Power to the People: Essays on Russian History

By Daniels, Robert, V | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 1997 | Go to article overview

Power to the People: Essays on Russian History


Daniels, Robert, V, Canadian Slavonic Papers


John L.H. Keep. Power to the People: Essays on Russian History. East European Monographs, CDXV. Boulder, CO: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1995. 443 pp. Bibliography. $63.00, cloth.

John Keep is one of the most respected and versatile historians of Russia in the Englishspeaking world. A lecturer at the London School of Slavonic Studies in the early part of his career, and then Professor of History at Toronto, he is well known for his books on the Social Democrats, popular mobilization in the Revolution, and the Imperial army, followed most recently by his provocative history of the Soviet Union from the close of World War II up to its collapse. Now, in Power to the People, Keep has made more readily accessible his most important articles on all these topics and more, published between the 1950s and 1980s.

The selection of essays presented here follows the stages of Keep's evolving interests. Part I, "Muscovite Russia," consists of contributions to the Slavonic and East European Review between 1956 and 1970, revolving around the organization of governmental authority and the decline of the Zemskii Sobor in the seventeenth century. Part II, next in the chronology of subject matter though it represents the author's later interest in the army and military policy, comes from a variety of sources over the years 1973-1985. Part III addresses the Revolution, with items on Lenin and the Bolsheviks from the years 1968-1971 plus an early (1955) study on the boycott of the First Duma from Keep's work on the Social Democrats, and a later piece on the intelligentsia's romanticization of peasant revolts. Finally, Part IV on historiography reflects an interest running throughout Keep's work. represented here by essays on the Bolshevik Revolution and Mikhail Pokrovsky.

Keep is a historian's historian, learned, meticulous, careful in judgment though hardly neutral. His command of the literature and the accessible archives is second to none. Modestly he refers to himself as "a mere historian with a professional bias toward ascertaining the facts" (foreword, p. 15).

Though he leaves broader conclusions to the reader, Keep's studies constantly suggest the deep cultural continuities running from prerevolutionary, even Muscovite Russia into the Soviet period and since, for instance in the repeated failures of class or local resistance to autocratic power, and the militarization of leadership thinking. Political and economic advancement of the individual ultimately depended on governmental connections, then and now. Keep's statement about the seventeenthcentury gentry could be a commentary on the post-Soviet order: "In this drive for enrichment it was naturally the better-placed elements, with resources in money and labor, or with political influence, which gained most. …

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