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Explaining History Journal

Summer 2013
Essays, Articles and Observations on modern history and memory.
Nick Shepley
Nick Shepley:
The birth of nations:
Evaluating the development of
civil society, the revolutionary
movement and peasant 'volia'
between 1892 and 1905.
During the 1905 Revolution, Count Sergei Sheremetev wrote a diary entry that
articulated the distance that Russian society appeared to have travelled in a
decade. He said: "Dear God, how far we have departed since 1894, and in
what direction! But then I never did have any hopes for the successor
[Nicholas II]. Russia in 1894 and Russia today! I don't know if anyone will ever
read this diary, but what we are now experiencing with him, I had premonitions
of long ago."[1]
Sheremetev, one of Russia's biggest landowners had witnessed the ineffectual
Nicholas II fail to contain or to appease the protest movement of 1902-1905,
and instead watched it evolve into a full blown revolution following Bloody
Sunday in January 1905. He had also watched horric bloodshed take place
on his own lands, with land seizures and anti Semitic pogroms happen with
regularity. Sheremetev began to take as dim a view of the peasants as he did
of Russia's Czar, shifting away from the previously naive and generous
position he had held, that the peasants represented something honest and
egalitarian that much of Russia had lost.[2]
The view put forward about the period 1892 to 1905 by many commentators
including Geoffrey Hosking, Orlando Figes and most recently Douglas Smith,
is that a broader sense of civil society emerged in Russia during this period,
largely as a response to autocratic failings. This new sense of nationhood or
patriotism was pioneered mainly by the small middle class and by large
sections of the nobility, and was expressed through a powerful sense of social
obligation to the peasantry. Liberal nationalist gures such as the writer Anton
Chekhov, or Prince George Lvov, did not advocate revolution in any
meaningful sense before 1917, but concerned themselves with practical
measures to assist the poor. Using institutions such as the Zemstvos and
Zemgor the Russian middle classes and nobility built part of the infrastructure
of a modern Russia that existed in tandem with Czarism, and as Czarism
faltered and retreated, it lled the void.
Growing parallel with this liberal and progressive sense of nationhood, were
anarchist and Marxist strands of the intelligentsia who were dismissive of
notions of nationhood in the traditional sense or of progressive measures in
general, and who's energies were consumed by loyalty to a future imagined
society, the outcome of a hoped for revolution
Missing from this analysis is a third phenomenon, the evolution of a peasant
'volia' described by Smith in 'Former People', as: "Total licence and the right to
act as one sees t, unrestrained from any larger authority."[3]
Volia was barely articulated as an idea at all by the Russian peasants or the
urban 'hooligans', who had begun to exhibit challenging and disrespectful
behaviours towards the nobility since the turn of the century. By 1917 the use
of the term Burzhui (Bourgeois), should not be seen as any kind of
understanding of class, revolutionary politics or Marxist dialectics, but simple a
shorthand for 'hated other', and could incorporate Russia's middle classes,
Germans or Jews.
This essay will seek to explore how these three notions of collective identity
evolved, interacted and eventually clashed in 1917, and will seek to evaluate
the impact that the period 1892-1905 had on their development. In doing so, it
does not ignore the fact that there were many multiplicities of collective identity
or nationhood emerging at the time, from the industrial working class to
national minorities such as Jews, Finns, Poles, Armenians and Ukrainians,
though to explore all these senses of emergent nationhood would be beyond
the scope of this essay and suitable for a wider study. The use of the term
intelligentsia will be avoided in this essay, as it is too broad and imprecise a
term to describe the progressive and radical opponents of the Czar alone,
there were conservative intellegentsia also who did not share the same
ambitions as their oppositional colleagues.
Figes gives an outline sketch of this period of intensifying tensions in Chapter
Five of Russia: A People's Tragedy, First Blood and begins with an
examination of the Volga Famine of 1892.[4]
Incompetence, rather than malice seems to have been the root cause of the
crisis in the Volga. Russia up to the 1960s, according to famine historian
Cormac O 'Grada, experienced famine conditions in some part of her territory
on average once every nine years, so the Volga famine of 1892 should not
have been unexpected[5]. The reaction to the famine was marred with
incompetence and corruption from the regime, which forced it eventually to
appeal to Russia's middle class and nobility for help. The crisis tested the
autocracy to its limit and its failure created an opportunity for civil society to
assert itself.
Figes writes: "Politically this was to prove an historic moment, for it opened the
door to a powerful new wave of public activity and debate which the
government could not control and which quickly turned from the philanthropic
to the political."[6]
In many of the accounts cited by Figes, particularly those of Chekhov and
Tolstoy, there is evidence that immense guilt and sense of obligation and duty
towards the peasants existed, and it was from this sense of obligation that new
notions of nationhood emerged. Loyalty to the Czar no longer made one a
Russian, after the famine to be a good Russian one must demonstrate
devotion to the people. In this sense a separate and conicting view of
Russian-ness emerged, and it was one incompatible with Czarism. In
December 1916, shortly after the murder of Rasputin, Nicholas II still
demonstrated his rigid adherence to the rst view of Russian identity. British
diplomat George Buchanan could clearly sense the darkening mood in
Petrograd and urged the Czar to make some gesture to restore public
condence in his rule. The Czar replied, incredulously: "Do you mean that I am
to regain the condence of my people, or they are to regain my condence."[7]
Figes states that a new condence in the institutions of Russian civil society
(which he argues was too nebulous to be described as a class), was mirrored
by a declining assertiveness and competence by the Czarist system. In a very
real sense, the middle strata of Russian society was maturing, and the
metaphor of a society coming of age is particularly apt, given the fact that
much of the Russian population were guratively and practically infantilised by
the regime. The title of Batyushka or 'Little Father', given to the Czar obviously
had deeply religious Orthodox connotations, but it also implied a world view
held by the regime of an innocent and child like population. This mostly applied
to the peasantry, and the new bourgeoisie seem rarely to have entered into the
regime's calculations.
Figes identies the schism between gradualist and radical opponents of the
regime in the run up to 1905, in the guise of liberal Zemstvo men and the
students.[8] Whilst the two groups were galvanised into action by the
immediate crisis of the famine, their philosophical motivations for opposition
were fundamentally different. The members of the Zemstva were
predominantly the rural nobility (though many of these were titled men without
the vast wealth of Sheremetev) who were deeply loyal to Czarism and who
saw no future for its absolutist incarnation, they believed that coming to a
modern constitutional arrangement with the Czar was the best way to save his
regime. Many were mindful that the consequences of a collapse in the regime
would be personally catastrophic, involving terrible bloody violence from
below. This loyalty was frequently expressed as exasperation, but it was only
in 1917 that a majority of Zemstvo members nally abandoned the Czar and
embraced the Provisional Government. Following the signing of the October
Manifesto many quickly embraced the new reforms, convincing themselves
that the Czar was sincere about a constitutional monarchy.
Many Zemstvo nobles and intellectuals were far more comfortable with an
autocratic Czar than either Alexander III or Nicholas II realised. Both Czars
repressed and harassed the local government organisations after 1890,
arresting their leaders and censoring publications, not realising that a
widespread desire existed to help support the Czar and his fundamental laws.
Dmitri Shipov, Mikhail Stakhovich and Georgi Lvov, all members of the Party of
Peaceful Renovation, established just after the revolutionary year of 1905,
were eager to revive a respect for Czarism amongst the peasants and to allow
autocracy to grow naturally from the peasants love for the Czar, not from the
imposed and articial authoritarian notion of autocracy that relied on
disciplining the population to accept Czarism. Even this model of progressive
accommodation with the people was unfavourable to Nicholas II, who viewed it
as an erosion of his god given rights and responsibility to govern Russia as an
absolutist, leaving the country in the words of Figes 'an autocracy, without an
The students the Figes identies, had a fundamentally different outlook. He
states that the terms 'student' and 'revolutionary' were virtual synonyms for
one another, though this may be something of an over simplication. The
revolutionary movement in the modern era had a long heritage, pre dating the
student movement of the 1880s and beyond. The Decembrists of the 1820s
had been aristocrats and young army ofcers, and the revolutionary
underground that is vividly portrayed by Alex Butterworth in his history of the
anarchist movement in Europe, The World That Never Was, was equally
populated by minor aristocrats and bourgeois professionals. Sergei
Kravchinsky, Peter Kropotkin, Vera Zasulich and Mikhail Bakunin all present a
facet of the revolutionary movement far removed from the university campus,
yet able to occupy the attentions of the Third Section's most brilliant counter-
subversive, Peter Rachkovsky, in a way the student movement never did.[10]
This is not to say that the student movement didn't present a more radical
opposition to Czarism, the educational reforms of the 1860s had created an
enlarged body of predominantly young men studying new subjects, particularly
natural sciences. The reaction period of Alexander II's reign, and the
subsequent twenty ve years of retrenchment and anti intellectualism from
Alexander III and Nicholas II created a radicalised movement amongst the
students where initially none might have existed. The radicalisation of the
student body was the product of a confused and locally led crack down the
turn of the century on campuses across Russia, with local Czarist governors
acting out of a 'proizvol' or a self directed localised despotism. The student
body had been exploring new ideas since the 1860s, and this had brought it
gradually into conict with an older order, as depicted in the character of
Bazarov in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons of 1862. However the petty
restrictions placed on student life by arch reactionary Dmitri Tolstoy, and the
unnecessary brutality shown towards protesting students created a body that,
like many of the nobility saw itself as having a national duty to work for
change, but the change itself would be revolutionary, not gradual.
A large part of the reason for this difference in approach is down to the
absence of roles provided by the Czarist state for the new waves of young
educated people after the 1860s. The failure of the reform era to
fundamentally change Russia, the inability of industrialisation to take hold to a
sufcient degree to absorb large numbers of graduates, and the monopoly of
the aristocracy over prestigious government jobs gave the newly educated
little incentive to have any loyalty to the regime. They were excluded from it,
and lived in a culture that did not value their ideas or outlook. Following the
accession to the throne of Alexander III and the rise in prominence of
Konstantin Pobedonostsev within his government, reactionary Slavophilism
dominated Russian public life. The idea that Russia was not a European
nation and therefore could not benet from European enlightenment ideas,
that the country had a separate historical path and that the answers to her
current dilemmas could be found in her ancient, peasant, Orthodox past,
swept student hopes for a modern Russia away.
The violence of anti student measures at campuses across Russia between
1899 and 1902, was the result of a long simmering anger over the removal of
privileges by Tolstoy in 1884, and the fact that Russia experiences three
successive years of protest is telling. The reforms of Alexander II were not
easily undone once they had been created, they were responsible for a great
unleashing of intellectual energies in Russia, and the attempt to stymie these
new forces set up an irreconcilable tension within Russia that was to fully
manifest itself in 1905. The journey of thousands of students into the SR Party,
which contained the only fully organised terrorist wing within the Russian
revolutionary underground, created the armed opponents that the authorities
had feared, and provided many of the foot soldiers for the SR's campaign of
violence in 1905.
