Russia and Japan managed to avoid Western dominance and
industrialize to achieve economic autonomy. Japan proved to
be the most flexible politically, whereas the strain of
industrialization produced a series of revolutions in Russia.
As late industrializers, however, the were substantial
similarities between Russia and Japan. Both nations had
prior experience with cultural imitation: Japan from China,
Russia from Byzantium and the West. Both had achieved more
effective central governments during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. As both countries industrialized, they
came into conflict over territorial ambitions in Asia.
- Russia's Reforms and Industrial Advance
Russia moved into active reform after 1861 and provided the
foundation for industrialization.
- Russia Before Reform
Russian leaders in the eighteenth century sought to isolate
Russia from the waves of western European revolution. The
Napoleonic invasions of 1812 completed the shift toward
There was some liberal rhetoric, but tsars favored
conservatism. Tsar Alexander I sponsored the Holy Alliance,
which linked conservative monarchies together in defense of
the status quo. Russian intellectuals remained connected to
western European trends, a connection that worried the elite.
After the Decembrist uprising, in which Western-oriented
military officers attempted a coup, Tsar Nicholas I turned to
more repressive conservatism. Conservatism, plus the lack of
substantial middle or artisan classes, helped Russia avoid
the wave of mid-nineteenth century revolutions. The tsar
suppressed Polish nationalism in 1831 and pressed southward
against the Ottoman Empire. Russia supported nationalist
movements in the Balkans as a means of weakening the Turks.
- Economic and Social Problems: The Peasant Question
Russia's economy remained primarily agrarian and fell behind
the West in terms of production and trade. To maintain the
profitability of grain exports, tighter labor obligations
were imposed on the peasantry. The Crimean War, 1854-1856,
demonstrated how far Russia had fallen behind the West.
British and French forces drove the Russians from the Crimea.
The loss convinced Tsar Alexander II that reform was badly
needed. In order to establish a more vigorous economy, some
attempt had to be made to resolve the peasant crisis. A
freer labor force, it was believed, could increase
profitability. Western criticism of Russian social injustice
also stung Russian sensibilities. A series of minor peasant
rebellions in the 1850s also stimulated the movement for
- The Reform Era and Early Industrialization
Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs in 1861. The freed
serfs got most of the land, but the aristocracy retained
essential political and economic power. Serfs remained tied
to their villages until they could pay for the land they
received. High redemption payments and state taxation kept
most peasants in an abject state of poverty. The
emancipation did produce a larger urban labor force, but
failed to stimulate agricultural production. The slow pace
of change engendered social dissatisfaction and regional
In addition to freeing the serfs, Alexander II carried out
other reforms. The tsar issued new law codes, established
regional councils, or zemstvos, for input on local decision making, and
began military reforms. Literacy spread more widely in
Russian society with the development of a mass market in
popular literary forms. Women gained slightly through
greater access to education and somewhat loosened patriarchal
Industrialization was part of the pattern of change in
reformed Russia. Lacking a substantial middle class, the
state played a critical role in capital formation and
investment. Russia created a substantial railroad
network in the 1870s. Better transportation permitted more
efficient use of Russia's abundant natural resources. The
railroad also facilitated shipment of grain to the West,
which in turn helped finance industrialization. By the
1880s, modern factories had begun to develop in major Russian
cities. Count Witte, the Russian minister of finance from
1892 to 1903, enacted high tariffs to protect the new
industries. Witte also encouraged Western investment in
Russian industrialization. As a result, nearly one half of
Russia's industrial businesses were foreign-owned.
By 1900, Russia ranked fourth in steel production and second
in petroleum production. Russian factories were typically
enormous, but technologically inferior. Agriculture also
lagged behind Western standards of productivity. The masses
of Russian citizens were only slightly affected by
industrialization. Military reforms did not substantially
alter the concept of peasant conscripts serving aristocratic
landlords. Nor did Russian industrialization produce a
substantial middle class.
