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Traditional Society


In conclusion, it remains to sum up the essential characteristics of Russia’s traditional social organization that distinguished it from western societies. These appear to be the following:

  • a ‘service state’, as a specific social organization based on a hierarchy of social estates with legally defined duties in relation to one another and the State;

  • the State was not a ‘superstructure’ above society as in the West, but the backbone and the regulator of the entire social structure. The State sometimes even created social groups within it;

  • the primary socio-economic unit was a corporate-collectivist formation based not on the principle of private ownership, as in the West, but on collective or state ownership (e.g. village commune, association of artisans, collective- and state-farms, co-operative, etc.);

  • the State, society and the individual were not separate and autonomous as in the West, but were combined, as it were, in a collectivist whole;

  • the class of service nobility was the spine of Russian statehood (in the pre-Petrine Russia this ruling group was represented by the military landowning class, in the Imperial Russia, by the State bureaucracy recruited from the landowning nobility, and in the communist Russia, by the party-state elite).


This specific type of social organization has proved extremely stable. It had evolved in the pre-Petrine Russia and endured for centuries, changing its forms but not the essence. At times, it went through periods of  great upheavals. Yet after each turbulent period, it reconstituted itself ensuring the basic continuity and vitality of Russia’s historical development and demonstrating the astonishing durability of social institutions, traditions and attitudes, whose unique combination has marked the Russian civilization as distinct from Western European development.

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Pre-Petrine Russia

Origins of Kievan Rus
Emergence of Muscovy
Imperial Expansion
Key Historical Factors
Environment and Climate
Geopolitical Factor
Religious Factor
Social Organization
"Service State"
Consolidation of Serfdom
Vast Powers of the State
Traditional Society
Political Regime


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
Tables and Statistics

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Russia from A to Z

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