The revolutionary year evolved from a series of interlocking revolts or
rebellions, coalescing in a year of violence and chaos in 1905 itself, but
continuing until 1907 at least. Students, sailors, peasants, the middle classes
and some nobility and workers all played a part in critical weakening the
Between the late 1890s and 1905, partly as a result of Alexander III's
industrialisation, the 'Great Spurt', the numbers of Russia's industrial working
class rapidly grew. However, as nearly all new workers migrated from the
countryside, and returned their in times of economic shortage, many had yet to
fully abandon their peasant world view and mentality. The experience of
modern urban living and industrial work forced most peasants-cum-workers to
embrace new forms of collectivism and solidarity, perhaps with echoes of the
village Obschina, but suited to the conditions of the factory. The unions,
workers organisations and parties that emerged were quickly inltrated and
later controlled by the Okhrana, but would still play a key part in the 1905
revolution, beginning with the massacre on Bloody Sunday.
The mass killing at the gates of the Winter Palace was another avoidable
disaster for the Czar, who had not initially been faced by an angry mob, more
a procession of deferential workers humbly submitting a petition to the Czar.
Zubatov, the secret policeman who ran the workers unions in Petrograd,
himself a former populist, wanted to recreate the sense of rural paternalism
towards the peasants in the cities. Instead of cruel landlords and swindling
Jews that the Czar would offer protection from, it would be greedy and ruthless
bosses and factory owners. Father Gapon, the priest and police informer who
led the procession was deeply committed to autocracy and led the workers to
the gates of the Winter Palace in a piece of elaborate public propaganda.
The ensuing slaughter indicated how poor the internal communications and
internal reasoning of the regime was, because an opportunity to strengthen
the regime was squandered and instead a war between the regime and the
vast majority of its subjects began.
The notion, however, that good, quiescent and obedient workers existed until
Bloody Sunday, and angry rebellious ones developed thereafter is obviously
far too simplistic.
For a decade before the killings, there had been mounting evidence of a
sentiment emerging from within the ranks of the young male working class,
that is described by contemporary observers as 'hooliganism'.
Joan Neuberger in her essay 'Hooliganism and Futurism',[11] states that the
Hooligans, bands of 'young working class toughs', implicitly attacked the
values of the respectable urban bourgeoisie by mocking, insulting and
offending with crude and aggressive public behaviour.
She writes: "Their deant assertion of "uncultured" behaviour provided
evidence of the failure of culturalism to civilise the common folk or assimilate
them into society. Hooligans openly refused to accept the role of cultureless
objects who could be transformed with a simple infusion of what the
intelligentsia, playing Pygmalion, considered to be culture."
Neuberger raises a number of issues in this statement, the most important
being that clearly while Czarism sought to patronise the peasants and had
vague thoughts about patronising the workers, the urban bourgeoisie clearly
sought to 'improve' them. By making reference to Pygmalion (the play and not
the classical myth) Neuberger reminds readers that this was a European wide
late Victorian phenomenon, perhaps a response to unexpected accumulations
of urban workers due to industrialism across the continent. Neuberger's
assertion that this was a bid to assimilate workers 'in to society' is also very
revealing, suggesting that contemporary bourgeois thinking excluded the non
cultured individual from 'society' itself. More egalitarian, fraternal notions of
society therefore either didn't exist or were minority discourses at the time, and
the main barrier to being part of society itself seems to have been the very
proletarian-ness of the workers. This process of 'othering' the worker was very
similar to the 'othering' of the peasant, and it reected an acute anxiety
amongst the afuent classes that the 'civilisation' that they cherished extended
only so far. The bourgeoisie were conscious that they existed as islands in a
large and uncivilised sea, with only the power of the state to keep them
secure. The Hooligans, Neuberger shows, existed as a cultural phenomenon
in part to reject this attempt to civilise the working classes. Working class
culture in Russia's cities before the revolution was rich and diverse and largely
misunderstood by the middle classes who ignored its vitality and relevance.
After 1905, the focus of antagonism towards the afuent classes shifted back
to the land, where long suppressed resentments and hatreds could now be
expressed far more openly. During the revolutionary year of 1905 the
peasantry seized land across Russia, forcing landowners to ee in terror, and
as the rst quote by Sheremetev suggests, any naive optimism over the
'goodness' of ordinary peasant folk, was dispelled. Unlike the workers in many
of the Soviets that formed themselves, particularly in Moscow, the peasants in
1905 were not militarily crushed, instead their uprising met with success. In the
Czar's October Manifesto, the peasants' debts were abolished, and even
though the reintroduction of some semblance of order to the countryside had
involved harsher more military style discipline against the peasants, the mood
in rural Russia was permanently altered. Douglas Smith writes that: "...Even
though order was re-established, the problems that had sparked the violence
remained; what is more the harsh tactics fuelled the peasants desire for
revenge and convinced them that the next time they would have to ght even
harder to drive the masters off the land for good. The tense atmosphere that
now gripped the countryside did not escape the landowners. When one
nobleman returned to his estate in Samara Province, he noticed the peasants
previous "courtesy and friendliness was replaced by "animosity and
The revolutionary year of 1905, whilst it had failed to lead to a full political
revolution, had brought about a partial social revolution in the countryside. It
has permanently shaken the old ties of deference to the nobles and allowed
unspoken animosities now to be expressed openly, as the peasants eagerly
awaited the next major failing of the Czarist state. Many in the nobility
following 1905 were acutely aware of the shift, and the failure of Nicholas II in
the coming decade to either be a convincing autocrat or a committed democrat
left many nobles with a sense of doom and dread.
This was articulated by Baron Wrangel in 1914, who said: "We are on the
verge of events, the likes of which the world has not seen since the barbarian
invasions", Wrangel was not speaking of the war that was to break out during
July that year, but about the end of any pretence that the countryside was
going to return to normal.
During the February revolution, three years later, the antagonism of the
peasant soldiers and their anarchic indifference to orders had been crystallised
by the experience of war. General Alexei Brusilov commented that: "The
soldiers what only one thing, peace, so that they can go home, rob the land
owners, and live freely without paying any taxes or recognising any authority."
Brusilov, who unlike many of his fellow generals, knew the mentality and
attitude of his men well is a reliable and objective commentator on the
attitudes that had reached the level of mutiny by 1917.
The lexicon of revolutionary terminology had been appropriated by workers
and peasants by 1917 in a way that it had not been in 1905, now 'Burzhui' had
entered into common parlance when describing the middle classes and
landowners. This term not only loosely identied 'enemies' but could also be
used to legitimise violence against them. Similarly in 1905, corruptions of the
word 'revolution' were used, and its meaning was reduced to being something
similar to volia; revolution simply meant the peasants could do as they
Can it be argued that this constitutes a sense of peasant collective identity, let
alone nationhood? Obviously volia was a hyper individualistic approach, and it
was hardly as well expressed and articulated as the many intelligentsia
discourses and debates on the status of Russian identity and nationhood
either. As a conception of freedom, however, it was almost universally
endorsed amongst the peasantry and was therefore a deeply shared
sentiment, but the idea itself precluded any kind of greater national
collectivism as it resulted in localised attacks on the bourgeoisie and upper
classes. Peasants used it as an idea to justify individual acts of 'freedom' and
plunder, and the concept only existed in the moment, there was no sense of a
dialectic to this new freedom or any idea of what kind of society would emerge.
Peasants acted not so much out of a clear picture of what they wanted beyond
extra land, but more out of a notion of what they opposed and hated. The volia
conception of freedom was simply a reaction against social pressures faced by
the peasants and to some extent the urban workers, and as such did not
contain any of the ideas that might be instrumental in building a new
conception of Russia. In this regard it mirrored the semi anarchic nature of
peasant life, which tried to have as little to do with the state, the church and
outsiders as possible.
After 1917, during the Russian Civil War and during the various Leninist and
then Stalinist attempts to collectivise agriculture, the peasants would be
subjected to the predations of an ever growing state, and simplistic ideas
about land ownership and freedom of action would be uniformly crushed.
Hosking makes the point that following the failure of the reforms of Alexander
II, reaction manifested itself in an articial attempt at nation building in the
guise of Russication. This in itself failed to build a stable and lasting base of
support for the autocracy, and following this failure, the construction of a
'nationhood' shifted out of the hands of the regime and was taken up by
Russia's various social classes, nationhood and national identity fragmented
as state power and authority diminished, leaving the formulation of new kinds
of Russian-ness to the people. Inevitably these new interpretations of the
essence of Russian-ness reected the social and material conditions of the
various groups in question. The anarchic sense of freedom and 'volia' that the
peasants embraced was more than simply an excuse for individual plunder, it
was a shared value, based in older peasant notions of fairness and
egalitarianism, but with the added factor of the revolution offering carte
blanche justication for any an all acts of theft, violence and revenge. It is easy
to see how this attitude was channelled by the Bolsheviks in 1917 against the
bourgeoisie and the nobility, unleashing waves of popular violence before the
state had sufciently built up its mechanisms of repression to do the job itself.
In order to fully assess the degree to which the bourgeois, radical and
peasant/worker senses of shared identity and nationhood emerged in the
period 1892-1905, it might be instructive at this point to use the work of
Benedict Anderson, particularly his ground breaking study of nationalism,
Imagined Communities.
In coining the term 'imagined community' Anderson made a fundamental claim
about the nature of national identity itself, he argued that in order for one to
feel Russian, or to have a sense of solidarity with millions of strangers, one
must rst imagine that there are shared similarities in culture, outlook and
ethnicity. That sense of solidarity must also be mirrored by a sense of
'otherness' for those who lie beyond national borders, as no nationalism has
sought to assimilate the entire world into the ethnic group in question.[13]
Some of Anderson's principals apply in most cases, with the exception of the
very lowest classes of Russian society. It is fair to say that during Volga
famine, an imagined community developed rapidly amongst the liberal nobility
and middle classes who worked through the Zemstvo in order to alleviate the
peasants misery and hardship. Whether or not these pioneers of civil society
included the peasants in this community is harder to discern, a sense of
obligation to the lower classes does not necessarily equate to a sense of
social equality or inclusion with them. In many ways the peasants were just as
infantilised by the middle classes and liberal nobility as they were by Czarism,
the difference being that the former group had a far better idea of what was
good for the peasants than the latter, though there appears to be little
evidence of either party empowering the peasantry to look after themselves.
Neuberger's observations about the attempts by the urban bourgeoisie to bring
culture to the working classes, as a condition of their acceptance into society
again suggests that the noblesse oblige of the middle classes was entirely
paternal and was not part of a programme of classless fraternity. The imagined
community of the bourgeois progressive, whilst essentially altruistic and
benign had distinct borders and checkpoints. A future society led by the middle
classes with a constitutionally fettered Czar would be run in the interests of the
lower classes, to whom the Zemstvo elites felt such an acute sense of guilt,
but it would not be directed by them. Evidence of this can be seen briey in the
Provisional Government, which hoped to act on behalf of workers, peasants
and soldiers who had already committed themselves to the Soviets and who
did not give this new paternalism much legitimacy at all.
