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Urban Networks in Russia, 1750-1800, and Pre-modern Periodization

Urban Networks in Russia, 1750-1800, and Pre-modern Periodization

by Gilbert Rozman, Tadeusz Rozewicz

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This book takes an entirely new approach to the evolution of cities and of societies in premodern periods. Refining the theory advanced in his earlier study of China and Japan, Gilbert Rozman examines the development of Russia over several centuries with emphasis on the period immediately preceding the Industrial Revolution. He makes possible comparison of


This book takes an entirely new approach to the evolution of cities and of societies in premodern periods. Refining the theory advanced in his earlier study of China and Japan, Gilbert Rozman examines the development of Russia over several centuries with emphasis on the period immediately preceding the Industrial Revolution. He makes possible comparison of urbanization in five countries (including England and France as well as Russia) and develops a systematic framework for analyzing cities of varying size.

Originally published in 1976.

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Urban Networks in Russia, 1750â"1800, and Pre-modern Periodization

By Gilbert Rozman


Copyright © 1976 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-09364-2



The search for standard stages of premodern development invariably shifts back and forth among: 1) single-country studies, 2) direct comparisons between societies, and 3) general statements of uniformities among large numbers of societies. The raw materials from all three of these fields of inquiry must be in ample supply before a satisfactory theory of the stages of history can be produced. In the absence of findings from any one of these fields, the explorations of the other two cannot realize their full value. It is only when various signs of development observed in one country are explicitly and systematically compared with similar signs in one or more other countries and simultaneously a general framework is developed for interpreting the relationships between indicators of social change that generalizations carefully rooted in empirical data become possible.

Previous studies of periodization have not incorporated a proper balance between these three types of inquiry. The liveliest phase of evolutionary studies during the nineteenth century approached an extreme — one-sided statements of uniformities in historical stages with scant attention to careful historical documentation. Optimistic assessments of rational man's potential for discerning universal sequences of large-scale social change led to bold statements and imaginative interpretations, yet these attempts at ordering history occurred at a time when, in comparison to today, the historical records of many major countries were poorly understood. Later, under the onslaught of contradictory historical findings and criticisms of methodological shortcomings, social scientists turned away from this task of generalization although sporadic efforts to substitute a new theory of historical stages continued to draw attention, and the best of the early formulations survived with modest revisions, occupying what would otherwise have been a vacuum. That state of affairs continues to this day. As the introduction pointed out, single-country studies are guided primarily by the Marxist and tripartite taxonomies of history.

So far the twentieth century has witnessed a vast outpouring of single-country studies. Historical writings on most major countries have become voluminous, adding immeasurably to our knowledge of only a few decades past. There is still little awareness that efforts to specify patterns of development in a single country are limited by the absence of knowledge of corresponding patterns elsewhere. The ordering of historical data requires a framework for determining what is of importance, and that framework must develop in a comparative context. The issue of periodization raised for the history of a single country with, at most, vague references to patterns elsewhere quickly leads to an impasse in interpretation accompanied by either a hesitancy to generalize or a propensity to write non sequiturs.

Of the three essential steps in the study of periodization, least attention has been given to direct comparisons of societies. This necessary link between generalizations about uniformities and detailed study of a single country has been persistently ignored. Without it, the empiricists can correctly regard the generalizations as vague and unsupported, and the generalists can with equally smug aplomb reject detailed studies as leading nowhere. What is vitally needed in the field of historical sociology and related disciplines is systematic comparisons of societies, incorporating the findings of single-country studies and directed at generalizing about standard stages of development.

Russian history has two main attractions for the student of periodization. First, more so than the historians of any other country, historians writing about Russia have assiduously applied general schemes of periodization. Beginning with the writings of Karl Marx, undoubtedly the dominant figure among all who have sought to establish a universal taxonomy of societies, the historians and social scientists of the Soviet Union have been organized under a system that permits only one perspective in print. Without challenging that perspective, they have produced a vast literature recently filled with lively debate. By turning to these numerous materials on the periodization of Russian history, we can benefit from the intensive cultivation of the seeds planted by Marx.

Second, one cannot but be aware of the oft-noted paradox of modern Russian history. In Marxist terminology, Russia is a country that passed through the capitalist stage of development in only a little more than half a century. From a tradition of serfs and state peasants, whose obligations in many respects resembled those of serfs, Russia quickly emerged as one of the most rapidly modernizing nations. One of the few similar examples of a successful latecomer to modernization is Japan. In both countries, the essential ingredients for moving swiftly ahead to the next stage of development can be traced back to the last stable period before the onslaught of modernizing influences. The failure of current schemes of periodization is nowhere better seen than in their inability to account for the modernization of these two countries.

