• Culture,  Uncategorized

    Towards a unified theory of fringe groups in the great culture war

    One odd thing I’ve noticed about our current times is how massively illiterate the movements are. Communism in the 1930s actually turned people away, Woody Guthrie prominent among them. There seem to be no foundational texts amongst any of the fringe movements(Defund, the Q people, the Proud Boys, whatever passes for anarchism these days, the very woke, etc, etc).

    I first noticed this trend a few years ago in this interview with this… person.

    Oddly, I came across this post I wrote a while back

    Ideology as the usable consensus of extreme personality types – see my “Let’s Kill Hitler” book idea. Basically the ideology evolves not as the continuation of first principles, but as a series of compromises on the part of part of the extreme personalities involved – basically the ideology is whatever allows a certain collection of extreme personalities to work together. Cooperation is the important thing – not the consequences. An extreme ideology will be composed of extreme members and so forth. See the the alt-right and modern wokeness.

    I’m reminded of the Utah Phillips line “common sense of degradation”. The modern unifying feature would seem to be a common sense of alienation from visible society.

    Update – Feb 13th, 2023

    I was going to update the post as a clarifier, but it is probably better off as a new paragraph(s).

    I think what I’m trying to say is that books are no longer Schelling points. You could always point to some habit or event as not in keeping with the laws of the old testament or das kapital, but can you really point to a new habit or event as something that conflicts with the outrage over George Floyd or gas pipelines? Instead it just evolves with the changing preferences and day to day hatreds of the people drawn to the original Schelling point. Which basically means that the alienated fringe will be both dynamic and dysfunctional. Not a big deal really (what else would they be doing) but with internet and mobile technology they are unified and strangely influential on mass culture. Instead of the top 5% of the population in alienation moving in a thousand different directions they will move in 2 or 3. The lack of textual constraint allows them to keep up with current fashions, trends and technologies. And an active, motivated, unified (same people, shifting goals and language) 5% of people with very strong preferences is a meaningful marketing and voting bloc.

    I suppose in a way this is a rediscovery of BJ Campbell’s “auto update” feature of the culture war, but with lack of foundational texts as well as Schelling points added to the explanation.

    Update Feb 14th, 2023

    Thinking about this again – I realize that I’m underemphasizing the role of fashion and ease of coverage by the modern media. “Wokeism” (the Q people not as much) is very, very, very easy, and cheap to cover from a home office – all you have to do is weave a bunch of screenshots from Twitter into an existing story and there you go. Gresham’s law, improperly formulated strikes again – bad stories will drive out good stories based purely on price. Currently the ease of coverage and woke fashion overlap rather well., although crime does seem to be taking away from this a bit.

    An aside – it would be great if ChatGPT (or whatever AI is current at the time you read this) came up with an approximate price for each news story. Media articles in whatever form are usually not presented in terms of cost – but it would be great if they were. Say this is what your news source looked like:

    • Celebrity A says Celebrity B is washed up and has had bad plastic surgery ($35, warning, Tweets)
    • See our in depth, on scene coverage of the Syrian Civil War ($17,500)

    If an AI browser plugin created something like that, along with a “Hide under $1000” checkbox I would be eternally grateful.

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  • Books,  Uncategorized

    The Land of Enterprise: A Business History of the United States – A review

    From my Notion template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. A surface level history of business in America. There nothing terribly new or interesting in this book. Other books, most notably American Republics , do a better job of presenting information.


    It is a very surface level economic history of the United States. Granted – I’m a tough crowd, I’ve read several books on the topic – taken several classes, etc, etc, but there wasn’t that much new in the book.

    How I Discovered It

    The Amazon Algorithm

    Who Should Read It?

    Someone looking for a very rudimentary overview of US economic history

    How the Book Changed Me

    Nothing changed

    My Top 3 Quotes

    • Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony
    • The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.
    • In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

    All Quotes

    When historians use the term feudalism, they are attempting to describe an economic system in which power relations among people formed the building blocks of society.

    Monarchs in Spain, France, and England grew wealthier through trade, which spread from the Mediterranean to coastal West Africa, and then to the Americas. In the process, they consolidated military power at the expense of local lords.

    At the same time, these mercantilist exploits brought a major economic downside. The huge amounts of silver shipped back to Spain flooded the currency market, sparking a bout of inflation that lasted a century and crippled the Spanish economy. In spite of its large land-holdings in the Americas, Spain would never recover the economic power it wielded in the early 16th century.

    Most of those early migrants lived along the Atlantic coast in former Indian towns that had been abandoned during the plague epidemic that forced survivors inland from the coast in the late 16th century.

    fact, the first two successful English colonies in what would become the United States—Virginia (1607) and Massachusetts Bay (1620)—were themselves private companies.

    Joint-stock companies, the forerunners of today’s publicly owned corporations, pooled private sources of capital under the official protection of the crown, funding ventures that were too expensive or risky for an individual person. Drawing on a system of legal contracts developed in Italy centuries earlier, 16th-century English monarchs pioneered the practice of issuing corporate charters that granted an exclusive right to trade in a certain area to a particular group of subjects. In addition to creating a helpful monopoly, these charters created legal entities whose ownership was spread among several investors. These people purchased shares, or stock, to make up the whole company, which they owned jointly. Hence, “joint-stock company.”

    Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony.15

    Three years later, approximately one hundred people—a combination of the Separatists who had bought the patent and others who purchased their own passage directly—landed by accident far to the north of Jamestown in a former Massasoit Indian town, which they renamed Plymouth.

    (We start to refer to “Britain” instead of “England” after the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 by the English and Scottish Parliaments unified those two countries into the United Kingdom of Great Britain.)

    The American slave population became self-sustaining in the early 18th century, so even as the international trade declined, the population of enslaved people grew. By

    the 1770s, nearly seven hundred thousand people, or 15 percent of the total non-Indian population of the United States, were enslaved.

    Almost 95 percent of all enslaved people in the United States at the time of the Founding lived in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. One-third of the population of those southern colonies was enslaved, and approximately one-third of all southern households owned slaves.

    The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.

    On the other hand, Europeans on the periphery of the British empire depended greatly on the mother country. In present-day Canada, which Britain acquired from France after the Seven Years War in 1763, ongoing conflicts between the substantial native population and far-flung European fur traders and fishers meant that colonists depended greatly on British military support. In the slave societies of the West Indies, native inhabitants had been almost entirely annihilated, and small numbers of English colonists owned massive sugar plantations farmed by African slaves, whose numbers eclipsed those of their white owners by as much as ten to one in 1780. Landowners relied on brutal violence, sanctioned and backed by British law, and the strength of the British military, further cementing their ties to the crown.

    generations. Beginning in the early 15th century, merchants from kingdoms and city-states along the west coast of Africa established commercial relationships with Portuguese merchants, trading gold and spices for European metals and textiles. From the beginning, African-European commerce included the trade in human beings.

    In 1807, both the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress outlawed the international trade of slaves. (The Constitution of 1787, in an effort to forge a compromise between slave-owning interests and antislavery advocates, had included a clause prohibiting any move to ban the trade for twenty years.) By 1820, all other major European powers had as well.

    Large plantations certainly wielded disproportionate economic power, but most southern whites were not slave-owners. Historians estimate that, by the time of the Civil War, about 385,000 out of a total of 1.5 million white households in the South owned slaves. (African Americans and Native Americans did not own slaves in significant numbers, and were usually legally barred from doing so.) About half of these slave-owning households owned between one and five slaves; another 38 percent owned between six and twenty. Although they held a vastly disproportionate level of wealth, the remaining 12 percent of slave-owners (those who had twenty-plus slaves) represented only 3 percent of all white households.

    In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

    A significant number of enslaved people lived in urban areas such as Charleston and Baltimore. There, some slaves labored for, and often alongside, their owners in workshops, but many were owned by urban professionals—doctors, bankers, and lawyers who kept slaves as investment property. Some performed domestic duties, but more often they were hired out to work for private companies or to perform public works projects, such as digging canals or dredging harbors. Slave-owners received hourly pay for their slaves’ labor, and in many cases the enslaved people themselves brought home those wages in cash. In both cases, urban slaves often labored alongside free workers, both black and white.8

    By the eve of the Civil War, historians estimate that the total cash value of the 4 million slaves in the American South was $3.5 billion in 1860 money. At more than 80 percent of the country’s total economic output, that figure would be roughly $13.8 trillion today. Understood in that way, enslaved people were capital assets worth more than the country’s entire productive capacity from manufacturing, trade, and railroads combined.

    1776, when Thomas Jefferson declared the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” nearly 15 percent of the 4 million non-Indian inhabitants of the United States were enslaved. Although slavery remained legal in all states, almost 95 percent of enslaved people lived south of Pennsylvania, and the highest concentration was in Virginia.

    By 1804, every state north of Delaware had legally abolished the practice, and new midwestern states and territories that joined the nation in the decades to come likewise prohibited it.

    Slavery in the North died out because of the organizational power of antislavery activists combined with the lack of large-scale commercial agriculture in the region.

    Evidence suggests that many, if not most, white northerners had no moral problem with slavery, but few powerful interests had much to gain by defending it.

    In 1794, a twenty-eight-year-old Yale-educated New Englander named Eli Whitney, engaged as a tutor for the children of a plantation owner in South Carolina, patented a machine that mechanically separated cotton fibers from cotton seed. According to the traditional story, Whitney invented this “cotton gin” (gin was short for “engine”) after observing enslaved people slowly and painfully removing seeds from cotton balls.

    The amount of cotton an individual enslaved person could prepare for export rose as use of the mechanical devices spread. By some estimates, the per-slave cotton yield increased 700 percent.

    The results for the cotton industry were astounding. Southern planters produced around 3,000 bales of cotton per year in the early 1790s. By 1820—by which time domestic textile manufacturing had spread considerably—that number approached 450,000. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the South grew and exported (either domestically or abroad) nearly 5.5 million bales of cotton per year.

    Karl Marx, who was simultaneously capitalism’s fiercest critic and its most trenchant analyst, viewed slavery and capitalism as incompatible.

    Just as slavery drove the southern economy, manufacturing became increasingly important to the economies of the Northeast and, by the middle of the 19th century, the Midwest. And just as slavery’s social and economic reach extended far beyond the South, so, too, did industrialization exert a powerful influence on all Americans.

    The Boston Associates engaged so-called “mill girls” to perform the difficult and monotonous work of textile production. Primarily the daughters of white Protestant farmers, these workers encountered a paternalistic social system at the mills, designed to “protect” their feminine virtue and convince their parents to allow them the social independence to live away from home. Lowell provided dormitories for workers as well as churches, libraries, and stores.

    In 1790, only 5 percent of Americans lived in urban settings; by 1860, 20 percent did.

    Unlike roads, waterways allowed merchants to move large quantities of textiles, iron, slaves, and foodstuffs over significant distances. According to one estimate, the amount of money it took to ship a ton of goods from Europe to an American port city would only get the same cargo about thirty miles inland pulled by a wagon.

    These trenches—a few feet deep, a few dozen feet across, but sometimes hundreds of miles long—represented a tremendous engineering challenge. They were designed so that draft animals could walk parallel to the water, dragging nonmotorized barges laden with goods. As a result, the

    In most cases, municipal governments saw a positive return on their investments, not only in direct payments but also through the tremendous economic growth generated by the new system of canals—three thousand miles’ worth by the 1840s, linking the Atlantic seaboard with midwestern cities such as Terre Haute, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

    while canals increased the ease with which large quantities of goods could be moved from the interior to the seaboard, ultimately those goods moved only as quickly as the oxen dragging the barges.

    The American foray into rail began in 1828, when the state of Maryland chartered the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company, which laid tracks to the west to create an alternative to canal traffic. The first steam-powered locomotive to travel those rails moved slower than a horse, but within two decades, the technology improved. The railroad boom took off in the late 1840s, and the number of miles of tracks multiplied. Americans laid more than twenty-one thousand miles of railroad track in the 1850s. By the eve of the Civil War, a New Yorker could reach Chicago in two days, a trip that would have taken three weeks in 1830.