The second imagined community, that of the radical left, the students,the SR
party and eventually the Bolsheviks was one united by an eschatology, a
historical goal to be worked towards, and therefore it was a community that
existed far less in the present than in some entirely unseen and therefore
imagined future. Timothy Snyder, in conversation with Tony Judt, just before
Judt's death discussed the impact of this eschatology on Lenin, and in turn,
Lenin's impact on it. He said: "I wonder if Lenin's success doesn't also have to
do with a certain audacity about the future...Lenin decided that "scientists of
history" are allowed not just to observe the experiment but to intervene in it, to
nudge things along. After all, if we know the results in advance why not get
there more quickly?"[14]
The extent to which there was a shared consensus view amongst the
revolutionary movement about who was included within the community and
who was not, and which social classes participate in the revolution and who
would not differed from the 1860s onwards. The decline of populism and the
ascent of Marxism by the 1890s, and following that the evolution of the
Bolsheviks as a national force decided how this majority consensus would
evolve, but most incarnations of the revolutionary movement had one thing in
common, they spoke on behalf of peasants rst and then workers, but were
seldom directed by either. Lenin's pledge to seize power and then 'educate the
population in socialism' gives us a sense of the limits of his desire to co-opt the
lower classes, he would not consult them, but build a classless utopia for
Finally, whatever sentiment might be attributed to worker hooliganism and
peasant volia, it cannot realistically be seen as an attempt to create an
imagined community, as all imagined communities in Anderson's view rely
heavily on an interaction with texts. The levels of illiteracy amongst workers
were not as high as that amongst the peasantry, but even so, there is little
evidence of a community of worker to worker texts that do not originate from
more revolutionary and therefore bourgeois sources. The transference of
information within the cities, including the new penny press was for the most
part a vertical top down process, not a horizontal one. Peasant ideas of
revolutionary activity and the role of the peasant nation within it was largely a
mixture of poorly understood ideas inherited from the revolutionary movement,
with the most expedient concepts (that justied peasant land grabs and a
rejection of authority) cherry picked. A sense of fraternity rarely developed
beyond regions, and even by the 1930s it was hard to argue that many
Russian peasants had taken on a coherent sense of Russian nationality. Most
often the peasant class simply viewed themselves in terms of their own
otherness and were united during War Communism against the predations of
the state, an example being the Antonov Rebellion.
Whilst the two expressions of nationhood from 1892 to 1905 were not inclusive
of the entire nation in an egalitarian sense, both proposed models of Russian-
ness in a paternalist way that proposed solutions for peasants and workers
that largely precluded their participation. Czarism's paternalism by 1905 was
devoid even of solutions and simply demanded unconditional loyalty as the
entry criteria for being considered part of the 'nation'. It was the abject failure
of the regime's ability to protect it's subjects that led to a fragmentation in
notions of Russian-ness throughout the 19th Century, a process that
radicalised in its last decade and in the rst decade of the 20th. The new
interpretations nationhood and the peasant rejection of the nation altogether
would ultimately collide with catastrophic consequences between 1917 and



Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities (London, 1993)
Butterworth, Alex, The World That Never Was (London, 2010)
Emmons, Terrence and Vucininch, Wayne S. The Zemstvo in Russia
(Cambridge 1982)
Figes, Orlando, Russia: A Peoples Tragedy (London, 2003)
Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age Of Empire (London, 1975)
Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age Of Extremes (London, 1992)
Hosking, Geoffrey, Russia: A History (London, 1998)
Judt, Tony, Thinking the 20th Century (New York, 2011)
Neuberger, Joan, Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St Petersburg,
1900-1914 (Berkeley, 1993)
OGrada, Cormac, Famine: A History (London 2003)
Smith, Douglas, Former People (New York, 2012)
Service, Robert, Lenin (London, 2006)

[1] Smith, P 55
[2] Ibid
[3] Smith, P27
[4] Figes, PP157-192
[5] OGrada P97
[6] Figes, 158
[7] Smith, P64
[8] Figes, P164
[9] Figes, P23
[10] Butterworth PP 47-66
[11] Nueberger, 185-203
[12] Smith, 66
[13] Anderson, P P1-7
[14] Judt, 24
Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine
Nick Shepley
It is possible that in the
economic history of the
world a turning point
with a signicance that
may still be too early to
assess, was reached at
the end of the 1970s,
as The USA, Britain
and later in the early
1980s China,
Keynesian economics,
notions of social
democracy and the fragile compact between labour and capital that had held
together through the Great Depression, the Second World War and through
the long boom that lasted up to the 1970s; all of this was declared redundant
in the decade that followed, as an economic radicalism without historical
precedent swept the world.
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is the story of that revolution, of how
economic shock therapy, prescribed for countries suffering from the twin ills of
ination and unemployment ,was accompanied by two other kinds of shock.
The rst kind, explains Klein, is invariably some kind of natural disaster,
political upheaval or social catastrophe, guaranteed to leave people in a pliant,
regressed state of helplessness. The second form of shock is the deliberate
violence of the state, an authoritarian aggression designed to steamroll
through change that the majority of the population is unlikely to favour.
She gives a clear example of the exploitation of natural disaster, examining the
post Katrina re-ordering of New Orleans, citing the godfather of neoliberalism
Milton Friedman as a man who could see revolutionary opportunity in the
midst of crisis.
...Uncle Miltie as he was known to his followers, nonetheless found the
strength to write and op-ed for The Wall Street Journal three months after the
levees broke. Most New Orleans Schools are in ruins, Friedman observed,
as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are
now scattered over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to
radically reform the education system. (Klein, 4)
By reform, Friedman means privatisation, and but the use of the word reform
couches the shift from public to private ownership of education, in the
language of positive change. Kleins argument that crisis is used to bring about
radical change in the economic workings of a society seems to be born out by
what happened next.
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and
the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans
school system took place with military speed and precision.
Crisis was used in a similar fashion in the USA following 9/11 when a record
number of privatisations and de-regulations were passed in early 2002 while
any criticism of the Bush presidency could be condemned as unpatriotic.
In his overambitious postmodern take on 20th Century History The End of
History Francis Fukayama argued that liberal democracy and free markets
would spread around the world together now that the twin evils of Fascism and
Communism had been defeated. Klein takes exception to this, arguing that
free market capitalism is a fundamentally violent, anti democratic
ideology. (Klein, 207).
The experience of World War Two had shown Britain and America that a
centralised state intervening in the economy could get things done. In the
USA the state, particularly the defence establishment, expanded rapidly after
the war in a bid to meet the challenges of Americas new global status. In
Britain a similar expansion occurred under the post war Labour and Tory
Governments, the belief that war time planning could address the equally
important struggle for living standards and employment dominated both
The rst proponent of the neoliberalism, was Austrian aristocrat and anti
communist Friedrich Von Hayek, there was in his eyes a veritable craze of
statist solutions in the Western Democracies.. Hayeks core belief, a belief that
was taken up by Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs, his effective successors,
was that individual well being and freedom were incompatible with the notion
of a large and interventionist state.
In studying the likes of Friedman and Sachs Klein presents the reader with a
dilemma; what sort of economists are they? Are they evangelists with a
message of radical economic redemption, revolutionaries every bit as
dedicated to feeding populations bitter but necessary economic medicine as
Lenin or Mao? Or are they fraudsters? Are they men who saw an opportunity
to claw back the concessions granted by ruling classes to their people during
times of national crisis? Whilst she never gives a nal verdict on this answer
the weight of evidence that she presents seems to lean towards the former.
In an interview following the publication of the Shock Doctrine, Klein said:
These (Hayek and Friedman) are brilliant mathematicians, in many cases, so
it looks perfect in their modelling. But I think anyone who falls in love with a
system is dangerous, because the world doesn't comply and then you get
angry at the world. The parallels between purists on the ultra right and ultra
left here are fascinating, unbending theoretical wizards who have fallen into
the age old trap of creating utopian models and imposing them on a reluctant
real world, always arguing, of course, that the results will be so extraordinary
that they will justify the means.
The Chicago School of Economics was the hotbed of economic revisionism in
the 1970s and many of the measures that would be implemented in the rich
world were tested by the Chicago Boys as alumni of the school were known,
in South America. Klein makes the point from the outset when discussing the
Chicago School that it was an academy for producing a neo liberal orthodoxy,
educating commissars of capitalism.
It was not just training students; it was building and strengthening the Chicago
School of Economics, the brainchild of a coterie of conservative academics
whose ideas represented the bulwark against the dominant statist thinking of
the day. (Klein, P49).
Klein paints a picture of the peculiar form of utopian market madness that
Friedman envisaged.
Friedman dreamed of depatterning societies, of returning them to a state of
pure capitalism, cleansed of all interruptions - government regulations, trade
barriers and entrenched interests. (Klein, P50).
One clue as to the reason for Chicago School radicalism and inexibility lies,
suggests Klein, with its joint founder Frank Knight, who thought professors
should inculcate in their students the belief that each economic theory is a
sacred feature of the system not a debatable hypothesis. (Klein, 50)
The Chicago School was directly funded by the CIA, who saw its free market
creed as part of the economic arsenal necessary to role back global
communism. The CIA also pioneered research into personal and social
shock, writing a manual, with the help of notorious psychologist cum torturer
Dr Ewen Cameron.
It is fascinating to note, and I think this comparison alone adds great strength
to Kleins argument, how similar the forced imposition of neo liberalism was in
both Chile and later in Iraq. Three decades had passed between the overthrow
of President Salvador Allendes government in 1972 and the invasion on Iraq
in 2003, but in both instances the rst objectives appear to have been the
remodelling of the laws of ownership itself, mass privatisation and deregulation
and the second seems to be laws to prevent the native population from doing
anything about it.
Klein expertly compares disparate examples of shock and nds similarities,
and this does make for very compelling reading, but in making the case that
textbook neoliberalism is being implemented around the world in some
Machiavellian plan for global domination by the US she portrays a conspiracy
almost too cinematic, it is a mistake that many historians make when seeking
out similarities, they fail to see the errors, omissions, idiosyncrasies and case
by case differences. Anyone reading Tim Weiners Legacy of Ashes, a history
of the CIAs mistakes, might be forgiven for thinking that the USA is too
incompetent for anything as underhand as structural adjustment programmes.
The 1980s were the decade when the First World experienced neoliberalism,
and when Klein turns her attention to Britain the rst questions about her
theory crop up. There are some similarities between the violent neoliberalism
of Pinochets Chile and the more democratic model practiced in Thatchers
Britain, but to make serious comparisons between the two is to misunderstand
modern Britain in quite a clumsy manner (normally it is commentators like
Michael Moore who make such ill judged observations about Britain) and to
belittle the suffering of the Chileans.
The point that Klein only partly makes is that whilst Chile was indeed the
laboratory for the neoliberal experiment and the Chileans were subject to both
the shock and its after effects mass impoverishment, far milder remedies were
applied to Britain. Privatisation was carried out in Britain at a slower pace, a
welfare state was still largely in tact at the end of the Torys time in ofce in
1997, trade union power had been curbed but at that point any comparison
with Chile ends.
