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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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