics of Russian autocracy and Russian Orthodox culture produced a service state that greatly imposed on its subjects and that exacerbated most of the problems common to early modern agrarian absolute monarchies. Russian autocracy certainly facilitated the culturally driven imperialism of Ivan IV, Boris Godunov, and others. That in turn produced the staggering expansion of Russia, which tripled in size during the sixteenth century. Such expansion far outstripped the country's resources and greatly overburdened its people and economy along the way. It is also well known that Ivan IV's costly and disastrous Livonian War (1558-83) contributed to the catastrophic decline of the economy and the destabilization of Russian society. Tsar Ivan's dreaded oprichnina (a state within the state, under the tsar's personal control) and the devastation associated with it also contributed to the crisis. On the other hand, too much focus on Ivan IV's personality and policies can lead to a gross underestimation of the impact on Russia of forces not unique to that society such as weather-related crop failures, famines, and terrible epidemics. It is worth noting, for example, that remarkably similar problems developed at the same time in neighboring Lithuania. Even though a case can be made for blaming Tsar Ivan for actions that helped precipitate serfdom and a severe state crisis, it is important to remember that the development of serfdom throughout Eastern Europe was due at least in part to the same destabilizing factors that were operating inside Russia: population increases, price inflation, famines and epidemics, and primitive agricultural technology and low grain yields in an era of increasingly unreliable weather. As it turns out, a number of important causes or preconditions contributing to Russia's severe crisis may be detected by comparative study of early modern Eurasian societies.
Historians have long been puzzled by the waves of revolutions, rebellions, and civil wars observable across Eurasia in the early modern period. Comparative study of those crises reveals common patterns that cannot be explained away simply as coincidences. The existence of those common patterns led in the 1950s to the development of the very popular theory of a "general crisis" of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, proponents of the general crisis theory have been better at identifying the existence of crises than at explaining them. In fact, a significant amount of their work was based upon Marxist assumptions, and there is still no consensus about the nature of the general crisis, its chronology, or its causes. Nonetheless, scholarship on this topic has produced some interesting ideas about the basic and deep-seated destabilizing influences that were at work on all Eurasian societies in the early modern period. Among those influences were a doubling of the overall population of Eurasia during the sixteenth century and a correspondingly severe period of price inflationoften called a "price revolution." Some crisis theory proponents focused on the significance of a sharp increase in wars and the growth of armies and war-related taxation in a era of price inflation. Others focused on the growth of state power and the unprecedented increase in fiscal demands placed on populations, demands that could and sometimes did precipitate revolts. Still other crisis theory proponents have focused on the general cooling of the global climate in the early modern period (the "little ice age"), relating it to a widespread subsistence crisis marked by famines, mass migrations, and peasant revolts.
Russia has rarely been included in general crisis studies even though it was subject to similar pressures in the same period. In Roland Mousnier's comparative study of early modern Eurasian revolts, he focused on Russia's Time of Troubles using an essentially Marxist framework and the traditional social revolutionary interpretation of the period. Nonetheless, he offered useful comments. In Mousnier's view, revolts in the Time of Troubles were directly related to the growth of state power and military expenses beyond the resources of Russian society. The development of state power was the "basic reason" for the revolts, which were reactions to the drive for centralization and uniformity. A later study by Peter B. Brown also emphasized the likelihood of crisis growing out of the Russian ruling elite's military ambition and the consequent growth of state power, taxes, and a royal bureaucracy. That is a good beginning, but we need to take a closer look at the issues raised by crisis theory proponents and other recent scholarship in comparative history in order to gain a better understanding of the origins of the Time of Troubles.
Michael Roberts developed the idea of a "military revolution" of the early modern perioda revolution in military technology, tactics and strategy, the size of armies, and the cost of warthat resulted in greatly increased burdens on governments and taxpayers. Subsequent scholarship on this topic has focused on its profound, even "revolutionary" impact on governments and societies. War was the single greatest expense of the early modern state and forced rulers and bureaucrats to seek revenues with zeal. That affected the economy and eventually almost everyone in society; it helped increase the power of central state authority and could, on occasion, trigger crises or rebellions. Acknowledging the importance of the military revolution but dubious of how its impact has been incorporated into studies of the vague concept of "absolutism," John Brewer and Nicholas Henshall have identified the growth of a "fiscal-military state" geared to war and survival. Development of such a state meant imposition and collection of more taxes, government interference in the economy in an effort to increase revenues, and the creation and development of bureaucracies independent of existing elites. The result was the same whether ruling groups wished to expand their state or were forced to build up their military forces because of international competition and the aggression of neighboring states. In either case, excessive military spending could trigger a fiscal crisis. Brian Downing developed similar ideas about military modernization and the mobilization of domestic resources leading to the emergence of what he referred to as "military-bureaucratic absolutism," a highly bureaucratized and militarized central state that in effect subjugated even the elites and pushed royal power far beyond its customary limitations. A more centralized and coercive state emerged to extract resources from an unwilling population.
