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Table of Ranks

There had always been antagonism between the Russian people and the chinovnichestvo (officialdom). The chinovniks, holders of the "chin or rank of which there are fourteen degrees, were created by Peter the Great, who hoped by this method to democratize state service and wrest it from the aristocracy and families of ancient lineage, the Boyars. To gain the loyalty of this newly created social group, the Russian autocrats, notably Catherine II, in the eighteenth century, granted them special privileges, gifts of land and serfs. Thus a new clan distinction, the aristocracy of the chin or rank, was developed.

Peter, who early saw the necessity of undermining the influence of the nobles, most of whom were violently opposed to his projects for the regeneration of the country, had recourse, in furtherance of his plans, to the scheme of creating a new order of nobility. In this he divided the civil and military functionaries in the service of the state into 14 classes, enacting, at the same time, that the eight highest classes should confer on the individuals in them the distinction of hereditary nobility ; that some of the other classes should confer the distinction of personal nobility, or of nobility for life ; and that those enrolled in the others should be deemed gentlemen. Some modifications were made in this arrange men by the Empress Catherine II.; but it was still maintained nearly as it was contrived by Peler the Great.

The creation of a new nobility founded on merit, or on services rendered to the state, was, no doubt, a material imnvement at the time. By illustrating many new families, as served to lessen the influence of the old nobility, and to liberalise the order, at the same time that it opened a prospect to all enterprising individuals of rising to the highest dignities.

The nobles were an order in the state whose resistance, though more passive than that of the clergy, was equally insufferable to Peter the Great. His hand had always been heavy against that stiff-necked race. He had no mercy upon their indolence and superstition, no toleration for their pride of birth or wealth. As landed proprietors he regarded them merely as the possessors of fiefs, who held them by the tenure of being serviceable to the state.

Such was the spirit of the law of 1715 relative to inheritances, which till then had been equally divided; but from that date the real estate was to descend to one of the males, the choice of whom was left to the father, while only the personal property was to pass to the other children. In this respect the law was favorable to paternal authority and aristocracy; but its real purpose was rendered obvious by other clauses. It decreed that the inheritors of personal property should not be permitted to convert it into real estate until after seven years of military service, ten years of civil service, or fifteen years' profession of some kind of art or of commerce. Every heir of property to the amount of five hundred roubles, who had not learned the rudiments of his native language or of some ancient or foreign language, was to forfeit his inheritance.

The great nobles had before this been shorn of their train of boyar followers, or noble domestics, by whom they were perpetually attended, and these were transformed into soldiers, disciplined in the European manner. Against the inertness of the nobles, too, Peter made war even in the sanctuary of their families. Every one of them between the ages of ten and thirty, who evaded an enlistment which was termed voluntary, was to have his property confiscated to the use of the person by whom he was denounced.

The sons of the nobles were arbitrarily wrested from them; some were placed in military schools; others were sent to unlearn their barbarian manners and acquire new habits and knowledge among polished nations; many of them were obliged to keep up a correspondence with the czar on the subject of what they were learning; on their return, he himself questioned them, and if they were found not to have benefited by their travels, disgrace and ridicule were their punishment. Given up to the czar's buffoon, they became the laughing-stocks of the court, and were compelled to perform the most degrading offices in the palace. These were the tyrannical punishments of a reformer who imagined that he might succeed in doing violence to nature by beginning education at an age when it ought to be completed, and by subjecting grown-up men to chastisements which would scarcely be bearable for children.

Peter the Great abolished the old title of boyar, which recalled antiquated claims. To the barbarous and ponderous Moscovite hierarchy he substituted the "Table of Ranks," which, in its fourteen classes, enclosed the entire Russian official world. The civil functions, even the ecclesiastical dignities, were there assimilated to the grades in the army and, from the ensign and "college registrar" who stand on the lowest rung of the ladder (fourteenth class), to the field marshal and the chancellor who are alone enthroned on the top, all the servants of the state are distributed in tiers, each according to his tchin or grade, in a double parallel series, on fourteen numbered rungs or ranks. It was not in the darkness of the Middle-Ages, under the Tatar yoke - it was in the eighteenth century, by the hand of the greatest of modern reformers, that this institution of the tchin was established with its Chinese sounding name, and indeed recalling that of the mandarins with their classes symbolized by buttons of different colors.'

It was from Europe, though mainly from Germany, that Peter borrowed most of these titles, obsolete and devoid of meaning: "college registrar," "college assessor," "State councillor" (Staatsrath), "actual State councillor" (wirklicher Staatsrath), " privy councillor " (Geheimerath), etc.; all foreign designations which in Russia never designated any real functions, and which from the first, represented only a sort of civil grade, often unconnected with any duties. If the names were foreign, however, the spirit of the institution was thoroughly Russian, well adapted to this autocratic soil where neither a strong aristocracy nor a free democracy had ever thrived. In establishing his "Table of Ranks," the great imitator of Europe only took the old Moscovite traditions and tricked out in modern garb the policy of the old tsars.

