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Russia and Its Crisis (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Paul Miliukov's Russia and Its Crisis was one of the most extraordinary and prescient books ever to have emerged from pre-revolutionary Russia. Based upon a series of lectures presented at the University of Chicago and Boston's Lowell Institute in 1903 and 1904, Russia and Its Crisis laid out the case for the development of a politically liberal Russia at precisely the moment that the old autocratic order was beginning to crumble.

Paul Miliukov (1859-1943) graduated from both ...

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Overview

Paul Miliukov's Russia and Its Crisis was one of the most extraordinary and prescient books ever to have emerged from pre-revolutionary Russia. Based upon a series of lectures presented at the University of Chicago and Boston's Lowell Institute in 1903 and 1904, Russia and Its Crisis laid out the case for the development of a politically liberal Russia at precisely the moment that the old autocratic order was beginning to crumble.

Paul Miliukov (1859-1943) graduated from both Moscow and St. Petersburg universities and began his professional life as a scholar. His political development, not dissimilar to that of many other Russian intellectuals of the time, led him to fight against all the terrors of Tsarist repression, then cherish the potential in Russia for European-style liberal democracy, and then fight, during the height of the October Revolution, to preserve the Tsar's power in the face of Lenin and the Bolshevik marauders. Indeed, one lasting picture in To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson's masterful study of the history of Soviet communism, has Miliukov, as the Provisional Government's nattily dressed, bespectacled Minister of Foreign Affairs, frantically cabling his consuls in 1917 to prevent Lenin's train from entering into Russia.

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Introduction

Paul Miliukov's Russia and Its Crisis is one of the smartest and most prescient books ever to have emerged from pre-revolutionary Russia. It presents a detailed, polemical introduction to Russia that the author customized for Americans and wrote entirely in his newly minted yet fluent English. At precisely the moment when the old autocratic order was beginning to crumble, Russia and Its Crisis argued that the development of a kinder, gentler, Western, politically liberal Russia was predetermined-in fact, ineluctable. Embarrassed about Russia's stunted political development, optimistic about its capacity for change, and passionate about American history and the parallels for Russia's own democratic future-the preface itself is dated, quite self-consciously, "Abraham Lincoln's birthday, 1905"-Russia and Its Crisis was published in 1905 by the University of Chicago Press, and then in Paris in 1907, but little acknowledged at the time. Twelve years later, of course, in early 1917, Miliukov was the man whom The New York Times-and many of his contemporaries-predicted would be the first prime minister of Russia's new, post-Tsarist constitutional democracy.

Paul (Pavel Nikolaevich) Miliukov (1859-1943), historian, politician, and diplomat, was the book's extraordinary author. Born in a cauldron of social change, he was two years old when Tsar Alexander II liberated the Russian serfs. He went on to graduate from both Moscow University and St. Petersburg University by age twenty-three and was nourished as a young scholar on the philosophy and historical writings of Comte, Marx, and Spencer. Before his thirtieth birthday, Miliukov was arrested in or exiled from Russia seven times.

Miliukov's political development, not dissimilar from that of many other Russian intellectuals of the time, led him to fight against all the terrors of Tsarist repression, then cherish the potential in Russia for European-style liberal democracy, and then fight, during the height of the October Revolution, to preserve the Tsar's power in the face of Lenin and the Bolshevik marauders, whom he despised. Indeed, one lasting picture in To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson's masterful study of the history of Soviet communism, has Miliukov, as the Provisional Government's nattily dressed, bespectacled Minister of Foreign Affairs, frantically cabling his consuls in 1917 to prevent Lenin's train from entering into Russia. When he died after a quarter-century of exile in France in 1943, months after the battle of Stalingrad but with the outcome of the second world war still uncertain, Miliukov held to the view that, as he had put it in the 1920s, still, obviously, prescient: "The struggle against Bolshevism must continue until the liberation of Russia."

