The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914

The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914

The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914

The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914

Excerpt

The purpose of this work is to describe and explain the stages of the Decline of the Russian Empire between the Crimean War and the First World War. The Empire's Fall, in revolution and civil war, lies outside its scope, though reference is made to it in the Epilogue. The Fall forms the subject of a vast literature of unequal merit in Russia, Europe and America: the Decline has received far less attention. There are excellent studies of special aspects, but few attempts to survey the whole half- century from the emancipation of the serfs to the catastrophe of 1914. The complexity of the issues, and the varying quality of the sources, forbid the historian to set himself too high an aim. I have tried to pursue accuracy and clarity rather than literary effect. If this work is of practical use to any who wish to understand the background of contemporary Russia it will have served a purpose.

Though Russian history is little known in Europe, there is no subject on which European writers, informed or less informed, are more willing to theorise. From the numerous enthusiastic champions of the various ready-made theories I can expect little patience. There are the various theories about the Slav soul, Dostoevski, the mystics and the noble mujik; and the Polish theories about the inward wickedness and "differentness" of all Russians, which only Poles are able to understand. There are numerous variations on the themes of a happy country of happy people destroyed by the wicked Bolsheviks, or of a vast torture-chamber from which the oppressed people was liberated--if a little roughly--by the glorious--or at least "progressive "--Bolsheviks. There is the version put forward by the infallible author(s) of the Short History of the CPSU(b). Then there are the familiar theories about Russia's role within Europe. To some she is the generous protector and liberator of the poor little oppressed Slav peoples; to others the noble defender of Europe against the Germanic hordes; to others again the impious enemy of the noble Germanic defenders of Europe. This does not exhaust the list. Most of the ready-made theories contain bits--in most cases small bits--of truth. I hope that these bits are to be found within my account, but I am unable . . .

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