The shock that Thatcher used to further her neoliberal goals was, according
to Klein, the Falklands War. This was a war, she argues, that neither side did
much to avoid. This is true, but the fault lies here mainly with incompetent
foreign ofce mandarins in Whitehall in the 1970s and mixed messages being
given to the Argentinians over the Falklands by both Heath and Callaghan
It was true that Thatcher did directly benet from the war, her abysmal poll
ratings were revived by the victory and it gave her the mandate she needed to
impose neo liberalism on Britain from 1983 onwards, but to some extent she
had been originally voted to power in 1979 on a mandate of union reform
anyway. Far from being the shock factor of the Falklands that opened the door
to radical right wing economics in Britain it was the Trotskyite shop oor
stewards of the 1970s whos sole intention seems to have been to wreck the
British economy.
If Neo Liberalism has been successful in Britain it has not succeeded in the
way the most altruistic of its proponents had intended. It has resulted in a
dramatic reduction in the power of organised labour, a permanent shifting of
the political discourse to the right (so much so that in 2002 Peter Mandelson of
the Labour Party famously said: we are all Thatcherites now.) However, there
has been a polarisation of wealth in the hands of a shrinking super elite, the
growth of an disenfranchised underclass and a heavily taxed and shrinking
middle class. Anthropologist David Harvey in A Brief History of Neoliberalism
argues that all these failings have been necessary in a bid to restore the
power and privilege of elites following four decades of retreat.
The problem with all of this is that it is extremely expensive. The overall tax
burden under Thatcher went up, as income tax fell, the shortfall in state
spending was taken up by borrowing and the ever growing decit had to be
paid for by stealth taxes which are for the most part regressive and fall on the
poor hardest. The aspirant working classes, bribed by council house sales
were happy to vote Thatcher a third term in 1987 and weather the rise in VAT
and stamp duty. Thatcher also believed a revolution in government could be
brought about and a reduction in the size of the state achieved. The state
actually grew in the 1980s, Britains centralising tendencies, established before
the Second World War and ourishing thereafter, continued to expand due to
the PMs ever more personalised style of government, and a large welfare,
security and judicial system was needed to deal with the fallout from economic
shock. The fact that Britain faces crippling decits today and has a public
sector larger than the private would tend to suggest that Thatcherism
succeeded only in its initial mission, to hamstring the unions.
One aspect of neo liberalism not touched on in the Shock Doctrine, are the
countries that have adopted the creed without the need for shock. New
Zealand, Australia and Sweden are three notable examples, all social
democracies for much of the post war era, all now to some extent free market
economies. The story of their less violent adaptation to neo liberalism is yet to
be written. In all three instances, it would be difcult to pin the advent of the
free market on CIA dirty tricks either, in fact, the simple truth about neo
liberalism in the rst world and the third is that irrespective of whether or not
shock is used to introduce it, its main appeal to economists and ideologues is
its usefulness for reducing the power of labour.
In our own times vulnerable societies such as Pakistan and Haiti, both in 2010,
have been exploited economically following natural disasters. The IMF and the
World Bank in their rescue efforts have effectively removed economic policy
from the purview of democratically elected ofcials and structural adjustment
programmes have been introduced. Klein tells similar tales of the ruination of
post tsunami Sri Lankan shermen, who saw their villages swept away and
instead of being rebuilt, simply replaced with hotels for wealthy tourists.
We might well be living in post-shock times, nothing in Kleins writing can really
explain the current state of affairs in Britain, for example. A slashing of state
spending, based around the claim that it will reduce sovereign debt (in reality it
will stop the level of debt rising so dramatically, not reduce it) more radical than
anything Thatcher was able to get away with, has been tabled by David
Camerons Government.
With comparatively little protest, the most drastic neo liberal package ever to
be visited on the UK has been accepted by the public. This (almost) quiet
acquiescence demonstrates the real power of the ideology, its ability to
inltrate every level of social, psychological and cultural space until market
dogma and Victorian social ideas are accepted as common sense. This is the
real victory of neo liberalism.
The real value of this book lies in its scholarship. As with any writer who
makes bold claims, powerful evidence is also needed to give any reader a
degree of faith in the argument. Kleins extensive end notes and bibliography,
justifying every point is consistent with the best radical journalism today from
the likes of John Pilger, Arundhati Roy, Robert Fisk and Kleins clear
inspiration, Noam Chomsky.
Civilsation and Discontent:
Niall Ferguson, Tony Judt and
the Crisis of the West
Nick Shepley
Last October (2011) a furious row broke out between conservative historian
Niall Ferguson and writer Pankaj Mishra, who reviewed Ferguson's latest book
Civilisation: The West and the Rest in the London Review of Books. Mishra
wrote a lengthy and critical essay about the book, prompting threats of libel
action from Ferguson.
Mishra claimed that Ferguson's argument required: "...sustained and complex
analysis, not one hell-bent on establishing that the West was, and is, best." [1]
The review was designed to be provocative, Mishra, a writer who focuses on
the complex and often contradictory relationships between India and the West
(having in recent years written the foreword to new editions of Kipling's Kim
and E.M. Forster's A Passage To India) was given the task of critiquing the
foremost proponent of empire itself.
The results were predictable, Mishra, while acknowledging Ferguson's
impressive scholarship, accused him of dismissing evidence that didn't t his
thesis out of hand.
The Ferguson argument, which questions how and why Europe and then
America have had such a long period of wealth and power, and whether this
period is now at an end taps deeply into a growing body of thought about the
state of Western society, and its ability to project power globally. Popular titles
in recent years such as False Dawn and Black Mass by John Gray, Why the
West Rules, For Now by Ian Morris and an entire industry of US non
academic, quasi historical punditry, questioning America's relative decline
have lled bookshops and the Internet.
The world economic crisis has given these inquiries a renewed sense of
urgency, as the beneciary of the West's ills, China and the other BRIC
countries begin to demonstrate their newfound prosperity, and old certainties
about Europe and America's place in the world become less of a given.
At the same time, long term perceived aws and weaknesses in the way the
economy of the Western World operates and the way wealth is distributed
have also come under scrutiny, neoliberalism, the economic orthodoxy
adopted in Europe and America since the 1970s has come under
unprecedented criticism since the crisis of 2008, and in a number of landmark
texts, the scale of social damage caused by it has been examined.
In 2009 The Spirit Level, a statistics led inquiry into the corrosive effect on
inequality, written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett received critical
acclaim and was required reading by the leaders of Britain's three main
political parties. It was followed in 2010 by Tony Judt's penultimate book, Ill
Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Current Discontents, which covered similar
territory to the Spirit Level, but from the perspective of a historian, not a social
In this essay I will examine the two texts, Ferguson's Civilization and Ill Fares
the Land by the late Judt, both are not so much conventional histories but
treatises on the causes of economic and social crises in the West. Both have
been written largely in response to the world economic crisis and both books
have one similar theme, that values that made the Western world 'great' have
been abandoned and that in order for the West to move forward, these values
must be reinvigorated.
Here is where the similarities end. Ferguson examines six key advantages that
the west had, labeling them 'killer apps', property rights, competition, science,
medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. He argues that it was
these practices and innovations that enabled the West to have half a millennia
of global hegemony, one which he believes is now coming to an end.
Ferguson believes that it is the abandonment of the 'killer apps' that made
Britain the dominant global power in the 19th Century and America the 20th
Century hegemon, that are leading inexorably to Western decline.[2]
Judt, writing shortly before his death in 2010, laments the loss of a social
democratic golden age, one which existed from the end of the Second World
War up to the mid 1970s in Europe and America.
He is less concerned with the West's growing failure to exert itself abroad, and
more concerned about the collapse of society as he sees it as a result of the
ideological and social pressures of neoliberalism. Judt interprets the West's
comparative decline as the result of an abandonment of social democracy,
which is consistent with his liberal left wing views.
In order to make keep this essay to a manageable size, I will just examine
Ferguson and Judt, though it goes without saying that there are other high
prole and popular historians who frequently foray into the realm of topical
debate and proffer solutions to contemporary problems. I have specically
chosen these two writers because they represent the poles of conservative
and liberal politics, but even so, their proposed solutions to our present
problems are remarkably similar.

Ferguson introduces Civilisation with the assertion that, as the future of
Western ascendency looks increasingly doubtful, that the most interesting
question a historian can ask is how and why it came about in the rst place,
and also, based on the answers that arise, what predictions might be made
about the future. [3]
In starting from this less than optimistic position, Ferguson seems to have
reached the end of a decade long journey of inquiries into the rise of the
Western World. In 2003 he wrote Empire, a history of Britain's imperial past
and an explicit defence of the benets of British Imperialism. In the concluding
chapter, he laid the groundwork for his next examination of empire, Colossus,
by arguing that American Empire, and the benets of civilisation that it
conferred onto its subjects, had now replaced that of Britain.
When he wrote Colossus in 2004, a tone of pessimism had entered his writing,
which had not been detectable in Empire, and Ferguson shifted his emphasis
from simply conveying a historical narrative (albeit from a specic ideological
perspective) to being critical of US policymakers.
Colossus was an examination of American Empire, but one which concluded
that the abandonment of thrift and the Protestant work ethic at home,
combined with a weak and vacillating post Cold War foreign policy, had seen
America substantially weakened[4]. As with Civilisation, however, Ferguson
believed in Colossus that he was delivering a timely wake up call and an
impassioned 'call to arms' to rouse Western Civilisation from it's slumbers and
prepare to face the menace competition from the non Western World.
Ferguson's role as an advocate of Neo-conservatism should be examined
here. In an interview with the Guardian Newspaper last year he rejected the
title of 'right wing' claiming it was an invention of the left, but clear positioned
himself as the antithesis of Judt in terms of ideology.
He said: "Ask me not are you rightwing, but ask me are you a committed
believer in individual freedom, the values of the enlightenment? Then, yeah, if
being rightwing means believing Adam Smith was right, both in the Wealth of
Nations and the Theory of Moral Sentiments, then I'm rightwing. If being
rightwing is thinking that Karl Marx's doctrine was a catastrophe for humanity,
then I'm rightwing. If you think that it's rightwing to say that the welfare state
has trapped 10-20% of the population of western Europe in a dependency
culture, an abyss of social failure, then I'm rightwing."[5]
Throughout the past decade, Ferguson has used his position as a high prole
TV historian and celebrity academic to argue the case for US foreign policy
under George W. Bush. In another interview with the Guardian, Ferguson
reiterated the point that in general, he had approved of the Iraq War, but felt it
had been mishandled due to a manpower shortage.
He said: "The problem I constantly wrote about then was that if you invade and
overthrow the bad guy, hold elections and then piss off, it doesn't work."[6] His
solution, put forward in Colossus, to the lack of manpower that the US Army
faces is the conscription of convicts, the unemployed and illegal immigrants.
As with Civilisation, Ferguson here is also reaching back into the past to nd
solutions that existed in the heyday of European hegemony and trying to apply
them to contemporary problems.
He imagines that America can nd troops to ght huge campaigns (the one
which he thought should have been fought in Iraq, the occupation of the entire
country) in the same way that Britain, with it's traditionally small standing army,
found enough men to ght Napoleon and have a large colonial army.
That Ferguson suggests these measures, ones which he must surely be
aware no Western politician of bureaucrat would ever entertain, does raise
questions about his intentions as a writer. Most contemporary commentators
agree that the quality of his scholarship is beyond rebuke, but the fact that
Ferguson has become his own brand name, with books, TV. shows and DVD
sales making him exceedingly wealthy casts some doubt over the sincerity of
his conclusions. Some of his more provocative and controversial statements
may well be born of an urge to live up to a well established caricature, that of
professional contrarian and now TV pundit.