In the past half-century, Russian history has been the focus of intensive efforts to determine the evidence for stages of development within a single country. In this light, it probably serves as well as any other country the purpose of providing a well-documented record of processes of change within a single country. It also provides the single case examined in greatest detail from the perspective of a general formulation of stages of development. If we agree that Marx was a leading theorist in the field of historical sociology, and that Russia is the principal example studied by those who have applied Marx's theory, then the Russian record takes on added significance. Finally, to the extent that comparisons of societies have been attempted, the Russian case has appeared with unusual frequency. Soviet social scientists have used Russian history as a standard against which to measure other histories and, of course, the recurrent theme of Russian backwardness is premised on at least an implicit comparative approach. We should begin our treatment of approaches to periodization by considering how Soviets have interpreted Russian history.

Soviet Periodization of Russian History

Since Soviet social scientists have considerable experience in the use of periodization as a method of comparing societies and since most studies of Russian history are carried out in terms of Soviet periodization, it will be helpful to recapitulate the Soviet treatment of the premodern stages of Russian history. Marx described three precapitalist forms of societies: primitive communal, slaveholding, and feudal. Although a possible fourth variant has been discussed, i.e. Asiatic despotic societies, this can be set aside here because it has not been seriously applied to the specific study of Russian history. After some initial disagreement, a consensus was achieved under Stalin that Russia had not experienced a slaveholding stage. At the time that the primitive communal formation was beginning to be replaced by a class society, the productive forces available were already sufficiently advanced to permit the direct establishment of a feudal society. Thus the entire span of Russian history until the middle of the nineteenth century is divided into two periods: 1) an almost totally undocumented, vaguely understood, primitive communal period ; and 2) an approximately 900–1,000 year-long feudal period. The same problem of a long, unwieldy feudal period plagues Marxist studies of China, but at least in China many records exist of the preceding period be- fore the more than 2,000 years of "feudalism" began. The great length of the feudal era in Russia as in China means that the task of establishing the general characteristics of the period can be only a preliminary step in specifying its major subdivisions.

According to Marx, the salient features of any society are the forces of production and the relations of production, the latter involving ownership and conditions of employment. The forces of production of a feudal society are distinguished, on the one hand, from the primitive technology of the preceding stage of society and, on the other hand, from the widespread presence of manufacturing in the succeeding capitalist period. The application of varied animate sources of power in agriculture, small-scale crafts, and transport and even some limited use of inanimate power such as windmills are apparently typical of feudal societies. Relations of production in these societies reflect the principal reliance on agriculture. Engaging in farming, most of the population produce primarily for their own consumption and secondarily for a minority who specialize in crafts, trade, religious activities, and administrative or military pursuits. The property system, the system of rents, and the system of taxes all promote the concentration of wealth among individuals removed from production and create a potential, on the one hand, for the accumulation of capital, and, on the other hand, for large-scale rebellions. Yet, for the most part, a self-sufficient local economy prevails; most goods are consumed within the village or local area in which they are produced, and marketing is weakly developed. Merchants, craftsmen, and other urban residents compose a small proportion of the total population.

This general description of a feudal society is static, noting the common features of countless societies and of numerous points in the development of a single society hundreds or even as many as two thousand years apart. Marxists have also portrayed feudal development as a generally linear process: technology gradually improves, new craft specialties provide signs of a widening division of labor, increasing numbers of people become involved in commercial transactions. These dynamic characteristics of feudalism are particularly interesting because they provide a basis both for specifying subdivisions within the rubric of the feudal period and for demonstrating different paths through feudalism. It is the former task that has especially absorbed the energies of Soviet scholars.

There is agreement in the Soviet Union on the criteria for subdividing feudalism, but not on either the names or the dates of these subdivisions. Reviewing the historiography of Russia during the ninth to fourteenth centuries, L. V. Cherepnin found at least nine names being used for subdivisions, including pre-feudal, proto-feudal, early feudal, and the period of the genesis of feudalism. Similar differences in terminology are evident in Soviet writings on the later phases of Russian feudalism from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Disagreements in terminology are frequently related to differences of opinion regarding the timing of the major landmarks in development. For the earlier period, the dispute concentrates on the extent to which remnants of the primitive communal phase were present; for the final centuries of feudalism, the debate centers on the timing of the appearance and the rate of growth of the roots of capitalism.

