Unlike those who talk about the unpreparedness, weakness and lack of will of Nicholas II, Russian historian Andrei Anatolyevich Borisyuk, is convinced that the Emperor knew what the country needed during the first years of his reign, and brilliantly fulfilled his mission as sovereign.
“He immediately took effective and ingenious steps for the development of the state,” says the historian. – The economy, bolstered by a growing railway system, was rapidly being developed. Metallurgy was being completely rebuilt. The Urals which was considered the main center of metallurgy, was soon outpaced by the Donbass region, where seven metallurgical plants were built under Nicholas II. Nearby were huge coal reserves, located in the Krivoy Rog iron ore basin. While firewood was being used to smelt metal in the Urals, coal was used in the Donbass. Before 1914, metalworking and mechanical engineering were developing at a record pace in the Empire. These rates even exceeded those of Stalin’s five-year plans.
Double-decker trains and aeroplanes
Recently a double-decker train was put into service between Moscow and Bryansk, but the implementation of the new railcars was delayed by a hundred years. Historic photographs prove that already in 1905, modern-looking double-decker cars, produced in Tver, were already running on Russian rails. It is clear that it was impossible to build them without a very high technological level of production.
During the reign of Nicholas II, the Empire began to produce aeroplanes and cars. During the First World War, 6,300 aircraft were built in “backward” Russia. At the same time, the production of submarines and other high-tech products was developing.
The production of cement increased 15 fold, which was necessary for the rapidly gaining momentum in the construction industry. Such an increase was a result of the changes to urban construction and development. For the first time, the construction of seven- and eight-story apartment buildings was underway in Russia. Many of these buildings have survived to this day in Moscow, where they are often mistaken for Stalinist ones, but in reality they were built during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II.
Agriculture was also increasing. In terms of the harvest of wheat and sugar beet, Russia ranked first in the world, in terms of the total volume of grain harvest – the United States ranking second. This growth was not accidental, it was the result of the reforms of Pyotr Stolypin (1882-1911), who served as Prime Minister of Russia, and Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire from 1906 to his assassination in 1911. But it is interesting to note that many of these reforms were already in place by the time the brilliant statesman came to head the government. The essence of the reforms resulted in the peasants having the right to personal ownership, giving a person the opportunity to buy and sell land without being constrained by any conditions. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, drove everyone into collective farms, again turning people into disenfranchised slaves.
Huge sums of money were allocated for the creation of experimental agricultural enterprises. Farms, and experimental stations were emerging, and agronomy was developing. It was at this time that the first tractors appeared in villages.
1908: universal education program
The actions and decisions of the Emperor lead to a huge economic recovery. The state began to finance subsidized sectors of the economy, such as the social sector. The standard of living of the population was increasing. Education received tremendous support. In 1908, a universal education program was launched in the Russian Empire. During the reign of Nicholas II, more than 65 thousand schools were built.
“The pre-revolutionary program of universal education was denied in Soviet times,” says Andrei Borisyuk. – “The creation of this system was attributed exclusively to the Soviet Union, but documentary sources provide an unambiguous understanding that the universal education program began during the reign of Nicholas II. I researched the documents of the Ministry of Public Education of the Russian Empire, which are in the Russian State Historical Archives, and they prove that the program created 65 thousand new schools.”
The population was growing at a record pace, while mortality was decreasing. One of the many myths regarding the Russian Empire was that the population was allegedly starving, that every few years there was a terrible famine that claimed the lives of millions of people. Hunger in any case is reflected in the statistics, if there was one. But we know two peaks – the famine of the 1920s and 1930s. There were no such peaks in the Russian Empire; the mortality rate was consistently decreasing due to an increase in living standards. The claim that the revolution saved people from hunger does not stand up to scrutiny. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Empire was an advanced high-tech country with rapidly developing industrialization and education.
Science was also developing. It was during the reign of Nicholas II, that the scientist Alexander Stepanovich Popov (1859-1906) invented the radio in 1895. In 1911, the world’s first broadcast of television data was carried out in Russia by Boris Lvovich Rosing (1869-1933).
