Posts Tagged ‘Lower Classes’

Book on Medieval Russian State of Kiev

March 14, 2022

George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press 1948).

I picked this book up when I was at College in the mid-80s. I did medieval history at ‘A’ Level and Russian at school, and although that’s long ago, I still have an interest in eastern European history, culture and politics. One of atrocities of this war among so many is the Russian assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. President Zelenskyy has said that he’s afraid that his country, its history and culture will be wiped out. Kyiv is one of the great historic cities of Europe. Great Russian authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov have set their novels in the city, and in music its been celebrated by the great Russian musician and composer, Mussorgsky in his ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’. But from c. 10th to the early 13th century Kyiv, or Kiev as it is known in Russian, was the centre of a great medieval Russian empire.

This book is a comprehensive history of Kievan Russia, looking not just at the reigns of its great tsars, but also the church and religion, its literature and culture, everyday life, relations with the other states and the position of national minorities. It has the following chapters, broken down thus into sections.

  1. Kievan Russia’s Place in History
  1. Is Russia Europe?
  2. Russia’s place in the medieval world.
  3. Divergent and parallel trends in Russian and European history.
  4. The notion of east European history.
  5. The challenge of geopolitics.
  6. The significance of the Kievan period in Russian history.

II. The imperial plan and its failure, 878-972

  1. The imperial plan: dreams and realities
  2. First successes – Oleg
  3. First setback – Igor
  4. A breathing spell – Olga
  5. The great adventure – Sviatoslav

III. Conversion to Christianity

  1. The Russian paganism
  2. Vladimir the Saint before his conversion (972-87)
  3. The story of Vladimir’s conversion
  4. Laying the foundations of the Russian church (990-1037)
  5. The significance of conversion: An early appraisal.

IV. The Kievan Realm, 990-1139

  1. Vladimir as Christian ruler (990-1015)
  2. The struggle between Vladimir’s sons (1015-36)
  3. The age of Iaroslav the Wise (1036-54)
  4. The triumvirate (1054-93)
  5. The reign of Sviatopolk II (1093-1113)
  6. A social legislator: Vladimir Monomach
  7. The first two monomashichi (1125-39)

V. Economic Foundations of Kievan Russia

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Natural resources and population
  3. Hunting, agriculture and fishing
  4. Agriculture and cattle breeding
  5. Metallurgy
  6. Building industries
  7. Textile arts, furriery, tanning, ceramics
  8. Commerce
  9. Money and credit
  10. Capital and labor
  11. National income
  12. Prosperity and depression

VI. Social organisation

  1. The basic social units
  2. Social stratification
  3. The upper classes
  4. The middle classes
  5. The lower classes
  6. The half-free
  7. The slaves
  8. The church people
  9. Woman
  10. The steppe frontiersmen
  11. National minorities
  12. Concluding queries: on “economic and social feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VII. Government and Administration

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The lands and the principalities
  3. The three elements of government
  4. The princely administration
  5. Branches of administration
  6. The city-state
  7. The local commune
  8. The manor
  9. The church
  10. The judiciary
  11. Concluding queries: on “political feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VIII. The Russian Federation, 1139-1237

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The struggle for Kiev (1139-69)
  3. Keeping the balance between east Russia and west Russia
  4. Defense of the frontier
  5. The first appearance of the Mongols: the Battle of the Kalka (1223)
  6. Time runs short (1223-37)

IX. Russian Civilisation in the Kievan Period

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Language and script
  3. Folklore
  4. Music
  5. Theater
  6. Fine arts
  7. Religion
  8. Literature
  9. Education
  10. The humanities
  11. Sciences and technlogy

X. The Way of Life

  1. City and country life
  2. Dwellings and furniture
  3. Dress
  4. Food
  5. Health and hygiene
  6. The cycle of life
  7. Public calamities

XI. Russia and the Outside World in the Kievan Period

  1. Preliminary remarks
  2. Russia and the Slavs
  3. Russia and Scandinavia
  4. Russia and the west
  5. Russia and Byzantium
  6. Russia and the Caucasus
  7. Russia and the east

It also has a map of Russia in the Kievan period as well as a list of sources, bibliography and index.

I’ve no doubt that some of the material in the book has become out of date in the nearly 80 years since it was first published. For example, the book describes the veche, a popular assembly, as a democratic institution. But others have said that it met too infrequently really to have been an instrument of popular, democratic government. Although you do wonder what history might have been like if it had been. Would we now be looking at the Ukraine as one of the major foundations of European democracy alongside the British parliament, the Swiss cantons and the Icelandic althing?

Despite its inaccuracies, I think that the book is nevertheless an excellent history of this most ancient Russian state and its people.

And I hope it is not too long before peace and justice is restored to this part of eastern Europe.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Tory Self-Delusions

March 31, 2018

I found this little gem in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ column of an old copy of Private Eye. Amid the usual, very pseudish remarks from football pundits and cookery writers comparing that last goal by Arsenal to Julius Caesar crossing the Tiber, or literary types extolling the virtues of their last excursion around the globe, where they took part in the ancient tribal ceremonies of primal peoples, was a truly astounding quote from the Young Master. This is, of course, the current darling of the Tory party, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared.

“I am a man of the people. Vox populi, vox dei!”

This was in response to Andrew Neil questioning him about the influence of public schools on British political life.

Rees-Mogg probably does see himself as ‘man of the people’. He’s in a party, which considers itself the natural party of government. Decades ago, the Tory ideologue, Trevor Oakeshott, tried to justify the overpowering influence of the middle classes by saying they were the modern equivalent of the barons who stood up to King John, in providing a bulwark against the power of the state. True in some case, but very wrong when the middle classes are in power, and the state functions as their servant.