In Civilisation, the indication as to how the economic crisis has affected his
arguments can be seen in his examination of other competing cultures,
particularly Chinese and Islamic, his work articulates a set of anxieties that are
being felt across the West in its supposed time of decline.
Ferguson notes that now that Protestantism has taken hold in China, that so
too has the industriousness of the Protestant work ethic.
He writes: "The rise of the spirit of capitalism in China is a story everyone
knows. But what about the rise of the Protestant ethic? According to separate
surveys by China Partner and East China Normal University in Shanghai,
there are now around 40 million Protestant Christians in China, compared with
barely half a million in 1949." [7]
A possible inference that can be drawn from the comparison between Chinese
capitalism and Chinese Protestantism, is that the West's economic decline and
her growing secularism are directly related. Ferguson, whilst articulating
anxieties also appears to be shaking his head ruefully at the West, reminding
us that we only have ourselves to blame.
Ferguson's belief about the rise of Western hegemony, and about the
expansion of empires that accompanied it, is that on balance, the western
imperial project was benecial, and as with the example of America and Iraq,
most of the tragedies and atrocities of imperialism were the result of
incompetence rather than malice.
When discussing the Treaty of Versailles at the Hay Festival with Eric
Hobsbawm in 2009, Ferguson described Hitler, Stalin and Mao as the three
'great evil men' of the 20th Century, and the contrast is telling. Evil empires
exist outside the Atlantic world, well meaning, if sometimes fallible empires
exist within it.
What seems to have changed in Ferguson's writing as a result of the world
economic crisis is not a dimming of his enthusiasm for Western civilisation and
its perceived merits, but a sense that its days might be up, and that the failure
to uphold values that made the West great are to blame.
Like Judt, as we shall see, Ferguson proposes a number of ideas that might
'save the day'. Firstly, he questions the well established tradition in academic
scholarship of charting the 'rise and fall' of civilisations. Oswald Spengler,
Arnold Toynbee and more recently Jared Diamond have all created models
that chart the lifespan of civilisation, all of which seem to have their inspiration
in Edward Gibbons Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. [8]
Ferguson argues that even though the reasons for the rise of empires can be
clearly mapped, the causes of their decline are highly unpredictable, and it is
doubtful that the idea of 'rise and fall' can be made to t a simplistic historical
narrative of 'inevitability'. Ferguson argues that there is still everything to play
for, but that we must re-learn the strategies that have worked in the past.
In the same chapter, however, he tempers his optimism by saying: "The
nancial crisis that began in the summer of 2007 should therefore be
understood as an accelerator of an already well-established trend of relative
Western decline."[9]
Here the economic crisis is tied into a longer historical process, one caused,
as Ferguson argues, not just by a Western disregard for innovation, thrift and
effort, but by the non-Western adoption of these values. However, in the next
paragraph, Ferguson argues that the Chinese saved their economy by doing
something decidedly un-Western after all.
He says: "This was very nearly a Great Depression. The reasons it has been
just a Slight Depression are threefold. First, Chinas huge expansion of bank
lending, which mitigated the effect of slumping exports to the West."[10]
What he means by this is that the Chinese Government directed state owned
and private banks to intervene directly in the economy and inject huge sums of
capital into subsidising manufacturers and other industries, hit by a collapse in
orders from the West. Britain, America and other European countries chose to
directly subsidise their banks to keep the banking system from collapsing, and
both acts were a curious mis-reading of Ferguson's third Killer App, that of
Private Property. Ferguson nowhere argues that a distinct Western advantage
is the willingness of governments to subsidise and rescue private industry and
nance that has found itself in trouble.
It is arguable that Western governments have in fact subsidised and protected
many of their major industries for centuries, but it is 'Killer Apps' such as these,
which might be perceived by Ferguson's readers as 'cheating', that are left out
of the historical narrative.
In his book on the economic crisis First as Tragedy, then as Farce, Slavoj
Zizek illustrates how Western state intervention in the commodities markets
have given the First World a critical advantage over the Third.
He writes: A couple of years ago a CNN report on Mali described the reality
of the international free market. The two pillars of the Mali economy are
cotton in the south and cattle in the north, and both are in trouble because of
the way Western powers violate the very rules they try to impose on
impoverished third world nations. Mali produces cotton of top quality but the
problem is that the nancial support that the US government gives to its own
cotton farmers amounts to more than the entire state budget of Mali, so it is no
surprise that they cant compete. In the north the culprit is the European
Union: Malian beef cannot compete with the heavily subsidised European milk
and beef. The EU subsidises every single cow with around 500 euros per year
more than the per capita GDP in Mali. As the Malian minister for the
economy puts it: we dont need your help or advice or lectures about the
benecial effects of abolishing excessive state regulation, please just stick to
your own rules about the free market and our troubles will basically be
In a nal thought, Ferguson states that the West is currently its own worst
enemy: "Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2
emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilization we inherited from our
He adds that the last great threat to Western civilisation, Nazism, was a
product of the corruption of the West: "In 1938 those barbaric and atavistic
forces were abroad, above all in Germany. Yet, as we have seen, they were as
much products of Western civilization as the values of freedom and lawful
government that Churchill held dear. Today, as then, the biggest threat to
Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own
pusillanimity and by the historical ignorance that feeds it."[13]
Ferguson therefore treats the world economic crisis as the West's perhaps
nal wake up call, a challenge to us all to recapture values that we have
foolishly abandoned.
Now I will turn to Judt's essay, which like Ferguson's is a criticism of Western
values that have culminated in crisis, but also which have featured as part of
an overall long term trend.

In order to understand Ill Fares the Land, it needs to be seen in its proper
context, alongside Judt's other writing. By examining a wider body of his work
it becomes possible to see how the world economic crisis has affected his
writing. Ill Fares the Land was originally an essay published in the New York
Review of Books, a magazine that Judt has contributed to frequently overhear
the past two decades. In his anthology of essays from the New York Review,
Reappraisals, Judt raises concerns that are echoed in Ill Fares the Land.
The rst of these is a phenomenon also identied by Eric Hobsbawm in The
Age of Extremes, which is the Western World's appetite for dispensing with its
past. [14]
"Not only did we fail to learn very much from the past...But we have become
stridently insistent-in our economic calculations, our political practices, our
international strategies, even our educational priorities- that the past has
nothing of interest to teach us. Ours, we insist, is a new world: its risks and
opportunities are without precedent."[15]
The extent of the world economic crisis was beginning to be comprehended
when these words (in the introduction) were written, some time in early 2008,
but the essays in the book to which the introduction refers were all written prior
to 2007. This makes a comparison between Reappraisals and Ill Fares the
Land is useful, in judging the impact on Judt's writing as a public intellectual.
Throughout Reappraisals he is concerned with themes such as memory, the
role and the responsibility of the intellectual and the uses and abuses of the
Ill Fares the Land is far more focused on one central thesis, and whilst the
world economic crisis is chief in guiding Judt's thoughts towards an
examination of the social crises neoliberalism appears to have caused in the
West, the fact that Judt had months to live also heavily inuences the text.
The book itself is short in comparison to most of his work, a mere 232 pages,
and in it he attempts to convoy the culmination of a career's writing in political
and intellectual history. He starts by continuing with the theme of forgetting, but
approaches the West's amnesia from his central thesis, that out abandonment
of social democracy has been a disaster.
"We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that
unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey
to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue...And yet we seem
to be able to conceive of alternatives. This too is something new." [16]
It would be easy to assume that Judt's writing about historical amnesia prior to
the crash, and his notion that we seem incapable of conceive of alternatives
are really a truncated form of the same idea, but on closer inspection they are
worlds apart.
In Reappraisals he writes about the hubris of a self condent culture, one that
was fuelled by an enormous credit and housing bubble. It is this arrogance, he
claims, that lead to a willful forgetting of the 20th Century and a sense of
ahistorical detachment from the past.
The reasons for the present inability to conceive of alternatives have little to do
with condence, Judt writes in Ill Fares The Land, but because both the left
and the right have manifestly failed. Instead of creating an arrogant self
assured generation, Judt believes the current wave of young people living
through the crisis is beset by anxiety.
He goes on throughout the course of the chapter 'The World We Have Lost' to
explain the failure of Left and Right, arguing in both instances that the
abandonment of the most basic ideas of collectivism and mutuality in the west
has bankrupted both parties.
The ideas contained within Ill Fares the Land are not particularly new, they
closely resemble the ideas of the new left in the 1950s and 1960s, which were
critical of the excesses of free market capitalism, but unlike the previous
generation of the 1930s, did not look to the Soviet Union for answers.
Following the suppression of the Budapest uprising in 1956, Western
enthusiasm for the USSR all but vanished.
The opening paragraph of Ill Fares the Land is strikingly reminiscent of Erich
Fromm's 1955 treatise on the ills of modern America 'The Sane Society'.
Judt writes: "Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For
thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest:
indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of
collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are
worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it
fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better
world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy
answers. We must learn once again to pose them." [17]
Nearly sixty years beforehand, Fromm had argued for a humanistic and
democratic socialism, whereas Judt, with only a slight difference in emphasis,
argues for a rediscovery of the values of Social Democracy.
The idea that virtue has come from the pursuit of material self interest, and
that self centred, acquisitive materialism has corroded the institutions that bind
society together is a core theme within the book. The most serious damage
that has been done, argues Judt, is the ruination of trust within western
societies, this, he points out, is a paradoxical and unintended side effect of
unconstrained market forces, because without trust, capitalism itself founders.
Fromm, in the Sane Society made a similar point, arguing that the spiritually
corrosive effect that capitalism itself had on societies was that of alienation.
Fromm was less interested in the decline of trust, writing, as he was, in the
afterglow of Roosevelt's New Deal (a form of social democracy that Judt
argues, is very conducive to societal trust), but believed that mass production
divorced individuals from meaning in their labours and subsequently in their
lives, creating the paradox of emotional depression in a time of material
abundance. It was on this basis that he questioned society's sanity.
Judt's question is slightly less focused on the sanity of the West, more on its
quiet apathy, like Ferguson he marshals his argument as a 'call to arms' or at
least a wake up call, claiming that the economic crisis has made it
considerably easier to question a previously unchallengeable economic
He says: "The Washington doctrine was everywhere greeted by ideological
cheerleaders: from the proteers of the Irish miracle (the property-bubble
boom of the Celtic Tiger) to the doctrinaire ultra-capitalists of former
Communist Europe. Even old Europeans were swept up in the wake. The
EUs free- market project (the so-called Lisbon agenda); the enthusiastic
privatisation plans of the French and German governments: all bore witness to
what its French critics described as the new pense unique. Today there has
been a partial awakening. To avert national bankruptcies and wholesale
banking collapse, governments and central bankers have performed
remarkable policy reversals, liberally dispersing public money in pursuit of
economic stability and taking failed companies into public control without a
second thought. A striking number of free-market economists, worshipers at
the feet of Milton Friedman and his Chicago colleagues, have lined up to don
sackcloth and ashes and swear allegiance to the memory of John Maynard
Keynes." [18]
He adds that this alone does not constitute the solution to our ills, there is no
real abandonment of an economic orthodoxy that has seen Western societies
become mores economically polarised than at any time since the 1930s,
Keynesian demand side economics is but a tactical retreat. He argues that
even if it were wholeheartedly adopted in full it would still not address the huge
moral decit decades of neoliberalism has bequeathed to the West.
