The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Russia the Modernizing Old Regime

The years of counter-reform after the assassination of Aleksandr the Second were followed by a period of rapid state-sponsored industrialization aided in large part by foreign capital. State and society underwent a fundamental transformation under the whip of a frenzied international competition for colonies and spheres of influence. Russia continued to look south and east where she saw further opportunities for expansion, but now she carried along dangerous commitments on the European continent as well. Could she maintain her internal equilibrium while contending with the other imperial powers? Russia was living on the edge, yet her leaders were not particularly fearful. Many of the tsar’s most able statesmen were thrilled by the prospects and saw great days ahead, hoping that the dynamism of industrialization and rail building would open up new fields for vast endeavors. Along with this went the hope that the broadening context of Russia’s quest for power on a world scale would dwarf her social problems. Domestic troubles would be kept in check by foreign policy victories.

Russia may have been the most backward of the great powers, in the sense of undergoing the process of industrial revolution a full century later than Britain and a generation later than Germany, France, and the United States. But her social and political structure was not unique. Along with Hohenzollern Germany, Hapsburg Austria-Hungary, and Meiji Japan, she might be characterized as a modernizing old regime, to be distinguished from Atlantic democracies such as Britain, France, and the United States, nations that had shaped their institutions in revolutions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The modernizing old regime was an absolute

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