How can I better understand the developments leading to the the Russian Revolution?

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What I like to do when studying a specific event in history, is to read some contemporary fiction in order to understand the conditions leading to that event. In the case of the Russian revolution, things can get a bit dry and confusing at first, especially when looking at Alexander II's reforms. This is why I decided to read Fathers and Sons and analyse pre-revolutionary Russia via Trugenev's characters and settings. 

In Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons we witness comprehensive social transformation from the point of view of individuals. We learn that the ideologies and social engineering must be firmly rooted in the daily existence of the people who are going to be effected by them.

- After his education, Bazarov comes back to an old conservative feudal society governed by ancient traditions and superstitions. Everyone knows that change is on its way but they cannot imagine what it will mean to them.

- Bazarov has studied and tries to adapt himself to an ideology that negates the old ways and opens up to something new. But as a son of a landowner he remains an outsider to the serfs and as a progressive intellectual he is also a stranger to his class and family. He tries to live in accordance to his ideas but cannot break with the old because his own human feelings and instincts get in his way like love and respect to others. He is a sensitive person who lacks the ruthlessness and fanaticism of a true revolutionary and that is the tragedy in the novel.

- Describe all the characters. The intellectual realism of Bazarov makes him knowledgeable about the innutility to act. Society as he knows it is doomed but that the transition will be bloody and horrifying and he does not want to participate in neither of it, neither the past nor the present.

- Since people are individuals acting on the basis of their background and desires, he knows that any thorough social transformation of such an engrained and unequal society like the one in the old Russia would lead to unavoidable human suffering and even if his ideology tells him that change must take place, his personality makes it impossible for him to take an active part in such a change.

- Many Russian reformers were probably well intentioned (Alex II), they knew that status quo could not continue but they acted out their reforms too fast and in some kind of limbo. Surplus labour that was created by emancipation. There was not enough industry to support surplus labour, neither were the liberated serfs educated enough. They didn’t create the socio-economic prerequisites.

Like Bazarov they didn’t have any viable alternatives.

Want to write an essay? Think Iceberg Method ;)

Intro: creates picture of current state of Russia of his time and on the base of that he also predicts the future

- Bazarov

- characters

- the future

Conclusion: nihilists. Nothing can be forced to change – cost for change will be too big when it comes to human suffering. Revolution needs to sacrifice everything for the cause and he’s not ready.  

What the novel shows us about pre-revolutionary Russia

Alexander II's reforms were premuture in the sense that the peasants were not educated, Russia was not industrialised and therefore there was not enough work or knowledge for the peasantry to progress. Bazarov is a prime example of the westernised, educated Russian elite who could recognise the situation but were unable to do anything about it - inspiring nihilism.  

Esmeralda L. IB English tutor, IB Biology tutor, IB English and World...

About the author

is an online IB History tutor with MyTutor studying at Durham University

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