Judt, like Ferguson, articulates the values that in his opinion, we have foolishly
He says: "To understand the depths to which we have fallen, we must rst
appreciate the scale of the changes that have overtaken us. From the late
nineteenth century until the 1970s, the advanced societies of the West were all
becoming less unequal. Thanks to progressive taxation, government subsidies
for the poor, the provision of social services, and guarantees against acute
misfortune, modern democracies were shedding extremes of wealth and
poverty." [19]
He adds: "Over the past thirty years we have thrown all this away. To be sure,
we varies with country. The greatest extremes of private privilege and public
indifference have resurfaced in the US and the UK: epicentres of enthusiasm
for deregulated market capitalism." [20]
Judt's penultimate chapter in the book is quite knowingly titled 'What is to be
done?' echoing the title of Lenin's revolutionary manifesto of 1903, where he
set forward clear suggestions about how to overthrow Russia's ancien regime.
Unlike Lenin, who's prescriptions were divisive enough to split the Russian
Social Democratic Party in to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Judt believes
that a new owering of democratic dissent within civil society is urgently
needed and that ofcial economic and political orthodoxies must be
He says: "Not many 'lay' people are likely to challenge the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, the Secretary of the Treasury or their expert advisors in such
matters. Were they to do so they would be told, much as a medieval priest
might have advised his ock-that these are questions with which they do not
need to concern themselves. The liturgy must be chanted in obscure tongue,
accessible only to the initiated. For everyone else, faith will sufce. But faith
has not sufced, the emperors of economic policy in Britain and the US, not to
mention their acolytes and admirers everywhere from Tallinn to Tblisi are
naked...we need to relearn how to criticise those who govern us." (20)
Judt is as critical with the failings of the left as he is with the weaknesses of
right wing economics.
"The left has failed to respond effectively to the nancial crisis of 2008-and
more generally to the shift away from the state and towards the market over
the past three decades. Shorn of a story to tell, social democrats and their
liberal and democratic fellows have been on the defensive for a generation,
apologising for their own policies and altogether unconvincing when it comes
to criticising those of their opponents."[21]
Judt's prescriptions for change are in some ways less clearly articulated than
his analysis of the problems facing the West, he argues that the current anti
statist discourse that is so strong in America, and to a lesser extent in Britain,
is folly, as it is the state that has intervened to save the nancial system. He
also argues that as the state will be with us for a long time to come, that we
should nd ways to make it work for us instead of attacking it.
What kind of state we should aspire to create in the future is unclear, and
perhaps Judt, as with Ferguson, was hoping to commence a debate not write
a comprehensive manifesto.
Judt's analysis of the current crisis sees the nancial crash of 2008 in the
context of three decades where social democratic values were abandoned,
and he argues that without social democracy, capitalism itself will cease to
effectively function.

These two historians are remarkably different in world view but are from
relatively similar backgrounds. Both are British academics who crossed the
Atlantic to live and work in academia in the USA, perhaps experience of life
and research on both sides of the Atlantic has given them a more
comprehensive view of 'the West' in general.
In both instances, the world nancial crisis has been used by Ferguson and
Judt as the prism through which to observe the west, and in both instances,
from differing perspectives, the West has been found wanting.
It seems increasingly the case that the world economic crisis would be
perhaps more appropriately titled the Western World crisis, as China, India
and Russia's economies, along with South Korea, Japan and Germany (who
limited the amount of neoliberal orthodoxy she adopted) have all seen
economic growth throughout the last four years. It seems hardly surprising in
that context that voices on both the left and right are raising serious questions
about the best way to resolve these crises.
As mentioned earlier on in this essay, the discourse of decline is not
uncommon in western historiography. In his intellectual history of the inter war
years, Richard Overy dedicates the rst chapter to 'Cassandras and
Jeremiahs', citing Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee as the leading
historians of western decline in the immediate post First World War era[22]. It
does not take a great leap of imagination to conclude that the destructiveness
of the war had a profound effect on the ability of historians or intellectuals to
conceive of a future, one only needs to examine Freud's Civilisation and its
Discontents to see that a profound anxiety about the future viability of
civilisation had entered into popular thought.
In the case of Ferguson and Judt, the overall sense of despair and inevitability
is not quite as acute, though both use their positions as reputed interpreters of
the past in order to have a contribution to, as EH Carr puts it, the ' unending
dialogue between past and present.'
The two historians do not see an end to Western civilisation yet, though both
seem to agree that unless shared values that we have discarded are
rediscovered and reinterpreted by today's generation, then a continuation in
the West's comparative decline, with all that might entail will continue
unabated. The two writers, as historians and public intellectuals have been
affected by the economic crisis in as much as it has given both of them a
historically unique opportunity to demonstrate the nature, as they see it, of the
Western World's contemporary ills, and to suggest that the remedies do not lie
ahead, in some imagined future, but are in our collective past, a place that
historians instinctively visit for answers.

[1] P Mishra, 'Watch That Man', London Review of Books, 3 (Nov 2011), 10-12.
[2] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P
[3] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 1
[4] Niall Ferguson, Colossus (New York, 2004) P23-26
[5] D Aitkenhead, 'Niall Ferguson: 'The left love being provoked by me ... they
think I'm a reactionary imperialist scumbag' G2 Guardian (11th April 2011)
[6] W Skidelsky, 'Niall Ferguson: 'Westerners don't understand how vulnerable
freedom is' The Observer, (Sunday 20 February 2011)
[7] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 32
[8] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P
[9] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 340
[10] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 340
[11] Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce (London, 2010) P16
[12] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 406
[13] Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011) P 406
[14] Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (Oxford, 1995) P18
[15] Judt, Reappraisals: Reections On The Forgotten 20th Century (London
2009) P2
[16] Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P2
[17] Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P1
[18] Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P6-7
[19] Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P6-7
[20] Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P6-7
[21]Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
(London, 2011) P178

[22]Richard Overy, The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars (London, 2009)



Carr, E.H, What is History? (London, 3rd Edition, 2002)
Evans, Richard J, In Defence of History ( London,1997)
Ferguson, Niall, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Harvard, 2011).
Ferguson, Niall, Empire (London, 2003)
Ferguson, Niall, Colossus (New York, 2004)
Fromm, Erich, The Sane Society (New York, 1955)
Gray, John, Black Mass (London, 2008)
Gray, John, False Dawn (London, 2003)
Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Extremes (Oxford, 1995)
Judt, Tony, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (London,
Judt, Tony, Reappraisals: Reections On The Forgotten 20th Century (London
Overy, Richard, The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars (London, 2009)
Zizek, Slavoj, First as Tragedy, Then As Farce (London, 2010)


Mishra, P,'Watch That Man', London Review of Books, 3 (Nov 2011), 10-12.
Aitkenhead, D, 'Niall Ferguson: 'The left love being provoked by me ... they
think I'm a reactionary imperialist scumbag'G2 Guardian (11th April 2011)
Skidelsky, W, 'Niall Ferguson: 'Westerners don't understand how vulnerable
freedom is' The Observer, (Sunday 20 February 2011)
The Collapse Of The Romanov
Nick Shepley
In order to make sense of the collapse of the Romanov regime in February
1917, its important to take a historically long view of the century that preceded
it. The journey from 1815 to 1917 was littered with opportunities to prevent the
nal crises of Czardom.
We have to step back into the 19th Century to examine why Russia, unlike the
rest of Western Europe failed to industrialise. It was the last Czar, Nicholas IIs
contention that most of Russias contemporary problems could actually be
attributed to her greatest westerniser greatest moderniser, Peter the Great.
Nicholas II disliked St Petersburg, Peters modern European city, modelled on
the Neo-Classicist architecture that was prevalent in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and
Madrid. This architecture was steeped in European thinking, in the
Renaissance and the Enlightenment, in scientic revolutions, radical new
thought on the scope and the role of government. These new ideas questioned
the nature of the individual and his or her potential, and worst of all in
Nicholass view, it challenged religion as a superstition.
The Enlightenment, a century and a half of radical new ideas that started with
the likes of Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, swept away old superstitious
ideas about the nature of the universe and established much of modern
scientic thinking. The implications of this on economics, politics philosophy
and culture led in no small part to the French Revolution. The sweeping away
a bankrupt state in its entirety, by men armed with modern ideas had been
resolutely resisted by most Czars that followed Peter.
Peter the Great, who ruled nearly a century before the revolution, had no
interest in diminishing his power with anything as naive as liberal democracy,
but he did take on board one new innovation from the West; modern
bureaucracy and a restructuring of the army on European lines. Peter died just
before the dawn of the 18th Century, but lived through a time where in Europe
nations like England and Holland were becoming major maritime powers,
establishing nancial innovations such a national debts in order to punch well
above their weight on a global level. Christopher Wren remodelled London as
a modern planned stone built city, using the latest scientic architectural
innovations and in the aftermath of the 30 years war the continent was awash
with state of the art military know how. Peter was the rst Czar to set foot out
of Muscovy and saw the new Europe with his own eyes and was instantly
taken with it, he knew where the future lay.
It was Nicholas IIs contention that when Peter the Great decided to create a
modern civil service, he created an almost blasphemous barrier between the
divinely appointed Czar and the ordinary Russians who were in Nicholass
eyes the children of the Czar. What Peter established was an new and
original, if schismatic direction in Russian society, known loosely as the
Petrine Tradition, it was western looking, modern and assured of the notion
that Europe held the answers. During Peters reign a steady stream of foreign
experts in all elds came to Russia to assist in the Czars designs.
It is worth acknowledging at this point a few of the many shortcomings of
Nicholas, and why exactly he was so adamant in his criticism. Nicholas II
embraced a wholly different tradition in Russian discourse, one that
commentators have described as being Muscovite.
Nicholas, who ruled from 1894 to 1917 moved his royal court to Moscow,
capital of the ancient medieval kingdom of Muscovy. In doing this he
symbolised to the rest of the country his desire to step back into the past.
Instead of a uniform or a suit as betted the modern 19th Century monarch,
Nicholas sometimes indulged in dressing up as a medieval Boyar (Russian
Noble of the elite rank), and the fact that this fantasy world existed in
Nicholass mind at the same time that enormously pressing modern problem
bore down upon him is no coincidence; as the pressure of modernity
encroached on Nicholas, he retreated into a romanticised day dream world,
imaging an idealised past.
The rot that Nicholas believed had set in during Peters reign, and never really
quite left, was the break in the sacred bond between the Czar and his people.
Nicholas assumed a lot of peasant Russia, he believed the average peasant
an inherently loyal and benign character, but based this assumption on
virtually no rst hand experience. The only peasants he ever met were those
who had been hand picked and groomed to be presentable to the Czar at the
palace Nicholas would have had very little to say to them anyway as he
spoke far better French and English than he did Russian.
