• "Social Sciences"
  • Date:09-01-98(SSC-No.004)
  • Size:47,555 Kb.
  • Words: 7516

At the Service of the CZAR: Russian Bureaucracyin the Making


It is a very old tradition with the Russians to curse civil servants and accuse them of all mortal sins. Indeed, no other social group in Russia has been constantly attacked to this extent from all sides under all powers. It was next to a faux pas to compliment a bureaucrat. Russian literature was dominated by ugly images of bureaucrat embezzlers, bribetakers, indifferent plunderers of common people, nonentities in the persons of high officials and department heads created by great Russian writers Gogol, Sukhovo-Kobylin, and Shchedrin. The Liberals oriented to the West regarded the spoiled, ignorant, and greedy bureaucracy as nearly the main evil of the state and public order, and the ugliest manifestation of Russia's "Asiatic" side. The Slavophiles and pan-Slavists were criticizing the bureaucrats as the carriers of European influence mortally dangerous for the Russian nature. The lower strata hated the civil servants as their main offenders who deceived the "good czars." It was a common belief that the czars were thinking day and night about the people but could do nothing because of "evil servants" who distorted all good intentions. The powers that be never missed an opportunity to criticize civil servants: it was an efficient and simple method to avoid responsibility for unpopular measures and demonstrate "closeness to people." In short, the faults of the Russian bureaucrats became proverbial.

This attitude was well-founded yet a serious historical analysis, while corroborating many of these invectives, fails to produce a similarly unambiguous negative picture. The Russian bureaucracy was far from homogeneous where the social status and ideas of its members were concerned; it was changing as time went on.

For the lack of space I hope to offer here an overview of some of the fundamental features of the Russian civil servants and their evolution: by this I mean the integrating aspect-the Table of Ranks and its history.

The Table of Ranks as a Mirror of Russian Bureaucracy

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