Rees-Mogg has never, ever, remotely been a man of the people. He’s an aristo toff, who has made his money from investment banking. He holds deeply reactionary views on abortion and homosexuality, which are very much out of touch with those of the genuinely liberal middle and lower classes. And he has always represented the aristocracy and the rich against the poor, the sick, and the disabled. He began his political career in Scotland trying to folks of a declining fishing community that what this country really needed was to keep an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. In parliament, he has continued to promote the interests of the rich by demanding greater subsidies and tax cuts for them. For the poor, he has done nothing except demand greater tax increases on them, to subsidise the already very wealthy to whom he wants to give these tax cuts, and voted to cut welfare services and state funding for vital services. No doubt he genuinely believes all that Thatcherite bilge about making life as tough as possible for the poor in order to encourage them to work harder and do well for themselves.

Personally, he comes across as quiet-spoken, gentlemanly and polite. But he is not a man of the people. He hates them with a passion, but clearly thinks of himself as their champion and saviour against the dreaded welfare state.

Let’s prove him wrong and throw him out of parliament!

Nye Bevan on Solving the Housing Problem

May 14, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece commenting on the increasing shortage of affordable housing due to Margaret Thatcher’s policy of selling off council houses. These have been bought up by private landlords and housing associations, who are charging rents that are unaffordable to many. As a result, the number of evictions has doubled in the past few years. See Mike’s article at

This is how the Thatcherite dream of Britain as a nation of home-owners ends

The Labour Party after the War launched a campaign of house building under Nye Bevan, in order to provide ‘homes fit for heroes’. It was not as successful as it could have been, largely because the high quality of the homes built meant that the numbers actually put up were smaller than were later built under MacMillan, when the quality requirements were relaxed. Nevertheless, it was quite an achievement.

Bevan’s vision for state provision of housing is laid out in the book From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State, by Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002). In it, he makes clear that he wishes to provide homes for the poor. At the same time, he does not want to create segregated areas where the poor are separated from the rich, or occupied mainly by retired people. The problem of social exclusion and ‘social cleansing’ of the poor from rich areas has also become acute under the Tories, especially in London where vast areas are now unaffordable to all but the extremely rich, with the consequence that the working and lower middle classes are being pushed out of their traditional neighbourhoods as these too are bought up by the middle classes.

I want to explain … the broad outlines of the Government’s housing policy. Before the war the housing problems of the middle classes were, roughly speaking, solved. The higher income groups had their houses: the lower income groups had not …. We propose to start to solve, first, the housing difficulties of the lower income groups. In other words were propose to lay the main emphasis of our programme upon building houses to let. That means that we shall ask local authorities to be the main instruments for the housing programme … It is … a principle of the first importance that the local authorities must be looked to as the organisation and source for the building of the main bulk of the housing programme …

Each year before the war about 260,000 houses were built for private enterprise alone, for sale, while the local authorities were confined largely to slum clearance schemes. They built about 50,000 houses a year under those schemes … I would like to ask the House to consider the grave civic damage caused by allowing local authorities to build house for only the lower income groups living in their colonies. This segregation of the different income groups is a wholly evil thing, from a civilised point of view … It is a monstrous affliction upon the essential psychological and biological one-ness of the community …

One of the consequences of this segregation was to create a insistence of uniformity … I am going to encourage the housing authorities in their lay-outs to make provision for building some houses also from the higher income groups at higher rents…

I hope that all age groups will be found hospitality in their schemes, and that they will not be segregated. I hope that old people will not be asked to live in colonies of their own – after all they do not want to look out of their windows on an endless processions [sic] of their friends; they also want to look at processions of perambulators….

The main emphasis on the housing programme, will be on the local authorities. I am fully aware there are certain forms of building organisations that may not be available for the public building programme. The local authorities are, therefore, allowed to license private buildings for sale up to a limit of £1,200 in the provinces, and £1,300 in London… These licenses are for the purpose of supplementing the main housing programme, and not for diverting building labour and materials that would otherwise flow into the public housing programmes…

I should like … to warn hon. Members against one aspect of this matter. There is a great deal of money available in this country for investing in house-building… I do not propose… to let this vast mass of accumulated money on a scarcity market, and to encourage people to acquire mortgages that will be gravestones around their necks…

It is not that we ourselves are against people owning their own houses … There is no desire on our part to prevent people owning their own houses…

The Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister … said that this business of housing was going to be treated as a military operation. I entirely agree with him. If you wanted land for an airfield during the war, you did not have protracted negotiations with the landlord. We are going to have no protracted negotiations with the landlord for getting houses… We are going to ask the House to approve a Bill by which land for all public purposes, including housing-will be acquired by all those agencies which have powers of compulsory purchase… If it is agreed, as it is by the House, that land is needed for public purposes, there is no logic in those purposes being frustrated or held up because protracted negotiations have to go on with the owners of the land…

We, on this side of the House, have committed ourselves to no figures… The fact is that if at this moment we attempted to say that, by a certain date, we will be building a certain number of houses that statement would rest upon no firm basis of veracity…

When the materials and labour have been provided to the local authorities, we will provide the local authorities with housing targets…

In conclusion I would say this: I believe that this housing shortage can be solved. (Pp. 159-60)

Sadly, it wasn’t. Squalor and destitution remained. But it was a fair attempt, and far more successful than Thatcher’s policy, which has finally ended with landlordism and an acute housing shortage.