Why did Liberalism exercise so little influence in Russia in the period 1856 to 1956?

Essay by Fazz April 2006

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There are three main reasons why Liberalism did not take root in the period. Firstly the nature of Russia itself was unsuited to Liberalism's development. Secondly war often caused extremes that Liberal government wasn't capable of handling and lastly the personalities that ruled and had major influence in Russia chose an authoritarian route.

Due to the way Russia was and is to this day, to rule Russia efficiently seems to require authoritarian rather than liberal government. The 'Russian' Empire through the Tsars to the Bolsheviks was always made up of a wide range of different peoples and nationalities rareley held together by mutual love for each other. To keep this patch work of different nationalities together required force and strong government. Policies of Russification required state intervention (the banning of languages like Polish from use in public life etc) often backed up by the use of the army (Poland is another good example, which had revolts put down under the Tsars and was invaded under Stalin).

Yet why didn't the people of Russia reject Russification and authoritarianism in favour of a more Liberal solution? Russia's backwardness is part of the answer. The ideas required to change authoritarian rule were slow to enter Russia. Under the Tsars illiteracy and a conservative outlook meant liberal democracy wasn't spread (like many other western ideas) among the people. The Mir and feudalism meant that socialist and authoritarian government had an embryonic existence in Russia much longer than else where in Europe. Further in the words of Vladimir Putin this year [2004] 'Russia loves a strong Tsar". Supposedly there is something in the Russian psyche that allows authoritarianism to develop. This explains why one form of authoritarianism under the Tsars transformed itself into a new kind under Lenin and Stalin. Stalin has recently been called...