The Reforms of Peter the Great: Progress through Coercion in Russia

The Reforms of Peter the Great: Progress through Coercion in Russia

The Reforms of Peter the Great: Progress through Coercion in Russia

The Reforms of Peter the Great: Progress through Coercion in Russia

Synopsis

This exciting and psychologically penetrating account of the life and rule of Russia's eighteenth-century tsar-reformer develops an important theme. What happens when the drive for "progress" is linked to an autocratic, expansionist impulse rather than a larger goal of human emancipation? What was the price of power - for Russia, and for Peter himself? Evgenii V. Anisimov's provocative history of Peter thus asks important questions with special resonance today.

Excerpt

The recent historical works of Evgenii Viktorovich Anisimov may be seen as important products and multifaceted reflections of the ferment in process in what used to be known as the USSR. Born in 1947, Anisimov received his higher education in Leningrad—now Saint Petersburg—where he is currently senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He has been strongly influenced by the examples of Ruslan Skrynnikov and Nikolai Pavlenko in writing history addressed to a broad readership. Prior to the publication in 1986 of his scholarly popular book, Russia in the Mid-Eighteenth Century: The Struggle for the Heritage of Peter the Great—a strikingly revisionist treatment of the reign of Empress Elizabeth (1741-61), copiously illustrated, issued in a printing of 100,000 and reissued in 1988— Anisimov was known primarily to a narrow circle of Petrine specialists. In the more relaxed era of perestroika and glasnost', however, Anisimov, described by Donald J. Raleigh as a "rising star" of the Russian historical profession, has emerged as one of the more outspoken professional scholars and has commented frequently on academic and cultural politics. He has been critical of the rather stodgy academic journals for shying away from controversial questions such as nationality policies in the past and for ignoring the repression of the historical profession in the Stalin era, particularly the purge of Leningrad historians in 1930. At the same time Anisimov has rankled conservative nationalists by his sharp criticism of the popularized history purveyed by novelist Valentin Pikul'.

Indeed, the field of history has recently been enlivened by the spillover of current political debates, as attested by Anisimov's own shocking application of the term "totalitarian" to Peter the Great, a figure singled out for praise by Stalin himself and glorified in the widely seen film of the late 1930s Peter the First. Some of the stir engendered by Anisimov's revisionist account of Peter the Great may be detected in a roundtable discussion convened at Saratov University on 16 June 1990. Sergei Alekseevich Mezin, a junior faculty member (decent), offered this appraisal:

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