Catherine II and Stalin


Catherine II (the Great) and Joseph Stalin were both
leaders of Russia that demonstrated an awareness of the
West. They tried to emulate some of the elements of the
West while purposely neglecting others. For this reason
they were partial westernizers. Catherine the Great was
very in tune with the Enlightenment and she had vast
knowledge over the culture of Western Europe. Due to this
she decided that her country was backward and would need to
change in order for it to remain being a world power. In
1767 she assembled a Legislative Commission to help her
amend the laws and government of Russia. Before this body
convened, Catherine published a set of Instructions based
on many of the political works of the philosophes. Other
examples of her westernization exist in her plans for
economic growth. She tried to halt interior barriers in
trade. Also, under her reign, the exports of grain, flax,
fur, and naval stores increased and she encouraged the
growth of the urban middle class, which is so essential for
trade. On the other hand, although it seemed as if
Catherine was taking steps toward a more western future,
her proposition to reform law did not occur until fifty
years later. Also, she strongly supported to rights of the
nobility and granted them local power over the medieval
custom of serfs. Catherine never had any intention from
departing from absolutism and her close rapport with the
philosophes was a strategic move. She wanted them to spread
the word of a progressive and modern Russia. She wanted to
resemble the West but she did not want to actually be like
it. Joseph Stalin was much less modern in his thought than
Catherine the Great. One of the few examples of
westernization under his regime was the remarkably
successful Five-Year Plans. This was his vehicle for
industrialization by setting goals for economic production
and meeting them. Also, Stalin made peace with the Russian
Orthodox Church. Although, this was more likely an attempt
to gain more support during World War II than because of
the kindness of his heart. However, most of Stalin's
actions reflected a cruel backward mentality. Stalin's
collectivization proposal made the kulaks very wealthy and
also was opposed by many farmers and peasants from all
social classes. First, Stalin eliminated the kulaks as a
class. Then he proceeded to assassinate al dissidents and
this ended up in warfare. This was by no means a modern
approach to dealing with the country's problems. Then
instead of admitting the failure of this program, Stalin
proclaimed it was delayed because of "dizziness from
success." In the last years of his reign, he had begun a
second purge that was targeted toward the Jews. Stalin and
Catherine are mixtures of the antique Russia and the
expanding modern western society. Catherine did demonstrate
a more prevalent attitude than Stalin, who proceeded to be
blinded by a history behind in its time. However, both did
not achieve many of the goals that they proclaimed.


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