    The U.S. Post Office, which was granted a special license and responsibility by the Constitution to deliver the country’s mail, expanded from seventy-five branches in 1790 to more than eighteen thousand by 1850.

    In the 1840s, a group of investors formed a rapid-delivery service that charged customers high fees to move parcels by stagecoach westward from the East Coast. Within ten years, that original partnership broke up into several specialized companies, including Wells Fargo and American Express.

    Yellow highlight | Page: 54
    The first telegraph was created by the French government in the 1790s to allow communication from Paris to twenty-nine cities up to five hundred miles away. But those original telegraph networks were optical, not electronic. To make them work, trained operators staffed towers spaced ten to twenty miles apart, from which they sent coded signals by shifting the positions of specialized panels. Although nothing in the United States matched the complexity of the French system, smaller networks of optical telegraphs emerged along the Atlantic Coast in the first decade of the 1800s, and others connected New York and Boston to their outlying farming communities in the 1810s. Optical

    By erecting poles alongside railroad tracks, telegraph companies made all parts of their network accessible, so they could perform maintenance and protect against the elements and sabotage. Thus, as railroads spread across the continent in the mid-19th century, the electronic telegraph went with them.

    Yet before 1800, corporate charters were far from common, and almost no business enterprises were incorporated. Because charters had to be granted by the sovereign—the king or Parliament in colonial times; the state or federal legislature after independence—the few corporations extant were almost exclusively public operations, such as turnpikes, bridges, churches, and cities, including New York. During the entire 18th century, charters were issued to only 335 businesses—and much more than half of those were issued in the last four years of the century.

    Unlike today, when incorporation is granted in perpetuity, most antebellum corporate charters were limited in time, set to expire after a fixed period of ten, twenty, or thirty years. Nonetheless, having a distinct legal existence separate from their owners made corporations appear more stable and predictable, and made them more attractive to investors.

    Slowly, states turned to a new model known as general incorporation, granting corporate charters administratively, rather than legislatively. In 1811, New York became the first state to enact such a law for manufacturing firms. In 1837, Connecticut became the first state to allow general incorporation for any kind of business.

    A landowning Virginian, Jefferson believed that self-reliant and small-scale family farms, not impersonal factories (or, ironically, large slave-labor plantations like his), provided a bulwark against tyranny and ensured the future of self-governance.

    In the years to come, the Jeffersonian Republicans completed the rout of the Federalists at nearly all levels—by the War of 1812, the Federalist Party barely clung on in remote and far-flung corners of state and local politics, but had largely disappeared as a national force.3 Yet

    These three pillars—tariffs, internal improvements, and a national bank—formed the essence of the American System.

    In addition, the Bank’s corporate structure reinforced the privileged place of the wealthy: The federal government itself owned 20 percent of the corporate stock, while the other 80 percent was sold to wealthy Americans. Yet this structure was exactly as Hamilton intended. By catering to elite merchants, the Bank wrapped up their financial interests in federal institutions and thus guaranteed that they would continue to lend political, moral, and economic support to the Constitution and its government.

    Jackson’s coalition, heirs to the Jeffersonian Republican tradition, renamed themselves as Democrats during the fight. Beginning in 1833, their opponents identified as Whigs, taking the name of the British party that had historically challenged the authority of the king. (The “king,” to these American Whigs, was Jackson himself.) America’s second party system was born. The

    Hoping to mollify southern planters, Congress passed, and President Jackson signed, a law to lower tariff rates in the summer of 1832. Enraged politicians in South Carolina still insisted that the rates were too high. In the fall of 1832, South Carolina’s legislature passed a law nullifying the federal tariff. In response, a vengeful Andrew Jackson asked Congress for the right to use military force to collect tariffs in that state. Calhoun resigned the vice presidency and declared that any use of force by Jackson would give South Carolina a just cause to declare its independence from the United States.15 For a few months, the possibility of armed conflict appeared real. Only skillful diplomacy defused the crisis. Congress passed a compromise tariff that lowered rates, on the condition that South Carolina repeal its nullification statute. Yet the battle lines that formed over the Nullification Crisis, as well as the constitutional and legal theories about the relationship between the federal government and the states, established a powerful precedent.

    The first “land grant” law, passed in 1850, designated a line—which would become the Illinois Central Railroad—between Mobile, Alabama, and Chicago, Illinois. The law created a series of six-mile-square land parcels along each side of the proposed track; in an alternating, checkerboard pattern, the federal government bequeathed every other parcel to the states of Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi, and sold the others off to farmers.

    oceans. Although economic recession in the mid-1870s slowed the juggernaut somewhat, Americans laid up to 8,000 miles of track per year through the 1880s. By 1890, the country boasted 166,000 miles; by the early 20th century, there would be 254,000 miles of tracks.

    Railroads became the first “Big Business” because they combined the unique scale and scope of their industry and the deliberate choices by their leaders to adopt what we now recognize as a modern system of management.

    Educated and skilled office workers, they would—along with other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants—form the heart of a new urban middle class in the modern American economy. Keeping their company in business for years to come meant job security, so professional managers tended to promote stable and less risky business practices.

    In 1856, he borrowed $600 from a personal mentor (who was also his boss) and bought stock in a transport company that soon paid him his first return: a check for $10. By 1863, still a manager at the Penn Railroad, the $45,000 he made per year from his stock investments far outpaced his salary.

    In 1867, he and a handful of partners launched an oil refinery in Cleveland, just as the commercial petroleum industry was beginning to grow.

    A 19th-century “trust” resembled what we would call a holding company today. As a legal entity distinct from any of the member companies, the Standard Oil Trust controlled all the stock of those corporations, centralizing control over prices, distribution schedules, and other business decisions. By the 1890s, more than 90 percent of the oil produced in the United States was refined through Standard

    As a percentage of gross domestic product, which at the turn of the last century was about $21 billion, the merger that birthed U.S. Steel would be worth about $1 trillion today.

    The largest and fastest-growing corporations in the decades after the Civil War were typically more capital-intensive than labor-intensive.

    Morgan had an extremely conservative disposition toward risk, even by the standards of bankers, who were traditionally averse to excessive gambles.

    The disastrous financial Panic of 1893 created new opportunities for Morgan to put his vision of corporate control into action. The economic collapse, precipitated by overspeculation in railroads, crippled the nation. More than fifteen thousand companies, including six hundred banks, failed in what became the worst economic depression to that point in U.S. history. As countless railroad companies teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, Morgan and a handful of his partners engineered a series of takeovers and mergers. Shareholders in those failing companies surrendered their stocks in exchange for “trust certificates,” and the House of Morgan took control of the companies’ assets. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, approximately thirty-three thousand miles of railway track (one-sixth of the total) was “Morganized.”22

    The Great Railroad Strike of 1877—the first major industrial strike in American history—began in July, when workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia walked off the job. Their specific grievances were local—a series of sharp pay cuts as the B&O struggled through the protracted economic depression that followed the Panic of 1873—but their fury echoed across the industrial heartland. Within

    Men, women, and children by the thousands toiled in dirty, dark, dangerous environments in factories and mills, quarries and mines, rigs and rail yards. The spread of mechanization and chemical technologies made work itself more boring and, simultaneously, more dangerous. Booming industry drew rural Americans away from farms and into cities, where they competed with a massive influx of European immigrants in a flooded labor market.

    One of the earliest and most dramatic manifestations of class tension between laborers and economic elites was the creation of a national labor union in 1869 called the Knights of Labor. Officially called “The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor” and first organized as a secret society, the Knights of Labor grew into a major voice for the wholesale reform of the industrial system. Unlike most trade unions, the Knights welcomed both skilled and unskilled workers from the craft, retail, and manufacturing sectors, and, quite notable for their day, they encouraged membership by both African Americans and women. Central to the Knights’ social vision was the notion of the producer. So long as you made something, they reasoned, you served a social good, regardless of your race, sex, or relationship to the means of production. The only people the group actively excluded were “nonproducers”—liquor dealers, gamblers, lawyers, and bankers, for example.

    A horrific incident in Chicago in the spring of 1886 helped cement the link between the Knights of Labor and radical, often violent, socialism in the minds of many business leaders. Amid a labor protest in Haymarket Square, someone threw a bomb that killed ten people. Eight suspects, all loosely affiliated with the Knights and variously described as anarchists, were convicted of murder. The Knights themselves were not involved, but their public image never recovered. Membership peaked in 1886, and the group declined in size and influence thereafter.

    Within weeks, the strikers attracted the support of the burgeoning American Railway Union (ARU), the first industry-specific nationwide union. The ARU had been founded the previous year by Eugene V. Debs, a labor organizer from Indiana who would later—after his imprisonment for leading the Pullman Strike—become the country’s most prominent socialist politician and activist.

    Troops killed several dozen strikers in clashes before the strike ended. Eugene Debs served six months in jail for violating a federal injunction to allow rail traffic to resume. During his imprisonment, he became a committed Marxist and later converted his American Railway Union into a socialist political party.

    Yet the most distinctive aspect of the farmers’ political program, and the issue with which Bryan launched his career, was their attack on eastern banks and the influence of financiers over the national government. Monetary policy, in particular the question of the free coinage of silver, was their primary focus. The “silver question” often strikes history students as esoteric, obscure, and technical, yet it was one of the single most important political issues of the late 19th century. The struggle split the country between those who favored minting coins only in gold—monometallists—and those who wanted to use both silver and gold—the bimetallists. As a political rallying cry, the silver debate proved instrumental to a larger critique of corporate capitalism. Bimetallists,

    As with everything in the history of big business, the story of regulation begins with the railroads.

    Another strategy, which took aim at the rise of corporate monopolies more explicitly, led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. If the ICC had represented an effort to regulate monopolistic behavior, the antitrust movement endeavored to disband monopolistic companies entirely. Named after its chief proponent, Ohio senator John Sherman (brother of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman), the act sought to preserve the benefits of free competition by cracking down hard on anticompetitive behavior. It criminalized “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce.” Instead of prescribing rules and procedures to mitigate corporate power, as the ICC did, the law required the criminal prosecution of “every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade of commerce.

    For the antimonopoly forces, U.S. Steel’s survival exposed the limitations of the antitrust movement. The Sherman Act successfully attacked cartels and price-fixing schemes, but because it banned restraint of trade, not market dominance in general, it did nothing to curb corporate mergers

    Historians of the period have long used the phrase “Progressive Era” to describe the years between the turn of the century and the onset of World War I, defined by a political and intellectual response to the rapid rise of industrialized society. Rooted neither in radical socialism nor in unfettered laissez-faire economics, Progressivism sought to mitigate capitalism’s excesses while retaining its benefits. In the process, the Progressive period both reaffirmed classical elements of the American political tradition and established new institutions, government agencies, and expectations about the promise of democracy.

    1908 Model T cost $850, but by the early 1920s, the price had fallen to under $300.

    As one journalist put it in 1924: “The American citizen has more comforts and conveniences than kings had 200 years ago.”

    Henry Ford didn’t invent the car—there were already six different models on display at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—but his devotion to the Model T starting in 1908 revolutionized the industry. Standardization was key: Ford simplified the design of his “Tin Lizzie” and used a bare minimum of parts (about five thousand).

    To entice his workers to remain, Ford also pioneered labor policies that appeared progressive to many. In 1914, the company introduced the “five-dollar day,” when two dollars a day was more typical.9 In the next few years, Ford reduced the workday to eight hours and the workweek from six to five days, goals long championed by the labor, populist, and socialist movements. His business success, his personal austerity (especially when compared to the flamboyant wealth of men like J. P. Morgan), and his public devotion to the ideal that industrial workers should be able to afford the fruit of their labors—that a car should be inexpensive enough for the masses—contributed to Ford’s personal popularity around the world.

    Before the rise of industrial capitalism, however, retail outfits were only found in cities and mostly sold specialty items such as books and furs. The idea of shopping for a variety of grocery or household items—or the notion that stores themselves could be big businesses—didn’t develop until the late 19th century.