- Protest and Revolution in Russia
During and after the 1880s, Russia became politically and
- The Road to Revolution
Ethnic minorities in Russia began agitation for national
recognition after the 1860s. Recurrent famines produced
peasant unrest. At the same time two strands of intellectual
Business and professional people sought further liberal
reforms, while a more radical intelligentsia demanded
revolution. Intellectual radicalism shaded off into
terrorism and anarchism as a means of fundamentally
restructuring Russian society. Initially Russian radicals
sought to spread their message among the peasants, but found
the masses unreceptive. Given lack of popular support,
anarchists fell back on political assassination as a tool to
unseat the government. Terrorism convinced the tsarist
government to pull back from reform. When Alexander II was
assassinated in 1881, his successors imposed repressive
policies to dampen unrest.
In the 1890s, intellectuals picked up Marxism from the West
as a means of organizing the revolution. Vladimir Ilyich
Ulyanov, known as Lenin, introduced innovations in Marxist
theory to accommodate the social theory to the Russian
situation. Lenin's organization called for small,
disciplined cells of Marxists to organize the revolution.
Lenin's approach was accepted by the Bolshevik faction of the
Russian Marxists. Radicalism spread rapidly among urban
workers, who formed unions and engaged in strikes. Marxism
was one of several doctrines that spread among the labor
force. An intransigent government faced with mass protests
in the cities and the countryside produced a situation that
could not be adjusted by reform.
- The Revolution of 1905
Russian military expansion came to an end in the first decade
of the twentieth century. Japan and Russia came into
conflict over both nation's plans for expansion in northern
China. To the surprise of almost all observers, the Japanese
quickly defeated Russian forces in the Russo-Japanese War of
1904. Military defeat unleashed all of the dissenting force
In the Russian Revolution of 1905, urban workers produced
widespread strikes while peasants erupted across Russia.
After repression failed, the tsar's government offered
reforms. The duma, or national parliament was created. The
Stolypin reforms offered lighter redemption burdens to the
peasantry and a place in village councils. In response,
peasant rebellions did die out, and some peasants began to
accumulate substantial parcels of land. The reforms were
rapidly undone. Tsar Nicholas II withdrew concessions to
workers, setting off new rounds of strikes. The duma rapidly
became a political nonentity. Forced to seek new arenas for
military expansion after the door to Asia was closed, Russia
fomented rebellion among the Slavic kingdoms of the Balkans.
- Russia and Eastern Europe
Many of the new nations emerging in the Balkans replicated
Russian patterns of political autocracy, although many did
establish parliaments. Most eastern European nations
abolished serfdom in 1848 or shortly thereafter.
Industrialization was less thorough in the nations of eastern
Europe, and landlords continued to wield the majority of
economic and political power. The Slavic nations did enjoy
an era of great cultural productivity during the nineteenth
century. By 1900, principles of political autocracy
confronted growing opposition in Russia and elsewhere in
- Japan: Transformation Without Revolution
Faced with European and American demands for more open trade,
Japan underwent industrialization. Transformation in Japan
was in some ways less difficult, but industrialization
- The Final Decades of the Shogunate
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Tokugawa
shogunate continued to combine a central bureaucracy with
alliances with feudal magnates in the countryside. The
government was chronically short of funds due to limited
income from taxes on the agrarian economy and payments made
to feudal lords for their loyalty. Shortages of income led
to reform movements, which weakened the shogunate and made it
vulnerable to external threats. Despite the ongoing
deterioration of strength, the political alliance between
bureaucracy and the samurai worked well. The growth of neo-
Confucianism made Japanese life more secular and precluded a
religious opposition to change.
Literacy rates in Japan were much higher than in the West.
Several strains of intellectual pursuit developed. The
national school emphasized essentially Japanese culture,
while the Dutch Studies school represented Japanese attempts
to keep abreast of Western science and technology.
The Japanese economy expanded on the basis of commercial
growth. Manufacturing began to extend into the countryside,
just as proto-industrialization had occurred in the West.
