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Overview of Russia

Russian Hierarchy

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Ben Whitten

Learning Objectives


Russian Hierarchy

As with all societies, there is a hierarchy of groups. Russian society in the early 20th century was no different, being divided into a few notable groups. Four predominant groups in the Russian hierarchy were:

● Peasants

● Workers

● Middle Class

● Nobility

Hierarchy of Groups

1.     Peasants


●At the beginning of the 20th century, 4/5 people in Russia were peasants.

●Their main source of food was grain made into rye bread or porridge, and cabbage soup – fish was common, but meat was rare.

●400,000 people died in 1891 when crop failure coupled with cholera hit the countryside.

●The average life expectancy was <40 years.

●Regular epidemics of typhus and diphtheria, and syphilis were widespread.

●Until 1861, most peasants had been serfs, owned by their masters.

●Many peasants got into crushing debt as they didn’t have enough land to produce a sufficient crop yield.

●The population increased by 50% between 1860 and 1897 and was still growing fast – competition for land increased and became more intense.


2. Nobility


●Although the nobles made up just over 1% of the population, they owned almost a quarter of all the land.

●Some were extremely rich, with large country estates, which they employed people to run.

●They would often have another home in St Petersburg or Moscow, or both, and would spend a good part of the year enjoying the ballet, the theatre and a round of social events in ‘society’.


3. Middle Classes


●Around 1900, with the development of industry, a new class of people was growing in Russia; bankers, merchants and rich capitalists who owned the industrial works

●St Petersburg and Moscow were the main centres of commerce and of the textile industry

●The link between the rich businessmen and the government in Russia was very strong; the government in Russia gave them big contracts and loans


4. Workers


●Life in the back streets of St Petersburg, Moscow and other Russian cities was very different for the men and women who worked in the new industries

●They lived in cheap wooden lodging houses or large tenement buildings, ate cheap black bread, cabbage soup and black wheat porridge

●Workers often lived-in barracks in industrial centres away from the cities, in factories – long, dark corridors led to dormitories for up to 30 workers, or minute rooms sleeping several families

●Illness, smells, arguments, sex – nothing could be hidden

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Russian Hierarchy
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