A good case can be made that the unified Russian state that emerged in the early sixteenth century was a somewhat primitive but highly effective version of the fiscal-military state geared to war and survival. It is well known that early modern Russia was a service state in which the performance of duties that directly or indirectly bolstered the country's security were required from virtually everyone. Nowhere else in Europe was the principle of service to the state pressed so far as in Russia. In addition, the tsar's bureaucrats were free to extract domestic revenues with no concern about or understanding of the impact of their actions on the economy. Among other things, they imposed taxes with zeal, which the lords then ruthlessly collected. For many Russians taxes rose six hundred percent (adjusted for inflation) over the course of the sixteenth century, almost all due to increases in military-related expenses. In assessing the overall impact of the development of Russian state power in the era of the military revolution, Richard Hellie concluded that it led to increasing social stratification and the emergence of a near-caste society. The process of stratification was already developing before the Time of Troubles and helped push Russia into crisis.
The growth of the fiscal-military state in an era of price inflation might have been sufficient to provoke a state crisis, but it came in conjunction with a widespread subsistence crisis caused primarily by a change in the global climate. The "little ice age," a term for the cooling trend from approximately 1550 to about 1740, has been associated with crop failures, food shortages, astronomical food prices, increasing poverty, famines, pandemics, mass migration, and even peasant revoltsall of which were commonplace during that period. The causal connection between cold, wet weather and crop failures is not in doubt. It is also known that the danger of famine associated with bad weather is especially intense after periods of long, sustained population growth (such as the sixteenth century) have reduced per capita agricultural output to subsistence levels even in good years. Although historians of the French Annales school have long been fascinated by the impact of climate on history, they have been reluctant to explore the climate's connection to "surface" events such as famines. For example, Fernand Braudel and others noticed the conjuncture of bad weather and food shortages at the end of the sixteenth century but were reluctant to draw conclusions about it. That has drawn criticism from scholars interested in the link between patterns of the longue durée and "short-term events" of great trauma and impact. In fact, although the actual connection between famines and popular unrest is difficult to prove, it is highly probable. By studying that connection, a number of scholars have keyed on the "little ice age" to refine their ideas about a seventeenth-century (or late sixteenth to mid-seventeenth century) "general crisis" to a more sharply focused theory of a "crisis of the 1590s." The second half of the sixteenth century was a time of rising population, prices, taxes, state budgets, and bad weather as well as increasing crop failures, poverty, famines, plagues, mortality levels, war, banditry, mass migrations, and popular uprisings throughout much of Europe. All of these problems were strongly present in the catastrophic 1590s, which saw the conjuncture of the most severe weather, the worst food crises, and the largest number of rebellions of the entire early modern period. Glacial advances and dense volcanic dust veils also peaked at the very end of that decade. Northern Europe suffered the brunt of the crisis of the 1590s, with weather-related crop failures, epidemics, and widespread starvation occurring in England (1594-98), Scotland (1595-98), France (1597), Ireland (1601), Norway (1596-98), Sweden (1596-1603), Prussia (1602), Livonia (1601-3), Poland-Lithuania (1602-3), and Russia on the eve of its civil war (1601-3). Under such conditions it is no surprise that the 1590s saw so many uprisings. Those rebellions peaked in the late 1590s, which were years of revolt in Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, and Finland, followed soon thereafter by the most important popular upheaval of the period, Russia's first civil war (1604-5, 1606-12).
Excerpted from RUSSIA'S FIRST CIVIL WAR by Chester S. L. Dunning. Copyright © 2001 by The Pennsylvania State University. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|List of Illustrations and Maps||ix|
|1 A Comparative Approach to the Problem of Origins of the|
|2 Long-term Origins: The Growth of Autocracy and Imperialism||28|
|3 Ivan the Terrible and Russia's Slide into Crisis||46|
|4 The Rise of Boris Godunov, the Uglich Tragedy, and|
|5 The Southern Frontier and the Cossacks||73|
|6 The Beginning of the Time of Troubles and the Great Famine||90|
|7 What Triggered the Civil War?||109|
|8 The Pretender Dmitrii Ivanovich||123|
|9 Dmitrii's Invasion and the Beginning of the Civil War||138|
|10 Tsar Boris Strikes Back and the Civil War Widens||162|
|11 The Death of Tsar Boris and Dmitrii's Triumph||181|
|12 The Short Reign of Tsar Dmitrii||201|
|13 Assassination of theTsar||226|
|14 Vasilii Shuiskii Seizes Power and Rekindles the Civil War||239|
|15 The Beginning of the "Bolotnikov Rebellion"||261|
|16 The Civil War Widens and the Rebels Advance to Moscow||281|
|17 The Siege of Moscow||297|
|18 Retreat from Moscow, the Siege of Kaluga, and the Rise of|
|19 Collapse of the Siege of Kaluga and the Beginning of Tsar|