Academic journal article Kritika

Max Weber in the Provinces: Measuring Imperial Russia by Modern Standards

Academic journal article Kritika

Max Weber in the Provinces: Measuring Imperial Russia by Modern Standards

Article excerpt

In 1859, Inspector-General Stepan Vasil'evich Safonov wrote of the governor of Penza, Aleksandr Alekseevich Panchulidzev:

   It is well known that the nachal'nik, Privy Councillor
   Panchulidzev, has won such influence among a large part of the
   nobles and all the officials serving there through his familial
   connections and as a result of his 28year service as the head of a
   province, that the processing of files in the departments always
   takes the direction that suits him, which--in the opinion of many
   locals-- ... is characterized by neither modesty nor justice. He
   enjoys the protection of many people and is himself under the
   influence of those who abuse his trust and understand how to take
   advantage of every circumstance. These ties are based on mutual
   interest and serve as the basis for many abuses of office, which
   are almost impossible to eradicate under the present state of
   affairs.... (1)

The Soviet historian Petr Zaionchkovskii saw this situation as one of the greatest scandals in the history of the imperial province, and it inspired the writer Nikolaj Semenovich Leskov to a fantastical story. (2) Senator Safonov described it as a network of dependencies held together by familial relations and reciprocal graft in which the officials remained loyal to the governor, profited from his protection, and provided him with alibis. (3) The inspection of Penza province, which ended with the governor's resignation and the dismissal of scores of officials, took place in 1858-59, five years before the introduction of zemstvos.

The timing raises the question of the impact of the abolition of serfdom, the introduction of local self-government, and judicial reform on the administrative practices in the provinces: was 1861-64 the major cut-off point that divides Russian history into the premodern and modern; transformed lazy, corrupt, barely educated hacks into industrious, trained officials serving the common good; and wrested the administration of near and distant provinces from the uncontrolled arbitrariness of egomaniacal governors, restructuring and standardizing them according to the Western, European model? Certainly, 1861-64 is seen by many as the significant watershed in Russian history. What it signified, however, remains in dispute: was it really the path into modernity, into a new era in which a Western-style society emerged with organizations, parties, and a press and, finally, a constitution and parliament, part of a progressive trend that was abruptly and fatefully halted and shattered by World War I? Or is the history one of continuous decline, a succession of failed and half-hearted reforms, and unsolved social, economic, and political problems, whose only logical conclusion was revolution in 1917? Alternatively--and this is a third interpretation--did the reforms ask too much of the rural population, evoke a "clash of cultures" between the learned, Europeanized elites and the "backward" peasants stuck in their traditions, dividing the country into two irreconcilable cultures whose mutual hatred exploded in 1917?

A symposium organized by the Orenburg professor of history Sergei Valentinovich Liubichankovskii discussed the question of the impact of the zemstvo reform on local administration, the development of the administration of Russian "borderlands" after 1864, and the degree of the reforms' success in responding to the problems of rural life. Together with A. E. Zagrebin and Iu. P. Anshakov, Liubichankovskii initiated an Internet discussion from 2008 to 2009 with more than 37 historians, primarily from Russia and Ukraine but also from Austria, Germany, Canada, the United States, Finland, and Japan. The "discussion" was structured around a questionnaire with 15 questions, which now act as a structure for the book that contains the debate. (4) The work is thus divided into 15 sections, each of which consists of between 5 and 19 answers from the various authors. …

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