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Russia Before The 'Radiant Future'

Russia Before The 'Radiant Future': Essays in Modern History, Culture, and Society

Michael Confino
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 310
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcp2g
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  • Book Info
    Russia Before The 'Radiant Future'
    Book Description:

    One of the major historians of prerevolutionary Russia has collected in this volume some of his most important essays. Written over a number of years, these pioneering works have been revised and updated and are complemented by others being published for the first time. Thematically, they cover major subjects in Imperial Russian history and in historical writing, such as ideas and their role in historical change; the intelligentsia, the nobility, and peasant society; and historiography. The twelve essays raise cardinal questions about current scholarship on Russian history before the upheavals of 1917 and offer original interpretations that are of interest to the educated layman as well as the professional historian.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-993-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Alon Confino

    This book is a collection of essays written over a number of years. Some of these essays have been published; others appear here for the first time. They examine major themes in the history of imperial Russia and in historical writing, such as ideas and their role in historical change; the intelligentsia, the nobility, and peasant society; and finally, how history is being written and why. Of the eleven texts included in the book, one was published in 1972, one in 1984, and one in 1987. The others and the introduction were written between 1994 and 2009. Six of them...

  4. A Note on Transliteration and Dates
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION The Discipline and I
    (pp. 1-20)

    Around 1900 many Russians believed that a radiant future would begin after an epoch-making change in Old Russia’s life, a change that would bring an end to the “accursed Russian reality,” in Vissarion Belinskii’s memorable words.¹ For some thinkers and observers this change should have happened after a populist, or a socialist, or a democratic revolution. As Chekhov’s characters inThe Cherry Orchardmused, this new beginning could happen in the near future or in a very distant one. In the fourth and last act ofThree Sisters, Alexander Vershinin says: “Life is difficult. It presents itself to many of...

  7. PART ONE The Fate of Ideas in History

    • CHAPTER 1 Alexander Herzen and Isaiah Berlin on Russia’s Elusive Counter-Enlightenment
      (pp. 23-41)

      The Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment were complex phenomena that left their mark on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European thought and culture. They become even more intricate subjects of study when linked to the context of intellectual life in Russia at the time. On the surface, it might seem that there is little scope for such a topic, given the major differences between Western Europe and Russia and given the latter’s seeming lack of concepts and ideas normally associated with these two great constellations of European thought.

      Why such an impression? With regard to Western Europe, scholars, whatever their approaches and interpretations,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Russian and Western European Roots of Soviet Totalitarianism
      (pp. 42-54)

      A discussion of the Russian and Western European roots of Soviet totalitarianism belongs simultaneously to several wider and overlapping areas of thought and historical research. One of these areas concerns the features and components of the Soviet regime; another, the remote causes or the antecedents of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917; yet another is an extension of the classic and perennial topic “Russia and the West” with its concomitant—and no less important—meaning of “the West in Russia.” This essay cannot explore these numerous and multifaceted issues; its more limited and circumscribed purpose is to analyze and...

    • CHAPTER 3 Traditions, Old and New: Aspects of Protest and Dissent in Modern Russia
      (pp. 55-80)

      Protest and dissent seem to have been perennial fellow-travelers in the history of Imperial Russia. The wealth and diversity of this subject, the length of the period under consideration (nearly two hundred years), and space limitations are the reasons for the frequent use of broad generalizations in this essay, and for the loss of some useful but not critical nuances. However, an effort has been made throughout to avoid reductionism, and to mitigate the schematic and “inventorial” character of some sections of the essay. Finally, several fundamental assumptions are implied; these are clarified below.

      The essay is divided into three...

  8. PART TWO Social Groups in Comparative Perspective

    • CHAPTER 4 On Intellectuals and Intellectual Traditions in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Russia
      (pp. 83-118)

      As a genre, this essay stands halfway between an interpretative paper and a program of research. As such, it is therefore ill-defined and probably has the shortcomings of both and the virtues of neither. For a period extending over two hundred years, it is possible to mention only a few of the sources and secondary works used; to do more would result in a bulky volume and bring the essay to a third genre, the bibliographical one, which is not exactly its purpose. I raise questions for which, at the present moment, I have no clear answer, and I doubt...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Nobility in Russia and Western Europe: Contrasts and Similarities
      (pp. 119-140)

      The history of the nobility in imperial Russia is a central topic of research in the historiography of the two hundred years before the great upheavals of 1917. Its importance has been acknowledged since the times of A. V. Romanovich-Slavatinskii to those of Iurii M. Lotman and to our own days because of the major role of the nobility in the social, political, and cultural developments in the realm. For that reason this subject has attracted the attention of scholars in the West (several of whose works are quoted below) who have devoted particular attention to the history of the...

