The Russian social structure was ranked, it was hierarchical. The nobility enjoyed many privileges which the masses did not enjoy. The Tzar was a autocratic ruler, accountability was an unheard of foreign concept at this time.
The census of 1858-9 showed that there were 90,000 serf owners and about 18,500 of these serf owners owned more than 100 serfs (or 'souls' as they were defined in the census) each. 1032 of these serf owners were Grand Seigneurs who owned over 1000 serfs each.
The quotation below from Peter Kropotkin's, Zapiski revolyutsionera as quoted in Endurance and Endeavour Russian History 1812-1986, by John N. Westwood, I think best summarises the view of the nobility towards the Serfs.
At that period the wealth of a landowner was measured by the number of 'souls' he possessed. 'Souls' meant male Serfs, women did not count. My father was a rich man, he had more than 1200 souls in three different provinces... In our family there were eight persons, sometimes ten or twelve; fifty servants in Moscow and sixty or so in the country did not seem too many... The dearest wish of every landowner was to have all his requirements supplied by his own serfs. All this was so that if a quest should ask, "What a beautiful-tuned piano! Did you get it tuned at Schimmel's?" The landowner could reply, "I have my own piano-tuner."
The nobles held extensive powers and even had legal controls over the serfs. The nobles could demand any money earned by a serf as taxation, nobles had unrestricted powers to punish their serfs including flogging or exile to Siberia. The nobles could also control the lives of their serfs including selling them and even deciding about who they could marry. They could even demand feudal dues in the form of labour, money and goods from their serfs. 90% to 95% of the Russian empires population was illiterate in 1850.
The serfs were divided into 3 categories:
1.) State Serfs, these serfs lived on private estates owned by the state, the tzar or the church. In 1858 the number of state serfs was estimated to be be 19,379,631.
2.) Privately Owned Serfs, were those serfs that had to pay the landlords feudal dues with their labour (Barshchina). They were worse off than state serfs as they had less control of their lives.
3.) Household serfs, these worked as things like cooks, servants, butlers, gardeners, cleaners. In 1858 they numbered 724,314 and they were the most exposed to landlord control.
The middle classes - Since there was no significant growth in towns or in industry in 19th century Russia, the middle classes obviously were very insignificant and played a very minor role within society. The intelligentsia formed part of this group, they began to be exposed by western ideas slowly. They resented the privileges of the nobility, and the intelligentsia became increasingly critical of the Tzarist regime. Some joined revolutionary groups to overthrow the system.
The Tzar used the church to control the masses. The Mir was also used to control the serfs.
When there were 5 million Jews in Russia there were also 20 to 25 million Muslims and slightly over 10 million were Turkic peoples, (1895 census).
Also the Russian Empire population was 45.6 million in 1800, it grew to 69 million by 1851 and reached 125 million people by 1900.
The Orthodox churches (every single last one of them) had absolutely nothing to do with western civilization. It was only the Catholic and then later Protestant churches that had a role in shaping western thought. This is why even if Russia did not have those Tatar raids, Russia probably still would have been as backwards as it was. It certainly would still have had nothing or very little to do with western civilization. Poland was Catholic so it did.
Basically most of the Russian population were slaves and this was not thanks to the Tatars or Ottomans, even the 1861 emancipation of the serfs didn't give them full freedom.
A small number of Russian intellectuals were actually having debates of important issues for Russian society in the mid 19th century. These included issues like the relationship of Russia to Europe. The relationship between the individual and the autocracy. And the gap between the lower and upper classes centring on where did Russia's future lie. The two broad groups behind these debates were labelled as Westerniser and Slavophiles.
Some differences between the Westernisers and the Slavophiles included:
--Slavophiles were devout Orthodox Christians, Westernisers on the other hand were Atheists who were opposed to the idea of a state religion.
--Slavophiles were opposed to individualism because it was associated with freedom, Westernisers supported democracy and the rights of the individual.
- The Westernisers supported western ways such as urbanisation and industrialisation. The Slavophiles emphasised "Slavic" values like togetherness (Sobornost) and the unity of the Tzar and the people.