Academic journal article Kritika

Recent Russian Historiography on the Decembrists: From "Liberation Movement" to "Public Opinion"

Academic journal article Kritika

Recent Russian Historiography on the Decembrists: From "Liberation Movement" to "Public Opinion"

Article excerpt

Tat'iana Vasil'evna Andreeva, Tainye obshchestva v Rossii v pervoi treti XIX v.: Pravitel'stvennaia politika i obshchestvennoe mnenie (Secret Societies in Russia in the First Third of the 19th Century: Government Policy and Public Opinion). 911 pp. St. Petersburg: Liki Rossii, 2009. ISBN-13 978-5874173258.

Ol'ga Valerianovna Edel'man, Sledstvie po delu dekabristov (Investigating the Case of the Decembrists). 354 pp. Moscow: Modest Kolerov, 2010. ISBN-13 978-5918870013.

Ol'ga Valerianovna Edel'man and Sergei Vladimirovich Mironenko, eds., Vosstanie dekabristov: Dokumenty (The Decembrist Uprising: Documents), vol. 21. 559 pp. Moscow: ROSSVEN, 2008. ISBN-13 978-58244310337.

Oksana Ivanovna Kiianskaia, Ocherki iz istorii obshchestvennogo dvizheniia v Rossii vpravlenie Aleksandra I (Essays on the History of the Social Movement in Russia under Alexander I). 301 pp. St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istoriia, 2008. ISBN-13 978-5981873232.

Oksana Ivanovna Kiianskaia, ed., Dekabristy: Aktual'nye problemy i novye podkhody (The Decembrists: Topical Problems and New Approaches). 721 pp. Moscow: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet, 2008. ISBN-13 978-5728109457.

After a marked decline in Russian historians' interest in the "Decembrist era" during the first post-Soviet decade, the last ten years have seen a resurgence of focus and publication as indicated by the recent appearance of the five volumes discussed here. A new generation of Decembrist scholars (dekabristovedy) has widened the research agenda for early 19th-century Russian opposition by moving it away from the narrow Marxist-Leninist confines of the "liberation movement" (osvoboditel 'noe dvizhenie). Instead, they have sought to place it in the broader context of what A. N. Pypin as long ago as 1870 referred to as the "social movement" (abshchestvennoe dvizhenie). In her exhaustive study of the topic, Tat'iana Andreeva favors the modern (if optimistic) term "public opinion" (obshchestvennoe mnenie). Given the difficulty of identifying common ground among the various categories of opinion makers who contributed to the flourishing (though censored) periodical press, or were members of Masonic lodges and informal study circles (kruzhki) or of Decembrist secret societies, it would seem challenging to refer with confidence to a unified "public opinion" and therefore to generalize meaningfully about it. Nevertheless, her introduction of the term is one of the many indications of the extent to which today's specialists have moved away from their Soviet predecessors, while continuing to explore essentially the same historical phenomena--problems of politics and reform in Alexander I's reign, and the Decembrists' political culture and secret societies. The differences will be highlighted further below. They are also resurrecting names lost to Russian historiography for much of the 20th century such as Pypin, V. O. Kliuchevskii, and M. N. Pokrovskii, endorsing their rediscovered predecessors' views.

Unquestionably, the most original and important of the works reviewed here is Andreeva's monumental study of secret societies, government policy, and public opinion in the first three decades of the 19th century. As ambitious as it is voluminous, it starts from the debatable proposition that this period of Russian political history ranks alongside the Great Reforms in its attempts, official and unofficial, to modernize Russia (3). In particular, Andreeva stresses its importance in the formation of the nobility's political role and its relationship with the throne. The place in this process of "public opinion," as reflected mainly in the recorded views of the various strata of the nobility, while crucial, has, in Andreeva's view, been insufficiently explored. Her purpose, therefore, is to redress this lack (10). Her monograph starts with a thoroughgoing 117-page survey of the literature and sources, indicative of the massive scale of the ensuing volume. …

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