It is interesting to note that Rosing was one of the many talented pupils of the Russian education system. The Ministry of Public Education, which was established in 1802 by Emperor Alexander I, stated that any citizen of the Russian Empire, regardless of class, could receive an education. Some were able to finish one class of the primary parish school, others – three classes of the district school. There was further opportunity to study in gymnasiums, provincial schools, universities. Primary school education was free.
Another pupil Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863-1945), went on to study the atom, and later said that nuclear energy will soon overshadow the power of the owners of gold, land and capital. The first radium laboratory was created and a radium mine under development.
Also noteworthy is Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and astronautics. His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergei Korolev and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program. Tsiolkovsky was also one of the many talented pupils of the education system of the Russian Empire.
Choosing between Liberalism and Communism
“The development of Russian civilization evolved over many centuries, reaching amazing heights,” says Andrei Borisyuk. – From the birth of this civilization, we can say that Russia was a country of high values and technology. Here churches and monasteries were being built, but at the same time industrial enterprises were opening, factories being built, radio was created, and advanced technological developments carried out. This is the land of scholars and holy ascetics. Why is this important to us now? In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington writes that modern geopolitics is built more along the borders of civilizations than along the geographical borders of countries. That is, civilization is primary for explaining the logic of historical processes. Civilization is a global space built on certain values. An understanding of basic values, that underlie our civilization is literally a matter of national security. What values are at the heart of Russia? On what did the Russian people assert themselves? An appeal to historical Russia shows that these were the traditional values of Faith, Motherland and Family. Relying on them, our country achieved maximum results and victories. Any attempt to deviate from these values resulted in very grave consequences for Russia. This ultimately happened in 1917. During that year the Russian people made a choice between Western European liberalism (February Revolution) and Western communism (October Revolution). The choice of the latter to deviate from the Russian Empire’s historical path of development, ended in failure. By putting pragmatic values first, the economy began to develop more slowly under the Bolsheviks.
Vintage newsreels and old photographs captured many of the Empire’s achievements. The Sormovo machine-building plant, and the Putilovsky plant which produced steam locomotives are just two examples which speak otherwise. Both workshops have survived to this day. And then there are the oil refineries, the power plant in St. Petersburg which is considered a masterpiece of architecture in comparison with the present industrial buildings. It is interesting to note that the same tower cranes used during the construction of the Russian-Baltic Shipyard in 1913, are still in use today. “Backward Russia?”
One photo captured the agricultural equipment of the “joint-stock company of Bryansk factories”, which the then “marketers” brought to an agricultural fair in the Amur region. By 1916, the peasants in the Samara region rejoiced at the arrival of the first tractors which they used to plow the land at their experimental station.
The skylines of both St. Petersburg and Moscow were dotted by the cupolas of beautiful churches and cathedrals. In the village of Pidma, a two-story school was built, which even today stands out with its severity and grace. A post office and a rural store in the Arkhangelsk hinterland more resemble a village palace even today. And the houses in Borodino, near Moscow, are examples of design and style which reflect the beauty of the Russian Empire.
Civilization is life. The Russian Empire in this sense was much more civilized than the modern world, which distorts the concept of the family and imposes destructive ideas. During the reign of Nicholas II, the population of Russia grew by 50 million people. In the pre-revolutionary years, the country’s population increased by 3.6 million people annually. This population growth in itself refutes the assertions of the Bolshevik propaganda that both hunger and want reigned in the Empire. Sadly, of course, diseases were present, and class inequality was still visible, but the fact that the number of inhabitants of Russia was growing also testifies to its prosperity,
Born in Moscow on 15th November 1989, Andrey Anatolyevich Borisyuk is one of a new generation of post-Soviet researcher and historian dedicated to challenging the popular held negative myths and lies about Russia’s last emperor and tsar.
He studied at the Orthodox St. Tikhon University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in Russian history.
He is the author of 2 Russian language books on Nicholas II: История России, которую приказали забыть. Николай II и его время.2018; and Рекорды Империи. Эпоха Николая II. 2020.
© Paul Gilbert. 1 November 2020
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