The birth of the modern world was due to the conuence of two revolutions,
the British industrial revolution and the French political and social revolution,
and a period of radical social and political upheaval marked the last decades
of the 18th Century and the rst decades of the 19th, it is a period of time that
Marxist Historian Eric Hobsbawm calls the period of the dual revolution . The
French revolution in particular sent shockwaves throughout Europe, from
Spain to Poland, from England to Greece; the very idea that instead of being
ruled by an autocrat, the people had the chance to renegotiate the terms, and
that populations would simply not submit to be ruled any more if the basic
requirements for living were not being provided changed the relationship
between ruler and ruled across Europe for good.
The vast economic output and the new wealth of Great Britain, signied by her
huge naval power and growing colonial acquisitions in Asia (and up until the
late 1770s America) demonstrated how mercantilism had captured global
markets in the name of the crown and the City of London.
These dual revolutions would be vigorously resisted by Russia throughout the
19th Century, but western ideas, in the form of Marxist Leninism would
explode in Russia at the Dawn of the 20th; the arguments that Karl Marx set
forth in the Communist Manifesto and in Das Kapital were the product of the
meeting of both revolutions.
In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor Of France and ruler of most of Europe
looked to Russia as his nal and greatest conquest. Frances armies had
marched the values of the revolution of 1789 across Europe over the previous
two decades, destroying the Ancien Regime wherever they went.
In 1796 Napoleon invaded and conquered Italy, then an appendage to the
Austrian Empire. He unied the disparate and fragmented kingdoms and city
states into a united Kingdom of Italy, with himself as king, of course. He swept
away the fragmented system of law and replaced it with the standard
Napoleonic Code, giving a sense of uniformity and cohesion to the peninsula.
To many the idea of Italian nationhood was born with Napoleon, which is
largely why there was such a vigorous reaction to liberalism in Italy after the
war, Austria and the other powers at the Congress of Vienna crushed any hint
of modern liberal democracy.
In 1812 Czar Alexander I had incurred the wrath of Bonaparte, he had broken
the alliance he had made (under duress) with the French to join them in a
crusade against Britain. In discussions between the Czar and the Emperor in
1807 the idea of a joint quest against British India was mooted, and though the
chances of it being even remotely successful were next to none, the
motivation for Napoleon was clear; rattle the English, make them fear for their
empire, bring about the kind of bankrupting massive military overstretch that
had cost them the Americas.
By 1812, however, not only had there been no military action against Britain,
but the Russians were still trading with her. Napoleon told his men:
Soldiers, the second war of Poland is started; the rst nished in Tilsit. In
Tilsit, Russia swore eternal alliance in France and war in England. It violates
its oaths today. Russia is pulled by its fate; its destinies must be achieved!
Does it thus believe us degenerated? Thus let us go ahead; let us pass
Neman River, carry the war on its territory. The second war of Poland will be
glorious with the French Armies like the rst one. Napoleon daily decree, June
22, 1812.
He intended to legitimise his invasion of Russia by claiming to defend the
Poles, but the Russians were not fooled.
A darker thought even than invasion lurked at the back of the minds of the
Czar and his court. Even in defeat, royal houses from across Europe had been
treated very well bey Napoleon, as soon as treaties and alliances had been
imposed upon them, it was very much a case of business as usual, the top tier
of society would most likely go largely unmolested.
In Russia, however, the threat of modernisation, of the spread of French
republican values, liberty and equality were terrifying, Russia relied on a vast
sea of serfs to make its agricultural economy function,
to serve in the country houses of the rich, to dig ditches, ght wars and dig
coal. The conditions of the serfs in Russia were roughly comparable to the
slaves of the American South, and it seemed almost inevitable to the ruling
classes of Russia that a Bonapartist victory in Russia would see them set free.
Not only would this cause the very fabric of the Russian economy to collapse,
but many country nobles, isolated on their estates, surrounded by a simmering
resentment, were darkly fearful of what might be unleashed by Bonaparte.
Russias great patriotic war saw the destruction of Napoleons Grande Armee,
the use of scorched earth methods and the murderous Russian winter brought
about the epic defeat the Emperor.
The sick, half starved and battered army that limped back through Poland in
the greatest withdrawal and defeat for Napoleon, proved something very
important to the Czar, that the unstoppable might of the revolutionary armies of
France could be defeated by the immovable object of Russia. The Czar and
his court, and indeed much of the literary and intellectual classes of Russia
took this lesson one step further. They believed that autocracy itself had
triumphed over revolution, that the threatening tide of modernity had been
turned back. They were convinced that in Russia alone, that god had spoken
and had adjudicated that the changes that Napoleon would have brought to
Russia were a sin and a heresy, and the divinely appointed Czar would be
allowed to rule by celestial interventional ever more. The view amongst many
Russian nationalists was that the nations of Europe that had thrown off their
ancien regime rulers were blaspheming, and that Russia, on her separate
historical trajectory, one which did not necessarily involve development or
change, could insulate herself from such sins. The rest simply breathed a sigh
of relief and serfdom would have to wait another ve decades, until after the
disaster of the Crimean War, before it would even begin to be dismantled.
Russian Ofcers in Paris in 1814, after the rst exile of Bonaparte to the island
of Elba, and before the battle of Waterloo, were surprised by the sights that
greeted them. Having defeated the French at Leipzig and subsequently
besieged Paris, the grand coalition of Russians, Prussians and Austrians were
divided on how to proceed. Francis I of Austria was more interested in making
peace with France, but both Alexander I and Frederick III of Prussia wanted
conquest. Alexander insisted on revenge and had a wider point to make to his
people, that traditional Russia had nally prevailed over revolutionary Europe.
Napoleon, a virtual prisoner in Fontainebleau passively waited for the allied
armies to arrive.
Russian ofcer Mihailovski-Danilevski wrote:
He remained a silent witness of the triumph of Alexander in Paris.
The Prussian Heinrich Steffans was contemptuous of the rapturous applause
that the allied armies received, judging it to be false and hypocritical. He wrote:
Every well-dressed man in the streets wore a white cockade (symbol of
Bourbons). One would have taken the scene for the triumphant entrance of a
French army which had annihilated a dangerous and detested foe. Yet at that
very moment the hero who had subdued the whole continent of Europe, and
who had made France the ruler of the nations, surrounded but by a few faithful
troops, and deserted by his people, was sinking to destruction. I confess that
in that moment the Parisians were contemptible in my sight.
Fydor Glinka, who would go on to become one of the most famous writers in
Russia of his era was greatly impressed by Paris, by how clean, orderly,
modern and well designed it was. The city, its healthy and well fed inhabitants,
relatively low levels of crime and social cohesion was something of a mystery
to Glinka and his fellow Russian ofcers. How had so advanced a civilisation
been beaten?
The rst indications that the Czars triumphalism and his wholehearted
advocacy of reaction were misplaced came within a decade of his triumph
over Napoleon. The Russians didnt intervene at Waterloo, but the fact that
they would have done if the British and their allies had been defeated was one
of the factors that led the emperor to realise it was a lost cause and accept
exile to St Helena.
Ironically, towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars Alexander did show the rst
inkling of a more liberal temperament, suggesting the a limited constitution in
Poland might be acceptable , and making this statement on his perception of
how a post war world out to look. He argued that universal rights for
individuals could only be protected after having attached the nations to their
government by making these incapable of acting save in the greatest interests
of their subjects, to x the relations of the states amongst each other on more
precise rules, and such as it is to their interest to respect.
By 1818 however, he shifted rmly back towards reaction. At the Congress of
Vienna, the post war reordering of Europe, Alexander positioned Russia as
Europes heavy handed policeman, who, along with Russia, would protect
authoritarian regimes across the continent. The regimes that were installed
from Paris to Rome to Budapest were deliberately backward looking, designed
to be resistant to political and to economic modernisation; Russia was pivotal
in making this new settlement work and it was Europes burgeoning middle
classes who were left disenfranchised.
Three decades of agitating later and an explosion of revolutionary fury across
Europe by the bourgeoisie of those countries dominated by the Vienna
agreement was contained and crushed in part by Russia.
Alexander died in 1825 of typhus, triggering the revolt of the modernisers
within Russia. Alexanders elder son, Crown Prince Constantine renounced
the throne secretly in 1822, but on the death of his father it was simply
assumed by most Russians that he was the Czar.
When it became apparent that he would not take the throne, succession
passed the Nicholas I, but the confusion over succession was the excuse that
the Decembrists, a progressive group of nobles demanding a written
constitution, needed.
The Decembrists were predominantly made up of the very army ofcers who
had marvelled over the progressive nature of France. They were divided into
two groups, the Northern Society, who wanted change on a British model, an
end to serfdom and a limited constitution and small franchise, the creation of a
constitutional monarchy.
The Southern Society wanted a more radical republican revolution and a
redistribution of land.
Pavel Pestel, the army ofcer who inspired the movement and led it down a
more revolutionary path admitted that it would be difcult to get the nobility on
board with their plans to abolish serfdom:
The desirability of granting freedom to the serfs was considered from the very
beginning; for that purpose a majority of the nobility was to be invited in order
to petition the Emperor about it. This was later thought of on many occasions,
but we soon came to realise that the nobility could not be persuaded. And as
time went on we became even more convinced, when the Ukrainian nobility
absolutely rejected a similar project of their military governor.
The Decembrist revolt was crushed and the conspirators publicly hanged, and
in the act of denying any change, Czar Nicholas set Russia on a trajectory that
would result in a far more radical revolution ninety years later; given the scale
of the horrors inicted on Russia after 1917 it is easy to see now how missed
an opportunity the Decembrist revolt was.
In many ways modernity was the downfall of Nicholas I as well, who died a
broken man during the Crimean War. During the nal months of the siege of
Sebastopol, as the British built a railway from Balaclava where their ships
were moored to the trenches around the city in order to ship cannon shot, the
best the Russians could hope for were icons of saints, blessed by the Czar.
The Russians, who had put up a determined defence of Sebastopol simply did
not have the level of industrialisation to churn out munitions that her enemies,
France and Britain did; the old certainties that Russia had relied on, a vast
peasant army and a vast untamed hinterland no longer mattered, and the new
Czar Alexander II could see that.
The popular view of Alexander II is that he was by temperament a natural
reformer, indeed his upbringing and education was deeply coloured by
reformist and liberal voices. His childhood mentor was the poet Vasily
Zhukovsky, part of the Russian romantic movement and deeply inuenced by
the French Revolution, much as the romantics in Western Europe had been.
Alexander was in fact less of a moderniser than some commentators claim, he
was a simply guided by a series of seemingly unavoidable truths, Russia had
lost the Crimean War and been robbed of the great power status she had held
for forty years, her invincibility had proven illusory and her backwardness was
to blame.
The institution of serfdom was recognised by Alexander as the most
fundamental cause of Russias ills, a Russian variant of a modern capitalist
economy could not exist alongside a feudal society, the latter must be
eradicated if the former were to thrive. More crucially, unlike in 1812, by 1855
the ability of the ruling classes to contain the discontent of the serfs was slowly
be surely failing.
