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In this edition of A History of Russia, Paul Dukes takes full account of the extraordinary changes that have occurred since the arrival of first Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin. Substantially expanded and rewritten, this edition sets these events within the context of over 1100 years of Russian history. From Medieval Kiev and Muscovy to post-Soviet Russia, this is an invaluable work for anyone studying this remarkable country.

Table of Contents

A History of Russia

1. General Introduction

Abstract
Everybody knows that the Russian land is vast, cold and mostly flat, with mighty rivers but little access to the sea. Like most common knowledge, this particular example is in an important sense correct, but it also requires some modification. Even now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation remains a huge state, still stretching half-way around the globe — anybody who does not appreciate this basic fact should spend a week or so on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In winter, the coldest spot in the world is to be found in Siberia, while warmth is to be found near the Black Sea only. In summer, heat is more widespread, but much of the land remains too cold for agriculture of any kind to be carried on, while some is too dry for it to be attempted without irrigation. The exploitation of Russia’s natural resources has been hampered by difficult problems of distance and climate.
Paul Dukes

Medieval Russia: Kiev to Moscow

Frontmatter

1. The Construction and Collapse of Kiev, 882–1240

Abstract
‘Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to the Law’, said the warring tribes of ancient Russia to each other in 862 according to the Primary Chronicle. And so: ‘They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular Varangians were known as Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, English and Gottlanders …’ As the old story continues, the tribes then said to Varangian Russes: ‘Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us.’1 Three brothers in particular were chosen, and the eldest of them, Riurik, settled in Novgorod and began the princely dynasty that was to rule over Kiev from 882 onwards.
Paul Dukes

2. Invasion and Disunity, 1240–1462

Abstract
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Mongols under Chingis (or Genghis) Khan began the great conquests that brought upon the Russian principalities the much-lamented Mongol or Tatar ‘yoke’. (Although strictly different, the two terms have often been used interchangeably and will be here.) According to Grekov, who on this occasion speaks for many historians before 1917 and after 1991 as well as for his Soviet colleagues, Rus in the heyday of Kiev ‘was ahead of many European countries which only later outstripped her when she bore the impact of the Mongolian hordes and acted as a shield to Western Europe’.1 To Mongol historians, on the other hand, Chingis Khan is an Alexander the Great, and the empire set up by him constitutes a high point of history rather than a low. Chinese historians have also stressed the positive side of the Mongol impact, one of them, Han Ju-Lin, writing of Chingis Khan that ‘his war horses broke through the iron walls of forty large and small states in which the people had become locked. As a result their peoples came to see a broader world in which they could act and become familiar with a higher culture from which they could learn.’2 And for the ‘Eurasian’ school of historians, G. V. Vernadsky was an eloquent spokesman, who saw in the Mongol expansion of the thirteenth century ‘one of those crucial and fateful eruptions in the history of mankind which from time to time change the destinies of the world’.3 The views of Vernadsky and his followers will be pitted against those of their opponents below.
Paul Dukes

3. Consolidation under Moscow, 1462–1645

Abstract
The period from the middle of the fifteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century is known in the Western world as that of the formation of nation-states, of great geographical discoveries, of the Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Parallel developments occurring at the eastern extremities of the Western world clearly demonstrated that remoteness by no means constituted complete separation in this period any more than in its predecessors.
Paul Dukes

Modern Russia: The Tsarist Empire

Frontmatter

4. The Foundation of the Russian Empire, 1645–1698

Abstract
Arguments concerning the beginning of modern European history, like arguments concerning the origin of the universe, fall into two broad categories, the initial ‘big bang’ and subsequent evolution. The ‘big bang’ consists of the ‘general crisis’ thesis, which maintains that in the years around 1650 the continent of Europe was subject to a series of political, economic and cultural shocks which gave birth to absolutism, capitalism and the secular outlook. Moscow was both the taker and giver of such blows, as we shall see. The core of the evolutionary process is described by E. N. Williams in the following manner: ‘… absolute monarchy arose out of the need for internal and external security which made a standing army as a royal monopoly essential. This army required higher revenues; the revenues required economic growth; they all required the formation of a royal bureaucracy to eliminate, or push aside, the manifestations of the corporate state‘.1 Generally speaking, Moscow conforms to such a pattern, although it also possesses peculiar features. Among these is the enserfment of the peasantry, a phenomenon occurring throughout much of central and eastern Europe at a time when the western part of the continent was developing a freer form of society.
Paul Dukes

5. The Completion of the Structure, 1698–1761

Abstract
In 1698, Peter I hastily returned from his first visit to Western Europe determined to crush the streltsy along with their adherence to the old ways and to put into practice his new ideas for the transformation of Russia. As well as cutting off the heads of the streltsy, he cut off the beards of his courtiers, the outward symbols of their adherence to Muscovite tradition. From 1 January 1700, Russia moved closer to the West by adopting the Julian calendar and starting to record time from the birth of Christ rather than from the dawn of creation. Later on in that year, Russia suffered a great defeat in the battle of Narva at the beginning of the Great Northern War against Sweden, and the long journey which then began back to reconstruction of the armed forces, complete victory and a secure foothold on the Baltic has often been seen as the major theme of Peter the Great’s reign. As Pushkin put it, Russia entered the ranks of the great powers like a launched ship with the knock of axes and the roar of cannon.
Paul Dukes