    In 1872, a Chicago-based traveling salesman named A. Montgomery Ward launched the country’s first mail-order firm. He published an illustrated catalog and mailed it, free of charge, to small-town farmers, who could then order products at lower prices than what local merchants charged. In 1886, another Chicagoan—a twenty-three-year-old man named Richard Sears—imitated Montgomery Ward’s success and started selling pocket watches by mail. Within a few years, Sears partnered with Alvah Roebuck, a watch repair specialist, providing both sales and maintenance services, all remotely. The pair broadened their offerings to compete directly with Montgomery Ward—their catalog became known as “the Farmer’s Bible,” and their Chicago warehouse filled orders from around the country.

    Incorporated in 1893, Sears, Roebuck supplanted Montgomery Ward and became the country’s biggest mail-order company by 1900.13 In

    The earliest and most famous pioneers of this model were F.W. Woolworth’s, which operated from 1878 to 1997, and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which survived until 2015 as the A&P supermarket. Formed in 1859, the A&P opened its doors in New York as a discount purveyor of teas and coffees, which its founders purchased in bulk straight from ships (allowing them to offer cheaper prices). Within twenty years, the A&P offered a wide variety of grocery products and owned stores in more than one hundred locations, stretching from Minnesota to Virginia. Combining efficient distribution channels, inventory management, and low costs—the hallmarks of Taylorism—grocery chains like the A&P grew prominent in the early 20th century.14 The success of the retail revolution, and the chain store model in particular, changed the way Americans identified as consumers, but it came at a cost.

    Invented in the mid-19th century, Listerine was an alcohol-based chemical designed as a powerful antiseptic for use during surgery. In 1920, advertising copywriters for Lambert launched a marketing campaign that proposed a new use for this old product—as a solution to bad breath (when taken in small quantities and not swallowed!). In its ads, Lambert introduced Americans to the word “halitosis,” an obscure but clinical-sounding, scientific word for “bad breath,” giving the impression that Listerine addressed a pressing medical problem. By 1927, Lambert’s profits, driven by Listerine sales, had skyrocketed from one hundred thousand dollars a year to more than $4 million, in the process changing the daily ablution habits of millions of people.18

    General Motors was founded in 1904 when William Durant, a carriage maker in Flint, Michigan—just seventy miles northwest of Henry Ford’s headquarters in Detroit—took over a small and failing car company called Buick. Over the next several years, Durant expanded his production of Buicks and absorbed dozens of other car manufacturers under his corporate umbrella, following the model of horizontal integration pioneered by large extractive companies such as Standard Oil. That rapid growth created organizational and managerial confusion, because the various constituent companies (Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and so on) each had their own internal structure, products, and corporate culture. Many of General Motors’s cars targeted the same type of consumer, leading to a frustrating internal competition that hurt profits. In the mid-1910s, Durant set his company on the road to resolving these problems by launching an important collaboration with executives from the DuPont Corporation.

    Only after the death of Henry Ford in the late 1940s would the Ford Motor Company start to catch on to the modern strategy for marketing cars.

    What made the years framed by the Roosevelt presidencies so pivotal for business history was not the flamboyant rhetoric, but the long-term dance between two emerging giants of the 20th century: the massive integrated corporation and the administrative, bureaucratic state, which developed an essentially associational relationship with each other.

    During World War I, income taxes provided vital revenue for the government, but the tax regime was steeply progressive, applying only to the top earners. Only approximately 15 percent of American households paid any income taxes at all in 1918; the richest 1 percent contributed about 80 percent of all revenue and paid effective tax rates of about 15 percent of their total income.

    During the Coolidge administration (1923–29), Mellon achieved many of his goals, and the top rate paid by individuals declined from 73 to 25 percent.

    Total corporate profits fell from $10 billion to $1 billion, a drop of 90 percent.

    By the time the market bottomed out in 1933, nominal gross domestic product was nearly half what it had been in 1929.

    and gestures such as the “Hoover flag,” an empty pocket turned inside out.

    As he put it: “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”29 Social Security was highly popular (rising from a 68 percent approval rating in 1936 to 96 percent in 1944), but many large corporations and business associations recoiled at the new expense employers faced.

    All told, the United States government spent approximately $320 billion (in 1940s money) on World War II, about half of it borrowed from the public through bond sales and the other half raised in taxes. That spending provided a massive boost to the gross national product, which shot up from $88.6 billion in 1939 to $135 billion in 1945.

    By 1944, unemployment had fallen to just over 1 percent (remember that the official rate hit 25 percent in 1933). Within the span of eleven years, in other words, the country had seen both the highest and lowest levels of joblessness of the century.

    In 1929, prescription drugs accounted for only 32 percent of all medicines purchased in the United States (by cost); by 1969, that figure reached 83 percent.

    In 1954, however, General Electric became the first private firm to own a mainframe computer when it bought a UNIVAC.

    Roughly defined, a conglomerate is a corporation that conducts business in a wide range of markets and industries that have little or no relationship to one another. Berkshire Hathaway, the company founded by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, provides a familiar example of the form today—it acts as a holding company that owns and operates an array of disparate businesses, from GEICO insurance to Jordan’s Furniture to Fruit of the Loom.

    The rise of the conglomerate form reshaped managerial culture. Conglomerate builders such as Charles Bluhdorn succeeded, at least for a time, because they were experts at managing their company as an investment portfolio, not as a productive entity.

    From the 1960s onward, boards of directors increasingly sought to hire men (and let’s not forget that occupying the corner office was a nearly exclusively male privilege) who were experts not in a particular industry or niche, but in business management itself. Versatile generalists, holding degrees from the newfangled business schools mushrooming throughout the country, could adapt their broad understanding of business principles to any specific managerial problem they encountered. Conglomerate executives in particular often bragged that they could manage their companies through financial controls and measurements, remaining disconnected from the actual product or service the company provided. The

    Bluhdorn’s successor (he died of a heart attack in 1983) renamed the company Paramount Communications in 1989 to take advantage of one of its highest-profile holdings, Paramount Pictures. The entire operation became part of the media giant Viacom in 1994.

    In short, the dominant regulatory trend had been economic regulation. In contrast, the trend in the 1960s and 1970s was toward social regulations, rules that, by design, targeted aspects of business behavior not traditionally considered “economic”—public health and safety and, quite literally, the downstream consequences of companies’ production processes. There had been earlier examples of social regulation, including the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which led to the creation of the FDA to improve the safety and quality of food and medicine. Yet the scale and scope of this new type of regulation exploded in the late 1960s, reinforcing a cultural and political distinction between protecting the economy and protecting people from business.

    In the early 1970s, Congress overhauled the laws governing campaign finance contributions. The federal government had regulated campaign giving to various degrees since the Tillman Act of 1907, which barred corporations and unions from donating to political campaigns on the rather explicit grounds that they were not humans.

    Instead, with minor exceptions, businesspeople preferred other, less official ways to skirt the campaign finance laws. Executives, for example, routinely arranged for special bonuses to top managers, with the clear expectation that those managers would donate their windfall to the candidate of the corporation’s choice.

    In 1975, the FEC clarified that political action committees were legally legitimate, and an explosion in corporate-backed political action committees followed. In the four years between 1974 and 1979, the number of business PACs increased tenfold, from 89 to 950, while the number of labor PACs barely budged, rising only from 201 to 226. The number of corporate PACs continued to soar, peaking around 1,800 in the late 1980s before declining slightly and largely leveling off. In the winter of 2016, the Federal Election Commission counted 1,621 political action committees affiliated with businesses, and 278 for labor.

    Not satisfied with running a traditional restaurant, the McDonalds spent the 1940s searching for a way to simplify. They wanted a food item that they could perfect and sell at a constant, affordable, and profitable price. They settled on the hamburger.

    In 1955, the American automobile giant General Motors topped Fortune magazine’s list of global companies ranked by annual revenue. For the remainder of the century, GM held that crown. Yet in 2002, it fell to second place, bested by a company that had barely been known outside of Arkansas in 1980 but exploded onto the international stage thereafter: Walmart.

    The son of a farmer-turned-debt-collector, a teenage Sam Walton spent the Great Depression with his father foreclosing on delinquent farms in Missouri.

    Rural America had traditionally been a hotbed of populist opposition to unfettered capitalism, from the anti-chain-store movement to opposition to the gold standard and eastern finance. Yet by the late 20th century, conservative politicians found greater success linking evangelical Christianity with free market economics.

    When Gates stepped down from Microsoft in 2014 (having reduced his role since 2000), he was the wealthiest person on Earth.

    At the beginning of 2008, five venerable and highly respected investment banks—the descendants of the “House of Morgan”—sat atop American financial capitalism. By the fall of that year, none of them existed. Two, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, avoided bankruptcy through emergency mergers (engineered to a significant degree by government officials and the Federal Reserve) with J.P. Morgan and Bank of America, respectively. The 150-year-old Lehman Brothers was not so lucky. After its leaders failed to convince government regulators to offer either a direct bailout or a “shotgun marriage” to another financial institution, Lehman entered the largest bankruptcy in history on September 15. The remaining two, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, surrendered their status as investment banks and transformed themselves legally into traditional bank holding companies, which faced far greater government regulation in exchange for easier access to government loans. As the former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation put it, it was “the end of Wall Street as we have known it.”

    That political shift proved to be a guiding force behind the movement for widespread deregulation, which often garnered the support of groups that otherwise opposed each other politically. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act, a law spearheaded by liberal politicians such as Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and consumer activist Ralph Nader, as well as free-market conservatives like the economist Milton Friedman. The opponents to airline regulation argued that a more market-driven airline industry would face greater competition to cut rates and, eventually, provide better service.8

    By the mid-1990s, having stripped away most of its functions, Congress finally dissolved the Interstate Commerce Commission

    The redirection of capital to financial pursuits—the hallmark of the process of financialization—led to growing number of deals known as “leveraged buy-outs” (LBOs)—mergers that depended on tremendous amounts of borrowed money.

    Before the mid-20th century, just under 50 percent of American households owned their own home. Excluding farmers, who owned land at disproportionate rates, the rate of homeownership was below 40 percent. Between 1940 and 1970, American homeownership rose steadily to about 65 percent,

    After hovering around 65 percent for several decades, homeownership rates rose quickly between the late 1990s and 2007, reaching 69 percent.

    either renegotiate the loan or resell the home later at a profit, convinced many people that homeownership was a foolproof investment. “They’re not making any more land,” went a common refrain.

    This unfounded faith in the never-falling value of houses was perpetuated by mortgage lenders and the real estate business, which profited from every loan made and every home purchased. (Economic historians showed that the misunderstanding of historical home price values came from the simplest of oversights: Once you account for the overall increase in prices over time, the real—noninflationary—price of homes remained remarkably stable throughout the entire 20th century.)

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  • Uncategorized

    A response to Henry George and the Lunar Society

    I recently completed listening to this long and good interview of Lars Doucet on the Lunar Society Podcast – it aroused many strong feelings, so I thought I would share.

    In no particular order

    • The problem with Georgism is the Georgists. To mix adages, the Georgist argument would be more convincing if they had more skin in the game and climbed Chesterton’s Fence. Why has the single tax on land been on the shelf for the past 100 years? Why do we have these other taxes? Explain!
    • A common problem in rationalism (and adjacent ideologies) is the inability to effectively understand and address the concerns of people ten years younger or older than the rationalist.
    • The soul of man does not contain a hole in the shape of high density living. People like the benefits, but density for the sake of density is not an inherent drive. A lot of Georgism seems to take that for granted.
    • Doucet presumes effective urban governance. Does Georgism make made sense with 70s level urban decay and state capacity?
    • The use of video game evidence creates a strong counter reaction in me.
    • Doucet takes the notion of “Rent” as a given -and provides no evidence that landlords do not compete the rent away in some form or fashion, or lose the rent in maintenance and improvements. Or if he did present compelling evidence I missed it.
    • The notion that the rentiers (to use Piketty’s term) do not contribute anything seems wrong. Why won’t the land owners just coordinate to increase the value of the property and increase overall prosperity via network effects? Seemingly the landowners would coordinate to bring productive labor and capital to their properties.
    • Why has no one, in any country, ever, tried a single tax on land? Sorry, but Norwegian oil isn’t similar enough. Come to think of it – how similar is it to land valuation in the age of serfdom?
    • Doucet does not provide any reason that a tax on land would necessarily displace ANY other form of taxation. He presents the land tax as just an additional tax.
    • Doucet should provide some explanation for why he should tax land rent and not educational/human capital rent. He alludes to the concept early in the conversation and does not adequately answer the question.

