Revolutions: The Revolutionary Tradition in the West, 1560-1991

By David Parker | Go to book overview

9

The Russian Revolution

Maureen Perrie

‘The Russian Revolution’ may be defined as a process that began in the early twentieth century and continued into the 1930s - or even to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this chapter, however, I shall take a narrower approach, focusing on the three discrete political revolutions of the first two decades of the century: the events of 1905 and those of February and October 1917. Insofar as all three revolutions had their roots in the same crisis of the old regime, and in the same intellectual revolutionary tradition, I shall begin by examining these common factors before proceeding to consider and compare the specific features of each individual revolution.


‘Reform from above’ and economic development

Although Robert V. Daniels has recently tried to fit Russia into a pattern in which ‘all the great revolutions of history . . . break out when the tension between a changing, modernising society and a rigid traditional government can no longer be contained’, 1 Crane Brinton rightly noted, in his classic comparative study, that an ‘effort . . . to reform the machinery of government’ was an important common feature of the four societies he examined (England, America, France and Russia). He added:

Nothing can be more erroneous than the picture of the old regime as an unregenerate tyranny, sweeping to its end in a climax of despotic indifference to the clamor of its abused subjects. 2

Indeed, an interaction between ‘reform from above’ and ‘revolution from below’ was a major feature of the last decades of Tsarist Russia. The old regime was unable to sustain the impetus of reform, or to satisfy the expectations of further amelioration that it raised - and thereby it increased the dissatisfaction of oppositional elements in society rather than appeasing it.

The main ‘reforms from above’ in nineteenth-century Russia were implemented in the reign of Tsar Alexander II (1855-81). These reforms were introduced in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat by Britain and France in

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