The famous 'Table of Ranks,' published in 1721, is the official expression and sanction of this system. Those who served the Sovereign were thus divided into three departments, the Army, the State, and the Court. But the staff, in each case, held equal rank. There were fourteen classes, or degrees of official rank (tchin), corresponding, in every department, like the rungs on a triple ladder. The list was headed by a Field-Marshal on the Military, and a Chancellor on the Civil side; immediately below these two, we find a General, beside a Privy Councillor, and so it goes on till we come to a Standard-Bearer and a Departmental Registrar, at the bottom. The same order of precedence was extended to families of officials-the wife shared her husband's rank, and the daughter of a first-class official, so long as she remained unmarried, held the same rank as the wife of one of the fourth class. This artificial classification clearly has nothing in common with those spontaneously developed in other European societies.

Style Tchin Military Civil
Your High Excellency
(Vashe vysokoprevoskhoditelstvo)
I Field-marshal Actnal privy councilor, first class
II General-in-chief Actual privy conncilor
Your High Superiority
Your Excellency
(Vashe Prevoskhoditelstvo)
III Lientenant-general Privy conncilor
IV Major-general Actual councilor of state
Your Highly Born
Your Superiority
(Vashe Visokorodie)
V Councilor of state
Your High Birth
Your Right Highly Born
(Vashe Visokoblagorodie)
VI Colonel Conncilor of college
VII Lientenant-colonel Conncilor of the court
VIII Captain of infantry Assessor of the college
Your Wellborn
Your Nobleness
(Vashe Blagorodie)
IX Staff captain Titular councilor
X Lientenant Secretary of the college
XI Secretary of the government class
XII Sub-lientenant
XIII Ensign
XIV Register of the college

Some grades were vacant in each list; so, in fact, there were only eleven grades in the military service and twelve in the civil service. The peculiar titles in the civil list were arbitrary names created by Peter the Great or borrowed by him from the German. A "councilor of the court" had no official advice at his disposition, nor did "privy councilors" or "councilors of state" have anything to do, as such, with the government deliberations. The lowest civil rank may be acquired by graduation from a university, and it takes many years of public service to climb up the rungs of the ladder to the fifth or sixth tchin, where one begins to feel important.

The first effect of such a system is to attract into the government offices a crowd of men with no vocation, no information, no aptitude ; the second-by classing all officials under a dozen numbered categories-to force every public servant through the whole series after starting from the lowest grades and places. The order of promotion being the same as in the army (generally a grade to every three years), the highest functions, the most exalted positions go by seniority-a system which everywhere puts routine and inertia at a premium. Intelligence or education, superiority either natural or acquired, are, in the eyes of the hierarchical chiefs, as much objects of distrust as pledges of success. Under such a system, the great thing is to begin early. The moment your foot is on a rung of the ladder, provided always you have protectors at the top to lend you a hand, the ascent is easy. Now in many civil careers the lower grades are a poor preparation for the higher one, these latter requiring a wealth of information, a breadth of mind not to be acquired, nor, indeed, demanded at the bottom of the bureaucratic ladder.

During a century and a half Peter's "Fourteen Classes" made of Russia a sort of army in which each man was ranked according to his grade. Such a hierarchy could be good for a period of transition, for a people still full of prejudices, poor in trade and industry, at a time when the only road to greatness was the service of the state, when public functions were the only school of a higher culture. By tying down the nobles to service, Peter made of the nobility the instruments and support of a reform which in itself did not inspire it with much sympathy.' There was some sense in the thing when the men enrolled in the fourteen classes were alone possessed of the rights of freemen, when a diplomat laughingly proposed, as a means of freeing Russia from corporal punishment, to raise the whole people to the fourteenth (lowest) class. In a more advanced state of society, with a civilization so varied and manifold, which opens so many outlets to intellect and activity, such an artificial classification according to services becomes an idle hindrance.

In Russia, the habit of fitting all things into the fourteen pigeon holes of the "Table of Ranks" was such that not even the arts have escaped it. The actors and singers of the imperial theatres are officially divided into several categories, each having its own particular rank and rights. Hence the ridiculous Russian titles and designations, such as "candidate," "commerce councillor," "manufacture councillor," (German, Kandi- dat, Kommerzienrath, Manufakturrath),-appellations which raise a merchant with a fortune of several millions to the level of the seventh or eighth class, i. e., to the rank of a major or lieutenant- colonel. With such a method it would have been but logical to create generals of commerce, and we ought to have marshals of science or poetry.

All these promotions in the line of the tchin did not hinder others in that of imperial "orders." There are five or six of these orders of knighthood, some more, and some less sought after, mostly divided into two, three, even four classes. There are the orders of St. Andrew, of St. Alexander Nevsky, of Ste. Anna; of St. Vladimir, of St. George, not to mention those of St. Stanislaus and the White Eagle, originally Polish orders.

In 1885 all civil grades were to be abolished, except for the three highest classes. In certain branches, especially in the magistracy, the tchin had been disregarded this long while.

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Page last modified: 19-01-2019 18:40:38 ZULU