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The Unstable Structure, 1900–1914

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

Abstract

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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