Threads of Empire — Loyalty

Paul poses excellent questions regarding loyalty. He accurately characterizes my arguments that I sought to describe a “grand arc” of movement from more passive forms of loyalty to more active ones, and that more of the emperor’s subjects were supposed to understand the state’s goals and actively support them.

I had not focused particularly on question of material versus ideal motivations for loyalty. This was in part because the sources I had rarely made possible such an inquiry. Personal, first-hand accounts of someone’s motivation were not very common. The material dimensions of motivation were sometimes quite apparent, as in cases where servitors received grants of land or salaries. But material considerations could be opaque, too, in cases where someone might be able to use his position to extract bribes that did not see the light of day. I would hesitate to tie passive loyalty only to material interests, and active loyalty to what Paul calls “intellectual or even spiritual spheres.” Material interests can certainly motivate active loyalty.

That said, I would agree that material motivations were most salient in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Before the 1730s, local elites could likely use their roles as intermediaries between the tsar and his or her subjects to profit materially by skimming taxes collected, for instance. But before the 1730s, the region was too unstable to make landholding secure and lucrative. After the Bashkir wars of the 1730s, joining forces with the tsar’s men brought one the opportunity to obtain land and plunder. Whether or not someone such as Kutlu-Mukhammad/Aleksei Ivanovich Tevkelev actually identified with Peter II was not apparent from the writings I had. Considering Tevkelev and his family owned more land than anyone else in the region by the mid eighteenth century, however, Tevkelev certainly gained materially from his long and loyal service. Other Muslim and Russian Orthodox servitors did as well.

The possibility of material reward, most notably land, remained a feature of service in Bashkiria well into the nineteenth century. As long as Bashkir land could be acquired through a grant from the emperor or could be purchased for little money, an enterprising noble could serve in the region and use his position or wealth to acquire considerable land at little cost, as in Sergei Aksakov’s Family Chronicle. Lower down in the hierarchy, Bashkir cantonal administration enabled local elders to redirect resources to themselves and to their families. Deciding who would serve on the Orenburg defensive line, for instance, was something that set up possibilities for bribe-taking. After the cantons were abolished in 1865, the Bashkir elite grew poorer along with ordinary Bashkirs.

In Bashkiria, loyalty as a sort of “disembodied idealism” first becomes clear among very elite servitors who served personally with Peter the Great. Ivan Nepliuev’s description of being despondent when he heard of Peter’s death would seem to indicate more than material interests were at issue. V. N. Tatishchev’s dedication of his monumental work of history to Peter shows a mix of material and idealistic sources of devotion. In his introduction to his History of Russia, published well after Peter’s death, Tatishchev wrote of Peter:

Everything that I possess: ranks, honor, an estate, and above all else, reason, I                        possess solely because of the kindness of His Majesty. Had he not sent me to                          foreign lands, had he not used me in important affairs, had he not encouraged                        me with his kindness, I could have obtained any of these things.

Catherine’s reign marked an expansion of who could be loyal to include Muslims. The creation of the Bashkir cantons and eventually the construction of a mosque in Orenburg, the Bashkir caravanserai, and the mufti’s house and mosque in the center of Ufa indicated that increasing numbers of the Muslim elite could identify with imperial authority.

The making of the local elite in the post reform era combined idealism and materialism. Those who served in zemstvos or later in the State Duma, could identify themselves with imperial authority. When Mufti Salim-Girei Tevkelev sought to retire but did not like his proposed replacement, he wrote, “I, as a Russian nobleman, for the common good, eagerly agree to continue service.” Implicit in such a statement is the fact that as an elderly, wealthy man, he had no material reason for serving, but did so out of a sense of honor and devotion to the emperor and empire. For the Muslim elite, the moment in February 1877 when Mufti Tevkelev publicly displayed his newly-awarded Orders of St. Stanislav and St. Anna, first class, epitomized the possibilities for loyalty. The tears the mufti shed and the joy of the Muslim community suggest more than a material motivation for loyalty. He and others seem to have felt the medals were recognition of mutual bonds between emperor and elite Muslim subjects. In such a case, I would agree with Paul’s suggestion that a set of values had emerged that motivated loyalty to the sovereign, and that this succeeded in drawing some Muslim and Russian Orthodox members of elite to imperial service.

At the same time, zemstvo service could be a source of material benefit. Mufti Tevkelev’s nephew, Kutlu-Mukhammad Tevkelev, chaired the zemstvo committee that apportioned tax burdens on the province’s residents. I have no evidence that he personally benefitted from his post, but it certainly could be a source of power that he could use to collect bribes or simply favor those who might in some way favor him back. People could benefit from service in other ways, too. Members of families of men in zemstvo service frequently appeared in lists of those receiving scholarships to local secondary schools or the university, for instance.

How extensive were idealistic values? In the pre-reform era, I would argue, not very extensive. In a system based on a hierarchy of legal statuses, everyone was supposed to recognize their subordination to someone above them in the social hierarchy. The loyalty of the elite in that hierarchy was what mattered. As Bob Crews first argued, the empire entered the spiritual realm of Muslims beginning in the 1780s. In Bashkiria in the 1790s, Bashkir cantons opened several hundred positions for elders, translators, and others who now would become part of the imperial military and the culture that came with it. The Nepliuev Cadet School in Orenburg opened in 1825, and enrolled native Russian and Turkic language speakers in an effort to create a bilingual elite that would serve the empire on its southeastern borderland, and in the 1830s began to send some Bashkir youth to study medicine in Kazan. Yet not until 1858 did the Bashkir cantonal administration begin to establish schools for ordinary Bashkir youth. Before the Great Reforms, officials did not think ordinary Bashkirs even needed to study Russian and be inculcated in the culture and values of the empire more broadly.

In the post-reform era, more of the male population was expected to be actively loyal. The idea that more of the male population ought to know the tsarist state and its values, and be ready to pursue them or to defend them received emphasis in the military, zemstvo, and judicial reforms. In the post-reform era, I think participation in state institutions and the military succeeded in expanding the number of those who identified with imperial authority. Such men were not loyal just to gain economic opportunities, though these still loomed large. They believed that their loyal participation in the empire’s affairs would make them active parts of a powerful and prosperous empire. For this reason, the Volga famine of 1891-92 and the war of 1904-06 with Japan loomed large as challenges to that loyalty. When the tsarist state seemed unable to feed a hungry population or defeat the empire’s enemies, loyalty seemed to indicate support for ineptitude and failure.

I think the fraying of bonds of loyalty during and after 1905 had the intensity it did because it represented a failure both of ideal and material bases for loyalty, at least among landowning elites favored in local self-administration or Duma service. For all members of the elite, there were fewer opportunities to get Bashkir land on the cheap, and more people trying to acquire it. For Muslims squeezed out of zemstvo or duma seats, the opportunities for material acquisition were lost as well.

Moreover, during and after 1905, loyalty began to be less about what one did or even believed, and more about who a person was. In the revolutionary tumult of 1905, even members of the elite with names derived from languages of “foreign” lands (Turkic, German, Polish, and others) and anyone whose politics leaned left of center had their very ability to be loyal questioned. After Petr Stolypin shut down the second State Duma on June 3, 1907, Nicholas II decided that non-Russians should not have decisive voices in “purely Russian” questions. Those who did not fit an increasingly narrow definition of loyalty and act it out regularly no longer had the opportunity that their predecessors for the past 150 years had. Material interests aside, for many, the emperor and his officials no longer welcomed what the tsar’s subjects saw as their loyalty. With little to be gained financially and bases for idealistic loyalty waning, other systems of loyalty–to faith, nation, or class–became more attractive.


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