Miliukov's serious politicization began during the repressive years of Alexander III. The Tsar's gendarmerie was under strict orders to prohibit, often by force, any public discussion of social issues; they found this young history professor in the countryside, part of Moscow University's extension program, lecturing on topics such as "Social Trends under Catherine II." Censured then, and punished again for outspokenness supporting the activities of student radicals, Miliukov found himself banned from Moscow and, after being investigated further by the police, sentenced to a year in prison. With the intervention of several of his senior faculty, Miliukov went to the authorities and managed to trade in this sentence for a solemn promise to exile himself from Russia for two years and to abstain from all political activity while abroad. He began teaching at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, just after Russian-Bulgarian diplomatic relations had improved, in 1897. But in short order he became involved in Bulgarian political issues, and the University, under pressure from St. Petersburg, dismissed its new hire after only one semester. From 1897 to 1899, banned from home and with a young family in Bulgaria, Miliukov traveled through the Balkans and became something of an expert in the region-amassing knowledge that would prove useful a few years later, when World War I was beginning to brew and his government portfolio was foreign policy.

Returning to Russia in 1899, Miliukov settled in St. Petersburg. At the time, the capital was roiling with competing calls to action-movements influenced by nihilism, populism, and socialism already had succeeded in assassinating two Tsars-and Miliukov, in that tempest, was making political choices. He tried to join the editorial staff of one of the leading political journals, Mir Bozhii (God's World) but the editorial board was becoming increasingly Marxist in its orientation, and he felt uncomfortable with its incendiary views. He attempted to work with the Russian populists who were editing an opposing journal, Russkoye Bogatsvo (Russian Wealth), but his political discomfort with populism, too, became apparent.

With the turn of the century, Miliukov began working toward a new way between these radical ideologies (profiled at length in this book), and started to style himself a "liberal." Oust the Tsar, went this approach. Implement a new, Western-style political system in Russia-parliamentary democracy. Put, at its base, a new, liberal constitution. In mapping out the road toward constitutional democracy, Miliukov placed his faith for change not in the Russian worker, as the Marxists were doing, nor in the Russian peasant, as the populists believed, but in the well-educated elite from the capital and surrounding regions. In time, Miliukov would become the most powerful constitutional democrat in Russia, and its most famous liberal.

Historians have written that Miliukov synthesized, in his writing and his politics, other competing trends in Russian political development-the influence of Westernizers, the influence of Slavophiles-in articulating this liberal faith. Indeed, readers of Russia and Its Crisis will find all sorts of such amalgamations. ("The power of the monarch, as well as the habits of his subjects," goes one fine example, "were Europeanized-in an Asiatic manner.") In his polemical writings, he displayed a faith in homegrown intellectual traditions dating back to the days of Peter the Great, as well as in American and French revolutionary elitism-and most of all, in the ability of Russia, seemingly frozen in autocracy, to change. While immersed in this political maelstrom, Miliukov continued to write about Russian history. Drawing on his dissertation, he wrote further about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, then the history of ideas, and then launched a massive three-volume history of Russian culture. Studies on the History of Russian Culture (1897-1909) remains one of the most widely read synthetic analyses of Russian intellectual history, on a par with earlier histories of Russia written by Nicholas Karamzin-a Russian equivalent of Vernon Louis Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought.

In 1901, the Tsarist secret police arrested and jailed Miliukov for six months owing to a public speech he made commemorating the death of the extremely popular populist and anti-government activist Sergei Lavrov. Upon his release from prison he found himself banned from St. Petersburg and moved to nearby Finland, but again began making many secret visits to the capital. It was on one of these trips that he met William Rainey Harper, the president of the University of Chicago, and Charles R. Crane, the renowned Chicago manufacturer and philanthropist, traveling together on a fact- (and faculty-) finding mission to Russia. Harper and Crane had just invited Thomas Masaryk to come to Chicago to give a course of lectures on Czech history and Russian jurist Maksim Kovalevskii to lecture on Russian law, they told Miliukov. (Crane's elder daughter soon would marry Masaryk; years later, Crane himself would be part of Woodrow Wilson's postwar delegation to Russia and American ambassador to China.) Would Miliukov, they asked, be interested in lecturing Chicago's students on the history of Russian civilization?