Economic growth slowed by the middle of the nineteenth
century, producing some rural protests and further weakening
- The Challenge to Isolation
In 1853, the American commodore Matthew Perry arrived and
demanded that Japan be opened to trade. By 1856, Japan was
forced to receive Western consuls and to open ports to
Bowing to military pressure, the shogunate faced immediate
opposition from the daimyos, who insisted on maintaining
isolation. The shogun and the daimyos both made appeals to
the emperor, who began to emerge as a more powerful figure.
Some among the samurai saw an opportunity to unseat the
shogunate. Little changed until the 1860s, when samurai
armed themselves with Western weapons and defeated the
shogun's army. In 1868, certain samurai managed to restore
imperial rule under Meiji.
- Industrial and Political Change in the Meiji State
The Meiji government abolished feudalism and replaced the
daimyo states with regional prefectures. The government sent
samurai abroad to study political institutions and economic
organization. Foreign observations were used to restructure
the state. In order to improve their fiscal situation, the
new government abolished payments to the samurai in return
for grants of government bonds. Conscription provided a new
army. Some samurai fell into poverty, others found avenues
of employment in the government and business. In 1884, the
government created a new nobility to staff a House of Peers.
Civil service examinations were utilized to open the
bureaucracy to men of talent. The new constitution, issued
in 1889, recognized the supremacy of the emperor, but gave
limited powers to an elected lower house of representatives
within the Diet.
The new constitution was based on German models. Voting
rights were determined by property qualifications, which
allowed only five percent of the population to cast ballots.
The form of government gave great authority to wealthy
businessmen and nobles who could influence the emperor and
the Diet. Political parties developed, but a small oligarchy
continued to dominate the government into the twentieth
century. The inclusion of businessmen among the political
elite was a major difference from the Russian model of
- Japan's Industrial Revolution
The new government imposed military reforms to modernize
Japan's army and established the foundation for
industrialization. An internal infrastructure was created,
guilds and internal tariffs were abolished, and clear title
to land was granted to individuals. Lack of capital dictated
direct government involvement in the stages of
industrialization. Japan established the Ministry of
Industry in 1870 to oversee economic development. The
government built model factories to provide experience with
new technology. Education was extended as a means of
developing a work force. Private enterprise soon joined
government initiatives, particularly in textiles. By the
1890s, industrial combines, or zaibatsus, served to
accumulate capital for major investment.
Japan's careful management of industrialization limited
foreign involvement. Japan continued to depend on
importation of equipment and raw materials from the West.
Rapid growth depended on the existence of a cheap supply of
labor, often drawn from poorly paid women. More than
Russia, Japan's industrialization depended on selling
manufactured goods abroad.
- Social and Cultural Effects of Industrialization
Social change led to rapid population growth that strained
Japanese resources but sustained a ready supply of cheap
labor. The education system stressed science and loyalty to
the emperor. Western culture arrived in Japan along with
models of constitutional structure and industrialization. As
industrialization progressed, population growth dropped off.
Patriarchal households remained the norm, but divorce rates
indicated increasing instability within family life.
Shintoism, as an expression of indigenous culture, gained new
In foreign policy, the Japanese entered the race for colonial
domination. Need to employ the new army, the search for raw
materials, and efforts to prevent Western encroachment all
contributed to Japanese imperialism after 1890. Japan won
easy victories over China in 1895 and over Russia in 1904.
The victories yielded Japan some territories in northern
China. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.
- The Strain of Modernization
Industrialization and successful imperialism had costs for
the Japanese. Conservatives were appalled at the trend to
imitate the West. The carefully contrived political balance
began to become unwieldy. Ministries were forced to call
more frequent elections to achieve working majorities in the
Diet. Some intellectuals bemoaned the loss of an authentic
Japanese identity and the creation of a Japan that was
neither traditional nor Western. To combat the malaise,
leaders urged loyalty to the emperor and the nation.
Nationalism became a strong force in Japanese politics.
- Conclusion: Growing International Rivalries
The addition of Russia, Japan, and the United States to the
world diplomatic picture increased competition. Some nations
in the West feared the "yellow peril" represented by Japan's
emergence as an international power. The need
to direct attention away from internal stresses led to colonial acquisitions by the new powers and heightened the competitive atmosphere, particularly in the Far East.