6. Enlightened Absolutism, 1761–1801

Abstract
‘Peter gave Russians bodies, and Catherine — souls’, declared a contemporary poet, thereby expressing in a personalised manner some of the differences between the two phases of absolutism. Peter’s emphasis was indeed on the practical and Catherine’s on the intellectual. The two phases may also be separated according to the major Western influences on them: Peter was struck mainly by the scientific movement and the rationalism of the late seventeenth century, while Catherine was more receptive to the somewhat more rarefied arguments of the eighteenth-century philosophes. At the same time, there was at least a little continuity between the two phases, as there was between the sources of their inspiration and between the problems that they aimed at overcoming.1
Paul Dukes

7. Russian Nationalism 1801–1855

Abstract
For Kliuchevskii, during the period from the end of the eighteenth century to 1855, there was no basic change in Russia, but there were some new ideas and aspirations. Internally, there were hopes for a movement towards collaboration, towards general rights and obligations. But while the nobility lost some of its power, the gainer was not the peasantry, but the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, oposition to the established order grew. The frontiers expanded as the old business of the unification of the Russian lands and people neared completion, while fellow Slavs and others in the Balkans were summoned to existence.1
Paul Dukes

8. The Emancipation, and After, 1855–1894

Abstract
On 19 February 1861 the emancipation of the serfs was decreed, although, owing to a last minute pause at the brink by the government, it was not announced until 5 March. In common with their fellows throughout Russia, the peasants of the Spassk region not far from Kazan looked for somebody to interpret the manifesto for them. In the nearby village of Bezdna, they found Anton Petrov, a barely literate Old Believer. According to his own account, Petrov mysteriously misinterpreted the figure ‘0.0.’ to mean that freedom had been given to everybody, and then fabricated further details in order ‘to attract the peasants to my side, reasoning that the more peasants there were, the sooner I should gain freedom’. He told them that the landlords would retain only one-third of the land, that they themselves would no longer have to give labour services nor money payments. Petrov’s imagination fired his oratory, as may be seen in the following report of one of his speeches:
You will have true liberty only if you defend the man who finds it for you. … Young men and old will come to you; do not let them reach me; do not hand me over to them. They will cheat you by saying that they have come from the Tsar; do not believe them. The old men will come with smiles; middle-aged men will come; both bald and hairy men will come; and every kind of official; but you must not hand me over. And in due time, a young man will come here sent by the Tsar. He will be seventeen years old, and on his right shoulder he will have a gold medal and on his left shoulder a silver one. Believe him, and hand me over to him. They will threaten you with soldiers, but do not be afraid; no one will dare to beat the Russian, Christian people without orders from the Tsar. And if the nobles buy them, and they fire at you, then destroy with your axes these rebels against the will of the Tsar.1
Paul Dukes

9. Russian Imperialism, 1894–1917

Abstract
At the end of the nineteenth century, wars throughout the world clearly showed the desire of the advanced industrial nations to extend or consolidate their overseas empires. In 1898 the United States fought Spain to protect its predominance in the Caribbean and to establish more firmly its influence in the Pacific. A year later in South Africa, Britain commenced a bitter struggle with the Boers for the retention of some of the finest jewels, both literal and metaphorical, of its great Empire. Then, in 1900, the U.S.A, Britain, Germany, France, Austria—Hungary, Italy, Japan and Russia sent their troops into China to crush the Boxer Rebellion, thus guaranteeing their continued influence there.
Paul Dukes

Contemporary Russia: The U.S.S.R. and After

Frontmatter

10. The Russian Revolution, 1917–1921

Abstract
For Soviet critics, Western historians gave too much emphasis to the fall of tsarism rather than to the necessity for its overthrow in the February Revolution, and exaggerated the degree of social harmony in general while underestimating the role of the proletariat led by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of 1917. Moreover, the charge continued, there has been too much talk of the democratic gains of a spontaneous February being liquidated by the totalitarian reaction of an engineered October, when in fact the two Revolutions are complementary rather than antagonistic) In fact, however, West and East have been moving closer together in their interpretation, to such an extent that the two basic views overlap.2
Paul Dukes

11. The Consolidation of the Soviet Union, 1917–1929

Abstract
After the October Revolution, Lenin pointed out that the new order would have to be constructed from the bricks of the old. If the tsarist government had condoned primitive savagery, the Communist successor which he now headed could not immediately enjoy completely civilised brotherhood. Many concessions would have to be made to the inertia of the past. The transformation was made even more difficult through the circumstance that the embryonic Soviet Union found itself continually surrounded by hostile powers which wished its great experiment no success at all. And so, while it never forgot the major cause of the international revolution, Lenin’s government was mortally afraid for its own survival and brought the historic Russian fear of invasion to a high pitch of intensity. Moreover, since the Civil War and Intervention weakened the proletariat before it was able to fully establish its dictatorship, the Communist Party found itself increasingly bound to act as a substitute for it. In this substitution, as well as in the later neglect of the international revolution, many critics find the beginning of the bureaucratisation which was in their view completely to negate the dictatorship of the proletariat in favour of the Party and then of a single individual, Stalin.
Paul Dukes