The lectures Miliukov came to deliver at the University in 1903, honed the following year at Boston's prestigious Lowell Institute, and published as this book the year after that, were greeted as an immense success at the time by students, faculty, and the press. His main areas of emphasis, being worked out here (and elsewhere) in print, in public, and soon in politics at home, were threefold. First, he meant to tell the full truth about the Russian situation ("autocracy gone mad"), warts and all, and worked hard to relate Russian developments ("the Don was their Mississippi") to American audiences. Second, he stressed the traditional, longstanding mutability of the Russian social, religious, and political system-"Russia is no exception to the general rule of religious change and evolution," he writes; "the theory of the persistence of Russian political tradition clashes with the facts of history"; and "the law of Russian history is progress"- which (not coincidentally) would encourage optimism about Russia's future, especially among American observers and even in the darkest of times. Third, he explained that Russia's traditions, and its political traditions especially, are comparable and linked inseparably to the West's. "Beneath the surface of the official uniformity," runs one typical sentence, "differences of political opinion have long existed which correspond in every way to the differences of political parties in Western Europe." He assembled his lectures in the book into seven sections-with chapters each on nationalism, religion, politics, liberalism in particular, socialism, and the current crisis, the latter unfolding even as (so the notes toward the end of the book keep indicating) Miliukov was relinquishing these page proofs to his editors at the press in Chicago.

His 1903 course at the University, and the lectures he delivered elsewhere in the United States, were such a success that Harper and Crane invited him back to teach another class on Eastern Europe and the Balkans for the 1905 academic year. In part this success was due to the fact that Miliukov carefully explained Russian developments in a context that Americans could understand. His lectures pointedly cited Tsar Alexander I, seeking to implement new forms of government in Russia, asking George Washington for help, and Washington sending back to the Tsar a copy of the new American constitution (though these dates, or our presidents, are confused, as Washington died in 1799). He also wrote incisively of America-saying that here it was not a political struggle against despotism that directed American political thought, but rather "an almost inborn instinct of self assertion," "fortified with a religious feeling of independence," an instinct that was "thoroughly individualistic, and as such was the prevailing idea of New England Puritanism and of the 'fathers' of 1776." But his lectures here were not to continue. On January 22, 1905, politics interrupted-Russia's famed "Bloody Sunday," where the Tsar's troops fired on an unarmed procession of workers bringing their grievances to the Tsar's palace. The news of the event was cabled to him as he was writing in Chicago. He, Harper, and Crane agreed that he would return to St. Petersburg as soon as he finished reviewing the galleys of this very book, which Chicago published that August.

Miliukov left for the capitol that April-to stay through the 1917 Revolution and his final exile to the West. In St. Petersburg he threw himself into founding the new Constitutional Democratic (or "Kadet") party, as the Tsar issued his major manifesto promising general legislative elections and greater civil liberties. By 1906, the Kadet party was the largest political party in Russia and held the largest bloc of seats in the first real Russian legislature, the Duma. Between the gross preventive tactics of the government-he was kept from serving in the first and then the second Dumas-the turmoil of the period, the infighting and disorganization of his own party, and the organization of the Bolsheviks, Miliukov emerged as the most prominent voice of liberal parliamentarianism in Russia and in March 1917 was afforded, during the height of the war, the foreign-affairs portfolio in the provisional government. Two months after that, seeing how he could neither sue for peace with the Germans nor compromise with Bolshevism, he resigned; with Lenin and company soon ascendant, he and his party were outlawed by the end of that year.

Of course the collapse of this one shining moment in twentieth-century Russian life (the democratic moment that Miliukov had envisioned and worked his early life for) had many reasons behind it-the Germans marching toward St. Petersburg; the personalities; his personality; the stress upon new organizations; the clashing agendas; the fog, as they say, of war-but one can't help wondering what might have been. One of his biographers compares Miliukov to Woodrow Wilson-another historian turned national politician-but in his search for elegant laws of "History," destiny, and the rules of Russian behavior, proper counterparts might be better found in other of his contemporaries, including the historians Henry Adams and Frederick Jackson Turner. While Russia and Its Crisis may be weighted down with a few too many charts and maps and statistics (to say nothing of the author's primitive chosen form of transliteration-"Pooshkin," e.g.), there's no question but that it explains why and how, as Miliukov told us one hundred years ago, "an outbreak must come." Well before the 'l' word had succumbed to forced tarnish in American political discourse, a Russian statesman and liberal of the first order was expressing his hope for freedom here in a time of change-and expressing it beautifully.

Peter B. Kaufman is president of Intelligent Television, a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute of the New School University, and an alumnus of the W. Averell Harriman for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at Columbia University.
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