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The 1820s and 1830s saw the beginnings of the modern social-scientific study of urban life. In Great Britain and France, these years gave rise to the “Dickensian” anxiety about cities as squalid, disease-infested slums. This article examines how the physical space of St. Petersburg and Moscow was represented during these years by four pioneers of the study of Russian urban society – Vasilii Androssov, Aleksandr Bashutskii, Semen Gaevskii, and Andrei Zablotskii-Desiatovskii. Drawing on ideas and methodologies of Western contemporaries, especially Alexander von Humboldt and the French hygienist Louis-René Villermé, they depicted Russia’s capitals on three spatial scales: that of the individual house or street, the city as a whole, and the entire planet. Rejecting the pessimism of their Western counterparts, they depicted St. Petersburg and Moscow as wholesome cities managed by a wise government and inhabited by a benign population. However, they also argued that the forces driving the development of both cities were partly independent of the imperial state and could only be understood by trained experts. They thereby contributed to the rise of a public opinion engaged in critical discussion about Russian society, and bolstered both Nicholas I’s nationalist ideology of Official Nationality and his government’s cautious efforts at socioeconomic modernization.
This article attempts to analyze the role of the Moscow strel’tsy (musketeer) regiments in the dynastic crisis of 1689, which led Peter I to assume real power in Russia. Contrary to the stereotypical understanding of the strel’tsy as loyal supporters of Sophia, their position was, in fact, more complicated. Fully aware of their mutiny’s futility and having just returned from the unfortunate Crimean campaigns, the strel’tsy hardly sympathized with Sophia, the initiator and culprit of repressive “purges” of the strel’tsy after the uprising of 1682, and generally sought to remain loyal to the authorities while staying within the formal framework of the law. The low level of support for Sophia amidst the strel’tsy forced F. I. Shaklovity, their commanding officer, to resort to a palace conspiracy with plans for regicide based on only 4–5 regiments (out of 26), which, if disclosed, would have made Sophia’s position illegitimate and extremely vulnerable. During the “private” crisis of 1689, assessed by Russian society as a “family quarrel” where a compromise seemed quite achievable, Duma and Moscow officials preferred to remain neutral; as such, the struggle for the capital’s strel’tsy garrison was of key importance. On New Year’s Eve (September 1, 1689), Peter’s supporters reached a turning point, having managed to bring the leadership and delegates of almost all the hesitating strel’tsy regiments to the Troitse-Sergiyev monastery and making public the evidence of a conspiracy to kill the tsar and the patriarch: this gained Peter the backing of Patriarch Joachim’s religious authority.
It was the position of the Moscow strel’tsy that changed during September 1–4. They ultimately sided with Peter, which ensured his victory and the end of the neutrality of officials. However, this emphasized, for the second time in a decade, the humiliating dependence of the authorities, striving for “absolutism”, on the capital’s strel’tsy garrison: this was probably one of the most powerful motivations for their subsequent liquidation.
In 1965, after decades of ethnographic research in primary sources first collected by Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, Soviet historian Alexander I. Klibanov concluded that despite its origins in peasant social protest, Russian sectarianism had failed to advance the goals of the Bolshevik revolution. “Darkened” by religion and under the influence of their “bourgeois leaders” and “reactionary” Tolstoyan activists, religious dissidents were content to serve the political and economic interests of the ruling classes. Klibanov’s sweeping pronouncement ran counter to previous, western scholarship, which generally viewed the religious sect as precursor of the political party, and it was specifically rebutted in 1967 by Ethel Dunn, who argued that Klibanov had not proved his conclusion that sectarians were satisfied with tsarism and opposed to revolution. Sergei I. Zhuk further pressed the case against Klibanov’s thesis in his 2004 study of the oppositional discourse of the peasant evangelical movement in southern Russia and the revolutionary activity of proletarian peasants against Ukrainian plantation owners. Soviet ideologists had disowned their “cultural predecessors,” Zhuk claimed. The case study of an exiled sectarian family that we present in this article follows in the footsteps of Dunn, Zhuk, and others to show how the anti-clerical activism of a Bessarabian Stundist, Eremei Cheban (1858–c.1930), fueled the political dissidence of his son, Khariton (1886–1962), who participated in violent anti-tsarist rebellion in the Caucasus during the 1905 Revolution.