    The list makes it seem like I’m more critical than I am – the topic fully engaged me and I will be reading the book at some point in the near future.

  • Uncategorized

    Dan Bern at Eddie’s Attic was a bust

    It would seem that an “All Ages” music show does not equal and “Age Appropriate” music show (it was explicitly advertised as all ages).

    I’ve only seen this guy once before (pesky pandemic) but the whole family likes him. His previous show (that I saw) was much cleaner. All of his online shows were much cleaner. The two kids I brought were the only kids there, maybe he didn’t see them. Oh well.

    As a show it was nowhere near as good as the other one, or his average online show actually. The show did improve markedly as it went on, but sadly so did the inappropriateness. We left halfway though.

    I imagine I will go see him again, but alone. A lesson learned I suppose.

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  • Uncategorized

    If it gets measured, it gets managed

    And arguably improved – the January to December results show “limited” progress, but that does not show the real progress. I was advancing far too quickly and the lifts were getting to be feats of strength, and not refinements of technique, which is dangerous with kettlebells.

    I went to a lower weight early in the year and have been moving back up with better technique ever since.

    I’m going to wait until February before I introduce the 80 lb kettlebell back. I could probably do it now, but there is no need to rush. Also – my shoulders feel great, which was not the case this time last year.

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  • Books,  Russia,  Uncategorized

    The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is one of the greatest history books I’ve ever read

    TLDR – five stars, one of the best history books I’ve ever read. Go read it.

    The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes is the history of Russia I’ve been looking for all these years. Figes’ writing is very good prose, concise, very well sourced and actually answers the questions like “how is it possible that {XXX} happened” to a greater degree than any book I’ve come across.

    It starts at the very beginning where what we now call Russia formed (coalesced might be a better word) Unlike most histories of Russia it’s not just a listing of Czars and their internal political dramas but covers a lot of other life in Russia, i.e. peasants, workers, etc.

    Figes makes the point again and again (the emphasis is correct) that there is, and has never been, that while family life is very strong, and the central government is strong, everything in between is weak. There are not, and have never been strong unions, minority political parties, non orthodox churches, non-state affiliated business, etc, etc. There were not any strong nobles, or regional powers. Essentially there is no middleware, which renders what we in the West think of as democracy impossible.

    I think in every other country the monarch bubbled out of the nobility, in Russia it was the reverse.

    One thing Figes did not highlight is how Russia land policies encouraged population growth in the pre-revolutionary times, in sort of a way that the pre-civil war American south favored the accumulation of slaves. “Human capital” became a very literal term. In the American south, the limiting factors were land and slaves to work the land. In Russia land was reallocated periodically according to the number of “eaters” which encouraged extremely high population growth, apparently higher than anywhere else. This meant very, very, weak property rights and consequently limited physical capital accumulation.

    It seems that a lot of Russia has always lived under some form of village level proto-communism. It would be approximately Socialism 3.5 by this definition, but at the peasant village level.

    I feel like reading it again just to let everything sink in. Figes wrote the most information dense book I’ve read in years.

    Addendum – I now get much more of the Russian rhetoric regarding Ukraine, as well as references to “The Russias” instead of just Russia – the Anglosphere is sort of a comparison.

    Things I highlighted in the book.

    The only written account that we have , the Tale of Bygone Years , known as the Primary Chronicle , was compiled by the monk Nestor and other monks in Kiev during the 1110s .

    in 862 , the warring Slavic tribes of north – west Russia agreed jointly to invite the Rus , a branch of the Vikings , to rule over them : ‘ Our land is vast and abundant , but there is no order in it . Come and reign as princes and have authority over us ! ‘

    The timescale of the chronicle is biblical . It charts the history of the Rus from Noah in the Book of Genesis , claiming them to be the descendants of his son Japheth , so that Kievan Rus is understood to have been created as part of the divine plan . 4

    Russia grew on the forest lands and steppes between Europe and Asia . There are no natural boundaries , neither seas nor mountain ranges , to define its territory , which throughout its history has been colonised by peoples from both continents . The Ural mountains , said to be the frontier dividing ‘ European Russia ‘ from Siberia , offered no protection to the Russian settlers against the nomadic tribes from the Asiatic steppe . They are a series of high ranges broken up by broad passes . In many places they are more like hills . It is significant that the word in Russian for a ‘ hill ‘ or ‘ mountain ‘ is the same ( gora ) . This is a country on one horizontal plain .

    Pine forests give way to mixed woodlands and open wooded steppelands to the south of Moscow , where the rich black soil is in places up to several metres deep .

    As their power grew , the Rus warriors attacked the Khazar tribute – paying lands between the Volga and Dnieper . In 882 they captured Kiev , which became the capital of Kievan Rus .

    To grow the population and tax base of the new state the grand prince Vladimir forcibly transported entire Slav communities from the northern forests to the regions around Kiev . It was the start of a long tradition of mass population movements enforced by the Russian state .

    Instead of the act of self – determination celebrated by the modern Russian and Ukrainian states , Vladimir’s conversion to the Eastern Church may have been a declaration of his kingdom’s subjugation to the Byzantine Empire .

    Later it would be replaced by a high wall of icons , the iconostasis , whose visual beauty is a central feature of the Eastern Church . Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open – their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window on the divine sphere . 22 The icon is the focal point of the believers ‘ spiritual emotions – a sacred object able to elicit miracles . Icons weep and produce myrrh . They are lost and reappear , intervening in events to steer them on a divine path .

    Of the 800 Russian saints created up until the eighteenth century , over a hundred had been princes or princesses . 26 No other country in the world has made so many saints from its rulers . Nowhere else has power been so sacralised .

    At the core of the Russian faith is a distinctive stress on motherhood which never really took root in the Latin West . Where the Catholic tradition placed its emphasis on the Madonna’s purity , the Russian emphasised her divine motherhood ( bogoroditsa ) . This

    Each prince was equipped with an army or druzhina of a few thousand horsemen led by warriors , known as boyars , who received part of the prince’s land .

    On the death of the grand prince or one of his sons there was a reshuffling of the principalities held by the remaining kin . Normally the throne of the grand prince would pass , not from father to son , but from the elder brother to the younger one ( usually until the fourth brother ) . Only then would it pass down to the next generation . When the eldest brother took the throne in Kiev , all the others moved up to the principality on the next step of the ladder . It was a system of collateral succession not found elsewhere in Europe .

    Kinship not kingship was its constitutional principle . The grand prince was not the equal of a king , but primus inter pares , a figurehead of unity . Outside Kiev itself , in the principalities , his authority was limited .

    Kiev had a population of 40,000 people , more than London and not much less than Paris , at the start of the thirteenth century .

    In fact , politically , Muscovy was different from Kievan Rus . Two hundred and fifty years of Mongol occupation had created a fundamental break between the two .

    army was in a good position to conquer Europe , whose disunited countries had little chance of withstanding the onslaught . But the West was saved by the death of the great khan Ögedei , the favourite son of Chingiz Khan , in December 1241 . When Batu received the news , the following spring , he called off the western offensive and took his army back to Karakorum , the empire’s capital on the Mongolian steppe , to stake his claim to the succession .

    They preferred indeed to fight in the winter when the rivers and marshlands – the main impediment to their horses – were frozen .

    being punished by the Tatar infidels for its sins ( they called them the ‘ Tartars ‘ , with an extra ‘ r ‘ , to associate them with Tartarus , the Greek name for ‘ hell ‘ ) . In

    So many craftsmen were captured by the Mongols that practically no stone or brick buildings were built in the half – abandoned towns during the next fifty years .

    Nevsky’s collaboration was no doubt motivated by his mistrust of the West , which he regarded as a greater threat to Orthodox Russia than the Golden Horde , generally tolerant of religions . He

    The Church too collaborated with the Golden Horde . The khan exempted it from taxation , protected its property and outlawed the persecution of all Christians , on condition that its priests said prayers for him , meaning that they upheld his authority . These dispensations allowed the Church to thrive . Under the Mongols it made its first real inroads into the pagan countryside .

    An important part of this monastic movement was led by men of deep religious feeling who rebelled against the worldly hierarchies of the Orthodox Church and went into the wilderness to live an ascetic life of private prayer and contemplation , book – learning and manual work . They took their spiritual guidance from the hesychasm of Byzantium , a contemplative mysticism ( from the Greek hesychia , meaning ‘ quietude ‘ ) founded on the idea that the way to God was through a life of poverty and prayer under the guidance of a holy man or elder . The

    the bringer of Christianity to the Komi people , who fought hard to defend their animist beliefs ( the artist Kandinsky found them still in existence when he visited the remote Komi region in 1889 ) ,

    West . These lands ‘ political development was later shaped by the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth , a constitutional monarchy with an elected king and parliament dominated by the local landed nobles , which would rule this polyethnic area from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century .

    The Mongols ‘ growing fear of Lithuania was also an important factor in their promotion of Moscow . In the early fourteenth century the Lithuanians were steadily expanding their control to the former western lands of Kievan Rus . Where they were unable to annex them by pressure or persuasion , the Lithuanians turned to religion . They established a separate metropolitan to prise away the western territories from the rest of Orthodox Russia . By the 1330s , Smolensk , Novgorod and Tver were all close to throwing in their lot with Lithuania ; Moscow was struggling to rein them in through military threats ; and the Mongols were confronted by the danger of a powerful new state appearing on their western frontier that might undermine their empire in the Russian lands .

    ‘ national awakening ‘ . Kulikovo is still celebrated in Russia . Putin has frequently referred to it as evidence that Russia was already a great power – the saviour of Europe from the Mongol threat – in the fourteenth century . This idea – Russia as a guard protecting Europe from the ‘ Asiatic hordes ‘ – became part of the national myth from the sixteenth century , as Muscovy began to see itself as a European power on the Asian steppe .

    Today the Kulikovo victory is linked in the nationalist consciousness to other episodes when Russia’s military sacrifice ‘ saved ‘ the West , in 1812 – 15 ( against Napoleon ) or 1941 – 5 , for example ; each time its sacrifice had been unthanked , unrecognised by its Western allies in these wars . The country’s deep resentment of the West is rooted in this national myth .

    Just as the Mongols were dealing with the challenge from Moscow , they faced a new threat from the Central Asian empire that was then emerging under the command of Timur , better known as Tamerlane . Timur’s army conquered Persia and the Caucasus and then went on to destroy the key trading bases of the Golden Horde , which began a slow but terminal decline . The weakening of the Horde , however , was due less to outside military threats than to the Black Death , which began on the Central Asian steppe in the mid – fourteenth century .

    pandemic turned trade routes into plague routes , devastating the economy and killing perhaps half the population of the Golden Horde , which over the next century broke up into three khanates ( Kazan , Crimea , Astrakhan ) .

    Muscovy remained a vassal of the khans until 1502 . Long before , however , it began to act as if it were an independent state .

    Mongols stayed in Russia for more than three centuries . It was not until the 1550s that the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan were finally defeated by Ivan IV ( the khanate of Crimea survived until 1783 ) . How much impact did these centuries have on the course of Russian history ? There

    The Mongol period brought some positive advances for Russia . The postal system was the fastest in the world – a vast network of relay stations , each equipped with teams of fresh horses capable of carrying officials to all corners of the Mongol Empire at unheard – of speeds . It became the basis of the Muscovite system , which so impressed foreigners . Sigismund

    The nineteenth – century socialist Alexander Herzen compared the repressive Nicholas I ( who reigned from 1825 to 1855 ) to ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telegraph ‘ . The Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin said that Stalin was like ‘ Chingiz Khan with a telephone ‘ .

