Peter the Great was determined to reform the domestic structure of Russia. He had a simple desire to push Russia – willingly or otherwise – into the modern era as existed then. While his military reforms were ongoing, he reformed the church, education and areas of Russia’s economy.
One of the bastions to change from Peter’s point of view was the Church. In bygone years it had been semi-autonomous. For someone who believed in royal absolutism this was unacceptable. The subordination of the church within Russia was completed without a problem.
There were other reasons to explain Peter’s interest in the Church.
it was a very rich institution and Peter wanted this wealth
it refused to be modernised
it owned vast amounts of land and serfs and, as such, could be seen to be a rival to the tsar.
In 1700, the head of the church, Patriach Adrian, died. Peter did not replace him. In 1701, the control of church property was handed over to a government department called the Monastyrskii Prikaz. This received monastic revenues and paid monks a salary. The simple fact that it was a government department meant that it was subordinate to the will of Peter. In 1721, the church hierarchy was officially abolished by the Ecclesiastical Reservation and the church was placed under the control of the Holy Synod and was fully linked to the state. The 1721 Regulation specifically stated what the clergy could do; in essence, it was designed to control their daily life so that they became an apparatus of the state. The task of the clergy was seen as two-fold: to work for the state and to make their congregations totally submissive to the state by convincing them that Peter was all but God-like to ensure the population of Russia’s total subordination to the crown.
Education also had to be modernised if Russia was going to survive as a power in Europe. Peter wanted a modern army and navy that would be feared throughout Europe. The officers in the military had to be educated or this would never be achieved. While on his travels as a youth, Peter had seen the importance of the knowledge of science and maths for military success. The correct use of artillery needed a knowledge of angles; the building of fortifications needed a knowledge of engineering. Naval officers needed to know how to navigate.
In 1701, the School of Navigation and Maths was founded in Moscow. This was run by British teachers. In the same year, similar schools were created for artillery and languages. In 1707, a School of Medicine was created and in 1712 a School of Engineering. Thirty maths schools were created in the provinces and in 1724, a year before Peter’s death, a School of Science was established though the lack of scientists in Russia meant that it had to be initially staffed by foreigners.
For the educated public, a newspaper was established in 1703 called the “Vedomosti”. It was issued by the state. Peter believed that military leaders had to be educated but that a loyal public should also be if Russia was to shake off its reputation of being steeped in medievalism.
Many young noblemen were encouraged to do as Peter had done – go to western Europe and experience what it was like and also learn. Young Russian noblemen were encouraged to learn about the latest technology, economic theory and political science. A broadening of knowledge was not seen as being a threat by Peter; on the contrary, he believed that these young educated noblemen were of great benefit to Russia’s development.
Peter also expected the young and educated to shun Russian traditions and adopt what he considered to be western values. Beards were shaved off; western clothes were encouraged; the nobility were expected to hold western style tea parties and social gatherings.
Peter was also aware that the internal economy of Russia needed reforming. His travels abroad had convinced Peter that Russia was too backward. As tsar he wanted to apply western mercantilism to stimulate agriculture, industry and commerce. A richer Russia could only benefit the position of the tsar as more could be taxed and invested into the military. A further strengthened military would further enhance his power. In fact, Peter achieved less than he would have liked to but he did kick start the economic growth of Russia that was witnessed in the Eighteenth Century.
The state dominated all forms of industry. The state was the source of capital, raw materials and labour. The state was also the main purchaser of finished goods. In 1718, two colleges were created for commerce and mines and manufacturing. Under state direction, factories of all types were developed. Prices were fixed by the state and the state had the right to be the first purchaser from the producers – but at a price fixed by the state. Private businesses could make a profit only on the surplus of produce which the state did not want and many successful enterprises were simply taken over by the state.
Little was achieved in agriculture which simply remained medieval. The superstitious and conservative attitude of those in agriculture and the sheer size of the country, meant that government officials had great difficulty getting out to rural areas and imposing the will of the tsar on those who lived there. The supremacy of the local lord over his people was deeply entrenched. The state did what it could to encourage those in farming to use modern equipment such as harrows and ploughs but to little avail. Human labour doing the bulk of the work carried on into the Nineteenth Century and was an issue Stalin tried to deal with in the 1930’s. For someone to successfully reform agriculture in the 1720’s, the problem proved too great.