Rephrasing this debate on the stages of Russian history in idealized, quantitative terms, we can say that at one point mo percent of the basic features of Russian society could be accounted for by the presence of primitive communalism, but over many centuries that percentage dropped to zero as a corresponding rise in feudal phenomena occurred, and subsequently an inverse relationship between feudalism and capitalism began to become apparent, although until 1800 an overwhelming percentage of the characteristics of Russian society could still be attributed to feudalism. In these idealized terms, a society that was mo percent primitive communal was steadily replaced by one that was mo percent feudal, which in turn was giving way to a capitalist society. This is the framework of stages of history through which Soviets categorize aspects of social structure during each century.

Actually, debate in the Soviet Union never achieves this degree of precision. First, there is little consensus about the meaning of many of the principal historical terms. Second, Soviet authors disagree about the degree of development achieved at a particular time. We can speak in general terms about a consensus regarding the percentages given here for successive points in time, but there is no unanimity and, of course, the Soviets have never presented their views in terms of this explicitly quantified form.

For clarity, I have schematized the conclusions based on this idealized presentation, trying to represent accurately the most frequently expressed opinions pertaining to the extent of feudalism, century by century, in Russian society. Of course, there should be no doubt that for individual authors the figures would be altered in one direction or the other by IO percent or 20 percent, but a sufficient consensus does exist within the Soviet Union to argue that the variation from the figures in Table 1 is not large.

We can divide this period into four phases according to the balance of the primary and secondary societal types present: 1) P/F (9th-10th centuries); 2) F/P (11th-13th centuries) 3) F (14th-16th centuries); and 4) F/C (17th-18th centuries). During the first phase, when the primitive communal (P) social structure prevailed, Russian society had a tribal appearance; scattered rural settlements were weakly integrated into larger territorial entities, and there was little specialization of labor. Nonetheless, the growing weight of feudal (F) characteristics was visible both in the emergence of cities and in the appearance of princes demanding tribute from an increasingly agricultural rural population.

The breakdown of the independent rural community became particularly apparent during the F/P phase, when feudal elements were in the majority. Cherepnin identifies the twelfth century with the completion of the genesis of feudalism within the rubric of the previous form of society, and he traces the disappearance of the lingering, so-called "free community" to the following two centuries. According to him, feudalism was secured as large cities emerged, villages increasingly consisted of the landless and the relatively prosperous, and land ownership became sharply fragmented among the prominent subordinates of local princes.

The decelerated decline of primitive communal elements (what some regard as even a temporary reversal of the generally linear process of development) during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is attributed by Soviet authors to the retarding influences of the Mongol invasions and subsequent rule. Nonetheless, they generally argue that Russia continued to progress in many ways and that the last traces of pre-feudal society disappeared in roughly the fifteenth century.

During the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, nonfeudal elements were least evident in Russian society. The waning traces of primitive societal forms finally disappeared, and the initial signs of capitalism became visible only gradually. Russia had achieved its most purely feudal form.

According to many Soviet Marxists, the sporadic beginnings of the capitalist means of production originated in Western Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but in Russia not until the sixteenth or seventeenth century. At about this time, monetary and commercial relations were beginning to spread from the city to the countryside, and within cities crafts were being converted from production for orders to production for the market. Yet, these processes were still not sufficiently advanced to signal unambiguously the onset of capitalist elements. Without a precise definition of capitalist elements, Soviets are especially prone to disagreement over the timing of their appearance and early development. Recent scholarly attention has focused on identifying a later point, when the capitalist presence was large enough to exert a substantial impact, what they call the capitalist uklad. The authors of a collective conference report entitled The Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism in Russia agree that this turning point occurred during the second half of the eighteenth century and, for some, more specifically during the 1760s. Thus, it is probably accurate to quantify the appearance of capitalism in Russia, as seen by Soviet eyes, as a gradual process beginning in the sixteenth century and reaching a noticeable boundary near the end of the eighteenth century. Limited degrees of penetration of commerce, of large-scale craft production, of hired labor, and, in general, of forces disrupting the closed character of the peasant economy were all consistent with a feudal society; however at some time the combined effect of these forces achieved a level where the rise of a new epoch can be observed. The significance of the period 1750–1800 to many Soviets is that this is the time when the roots of capitalism plunged deep into Russian soil.


Excerpted from Urban Networks in Russia, 1750â"1800, and Pre-modern Periodization by Gilbert Rozman. Copyright © 1976 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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