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Catherine II (the Great) and Joseph Stalin were both leaders of Russia

that demonstrated an awareness of the West. They tried to emulate some

of the elements of the West while purposely neglecting others. For

this reason they were partial westernizers. Catherine the Great was

very in tune with the Enlightenment and she had vast knowledge over the

culture of Western Europe. Due to this she decided that her country

was backward and would need to change in order for it to remain being a

world power. In 1767 she assembled a Legislative Commission to help

her amend the laws and government of Russia. Before this body

convened, Catherine published a set of Instructions based on many of

the political works of the philosophes. Other examples of her

westernization exist in her plans for economic growth. She tried to

halt interior barriers in trade. Also, under her reign, the exports of

grain, flax, fur, and naval stores increased and she encouraged the

growth of the urban middle class, which is so essential for trade. On

the other hand, although it seemed as if Catherine was taking steps

toward a more western future, her proposition to reform law did not

occur until fifty years later. Also, she strongly supported to rights

of the nobility and granted them local power over the medieval custom

of serfs. Catherine never had any intention from departing from

absolutism and her close rapport with the philosophes was a strategic

move. She wanted them to spread the word of a progressive and modern

Russia. She wanted to resemble the West but she did not want to

actually be like it. Joseph Stalin was much less modern in his thought

than Catherine the Great. One of the few examples of westernization

under his regime was the remarkably successful Five-Year Plans. This

was his vehicle for industrialization by setting goals for economic

production and meeting them. Also, Stalin made peace with the Russian

Orthodox Church. Although, this was more likely an attempt to gain

more support during World War II than because of the kindness of his

heart. However, most of Stalin’s actions reflected a cruel backward

mentality. Stalin’s collectivization proposal made the kulaks very

wealthy and also was opposed by many farmers and peasants from all

social classes. First, Stalin eliminated the kulaks as a class. Then

he proceeded to assassinate al dissidents and this ended up in

warfare. This was by no means a modern approach to dealing with the

country’s problems. Then instead of admitting the failure of this

program, Stalin proclaimed it was delayed because of “dizziness from

success.” In the last years of his reign, he had begun a second purge

that was targeted toward the Jews. Stalin and Catherine are mixtures

of the antique Russia and the expanding modern western society.

Catherine did demonstrate a more prevalent attitude than Stalin, who

proceeded to be blinded by a history behind in its time. However, both

did not achieve many of the goals that they proclaimed.


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