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Many contradictions of the modern age are attributable to the fact that peoples and countries had entered it at different levels of development. There was a top league of the industrialized nations of Europe and North America, which used their great industrial muscle to spread their political and economic domination over a considerable part of the globe. At the other end, there were colonial countries, for which the contact with Western civilization brought plundering of their natural resources and exploitation of their populations.  

Peter the Great launched Russia's first modernization

There was also a third group of states, in Asia as well as in Europe, which had their own centuries-old history, yet had emerged as actors in the international scene relatively recently. Some countries of that group were in the position of semi-colonies, other were themselves colonial empires, yet all of them had one thing in common: they were confronted with the historical challenge of closing the gap with the developed nations.    

The countries in that middle group had fallen behind in rates of development for various reasons: Spain, because it had come to depend too much on the exploitation of its vast colonies in Latin America; Japan, due to its self-imposed isolation; Italy, because of political fragmentation, etc. The main reason, however, was that these states had been slow to modernize the traditional socio-economic system inherited from the medieval era and had preserved many of its characteristics. They now faced the task of overcoming their backwardness by taking the path of capitalist modernization and following the lead of the advanced industrialized nations. Russia was one of these modernizing, developing states.

From the times of Peter the Great, Russia has made several modernization attempts seeking a radical restructuring and rejuvenation of all essential spheres of the countrys life: from its economy to its political system. However, the problem with all of Russias modernizing efforts was that reforms were launched too late, when the country was already in the grip of a social and political crisis and when the government was under intense direct pressure either from below in the form of mass social discontent or from an external threat or a military defeat. In such exceptional circumstances and under such great pressure the reforming government was compelled to act quickly and in great haste, often without enough time to think through its new policies and their consequences. As a result, none of the periodically undertaken reforms was carried out in a comprehensive and consistent manner. Each generation of reformers inherited unresolved problems from previous reform efforts and passed on its own unresolved problems to the next. Not only had every new generation of reformers to deal with the backlog of accumulated past problems, but it had to draw up a new reform plan for an empire which had expanded and grown in the size of its territory and population and which consequently  required a restructuring on a bigger scale and of greater complexity  than before.

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The End of an Empire


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