    The most senior boyar clans – those who were closest through marriage or royal favour to the Moscow court – formed an oligarchic ruling class , which at times , when the grand prince was weak , might direct his government . But their wealth and power came from him . They kept them only for as long as they retained his protection . It was a system of dependency upon the ruler that has lasted to this day . Putin’s oligarchs are totally dependent on his will .

    To some extent this greater freedom from the Mongol influence set the lands of Kiev on a different historical trajectory from Muscovy . The Kievan lands were more oriented to the West , less exposed to the institutions of patrimonial autocracy .

    The dual nature of the Christian ruler – fallible in his humanity but divine in his princely functions – was a common notion in Europe . 4 The

    By the 1530s the idea had been fleshed out in church tracts and legendary tales into what would later become known as the ‘ Third Rome doctrine ‘ .

    year . Moscow itself had a population of perhaps 100,000 people by the early sixteenth century , almost twice as many as London .

    Its vast complex of palaces and churches was constructed largely by Italians . The Hall of Facets ( the tsar’s palace ) was the work of the Venetian architects Marco Ruffo and Pietro Antonio Solari , who built the Kremlin’s walls in the style of the Sforza castle in Milan . Aristotele Fioravanti was responsible for the newly rebuilt Dormition Cathedral ( 1475 – 9 ) and Alevise Novi for the Archangel Cathedral , completed twenty years later . Over centuries many of the Kremlin’s buildings became Russified – Russian architectural elements and ornaments were gradually added – so that today visitors will not easily recognise its Italianate character . There

    ‘ All the people consider themselves to be the slaves of their Tsar , ‘ remarked Herberstein , who thought that ‘ in the sway which he holds over his people , he surpasses the monarchs of the whole world ‘ . 8 Ivan referred to his servitors as ‘ slaves ‘ ( kholopy ) . Protocol required every boyar , even members of the princely clans , to refer to themselves as ‘ your slave ‘ when addressing him – a ritual reminiscent of the servility displayed by the Mongols to their khans . This subservience was fundamental to the patrimonial autocracy that distinguished Russia from the European monarchies .

    As this service class increased in size , the pressure on the state to find more land for it intensified . This became a major driving force of Russia’s territorial expansion – the conquest of new lands for the military servitors .

    One result of the pomeste system was the creation of a landowning service class with only weak ties to a particular community . The pomeshchiki were creatures of the state .

    The persistence of autocracy in Russia is explained less by the state’s strength than by the weakness of society . There were few public institutions to resist the power of the monarchy . The landowning class was overly dependent on the tsar .

    This imbalance – between a dominating state and a weak society

    Between 1500 and the revolution of 1917 , the Russian Empire grew at an astonishing rate , 130 square kilometres on average every day . 10 From the nucleus of Muscovy it expanded into the world’s largest territorial empire . The history of Russia , as Kliuchevsky put it , is the ‘ history of a country that is colonizing itself ‘ . 11

    The Cossacks ‘ name derived from the Turkic word qazaqi , meaning ‘ adventurers ‘ or ‘ vagrant soldiers ‘ who lived in freedom as bandits on the steppe . Many of the Cossacks were remnants of the Mongol army ( Tamerlane had started out as a qazaq ) . They were joined by Russians from the north who fled in growing numbers to the ‘ wild lands ‘ of the south because of the economic crises caused by wars , rising taxes and crop failures in the ‘ little ice age ‘ of the sixteenth century .

    The iconography borrows from the Book of Revelation , in which Michael defeats Satan before the Apocalypse . Ivan appears as a new King David and the Russians as God’s Chosen People , the new Israelites , reinforcing Moscow’s mythic status and mission in the world as the Third Rome . 12

    Russian folklore , the ‘ fool for the sake of Christ ‘ , or Holy Fool , held the status of a saint , though he acted more like a madman or a clown , dressed in bizarre clothes , with an iron cap or harness on his head and chains beneath his shirt , like the shamans of Asia . He wandered as a poor man round the countryside , living off the alms of villagers , who found portents in his strange riddles and believed in his supernatural powers of divination and healing . Unafraid to speak the truth to the rich and powerful , he was frequently received by the nobility and became a common presence at the court . Ivan enjoyed the company of Holy Fools .

    Instead he licensed private entrepreneurs to settle on the land , allowing them to exploit it for their own economic purposes and defend themselves with mercenary troops , usually Cossacks . The Stroganovs were the first big beneficiaries of this colonial policy . A wealthy merchant family with interests in saltworks and mining , in 1558 they leased vast tracts of land on the Kama River between Kazan and Perm . Their

    Ivan became ‘ the Terrible ‘ – in the sense we understand today – only in the eighteenth century . The epithet ( grozny ) was first applied to him in the early seventeenth century , when a rich folklore about the tsar was just developing . At that time the meaning of the word was closer to the sense of awe – inspiring and formidable rather than cruel or harsh – so basically positive . In

    They dressed in long black cloaks like a monk’s habit and rode around the country on black horses with dogs ‘ heads and brooms attached to their bridles – symbols of their mission to hunt out the tsar’s enemies and sweep them from the land . 15

    The horror of the scene was captured by Repin in his 1885 painting Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 , in which Ivan is shown consumed by remorse .

    He was particularly angered by the film’s depiction of the oprichniki who , he said , appeared as ‘ the worst kind of filth , degenerates , something like the Ku Klux Klan ‘ , no doubt fearing that the viewing public would see in them a reference to his own political police .

    The crucial factor in the tsar’s authority – his godlike personality projected through the myth of the holy tsar – could thus be turned against him if his actions did not meet the people’s expectations of his sacred cult .

    There were dozens of ‘ pretender tsars ‘ ( samozvantsy ) who stirred the people to revolt by claiming they were the true tsar , the deliverer of God’s justice . At least twenty – three of these pretenders have been documented before 1700 , and there would be over forty in the eighteenth century .

    The only way the Russians could legitimise rebellion was in the name of the true tsar . No other concept of the state – neither the idea of the public good nor the commonwealth – carried any force in the peasant mind .

    historiography as the first peasant revolutionary . In fact he was a small – scale landowner and military servitor who , like so many of his kind , had fallen on hard times and run away to join the Cossacks , living as a bandit on the steppe .

    Petitioning the tsar had a long tradition in Russia . It continued through the Soviet period when millions of people wrote to Stalin for his help against the abuses of his officials , and can still be seen in Putin’s annual TV programme Direct Line when viewers call in with their questions for the president .

    The new Law Code extended their collective duty to mutual surveillance and denunciation of sedition to the state .

    In one section worthy of the Stalinist regime , the code stated that the families of ‘ traitors ‘ , even children , were liable to execution if they failed to denounce their seditious relatives . Included in such crimes were expressions of intent to rebel against the tsar or public statements against him . The practice of informing became deeply rooted in society . By the late nineteenth century it was an effective tool of the police .

    The Law Code divided the population into legally defined classes , known as estates ( sosloviia ) , strictly ordered in a hierarchy according to their service to the state . Each class was closed and self – contained . The service nobles , townsmen , clergy and peasants could neither leave their class nor hope their children would .

    The social mobility that made Western societies so dynamic in the early modern age was basically absent in Russia . The town population in Russia was permanently fixed .

    They sold themselves as slaves to the richer servicemen , which meant fighting in their place . The struggling pomeshchiki begged the tsar to support them . They wanted stricter laws to bind the peasants to their land . The result of their pleas was the institution of serfdom under the provisions of the new Law Code .

    Stepan Razin was a Cossack from an area of the Don overrun by peasant fugitives . The migrants were ready to become ‘ Cossacks ‘ , to live a life of freedom , without masters or taxes .

    Around 60,000 Jews were killed in 1648 alone – a level of killing that would not be equalled until the pogroms of the Russian Civil War .

    In 1686 , Russia signed a Treaty of Eternal Peace with the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth .

    Publishing was also controlled by the Church . Russia was the only country in Europe without private publishers , printed news sheets or journals , printed plays or poetry . When Peter the Great came to the throne , in 1682 , no more than three books of a non – religious nature had been published by the Moscow press since its establishment in the 1560s .

    where priests were trained in Latin as well as Slavonic .

    Elsewhere , as the soldiers of the tsar approached , the Old Believers shut themselves inside their wooden churches and burned themselves to death to avoid submitting to the Antichrist .

    They continued to follow the teachings of Avvakum , disseminated from his place of enforced exile in the Arctic fort of Pustozersk , where in 1680 he was burned at the stake .

    Until the eighteenth century , the Russians followed the Byzantine custom of counting years from the creation of the world , an event which they believed had occurred 5,508 years before the birth of Christ . But in December 1699 Tsar Peter decreed a calendar reform . Henceforth years were to be numbered from Christ’s birth , ‘ in the manner of European Christian nations ‘ , beginning on 1 January 1700 ( 7209 in the old system ) .

    Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height ,

    He set up a new system of conscription , unparalleled in Europe , in which units of twenty peasant households were each collectively responsible for sending one man for life into the army every year , and even more at times of war . This sweeping militarisation of society produced the largest standing army in the world – some 300,000 troops by Peter’s death , in 1725 , and 2 million men by 1801.4 No other state could mobilise so many men .

    It was said that Peter made his city in the sky and then lowered it , like a giant model , to the ground . Here was a new imperial capital without roots in Russian soil .

    He gave himself the Latin title ‘ Imperator ‘ and had his image cast on a new rouble coin , with laurel wreath and armour , in imitation of Caesar . It was a symbolic break from Muscovy , with its Byzantine mythology , in which the tsar had been portrayed as a divine agent and defender of the faith . Now he appeared in armour with a Western crown and cloak and imperial regalia

    He made state service compulsory for the nobility , whose status was defined by the seniority of their office rather than by birth .

    The Table of Ranks , introduced in 1722 , established fourteen ranks or categories of state service , in which hereditary nobility was conferred on office – holders in the top eight ranks . Commoners could enter at the bottom rank and earn noble titles by working up to the eighth rank ( collegiate assessor in the government , major in the army or third captain in the navy ) . This ordering of the nobles by their service to the state lasted until 1917 . It had a deep effect on the nobles ‘ way of life , further weakening their attachment to the land . Because promotion was normally by seniority , the system rewarded time – servers and encouraged bureaucratic mediocrity .

    From the middle of the eighteenth century we can see the emergence of a new national consciousness which found its first expression in an anti – Western ideology . It was based on the defence of Russian customs and morals against the corrupting impact of the West – a trope of the later Slavophiles .

    Whether Saltykov was Paul’s father remains unknown , but Catherine’s memoirs hinted that he was , much to the horror of her nineteenth – century descendants , who censored any mention of his name .

    Peter meekly surrendered ( on hearing of his overthrow , Frederick the Great said that he had ‘ let himself be driven from the throne as a child is sent to bed ‘ ) . Peter was exiled to one of his estates near St Petersburg , where he was murdered three weeks later by Orlov . It was announced that he had died of ‘ haemorrhoidal colic ‘ – prompting one French wit to note that haemorrhoids must be very dangerous in Russia . 18

    A follower of the Enlightenment , she emphasised the need to educate the nobles as agents of enlightened government . She wanted to create a noble class that would serve the public good , not by compulsion but from a sense of obligation to society ( noblesse oblige ) .

    What she meant by this simple statement was that , on account of its European character , Russia had a natural mastery over all the peoples of Asia .

    Montesquieu . Although she disputed Montesquieu’s conception of Russia as an oriental despotism , she accepted his idea that laws should be consistent with the spirit of a nation shaped by climate and geography .

    ‘ You were right in not wanting to be counted among the philosophes , ‘ she wrote to Grimm at the height of the Jacobin terror in 1794 , ‘ for experience has shown that all of that leads to ruin ; no matter what they say or do , the world will never cease to need authority . It is better to endure the tyranny of one man than the insanity of the multitude . ‘

    On his accession to the throne Paul restored the principle of primogeniture to the law of succession , effectively ensuring that his mother would be the last female ruler of Russia .

    Appalled by his tyranny , a small group of drunken officers broke into the Mikhailovsky Palace and strangled Paul to death on the night of 23 – 24 March 1801 . The officers were acting on the orders of a court conspiracy with close links to Alexander , son of Paul and heir to the throne , who had set the date for the killing .