12. The Construction of Soviet Socialism, 1929–1941

Abstract
The period 1929–41 makes great demands on E. H. Carr’s assertion that the historian should not make moral judgements.’ Most Western analysts of the period have been far away from such a standard of objectivity, many of them over-simplifying it with explanations centring around the characterisation of Stalin as an omnipotent dictator, enslaving millions of people to satisfy his own persecution mania and sadistic perversity. However, as the period has receded in time, some of them have managed to play the part of the historian as described by Carr, and look for explanations of its principal developments beyond the ‘cult of personality’, as well as giving proper weight to its more constructive aspects. Nevertheless, hardly anybody would yet choose to make an assessment more neutral than Can’s own, that ‘seldom perhaps in history has so monstrous a price been paid for so monumental an achievement’.2
Paul Dukes

13. War and Reconstruction, 1941–1953

Abstract
The dominant theme of Soviet history from 1941 to 1953 is war. By far the most bloody battles of the Great Patriotic War, as the Second World War is still known in Russia, were fought on Russian soil and up to forty million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. And then, soon after the return of peace, the Cold War arose to make the task of reconstruction an even more painful task than it already would have been. At the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union was struggling to fulfil the difficult roles of the world’s second superpower and the titular leader of international socialism.
Paul Dukes

14. The Assertion of Soviet Superpower, 1953–1964

Abstract
In the years following the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union reached a new peak of confidence as the world was astonished by the launching of the the first earth satellite in October 1957 and a further row of space successes culminating in the first manned orbital flight by Iurii or Yuri Gagarin in April 1961. Years of anti-Soviet propaganda about technological backwardness and inefficiency now met with a triumphant response. Less spectacular successes in the economy encouraged the government to talk of the completion of the construction of socialism and a move forward towards the full-scale building of Communism. In such an atmosphere, the severe cultural controls of the previous period were to some extent relaxed, although it was not at all difficult for individual artists to find themselves in disgrace for taking the process of thaw too far. In the governmental organisation, there was an immediate return from the ‘cult of personality’ to collective leadership, although a new less powerful cult arose from it in turn. In the international sphere, the Soviet Union showed its self-possession by talking less of a final showdown between socialism and capitalism and more of the peaceful coexistence between the two systems. But this did not mean that the world rivalry would be discontinued, only that it would not have to be solved by military means; this was a point made completely clear in one of the best-remembered Soviet utterances of the time, ‘We shall bury you’.
Paul Dukes

15. Stability and Relaxation, 1964–1975

Abstract
After the removal from power of Khrushchev in October 1964, two new leaders emerged in the ample shape of L. I. Brezhnev and the more slender figure of A. N. Kosygin. Their order of precedence turned out to be more than alphabetical (unlike the earlier B. and K.), and a new if at first minor ‘cult of personality’ was erected around the substantial figure of Mr Brezhnev. Having occurred once as tragedy with Stalin and once as farce with Khrushchev, the ‘cult of personality’ now appeared to be making a bid to become a long-running serial. Was the need for an outstanding individual so deeply embedded in the political culture of the Russian and other Soviet peoples that such a role was now thrust upon Mr Brezhnev whether he liked it or not?
Paul Dukes

16. Stagnation and Tension, 1975–1985

Abstract
In January 1975, the U.S. Senate made specific Soviet concessions on emigration a condition of acceptance for the U.S. — Soviet Trade Bill. As a consequence, the Soviet government abandoned the Trade Agreement of 1972, and détente started to slip away. There was no clean break, however, or immediate dramatic shift in policy.
Paul Dukes

17. Reform or Ruin? 1985–1996

Abstract
From the vantage point of the middle 1990s, Russian history seemed to be uncomfortably placed at one of its many critical points. Parallels suggested themselves with the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the seventeenth century, or the collapse following the Russian Revolution of 1917. To optimists, this was the birth trauma of a new age, to pessimists the death-throes of the old. Fortune-tellers and mystics abounded, offering a wide variety of future and other worlds. In a more down to earth manner focused mainly on the present, this chapter will attempt to put the simple question (although without a simple answer): Reform or ruin?
Paul Dukes

18. The Limits of Russian History, 1996—

Abstract
Following the presidential election of 1996, there were many echoes of the past, both recent and more remote. The loudest and most persistent of them is that the course of Russian history never has run smooth, for major upsets in the shape of internal disturbances and/or invasions from outside have occurred in every one of its centuries. On many previous occasions, the question of reform or ruin has hung over the whole land, and the bells have rung out in alarm rather than celebration. Indeed, the tocsin sounds back through to the dawn of Kievan Rus, and we could find analogies with the present predicament even there.1
Paul Dukes
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