The Unstable Structure, 1900–1914

  • Robert Service
Part of the Studies in European History book series (SEURH)


Why did the Russian Imperial monarchy crumble to the ground in February 1917? Soviet historians claimed that it was a collapse waiting to happen. The tsarist state, according to the precepts of Marxism-Leninism, served the interests of the upper and middle classes of town and countryside and placed the instruments of a mediaeval autocracy at their disposal — and the inevitable result was political and national oppression, economic exploitation and cultural backwardness. Supposedly the unique effective counter-measure was to form a party committed to the doctrines of Marx and Engels and to the mobilisation of the Russian working class in an age of European socialist revolution. This party needed to have a highly centralised, clandestine organisation if it was ever to destabilise the Imperial regime. It also had to have a leader of genius. Official historical textbooks asserted that just such a genius was present in the person of Vladimir Lenin [22]. There was an attempt by a few communist scholars in the last decades of the USSR’s existence to query the details of this analysis. In particular, they indicated that the Russian Empire had a predominantly agrarian and traditionalist society and that there was nothing inevitable about a successful revolution led by urban socialists [31]. But these doubters were overruled by the party leadership and orthodox party historians, whose mantra was that Marxism, Lenin and the working class predetermined tsarism’s downfall.


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© Robert Service 1999

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  • Robert Service

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