1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 29
Russia, East and West
Chapter 11: The Problem with New Lands
Czar Mikhail rubbed his hands over the fire and considered. The great houses of Muscovy were dividing up, but in new and surprising ways. Before the Ring of Fire and even after it, the politics of Russia had been clan politics, not much affected by agendas like those that had ruled up-time political debate. In the last few years, there had developed several . . . call them parties. There were people who wanted to clamp down even harder on the serfs. There were the people who wanted to loosen the restrictions. There were those who wanted to modernize and those opposed to modernization. However, the factions weren’t consistent. A lot of the people who were quite happy to adopt new tools and machines still wanted to clamp down on the serfs and peasants. Even wanted to restrict the streltzi or use the new weapons to bring the Cossacks into line. And many of those who were in favor of lightening the leash on the peasants were not happy with the new tools, because they could be used to make the already hard lot of serfs even harder. In fact, that was a fairly major concern among several of the monasteries and Metropolitan Matthew was fairly strongly in that camp.
What’s worse, Matthew had a point. Too many of the nobles thought of serfs as not much different than other livestock. Their response to a tool that decreased the amount of labor to accomplish a task was to put the serfs to more tasks. Matthew was constantly dragging some peasant who had lost a finger, a hand or an eye to one of the machines before Mikhail. “It’s not the tools! It’s compassion that we need,” Matthew would say.
The truth was they needed both. But Mikhail wasn’t at all sure how to introduce compassion. It wasn’t like Metropolitan Matthew had managed to do so.
“There you are!” Evdokia said. “You can’t hide up here brooding all the time, Mikhail.”
“Brooding seems to be all I can do.”
“That’s not true. You are the standard. You are the beacon that calls out to a freer Russia.”
Mikhail smiled. He had never seen himself in the role of hero, but it still felt kind of good to have Evdokia see him that way. “How was your talk with the ladies?” The ladies, at the insistence of Princess Natasha and Tami Simmons had placed themselves in charge of sanitation for the rapidly expanding town of Ufa. It was an issue of disease. They recruited Evdokia, Anya, Olga Petrovichna, and several of the other women. All of them had other jobs, but they met every couple of days to discuss waste disposal.
Evdokia lifted a hand and wobbled it back and forth in a gesture that she had gotten from Tami. “We make progress, but slowly. We have the honey wagons and the urine is being stored for tanning and the collection of saltpeter. Most of the solid waste is being sold to farmers. But the new arrivals have often not heard of the up-time notions of why disease happens and some of the priests are actively opposing our sanitation campaign as an affront to God.”
“In other words, nothing new.”
“Not in general. There are some new specifics, but Olga is going to take care of them and it would probably be best if you didn’t know any more than that.” Olga Petrovichna was fond of direct action, and she had a crew of mountain men who were not squeamish in the least. Evdokia continued. “How did your meeting with Bernie and Filip go?”
“Nothing much new there either, I’m afraid. We brought equipment from Murom, but it was only a fraction of what was there. We’ve gotten some more from the Dacha and from some of the wealthier groups that have joined us, including the two monasteries that have decided to move their factories out here. But it’s still barely a fraction of what is available in Russia. We had four years and more of development, and now we’re back to the days right after Bernie got here.” It wasn’t that they couldn’t build anything. It was that they couldn’t build anything in large amounts. They could make a radio, but not radios — or at least not many. They could convert muzzle loaders to chamber-loaders but they would have to do it one at a time and each one took time. They could hand build steam engines and boilers, but there had been a steam engine factory in Murom. Not a big one, but a factory nevertheless. As bad as losing what they had left behind was, worse was that most of it had fallen into Sheremetev’s hands.
“Iakov is arguing that if I don’t reinstate serfdom, I at least have to put some sort of restrictions on the peasants. Otherwise, they’ll be running out on their debts and generally running amok.” Prince Iakov Kudenetovich Cherakasky was a relative of Dimitry Mamstriukovich Cherakasky, who had seen the writing on the wall when his kinsman was murdered. He wasn’t in love with Mikhail’s reforms, but he did bring, at least potentially, a good size force to Mikhail’s side. “But I don’t think he really cares all that much. He’s giving me grief over it because of Tim.” Iakov had some military experience, but it was all before the Ring of Fire and he hadn’t been involved in the study of war at the Kremlin. In essence, he could lead a cavalry charge and that was about it. But partly due to age and partly due to rank, he had arrived asking to be placed in command of the army. To avoid a confrontation, Mikhail put him in charge of the Chancellery Bureau. And Iakov was now trying to keep Mikhail from overturning the rights of the upper nobility. There was no one to counterbalance him. So far, he was the highest ranking person to come to Mikhail’s colors, at least by the way Russia counted such things.
“We’re building a new city here, Mikhail. And, in a way, it’s a good thing that Ufa was so small. There is much less in the way of property rights to step on while we do it. Bernie and Filip are building good roads and arranging things so that we’ll be able to put in sewers once the brick works gets going. We can build a modern city here in Ufa. The only way to do that in Moscow would be to burn the place to the ground first.”
“Even that won’t do it,” Mikhail said. “Moscow burns regularly, but everyone still owns their little chunk of it and it gets rebuilt the same way it was before. You’re right that here we have more opportunity to build a modern city. But I am worried that I may be focusing on that because I can’t do much about the rest of it.” They had talked about the great building projects of banana republic dictators over the last few months and Mikhail was worried that “modern Ufa” might turn out to be that sort of monument to ineffectuality.
On the Volga
“How did you end up here?” Alexander Nikolayevich Volkov asked.
“How do you mean?” Izabella replied resentfully. Her pregnancy was clearly showing and she was feeling ugly and fat.
“I mean I understand why the serfs ran away, sort of. But what about you? For that matter, we turned back a lot of serfs in the last couple of months. How is it that you people are so well supplied? Your wagons are loaded with threshed grain.”