The Twilight of Imperial Russia

The Twilight of Imperial Russia

The Twilight of Imperial Russia

The Twilight of Imperial Russia

Excerpt

Since the reign of the last of the Romanov tsars is a classic testing- ground of Marxist theory, it is more than ordinarily vain to look to Soviet historians for the objective account of the period which, counsel of perfection though it may be, still represents the normal ideal of western historiography. In this narrative history of the reign I have pursued no special thesis nor subscribed to any particular doctrine of historical causation. I have kept to the limits of the reign, adding only by way of balance to the introductory survey of the condition of Russia at the accession a short epilogue on the logic of events between the fall of the monarchy and the Bolshevik seizure of power. I have not attempted to describe in any detail that crucial period of eight months between February and October 1917 since it appears to me to belong to a phase of Russian history that properly takes in the civil war which followed. This I propose to make the subject of a later work.

I have had in mind three main points of emphasis. The Bolsheviks contributed little or nothing to the revolution which overthrew the autocracy of the tsars and swept away the dynasty. Until 1917, indeed, their prospects appeared to be no better than those of several rival groups of conspirators or propagandists in exile. I have therefore tried to chart the tides and currents represented by all the other factions and parties, legal and underground, which swelled the revolutionary cataclysm.

I have further indicated some of the 'ifs' of the reign which still exercise the imagination. Amid the revolutionary momentum of events during those twenty-three years there was an astonishing element, as perhaps there always is at periods of social crisis, of the fortuitous. What might have happened is not history, but in retrospect the Russian scene between 1894 and 1917 is strewn with the remains of things hypothetical. Though in the last resort the shaping forces of history are no doubt impersonal, the personal equation in politics is never negligible. No law of Russian historical development compelled Nicholas to accept the advice of Pobe-

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