    • CHAPTER 6 Comparing Russian Serfdom and American Slavery
      (pp. 141-160)

      Russian history—maybe more than that of other countries—almost inevitably invites those who study it to engage in comparative observations. There are two main reasons for this urge to compare. The first is the perennial topic in Russian thought variously called “Russia and the West” or “Russia and Europe,” which from the eighteenth century on raised agonizing questions among the intellectuals and the political class about the cultural relations and mutual influences between Russia and the West—the way they viewed each other, understood (or misunderstood) their evolution, and evaluated their respective contributions to the cultural and political heritage...

    • CHAPTER 7 Agrarian Crisis, Urbanization, and the Russian Peasants at the End of the Old Regime, 1880s–1920s
      (pp. 161-184)

      Three main topics in Russian rural history from the 1880s through the Great War and the subsequent social and political upheavals have been the object of reexamination and debate:¹ the “agrarian crisis” (linked to the agricultural crises and peasant standards of living); the peasantry and the process of urbanization in relation to the problem of seasonal migratory work; and finally, the rural commune.

      Ideally, an examination of these issues should have addressed historical writings both in Russia and in “the West” (which includes also such geographically non-Western countries as Japan, India, and Israel). However, the events of the 1990s in...

  9. PART THREE Approaches to the History of Russia

    • CHAPTER 8 Reinventing the Enlightenment: Western Images of Eastern Realities in the Eighteenth Century
      (pp. 187-205)

      The Enlightenment was a complex cultural and intellectual movement informed by a secular, humanist, universalist, and rationalist outlook.¹ It influenced many fields of thought and learning, and in particular philosophy, empirical epistemology, science, and the critical examination of the political and ecclesiastical institutions of the time. It is a vast subject, and so is the ever growing scholarly literature dealing with it. In his book,Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, Larry Wolff, associate professor at Boston College, has addressed a specific yet important item in the Enlightenment’s worldview: its notions and representations...

    • CHAPTER 9 Political Murder in Russian Culture: Comparisons and Counterfactuals
      (pp. 206-234)

      The history of the Russian revolutionary movement has raised agonizing questions—political, ethical, and existential—some of which are still topical in today’s societies. Such is, for instance, the use of terror and political assassination, whose practice and theory were on the agenda of the populists in the 1870s and 1880s, of the anarchists at thefin de siècle, of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) before the revolution, and of the Bolsheviks after they seized power in 1917. Conventional wisdom has it that political assassination rarely achieves its aim and often leads to results unintended by the perpetrators of the act....

    • CHAPTER 10 Current Events and the Representation of the Past: Issues in Russian Historical Writing
      (pp. 235-271)

      Educated laypersons, and some scholars too, believe that “we can only read the past in terms of the present.” In support of this view they point out that historians’ attempts to reconstruct the past are fraught with insuperable obstacles such as psychological subjectivity, cultural bias, political attitudes, and the greatest of all, language. Laypersons stick to this view because it gives them a (false) sense of security, and the conviction that whatever they may think about the past, they cannot be wrong (for “we all think the past in terms of the present, don’t we?”). Theirs is an egalitarian attitude...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 272-276)

    Like every historian, I have views and prejudices of my own that I try to overcome when practicing my craft, and I believe also in several basic principles, which I check and recheck to confirm or refute their validity and soundness. I do my best in carrying on this self-examination. Frankly, I am not sure that I always succeed in uncovering my biases and preconceived ideas. The essays in this volume and those that I have written during the years, which are now scattered in different journals and in various languages, were informed by several principles and assumptions about the...

  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 277-287)
  12. Index
    (pp. 288-296)