    Barely 10 per cent of the invasion force would make it back

    Alexander was convinced that all these groups were connected to a secret international Bonapartist organisation . He urged the Holy Alliance to root them out and destroy them before they spread to Poland and Russia . At

    The officers began to organise themselves in secret circles of conspirators , like those in Spain and Italy , often building on the networks of the Freemasons , banned by Alexander in 1822 , to which most of them belonged . All were in favour of a liberal constitution and the abolition of serfdom , but they were divided over how to bring this end about . Some wanted to wait for the tsar to die , whereupon they would refuse to swear allegiance to his successor unless reforms were introduced .

    His younger brother Nicholas did not announce his decision to take the crown instead until 12 December . Pestel resolved to seize the moment for revolt and hurried to St Petersburg to organise it with his fellow officers – the Decembrists as they would be known .

    They conceived of the uprising as a military putsch , instigated by orders issued by the officers , without even thinking whether the soldiers ( who showed no inclination for an armed revolt ) would go along with them . In the end , the Decembrist leaders rallied the support of 3,000 troops in Petersburg – far fewer than the hoped – for 20,000 men , but still enough perhaps to bring about a change of government if well organised and resolute . But that they were not .

    Pestel and four others were hanged in the courtyard of the fortress , even though officially the death penalty had been abolished in Russia . When the five were strung up on the gallows and the floor traps were released , three of the condemned proved too heavy for their ropes and , still alive , fell into the ditch . ‘ What a wretched country ! ‘ cried one of them . ‘ They don’t even know how to hang properly . ‘ 6

    Known as ‘ official nationality ‘ , this new ideology was based on the old myth that the Russians were distinguished from the Europeans by the strength of their devotion to the Church and tsar and by their capacity for sacrifice in the service of a higher patriotic goal .

    The Slavophiles were opposed to the Westernising reforms begun by Peter the Great . They feared that these changes , imposed by a state that was ‘ foreign ‘ to the peasants , would result in the loss of Russia’s national character , its native customs and traditions . The

    ‘ Intelligentsia ‘ is in origin a Russian word .

    Published in the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin , the Sketches had as big an impact in swaying Russian views against serfdom as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book had on the anti – slavery movement in America .

    The humiliation was to leave a deep and lasting sense of resentment towards the West . It continues to this day . All Putin’s talk of Western ‘ double standards ‘ and ‘ hypocrisy ‘ , of Western ‘ Russophobia ‘ and ‘ disrespect ‘ for Russia , goes back to this history . In

    The war had brutally exposed the country’s many weaknesses : the corruption and incompetence of the command ; the technological backwardness of the army and navy ; the poor roads and lack of railways that accounted for the chronic problems of supply ; the poverty of the army’s serf conscripts ; the inability of the economy to sustain a state of war against the industrial powers ; the weakness of the country’s finances ; and the failures of autocracy . Critics focused on the tsar , whose arrogant and wilful policies , as they now seemed , had led the country to defeat and sacrificed so many lives . Even within the governing elite the bankruptcy of the Nicholaevan system was coming to be recognised .

    ‘ My God , so many victims , ‘ wrote the tsarist censor Alexander Nikitenko in his diary . ‘ All at the behest of a mad will , drunk with absolute power … We have been waging war not for two years , but for thirty , maintaining an army of a million men and constantly threatening Europe . What was the point of it all ? ‘

    They found one , a semiliterate peasant and Old Believer called Andrei Petrov . After studying the proclamation for three days , he managed to interpret the statutes in a way that told the peasants what they had wanted to hear all along .

    The commune emerged from the Emancipation as the basic unit of administration in the countryside . The mir , as it was called , a word that also means ‘ world ‘ and ‘ universe ‘ , regulated every aspect of the peasants ‘ lives : it decided the rotation of the crops ( the open – field system of strip farming necessitated uniformity ) ; took care of the woods and pasture lands ; saw to the repair of roads and bridges ; established welfare schemes for widows and the poor ; organised the payment of redemption dues and taxes ; fulfilled the conscription of soldiers ; maintained public order ; and enforced justice through customary law .

    Second was the labour principle – basically a peasant version of the labour theory of value . The peasants attached rights to labour on the land . They believed in a sacred link between the two . The land belonged to God . It could not be owned by anyone . But every peasant family should have the right to feed itself from its own labour on the land . On this principle the landowners did not fairly own their land , and the hungry peasants were fully justified in claiming their right to farm it . A constant battle was thus fought between the state’s written law , framed to defend property , and the peasants ‘ customary law , which they used to defend their transgressions of the landowners ‘ property . The

    The practice of communal repartitioning encouraged the peasants to have bigger families – the main criterion for receiving land . The birth rate in Russia was nearly twice the European average in the latter nineteenth century . The rapid growth of the peasant population ( from 50 to 79 millions between 1861 and 1897 ) resulted in a worsening land shortage . By the turn of the century 7 per cent of the peasant households in the central zone had no land at all , while one in five had less than one hectare . Although

    Lacking the capital to modernise their farms , the easiest way the peasants had to feed themselves was by ploughing more land at the expense of fallow and other pasture lands . But this made the situation worse . It meant reducing livestock herds ( the main source of fertiliser ) and the exhaustion of the soil . By 1900 , one in three peasant households did not have a horse . 6 To cultivate

    The common image of the tsarist regime as omnipresent and all – powerful was largely an invention of the revolutionaries , who spent their lives in fear of it , living in the underground . The reality was different . For every 1,000 inhabitants of the Russian Empire there were only four state officials at the turn of the twentieth century , compared with 7.3 in England and Wales , 12.6 in Germany and 17.6 in France . For a rural population of 100 million people , Russia in 1900 had no more than 1,852 police sergeants and 6,874 police constables . The average constable was responsible for policing 50,000 people in dozens of settlements scattered across 5,000 square kilometres . 10

    After the failure of the ‘ Going to the people ‘ , as the events of 1874 were known , Tkachev argued that such methods were too slow . Before a social revolution could be organised a class of richer peasants , whose interests lay in the status quo , would appear as a result of capitalist development and assert its domination in the countryside . Tkachev argued for a putsch by a disciplined vanguard , which would set up a dictatorship before engineering the creation of a socialist society by waging civil war against the rich . He claimed the time was ripe to carry out this coup , since as yet there was no major social force , just a weak landowning class , prepared to defend the monarchy . Delay would be fatal , Tkachev argued , because soon there would be such a force , a bourgeoisie , supported by the ‘ petty – bourgeois ‘ peasantry , which would be formed by the new market forces in Russia .

    It is hard to think of a more momentous turning – point in Russian history . On the day the tsar was killed , 1 March , he had agreed to a reform that would include elected representatives from the zemstvos and town councils in a new consultative assembly . Although it was a limited reform , by no means implying the creation of a constitutional monarchy , it showed that Alexander was prepared to involve the public in the work of government . On 8 March , the proposal was rejected by his son and heir , Alexander III , in a meeting of grand dukes and ministers . The most reactionary and influential critic , Konstantin Pobedonostsev , procurator of the Holy Synod , warned that accepting the reform would represent a first decisive step on the road to constitutional government . At this time of crisis , he maintained , Russia was in need not of a ‘ talking shop ‘ but of firm actions by the government . From that point , the new tsar , who would rule from 1881 to 1894 , pursued an unbending course of political reaction to restore the autocratic principle .

    Until 1904 , they could even have the peasants flogged for minor crimes . The impact of such corporal punishments – decades after the Emancipation – cannot be overstressed . It made it clear to the peasantry that violence was the basis of state power – and that violence was the only way to remove it .

    Russian was made compulsory in schools and public offices . Polish students at Warsaw University had to suffer the indignity of studying their national literature in Russian translation .

    During the 1907 cholera epidemic in the Kiev area , doctors were forbidden to publish warnings not to drink the water in Ukrainian . But the peasants could not read the Russian signs , and many died as a result .

    The last two tsars encouraged this . Nicholas II , in particular , saw the pogroms as an act of loyalty by the ‘ good and simple Russian folk ‘ . He became a patron of the Union of the Russian People , formed in 1905 , which instigated more than one pogrom . Little wonder , then , that Jews were prominent in the revolutionary underground . The Marxist movement , in particular , was attractive to the Jews . The

    Whereas Populism had proposed to build a socialism based on peasant Russia , the land of pogroms , Marxism was based on a modern Western vision of Russia . It promised to assimilate the Jews into a movement of universal human liberation based on internationalism .

    Millions of peasants came into the towns , some drawn by ambition , others forced to leave the countryside because of overpopulation on the land . Between 1861 and 1914 the empire’s urban population grew from 7 to 28 million people . First came the young men , then the married men , then unmarried girls , who worked mainly in domestic service , and finally the married women with children

    Contrary to the Soviet myth , in which Lenin was a Marxist theorist from his infancy , he came late to politics . He was born in 1870 into a respectable and prosperous family in Simbirsk , a typical provincial town on the Volga . His father was inspector of the Simbirsk district’s primary schools . In Lenin’s final year at secondary school , a middle – class gymnasium , he was highly praised by his headmaster , who by one of those strange historical ironies was the father of Alexander Kerensky , the prime minister Lenin would overthrow in October 1917 .

    Lenin came to Marx already armed with set ideas . All the main components of his ideology – his stress on the need for a disciplined ‘ vanguard ‘ ; his belief that action ( the ‘ subjective factor ‘ ) could alter the objective course of history ; his defence of terror and dictatorship ; his contempt for democrats ( and for socialists who compromised with them ) – stemmed not just from Marx but from Tkachev and the People’s Will . He injected a distinctly Russian dose of conspiratorial politics into a Marxist dialectic that might have remained passive otherwise , tied down by a willingness to wait for the revolution to develop socially rather than bringing it about through political action . It was not Marxism that made Lenin a revolutionary but Lenin who made Marxism revolutionary .

    He wanted followers who would devote their whole lives to the Party’s cause . It had to be a small but secret party made up of committed revolutionaries ( be they workers or , more likely , intellectuals ) who understood ‘ the fine art of not getting arrested ‘ .

    From his tutor , the arch – reactionary Pobedonostsev , Nicholas had learned to see his sovereignty as absolute , unlimited by bureaucracy , parliaments or public opinion , and guided only by his conscience before God .

    Kovno did not have the peasant commune . The peasants owned their land , and as a result they farmed it more efficiently than the peasants did in central Russia where the commune gave them no incentive to improve their landholdings . Stolypin’s solution to the land question was to help the peasants break away from the commune and consolidate their landholding as private property .

    Stolypin had misunderstood the peasantry’s attachment to the mir . He had assumed that they were poor because of it . But in fact it was the other way around : the commune served to share the burden of their poverty , and as long as they were poor they had no reason to leave

    They believed that Europe was heading unavoidably towards a final struggle between the Teutons and the Slavs . They saw the Drang nach Osten , the Drive to the East , as part of a broader German plan to undermine Slavic civilisation , concluding that , unless it made a firm stand to defend its Balkan allies , Russia would suffer a long period of imperial decline and subjugation to Germany . ‘ In

    eight Ukrainian provinces produced one – third of the Russian Empire’s wheat , two – thirds of its coal and more than half its steel . If Russia lost Ukraine , it would no longer be a great power .

    Nicholas was under intense pressure from his generals and ministers , Duma leaders and the press to go to war . Sergei Sazonov , his foreign minister , told him that ‘ unless he yielded to the popular demand for war and unsheathed the sword on Serbia’s behalf , he would run the risk of a revolution and perhaps the loss of his throne ‘ . Nicholas went pale . ‘ Just think of the responsibility you’re advising me to assume , ‘ he said to Sazonov . But he was too weak to argue against

    The soldiers , for the most part , were strangers to the sentiment of patriotism . With little direct knowledge of the world outside their villages , they had only a weak sense of their identity as Russians . They thought of themselves as natives of their village or region . ‘ We are from here and Orthodox , ‘ they would say in response to questions about their nationality . As

    A large proportion of the population was younger than the minimum draft age . Where 12 per cent of the German population was mobilised for military service , Russia was able to call up only 5 per cent .

