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in Russian history: see Slavophiles and WesternizersSlavophiles and Westernizers,
designation for two groups of intellectuals in mid-19th-century Russia that represented opposing schools of thought concerning the nature of Russian civilization. The differences between them, however, were not always clear cut.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



representatives of one of the currents in Russian social thought of the 1840’s and 1850’s and advocates of the abolition of serfdom and of the recognition that Russia must imitate Western Europe in its development. Although by birth and status the majority of the Westernizers belonged to the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry), the landholding class, some of them were raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class) or children of the wealthy stratum of the merchant class who had become scholars and men of letters. The ideas of the Westernizers were expressed and propagandized by a number of publicists and writers, including P. la. Chaadaev, I. S. Turgenev, N. A. Mel’gunov, V. P. Botkin, P. V. Annenkov, M. N. Katkov, E. F. Korsh, and A. V. Nikitenko. Among the professors of history, law, and political economy who expressed Westernizing ideas were T. N. Granovskii, P. N. Kudriavtsev, S. M. Solov’ev, K. D. Kavelin, B. N. Chicherin, P. G. Redkin, I. K. Babst, and I. V. Vernadskii. Aligned with Westernizers were the writers and publicists D. V. Grigorovich, LA . Goncharov, A. V. Druzhinin, A. P. Zablotskii-Desiatovskii, V. N. Maikov, V. A. Miliutin, N. A. Nekrasov, I. I. Panaev, A. F. Pisemskii, and M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin.

In the 1840’s the Westernizers were supported by A. I. Herzen, N. P. Ogarev, and V. G. Belinskii in their disputes with the Slavophiles and in the struggle against the reactionary official ideology—”orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality.” During the late 1830’s and 1840’s, when the Russian intelligentsia did not have to contend with the conflicts between democratism and liberal ideology, which surfaced only in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s, Herzen, Ogarev, and Belinskii were considered Westernizers in journalistic polemics and socioideological arguments. Indeed, they called themselves Westerners. However, the essence of their views and their sociopolitical stance makes them representatives of the embryonic revolutionary democratic ideology. The main publications on which the Westernizers collaborated were the journals Otechestvennye zapiski (1839—), Sovremennik, Russkii vestnik (1856—), andAtenei (1858-59), the newspapers Moskovskievedomosti and Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti, and the literary collections Physiology of St. Petersburg (1845) and St. Petersburg Collection (1846).

The breakdown and crisis of serfdom and the development of capitalist relations in Russia were the preconditions for the emergence of Westernism and Slavophilism, whose development was promoted by the intensification of ideological disputes among the intelligentsia after the publication in 1836 of Chaadaev’s Philosophical Letter. The views of the Slavophiles had taken shape by 1839, those of the Westernizers by 1841. In the Moscow literary salons of the Sverbeevs, Elagin-Kireevskiis, Aksakovs, and Seniavins, writers and scholars—both Westernizers and Slavophiles—gathered on designated days. Herzen and Belinskii sometimes attended these gatherings. Passionate arguments on sociopolitical, philosophical, historical, and religious questions were aroused in the salons by discussions of new works—often those that had not won the approval of the censors. In My Past and Thoughts, Herzen gives a vivid description of the ideological arguments in the salons.

In no single work or document did the Westernizers present their views precisely or programmatically. However, although the Westernizers held different opinions, their sociopolitical, philosophical, and historical views were connected by a number of common features. All the Westernizers were hostile toward the autocracy and toward serfdom. Their social, scholarly, and literary activity was directed at hastening and facilitating the development of a capitalist system in Russia. They criticized serfdom, devised plans for its abolition, and tried to show the advantages of hired labor. Particularly important in the struggle against serfdom were Turgenev’sA Sportsman’s Sketches (1849), Granovskii’s articles and his public lecture courses in history (1843-44, 1845-46, 1851), Zablotskii-Desiatovskii’s notes On the Condition of the Serf in Russia (1841), and Ravelin’s Notes on the Emancipation of the Peasants in Russia (1855; published 1898). Works by Herzen and Belinskii, especially the latter’s famous Letter to Gogol (1847), made extremely powerful attacks on serfdom.

The Westernizers thought the abolition of serfdom possible and desirable only if it could be realized as a reform implemented by the government and the liberal dvorianstvo. Under the Westernizers’ proposals, the emancipated peasants would receive small land allotments. In turn, they would be obliged to pay the landlords redemption money for their personal liberty and for their land. The Westernizers criticized the feudal-absolutist structure of tsarist Russia, offering as an alternative the bourgeois parliamentarian constitutional system of the Western European monarchies, particularly Great Britain and France. Many publicistic works by Annenkov, Botkin, Vernadskii, and Babst gave favorable accounts of Western European society and politics and endeavored to popularize the bourgeois democratic system. These works often presented an idealized picture of the bourgeois legal system and daily life and a sharp defense of bourgeois democracy, whose sociopolitical structure compared favorably at that time with the feudal bureaucratic system of Russia, which was based on serfdom. Advocates of closer relations between Russia and the bourgeois countries of Western Europe, the Westernizers called for the rapid development of industry, trade, and new means of transportation, above all railroads. They were staunch supporters of the free development of industry and trade, unhindered by government intervention.

The Westernizers hoped to win the establishment of a bourgeois parliamentarian system in Russia peacefully by dissemination of their views through education and scholarship and by the pressure of public opinion on the tsarist government. Revolution and Utopian socialist ideas were unsacceptable to the Westernizers. Adherents of bourgeois progress and defenders of enlightenment and reform, they had great esteem for Peter I and his efforts to Europeanize Russia. In Peter I they saw the model of the bold reformermonarch, who had opened new roads for the historical development of Russia as one of the European powers. After the death of Nicholas I the Westernizers, hoping to induce the tsarist government to make reforms, often held up Peter I as an example for Alexander II. Their philosophical outlook stemmed from European idealism and was noticeably influenced by Hegel, Schelling, and, in the 1850’s, by Comte and Buckle. Their historiographical concepts in many respects were closely related to the ideas of the Western European historians F. Guizot, A. Thierry, L. Ranke, and B. Niebuhr.

In general, in the context of serfholding Russia, the social activity, scholarly and literary contributions, and opinions of the Westernizers, their struggle against the reactionary official ideology, and their critique of the liberal conservatism of the Slavophiles had an undeniably progressive value. At the same time, an examination and a comparison of the Westernizers and Slavophiles shows that their ideological differences were a reflection of the objective contradictions in the development of Russian society on the eve of the abolition of serfdom. With the ripening of a revolutionary situation in the late 1850’s during the preparation for the Peasant Reform of 1861, the contradictions between the Westernizers and Slavophiles diminished, and an ideological rapprochement began to emerge. Both camps were in fact spokesmen for the interests of the liberal landlords and bourgeoisie. The revolutionary democrats, led by Chernyshevskii and Herzen, were opposed to the ideologists of the liberal landlords and bourgeoisie. In the postreform era, with the development of capitalism, Westernism ceased to exist as a special trend in social thought.


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Lenin, V. I. “Eshche k voprosu o teorii realizatsii.” Ibid. , vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Goniteli zemstvai Annibaly liberalizma.” Ibid. , vol. 5.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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