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Rebellions are a continuous process and happen not because of the leader, but due to inherent difficulties faced by certain sections of society. Often there are rebellions by sections of the society and the people who rebel dream of being able to succeed in changing their social rights and facilities. However this often does not happen as the powerful groups of society are always reluctant to give up their rights and benefits. The discontent remains and ultimately the society changes though it is doubtful whether the deprived sections get any benefit, and often it is another powerful group which comes to dominate the society.
It is time and again a disastrous period of plot and rebellion, deception and slaughter that tag along the closing stages of a dynasty in medieval or early modern Europe. The period of 1598 to 1613 in Russia is one such instance and was later called as the Time of Troubles. The main triggering reasons of the dynastic phase of the Troubles are the Ivan Isaevich Bolotnikov's peasant flight from the center regions of Russia to the border.
The first three years of the 17th century faced brutal frosts and intense snows that led to crop failures and huge hunger. In addition to hungry bands wandering the countryside, gossips propagated that all this pain was a sentence from God because a bad tsar named Boris sat on the throne after assassinating the boy Dmitrii to guarantee himself the crown.
All sections of the population including boyars, serfs, villagers, and townspeople were disaffected, and the dissatisfaction needed only a banner. The Poles supported the claim of Grigorii Otrep'ev (1582 -- 1606) that he was the Dmitrii of Uglich with the expectation for territory and were successful in taking Moscow; Boris died due to heart attack, and his family putrefied as a result of mass violence. The first False Dmitrii, Otrep'ev, was overthrown within the next year, and Vasily Shuiskii, the Boyar Tsar, (1606 -- 10), ensued him on the throne. While a host of other false Dmitriis questioned his rule, a peasant named Ivan Isaevich Bolotnikov (d. 1608) became the leader of the revolution of 1606-1607, which led an upheaval of the lower classes that aroused the country that was part of the Time of Troubles in Russia.
Bolotnikov was an escapee kholop who went to Russia via Germany and Poland after linking with Cossacks, getting captured by Tatars, selling Turkey to galleys, fleeing to Venice and after knowing about False Dmitriy I. He collected his first regiment in Putivl. His army with backing from False Dmitriy developed rapidly. Its ranks included serfs, free peasants, cossacks, and many other categories of population, and also many boyars and knyazes.
There was a point in his movement when he controlled 70 towns in Southwestern and Southern Russia and all these were in the lower and middle Volga basin. When he knew Dmitry was dead, and whose ideas he had used for gaining popularity, he attacked Moscow during October to December 1606, but was defeated and had to return to Kaluga. Then he was defeated in 1607, captured, blinded and drowned.
It is now important to understand the background from which Bolotnikov came. Bolotnikov was a serf and the term is often overused and in situations where it is not appropriate. Generally, a serf was an agriculturist, and this was his difference with slaves who could be used in any occupations. In terms of the word, it was a dependant condition in which most of the peasants of Europe survived from the decline of the Roman Empire till the start of the French Revolution. The serfs included a new lot of serfs who became serfs in the 15th and 16th centuries apart from the first lot who existed earlier. This process of creation of new serfs ended in 1649 in Russia after starting the creation of serfs in the middle of the 15th century, and they were the only serfs who existed in Russia. As such, the serfs remained as serfs till 1906 till society changed and serfs were not an acceptable nomenclature for humans anymore. The serfs also had some advantages over the other condition under which the agricultural labor worked -- slavery. The serfs had some rights in terms of law while the slaves had no rights.
The serf was generally bound to the land in most countries, except the condition of the Russian serf who lost the binding to the land also in 1700 and was not bound to the land till 1861. On the other hand, the slave could be sold off to a new owner by the earlier owner but the serf was not a saleable commodity. The serf usually owned his own modes of production like grain, livestock and implements, but not the land to use them on. On the other hand, the slaves owned nothing. The serf had only limited rights to marry outside the estate of the land owner, and as such the owner did not interfere much in his personal life. On the side of disadvantages, the serfs had to pay taxes to the state, perform free labor on the roads and serve in the army. The slaves were not expected to perform any such duties as they were not humans, but only living properties like cattle or other forms of livestock.
All these conditions would have been experienced by Bolotnikov in his life as a serf and he would have also noted the deteriorating conditions since the process of serfs was only getting established in Russia at that stage. Since he had joined up as a soldier, it may be assumed that he had also learnt some amount of military skills in the forces while remembering that the army of those days were much less technical than the army of today. This probably gave the impression to the soldiers that they could also function as generals when they wished to do so, but the usual efforts ended in disaster.
At the same time, he also had experience of Turkey and at that time, and that country was a slave society. There were slaves coming into Turkey from both the white Slavic north and black African south. This continued for nearly five hundred years after the Turks had seized control of the greatest part of the Balkan states during the 14th century. There were a high number of slaves and in the capital of Turkey and almost 20% of the population was of slaves. This ratio was probably the highest in the world and could be compared to only the Caribbean sugar islands and American South. In the Ottoman Empire these slaves were used for many purposes -- janissary soldiers, running the empire, manning its ships, preparing the greatest part of its handicrafts, serving in the households and serving in harems. According to the beliefs of that time, the power of the ruler was based on the slaves that he had in his military and administration. This situation of slaves continued till 1890 and only after that the import of slaves was stopped and the slave population was reduced.
During the time of Troubles the Russian people had their living in a state filled with high emotion which was based on mass hysteria. The credulous townsmen and villagers were considered to be much more receptive than ever before to that of the rumors, myths and propaganda. They were eager to listen to the missionaries and leaders who were in a position to translate their anger, hatred and their hopes which were not articulated into a more refined and defined vision. The rich aristocrats were being considered to be the creators of all the worries of the poor. The wealthy were considered by the poor to have been ceased to be human beings and were considered to be the images of evil monsters that were harassing the poor and the lower sections of society. Bolotnikov's revolt helped to be a grim warning that the passive nature of the masses could, by the correct forms of agitation, be translated effectively into a paroxysm of burning, pillage, and that of slaughter.
The Bolotnikov revolt was indeed considered to be the first peasant war in Russia and the most influential and popular war in Russia. The Bolotnikov rebellion was to be a genuine social rebellion which was to change the relation of the nobles to the peasants. Though accepting that Dmitrii had great backing from the Cosscks, and had greatly influenced the people, it was increasingly asserted that the lower sections of the society was able to rebel greatly in a social in place of a political manner against the serf owners. Even while the Bolotnikov Rebellion was considered to be a peasant uprising, it was basically against the burden of compulsory labor services that occurred during the short period of Tsar Vasili Shuysky.
The economic depression which occurred among the peasants formed the basic impetus for them to back the rebellion. The…[continue]
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