    By 1915 , new recruits were being trained without rifles . Thrown into battle , they were ordered to retrieve the guns dropped by men shot down in the line in front of them .

    The collapse of discipline was related to the spread of rumours about treason at the court . It was said that the empress and Rasputin were working for the Germans , that they were pushing for a separate peace ( a myth encouraged by the German press which printed fake news of negotiations with the Russian government ) . The court had no idea how to counteract these damaging rumours .

    It had never attached any importance to public opinion and had not learned to manage

    The Soviet leaders , mostly Mensheviks , believed in line with Marxist doctrine that Russia was too backward to proceed at once to a socialist government . Marx had taught them that what was needed now was a ‘ bourgeois democratic ‘ period of development with freedom for the masses to organise themselves through trade unions , political parties and so on . These

    The monarchy was dead . All its institutions of support had collapsed virtually overnight . No one tried to revive it . None of the counter – revolutionary armies of the Civil War – the fight to remove the Bolsheviks from power after 1917 – embraced monarchism as a cause , although many of their officers were monarchists .

    In the countryside the peasants formed their own ad hoc committees ( they sometimes called them Soviets ) and seized the gentry’s property , first the tools and livestock and then their fields , which the commune divided in line with its customary principles ( usually according to

    Soldiers ‘ committees supervised relations with the officers and discussed their military commands . In some units they refused to fight for more than eight hours a day , claiming the same rights as the workers . Throughout the army they demanded to be treated as equals by their officers when they were not engaged in fighting . This assertion of ‘ soldier power ‘ was essential to the spirit of ‘ trench Bolshevism ‘ – a term used by the officers to describe the troops ‘ refusal to obey their orders

    Kerensky , now the minister of war , toured the front to raise the troops ‘ morale . He dressed in military uniform and wore his right arm in a sling , although no one knew of any injury . Kerensky was an actor – politician , made for the revolutionary stage , where his fiery speeches , filled with theatrical gestures and even fainting fits , genuine but timed to coincide with the dramatic climax of his speech , captured the emotions of the crowd .

    For two days the Russians advanced , led by the Women’s Battalion of Death , formed by female volunteers in 1917 and chosen now to shame the men into fighting ; but when the Germans launched a counteroffensive , the Russians fled to the rear in panic .

    The failed uprising sparked a reaction from the right . Leaflets were released by the Ministry of Justice claiming that the Bolsheviks were German agents – an idea based on concrete evidence ( the Bolsheviks undoubtedly received German money and logistical support in 1917 ) but giving rise to the dangerous myth that Soviet power was imposed on Russia by the Germans , Jews and other foreign enemies of the country .

    He did not want to share power . From his hideout in Finland , he had been calling for an armed uprising before the Congress met . The Party ‘ can and must ‘ seize power , he had argued in a series of impatient letters to the Bolshevik Central Committee . He said ‘ can ‘ because the Party had enough support to win a civil war , which was more important than elections at this point . And ‘ must ‘ because by waiting for a vote in the Congress they would give time to Kerensky to organise a counter – revolutionary force and close down the Soviet .

    He had left that morning for the Northern Front in a desperate search for loyal troops . His government by this time was so helpless that it did not even have a car : he had departed in a Renault seized from the American Embassy . The

    By walking out of the Congress , the Mensheviks and SRs had surrendered the Soviet to the Bolsheviks .

    Trotsky pounced on the opportunity . Denouncing Martov’s resolution , he gave his verdict on the renegades : ‘ You are miserable bankrupts , your role is played out ; go where you ought to go – into the dustbin of history ! ‘ Trotsky then proposed a resolution condemning their ‘ treacherous ‘ attempts to kill Soviet power at its birth . 16 The Soviet delegates , who did not understand what they were doing , raised their hands to support it . The effect of their action was to give a Soviet stamp of approval for a Bolshevik dictatorship . Not

    Meanwhile , at the grass – roots level of society , the Bolsheviks gave free rein to the ‘ looting of the looters ‘ – mob trials , lynchings , violent robberies and requisitionings of anyone who bore the slightest trace of wealth or privilege .

    ‘ especially distrustful of a Russian when he gets power into his own hands . Not long ago a slave , he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he has the chance to become his neighbour’s master . ‘ 17

    Their terror took a leaf out of the old playbook of krugovaya poruka , collective responsibility , applied now to a whole social class . They called this terror the ‘ internal front ‘ of the Civil War .

    The Civil War demanded an immediate peace , or as Lenin put it with his usual bluntness , ‘ The bourgeoisie has to be throttled and for that we need both hands free . ‘

    All in all , the Soviet Republic lost 34 per cent of its population ( 55 million people ) , 32 per cent of its agricultural land , 54 per cent of its industrial capacity and 89 per cent of its coalmines ( peat and wood now became its biggest source of fuel ) . 20 As a European power , Russia was reduced to a status on a par with seventeenth – century Muscovy .

    The armies of the Civil War were being formed . The anti – Bolshevik forces , known as the ‘ Whites ‘ ( a name derived from the white cockades worn in the hats of the anti – Jacobins during the French revolutionary wars ) , were a motley bunch without a clear or unifying ideology except to remove the

    Where they found none , they assumed that it was being hidden by the ‘ kulaks ‘ – the phantom class of ‘ capitalist ‘ peasants invented by the Bolsheviks – and an unequal ‘ battle for grain ‘ began . The brigades beat and tortured villagers ; villages were burned , until they handed over what they had , which was often their last stocks of food and seed for the next year . There were hundreds of peasant uprisings – a ‘ kulak counter – revolution ‘ according to the Bolsheviks – behind the Red fronts in the Civil War .

    By 1920 , some 3 million people were employed in the Soviet bureaucracy . This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy .

    Their propaganda was cleverly adapted to the old religious myths of social justice and freedom which had long inspired popular rebellions . It was communicated in a simple visual and iconic form easily accessible and understood by a population with low rates of literacy and little understanding of political discourse . Pamphlets for the rural poor compared socialism to the work of Christ . The cult of Lenin , which took off from August 1918 after he was wounded in an assassination attempt , carried clear religious overtones . Lenin was depicted as a Christlike figure , ready to die for the people’s cause , and , because he had survived , blessed with miraculous powers .

    The Whites ‘ refusal to recognise the national independence movements was disastrous . It lost them the support of the Poles , Ukrainians , Estonians and Finns – any one of which could have tipped the military balance in their favour – and complicated their relations with the Cossacks , who wanted more autonomy from Russia than the White leaders were prepared to give .

    Once the Whites had been defeated the peasants turned against the Bolsheviks , whose requisitionings had brought them to the brink of starvation . By the autumn of 1920 , the whole of the country was engulfed in peasant wars . Most were small revolts but there were also larger armies , sometimes called the Greens , such as Makhno’s in Ukraine or Antonov’s in Tambov , which set up peasant governments . Everywhere their aims were basically the same : to restore the peasant self – rule of 1917 . Some expressed this in the slogan ‘ Soviets without Communists ! ‘

    But Lenin insisted that as long as the state controlled the ‘ commanding heights of the economy ‘ ( heavy industry , the utilities and natural resources ) , there was no danger in allowing private farming , retail trade and handicrafts to satisfy consumer needs .

    The NEP was to be a temporary retreat from the utopian dream of building socialism by decree – the essence of the War Communist model .

    should support their country’s war campaign . To mark their ideological opposition to the Social Democrats , some of whom had backed their national wartime governments , the Bolsheviks in 1918 changed their name from the SDs to the Communist Party . The distinction was reinforced by the Comintern , known as the Third International , whose ‘ Twenty – One Conditions ‘ ( passed in 1920 ) obliged its member parties to rename themselves as Communist , to fight against the ‘ social patriots ‘ of the parliamentary socialist parties and give loyal support to the Soviet Republic , which , as the sole existing seat of Communism in the world , was their only true homeland .

    During the Civil War he took on many jobs that others had considered too mundane . He

    a consequence he had gained a reputation for modest and industrious mediocrity .

    the police . Hidden in a drawer inside his desk , Stalin had a secret telephone on which he was able to listen to the private conversations of senior government officials in the Kremlin . He knew all his comrades ‘ weaknesses – their mistresses , their cocaine use , their homosexuality – and knew how to exploit them .

    Lenin had asked to be buried next to his mother’s grave in Petrograd . But Stalin wanted to embalm the corpse and put it on display . In the Russian Orthodox tradition the uncorrupted body was a sign of holiness .

    the market mechanisms of the NEP alive , requisitioning was brought back for the 1928 harvest .

    Most of the peasants were afraid of giving up a way of life their families had lived for centuries – a life based on the family farm , the peasant commune , the village and its church , all of which were to be swept away as legacies of ‘ backwardness ‘ . In many villages there were demonstrations and riots , assaults on Communists , attacks on kolkhoz property and protests against church closures in which peasant women often took the lead . It was almost a return to the situation at the end of the Civil War , when peasant wars had forced the Bolsheviks to abandon requisitioning , only this time the regime was strong enough to crush the resistance . Realising their own weakness , the peasants ran away or slaughtered their livestock to prevent them being requisitioned for the collective farms . The number of cattle in the Soviet Union fell by 30 per cent in 1929 – 30 , and by half from 1928 to 1933 .

    The war against the kulaks was an economic disaster , on top of its immense human costs . It deprived the new collective farms of the best and hardest – working peasants ( because these are what the kulaks in fact were ) and ultimately led to the terminal decline of the Soviet economy .

    Tied to the collective farm by an internal passport system , the peasants saw this enforced labour as the restoration of serfdom .

    the levies on collective farms were particularly high . This has prompted some historians to argue that the ‘ terror – famine ‘ was a calculated policy of genocide against Ukrainians , although that is hard to prove . 6 Certainly the famine , or Holodomor ( ‘ killing by starvation ‘ in Ukrainian ) , has left a bitter legacy of hatred towards Russia among the descendants of Ukrainians who died from Soviet policies . Although

    The rates of growth that Stalin had demanded in the Five – Year Plan could not have been achieved without the use of forced labour , particularly in the cold and remote regions of the Far North and Siberia , where so many of the Soviet Union’s precious economic resources ( diamonds , gold , platinum and nickel , oil , coal and timber ) were located but where nobody would freely go . The Gulag was the key to the colonisation of these areas . A vast slave economy organised by the police , the Gulag ( an acronym for the Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies ) oversaw the process of arresting ‘ enemies ‘ and sending them to prison camps where they were worked to death on construction sites , building railways and canals , mining coal and gold by hand , and chopping down whole forests in the Arctic zone . Their labour made an incalculable contribution to the country’s economic growth – far more valuable than any figures can communicate because of its added benefit of colonising these inhospitable regions with their precious resources .

    The speed of change in the early 1930s was intoxicating . There were so many signs of the country’s progress – or so it seemed from the Soviet press and other propaganda media – that people believed

    propaganda aimed to foster the belief that the utopia was imminent , that it could be reached by one last collective effort . The promise was renewed by every Five – Year Plan , of which there were twelve , but the utopia was never reached .

    Whereas Lenin , in his cult , appeared as a human god or saint , a sacred guide for the Party orphaned by his death , the cult of Stalin portrayed him as a tsar , the ‘ little – father tsar ‘ or tsar – batiushka of folklore , who would protect the people , like his children , and guide them to a better life . ‘ The Russians need a tsar ‘ , Stalin said on many occasions . 8

    Dmitry studied hard but could not go to university or hold down a proper job because of his kulak origins . Yet he never ceased believing in Stalin , and was himself , in his own words , an ‘ ardent Stalinist ‘ . Looking back on his life decades later , he said in interviews : ‘ it was easier for us [ the repressed ] to survive our punishments if we continued to believe in Stalin , to think that Stalin was deceived by enemies of the people , rather than to give up hope in him … Perhaps it was a form of self – deception , but psychologically it made life much easier to bear , believing in the justice of Stalin . It took away our fear . ‘ 9

    Better known as the Riutin Platform , the typescript was a blistering critique of Stalin’s politics and personality , denouncing him as a mediocre thinker , ‘ unscrupulous intriguer ‘ and ‘ gravedigger of the revolution ‘ through his catastrophic policies , which , in forcing through collectivisation , had betrayed Lenin’s voluntarist principles . 11

    She went to her room and shot herself with a pistol . Among her things they found a note to Stalin in which she had written that she was opposed to everything he was doing . They also found a copy of the Riutin Platform . Stalin

    The army had been the one institution capable of standing up to Stalin in his quest for complete power ( which is why the Trial of the Generals had been in secret ) . Now its leadership was virtually destroyed : of the 767 members of the high command , 512 were shot , 29 died in prison , 3 committed suicide and 59 were still in jail when the war with Germany began in 1941 .

    The typical provincial town was ruled by a clique of senior officials – the district Party boss , the police chief , the heads of local factories , collective farms and prisons – who each had their own client networks in the institutions they controlled . These officials protected one another as long as their power – circle was maintained . But the arrest of one official would inevitably lead to the arrest of all the other members of the ruling clique , as well as their hangers – on , once the NKVD got to work revealing the connections between them .

    The duty to inform was a long – established principle in Russian governance , dating back to the sixteenth century , as we have seen . It was connected to the obligations of krugovaya poruka , the medieval principle of collective responsibility , which we have observed as a recurrent feature in the country’s history . During

    The concept of ‘ objective guilt ‘ applied to crimes against the state – meaning that a person might act with sincere and innocent intentions and yet serve the counter – revolution through their behaviour . It was the objective consequence ( the ‘ meaning ‘ ) of a person’s actions that determined guilt or innocence .

    ‘ To win a battle , ‘ Stalin warned in 1937 , ‘ several corps of soldiers are needed . But to subvert this victory on the front , all that is needed are a few spies somewhere in army headquarters . ‘ On this reasoning , if only 5 per cent of those arrested turned out to be truly enemies , ‘ that ‘ , Stalin said , ‘ would be a good result ‘ . 13

    He would surely put things right if they wrote to him , as many people did , continuing the old tradition of petitioning the tsar to correct the abuses of his officials .

    himself was exposed as an ‘ enemy of the people ‘ . It was said that he had tried to undermine the government by spreading discontent through false arrests . He was later shot in a basement near the Lubianka , the NKVD headquarters .

    Stalin realised that patriotic pride was a more solid base of popular belief than Marxist ideology . After the mass upheavals of the Five – Year Plan , he recognised the need to reunite the country around familiar national symbols and ideas .

    Under Stalin’s leadership the Bolsheviks continued with their atheist campaigns against the Church , but they adopted new ‘ pro – family policies ‘ ( for example , the outlawing of abortion , more state child support , the prosecution of homosexuals ) to boost the birth rate , which had fallen sharply since the launching of the Five – Year Plan . Like Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany , Stalin’s Russia needed more young people for its military . The

    On 7 September , he told his inner circle that they would wait for the Western powers and Nazi Germany to exhaust themselves in a long war before they joined the fighting to ‘ tip the scales ‘ and emerge as the victors . The capitalist system ( in which he included the Fascist states ) would be weakened , enabling the Red Army to export the Soviet revolution as it marched into Europe .

    ‘ You can send your “ source ” from German aviation headquarters back to his fucking mother . This is disinformation , not a “ source ” , ‘ he wrote to his state security commissar , who on 17 June had warned of an imminent attack .

    Hitler wanted the destruction of Russia . He viewed the Russians , like the Slavs , as ‘ sub – humans ‘ , incapable of building their own civilisation . He once said , in terms reminding us of the early German historians of Russia we met in the first chapter , that ‘ unless other peoples , beginning with the Vikings , had imported some rudiments of organisation into Russian humanity , the Russians would still be living like rabbits ‘ .

    By 1941 , they were more prepared than other peoples for the hardships of the war – the sharp decline in living standards , the breaking – up of families , the death and disappearance of their relatives – because they had been through these during the 1930s . The most selfless sacrifice was made by teenagers .

    Her generation fought with reckless bravery . Only 3 per cent of the eighteen – year – olds mobilised in 1941 would still be alive in 1945 .

    The Soviet command economy was made for war . Its ability to organise production for the military campaign – to move and build new factories overnight , to subject workers to martial law and to work to death a million Gulag slaves mining fuel and minerals – gave it an advantage over the Nazis , who were unable to demand so much from the Germans .

    Only by considering this ruthless disregard for human life can we explain the shocking losses of the Red Army – around 12 million soldiers killed between 1941 and 1945 – three times the number of German military losses between 1939 and 1945.13

    The poem ‘ Kill Him ! ‘ by Konstantin Simonov was read to soldiers by their officers before they went into battle :

    Around 2 million German women are believed to have been raped by Soviet soldiers , whose actions went unpunished by their commanders . When

    ‘ Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach . ‘ Stalin

    Timofei Lysenko , the director of the Soviet Institute of Genetics , even claimed to have developed a new strain of wheat that would grow in the Arctic – a bogus claim that was responsible for millions of deaths in Maoist China where the pseudoscience was adopted during the 1950s .

    might have been saved if medical assistance had been called in time . But in the panic of the Doctors ‘ Plot none of Stalin’s inner circle dared take the initiative . He became the final victim of his system of terror .

    The Gulag population reached its peak in 1952 , when there were around 2 million prisoners in its labour camps and colonies .

    In 1957 , Moscow hosted the World Festival of Youth . The Kremlin’s aim was to win over the young people of the capitalist countries to the Soviet way of life . But the outcome was the opposite . With their jeans and easy – going manner the visitors converted Soviet youth to the Western way of life . Rock and roll and its attendant fashions captured the imagination of a generation of Soviet students too sophisticated for the dull , conformist culture of the Komsomol , the Communist Youth League . On their short – wave radios , they listened to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe , where rock and jazz were the draw for news and information about the freedoms of the West . This

    By 1960 , more than half the population was under thirty years of age . The October Revolution was not something they could relate to – for them it was ancient history – while the Great Patriotic War was something that their parents had lived through . It was a challenge to engage this generation in the system’s values and beliefs .

    Like so many Party apparatchiks promoted during Stalin’s purges and the war , he had more practical than intellectual capacities ( according to his brightest minister , Alexander Yakovlev , his main talent was an uncanny ability to ‘ recognise precisely who was his friend and who was his enemy ‘ ) . 29 He was good at building political alliances and networks of support among the regional Party leaders , many of them comrades from the 1930s , when he had risen from the factory floor to become the propaganda chief of the Dnepropetrovsk Party organisation in Ukraine .

    received protection from the Party leadership . Nationalism was regarded as an antidote to the growing influence of Western ideas and culture . It

    By the end of the 1970s , they took up 4 per cent of the country’s agricultural land , but produced 40 per cent of its pork and poultry , 42 per cent of its fruit and over half its potatoes . 31 The prices in the peasant markets were too high for most

    man goes into a shop and asks : ‘ You don’t have any meat ? ‘ ‘ No , ‘ replies the sales assistant , ‘ we don’t have any fish . It’s the shop across the street that has no meat . ‘

    The one product not in short supply was alcohol . Consumption more than doubled in the Brezhnev years . By the early 1980s , the average kolkhoz family was spending one – third of its household income on vodka . Alcoholism was the national disease . It had a major impact on crime rates ( 10 million people every year were detained by the police for drunkenness ) and male life expectancy , which declined from sixty – six in 1964 to just sixty – two in 1980 . Brezhnev’s

    Oil revenues rescued the regime from probable

    Before the revolution , Russia had been a major agricultural exporter . But within sixty years of 1917 it had become the biggest food importer in the world . One – third of all baked goods were made from foreign cereals . Cattle farming was entirely dependent on imported grain .

    After only fifteen months in office , Andropov died from a long illness . He had nominated Gorbachev to succeed him , but Chernenko took his place . Within weeks he too became terminally ill . The Bolsheviks were dying of old age .

    A tired – looking Yanaev , his hands seized by alcoholic tremors , announced uncertainly to the world’s press that he was taking over as the Soviet president .

    But in a referendum on 1 December the Ukrainians voted by a huge majority for independence . Their departure blew a massive hole in the Soviet ship of state , an act that would not be forgotten by those who saw its sinking as a tragedy . A

    Gorbachev declared that he could not support the abolition of the Soviet Union . It had not been ratified by constitutional procedures or even by a democratic vote . Popular opinion had been in favour of a union , but the nationalist leaders had gone against the people’s will . 11 ENDS How does the story of Russia end ?

    The events of 1991 were not a revolution but an abdication of power by the Communist Party . There was no mass uprising or opposition movement to bring down the Soviet regime in Russia . There were no parties , no trade unions or civic forum groups ready to take power , as they did in the east European revolutions of 1989 .

    Without a democratic revolution , the old elites soon re – emerged at the top of the post – Soviet system . The KGB renamed itself the Federal Counter – Intelligence Service ( later changed to the Federal Security Service , or FSB ) without changes in its personnel . Yeltsin filled his government with former Communists and set about reclaiming the old Soviet bodies ( the army , the state bank , the Soviet seat in the United Nations ) for Russia .

    Even the leaders of the August putsch were amnestied in February 1994 . Some went straight from jail to leading positions in Russia’s largest banks and companies .

    Yeltsin wanted a successor who would protect him . His choice fell on Putin , Berezovsky’s favoured candidate , whom he made prime minister in August 1999 , announcing at the same time that he wanted Putin to succeed him as the president . One of Putin’s first acts in that office was to grant immunity to Yeltsin and his family .

    His victory depended , not on an assessment of his policies ( no one knew what he stood for ) but on how he came across on television screens : sober , clean – cut , competent , someone who would not bring shame to Russia on the international stage – in sum , Yeltsin’s opposite .

    Russia had existed as an empire for so long that it could not simply reinvent itself as a nation after 1991 .

    Outside the main cities , few people had the internet in their homes . Eight out of ten received their news from the

    Vladislav Surkov , Putin’s deputy chief of staff and principal adviser , whose approach to words was the same as Humpty Dumpty’s in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass ( ‘ When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean ‘ ) . The meaning of ‘ sovereign democracy ‘ , as Surkov defined it , was that Russia should be free to choose its own political system and call it a ‘ democracy ‘ ( Putin , after all , had been elected ) .

    Fifteen hundred Serbians , half of them civilians , were killed by NATO aerial bombardment between March and

    Statues of the partisan leader were erected in cities such as Lviv and Ternopil . The Bandera cult was a gift for Moscow’s propaganda about the threat of ‘ Nazis ‘ in Ukraine .

    it Putin argued , yet again , that the Russians and Ukrainians were one nation , that Ukraine was a part of ‘ greater Russia ‘ ( an entity at times he equated with the Soviet Union and at times with its inner Slavic core ) and , as such , had no real statehood of its own .

    The Russians began their military build – up in March 2021 .

    His decision surprised even senior Kremlin officials . It must be explained by Putin’s isolation from reality . Terrified of Covid , he had spent the past two years in lockdown on his own in the Kremlin , seldom meeting anybody in person ( even the President of Kazakhstan was made to spend two weeks in quarantine before Putin would see him ) .

    It relied on heavy firepower and on its sheer size to overwhelm its better – supplied and more agile opponents – a distinctly Russian way of fighting wars , as we have seen . The

    Society has been too weak , too divided and too disorganised to sustain an opposition movement , let alone a revolution , for long enough to bring about a change in the character of state power . Today

    With only fossil fuels , precious metals and raw materials to offer the Chinese , Russia would become the junior partner in this new relationship .

    Russia might have taken a more democratic path . It had strong traditions of self – rule in its medieval city republics , in the peasant commune and the Cossack hetmanates and not least in the zemstvos , which might have laid the basis for a more inclusive form of national government .

    Seeing is believing for the Orthodox . Russians pray with their eyes open , their gaze fixed on an icon , which serves as a window onto the divine sphere .

    Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on 16 November 1581 ( 1885 ) . The remorseful tsar , haunted by his own destructive terror , captured the imagination of many artists from the nineteenth century .

    Peter was a man in a hurry . Almost seven feet in height , he walked with giant , rapid strides , leaving his advisers far behind .

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