Serious unrest had broken out in southern Russia during the war when Serfs
who believed they would be emancipated if they enlisted, discovered at
recruitment centres that there would be no freedom for them, simply the
chance to ght for holy Russia.
The nobles were determined to undermine any attempt to rob them of a vast
sea of free labour, many noble estates had long since fallen into debt (often
the result of the Russian upper classes love affair with gambling) and could not
realistically hope to adapt to bring modern agribusiness with paid employees.
Emancipation would see the process of decline of the upper classes
completed and would create the space within the economy for the rise of the
enemies of all arch reactionaries, the middle classes. Russias small
bourgeoisie was conned to certain professions such as science and law
(disciplines frowned upon in Russian universities) but the jobs with real
inuence, in the bureaucracy were the preserve of the aristocracy.
The edict of emancipation in 1861 was so neatly undermined by the
aforementioned bureaucrats, who were chiey interested in their family
estates, that it led to riots amongst the newly emancipated serfs.
Firstly, they were freed without a guarantee of land. Instead they were given
the land that landowners chose to give them, often far away from the fertile
soil they normally ploughed. Russian landowners kept the good soil that had
been tilled by serfs for themselves and gave the newly free men and women
stony or marshy ground.
Secondly, the landowners were compensated for the loss of the serfs and land
by t government, and the serfs themselves had to compensate the
government for this. The freed peasants discovered they had enormous debts,
often for poor soil and still they were required to submit to the cruelties meted
out upon them by authoritarian Land Captains, the Czars new countryside
Alexanders interior minister Dmitri Tolstoy (no relation to the novelist)
employed former landowners agents and rural policemen to act like feudal
tyrants in many parts of peasant Russia, reminding the peasants that they
were only notionally free and that a full range of civil rights certainly did not
apply to them.
Despite the failure of the emancipation, Alexanders reforms continued, he
reformed the Russian Army and civil service along French lines, he briey
toyed with educational reform, but this was quickly scrapped when the newly
liberalised universities began to produce politicised radicals.
Alexander refused to reform the autocracy of Russia, he did not want a
Decembrist style constitutional monarchy, though there is some evidence that
he he was starting to appreciate the need for a limited constitution just before
his death. The student intelligentsia that Alexander suppressed, with the
backing and assistance of Tolstoy formed the nucleus of the early
revolutionary movement in Russia, a movement that assassinated Alexander
in 1881.
With the death of Alexander II came the death of the last opportunities for
reform and for the establishment of a modern constitutional government
(though even under his rule, those possibilities were slim). The nal two Czars
of Russia would retreat into an imagined past as the frightening realities of
modernity encroached ever more upon them, resulting in catastrophe in 1914
and collapse three years later.
The Soviet Famines: A
Stalininst Genocide?
Nick Shepley
In 1931, one of the most successful public propaganda campaigns in support
of an action that resulted in mass killing was mounted. At the height of the
collectivization campaign in the Soviet Union and the resultant famines, a
range of voices, mostly Western, were galvanized in support of the Stalinist
Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow, later described
by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge as the biggest liar I have ever met,
claimed openly, and in full knowledge of the real facts, that whilst there may be
shortages in the USSR, there was no famine.
Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, before visiting the country, based many of
their assumptions on Duranty's reports, and similarly dismissed talk of famine
while they were in Russia at the height of the catastrophe as unfounded.
The subsequent rise of Nazism in Germany from 1933 onwards occupied
much of the attention of the Western media, with only one or two
correspondents, Muggeridge and Western Mail reporter Gareth Williams,
telling the story of the famines in Britain and America. The audience for their
reportage was small, and Duranty's reportage highly respected and believed.
Even though the pre-war crimes of Hitler's regime paled in comparison to the
Soviet famines (and that was just one of the many miseries in the Soviet Union
during the 1930s), the fear of Nazism and the degree of fascination with it
obscured the Soviet famines from much Western attention. If there was a
contemporaneous process of obscuring the actual existence of the famines,
the process by which their presence in history was obscured can be traced to
the aftermath of World War II.
With the focus of world attention on the horrors of Auschwitz and Hitler's Final
Solution, the language of the new United Nations approach to genocide was
formed, presenting it as a specically racial crime. The USSR, as a permanent
member of the UN Security Council, was able to shape the drafting of the
denition of genocide in order to deect any accusation that the famines were
a form of genocide. This, and the regime's earlier apologists, have created
considerable difculties for advocates of dening the famines as genocide. But
Stalin's deliberate conation of class and ethnicity led him to enforce starvation
policies against specic regions and ethnic groups.
In this essay, I intend to examine the argument set forward by Timothy Snyder
in his book Bloodlands, which is the most recent title to explicitly accuse the
Stalinist regime of a genocide in the Soviet famines of the early 1930s. I will
avoid the term Holodomor, as this refers specically to the Ukrainian famine,
and whilst there is a preponderance of evidence set out by Snyder against the
regime that relates specically to the Ukraine, the narrow term Holodomor
ignores a comparable tragedy in Kazakhstan. Also, when using the term
kulak -- meaning a wealthy peasant -- it is important to remember that many
of those labelled with being kulaks were anything but, and that it is difcult to
argue that anything resembling a kulak class, as described by the Soviet state,
really existed at all. The majority of those who were accused of being a new
rural bourgeois counterrevolutionary class were simply peasants with slightly
more agricultural know-how or a better work ethic than their less successful
neighbors. The alleged kulaks were destroyed not only by the famine, but also
a systematic terror directed by the state.
That there was a death toll of at least ve million people in the famines is not
in dispute. The question, as with the Nazi genocides of a decade later, is that
of intention. Whilst the case against Hitler was successfully made even before
the end of hostilities in 1945, and intentionalists and functionalists have never
disagreed over Hitler's actual culpability for the Holocaust, the case against
Stalin has been, oddly enough, more difcult to prove.
This is seemingly counterintuitive, for unlike Hitler, Stalin wrote down most of
his orders (often scrawling comments on the margins of lists of people to be
executed), but, as with Hitler, there is an evolving canon of historical writing
that examines the notion of intention. Historiographies of the Third Reich have
moved, in general, from intentionalist theories of a Nazi master plan to more
ambiguous but nuanced views, such as Hans Mommsen's argument of
cumulative radicalization and Ian Kershaw's 'working toward the Fhrer'
model. Soviet famine historiographies seem to have done almost the opposite,
moving away from the 'functionalist' view that the famines were a brutal but
unintentional product of industrialization towards the Snyder view that Stalin
introduced seven deliberate policies to exterminate the kulak population and
bring the Ukraine to heel. Snyder and Norman Naimark, who wrote Stalin's
Genocides, both accuse Stalin directly of genocide, and in his indictment of
Stalin, Snyder raises seven points at which he believes brutal and clumsy
policies moved beyond simply a harsh return to the famine-inducing policies of
Lenin's War Communism and become an extermination plan. They are:
One, that at the height of the naturally occurring famine in November 1932,
state-supplied food advances given to peasants who beat their targets had to
be returned, depriving the few areas with surpluses of any grain they had.
Two, two days later, a similar meat penalty was introduced, and peasants
unable to hit grain quotas had to pay a penalty in meat instead.
Three, a blacklist was established, and all farms failing to meet quotas were
expected to surrender fteen times the regular monthly target. This led
activists and police to arrive and take all foodstuffs, right down to family store
cupboards, as a punishment. Farms on the blacklist were also banned from
trading at all, making their plight even more desperate.
Four, Stalin's security chief for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic,
Vsevolod Balytsky, told a receptive Stalin that the famine in Ukraine was a
nationalist plot, connected to Poland. Stalin was deeply suspicious of the
Poles, and this argument from Balytsky made all Ukrainian nationalists -- even
those linked to earlier Soviet initiatives encouraging Ukrainian culture --
enemies of the state. If Stalin cannot be judged as a conventional genocidaire
today, this is at least evidence of a plan of cultural genocide.
Five, Soviet authorities failed to deviate from or lessen requisition quotas from
an already starving Ukraine. Owing to Ukraine's traditional role as the Russian
empire's breadbasket, it now had to supply a third of the entire quota for the
USSR, which could only be done by a policy of mass starvation, Snyder calls it
"a death sentence for three million people."
Six, Stalin sealed the borders in January 1933, preventing peasants from
escaping to nd food elsewhere, and Ukrainian peasants were denied internal
passports. This took away any chance of escaping the hunger and the
requisitions, which, seven, continued long after quotas were met in 1933.
There are intriguing parallels with the Holocaust. In both instances security
and the fear of a conspiratorial threat were cited as motivation. In both
instances Stalin and Hitler existed in a web of relations with henchmen who
interpreted their leaders' will, and who devised policies and initiatives to bring
that about. The difference between the two leaders is that Hitler, according to
Kershaw, spoke in "broad visions" and rarely committed his name to any
ofcial paperwork, whereas Stalin was much more comfortable going into
specics with his subordinates. The general approach of Hitler is one facet of
the Nazi functionalist argument, that Hitler's lack of precision created an
environment where events radicalized. The same cannot be said of Stalin. He
was not guilty of being too "general," instead he clearly articulated his views,
frequently in writing. In 1933, he made it clear that although the kulak class
had been ostensibly destroyed, there were still many crypto-kulaks who
existed, appearing to be loyal Soviet citizens but in fact engaging in sabotage.
He wrote: "In order to see through such a cunning enemy and not to succumb
to demagogy, one must possess revolutionary vigilance; one must possess the
ability to tear the mask from the face of the enemy and reveal to the collective
farmers his real counter-revolutionary features." He added: "The kulaks have
been defeated, but they are far from having been crushed yet. More than that,
they will not be crushed very soon if the Communists go round gaping in smug
contentment, in the belief that the kulaks will themselves walk into their
graves, in the process of their spontaneous development, so to speak." The
death of an entire class, whether a physical or a gurative death is clearly
advocated here, but was it, as with the Holocaust, the result of failed policies
that eventually made mass murder an ideological necessity.
Norman Naimark thinks not. For Naimark, the continuity between the anti-
peasant rhetoric and mass killings under Vladimir Lenin during the rst Soviet
famine of 1920-22, brought about by requisitioning under war communism,
and the Stalinist famines, is clear. He cites Lenins orders to hang the
peasants from the hilltops who were protesting against requisitioning and the
resultant famine as evidence, quoting Lenin as saying "Hang without fail, so
the people see."
Whilst Stalin's famines did follow the failed collectivization of agriculture, which
in turn was motivated by the Five-Year Plans, the initial ideological drive to
destroy the kulaks was deep seated in Bolshevik thinking. The new element
that Stalin brought to the events of the early 1930s was the national question,
and his own paranoid thinking, that there were entire "suspect peoples" out
there, particularly Ukrainians but also Poles and Kazakhs.
The rst major work that accused Stalin of genocide was Harvest of Sorrow by
Robert Conquest. Conquest, already an accomplished writer on Stalin by the
time the book was published in 1986, made an unambiguous judgement
regarding Stalin's intentions, stating that Stalin was fully aware of the famine
and refused to allow anyone in his inner circle to speak openly of it. "Stalin
could at any time have ordered the release of grain, and held off until at least
late spring in the clear knowledge that the famine was doing its worst."
He adds:
That Stalin was fully informed does not quite prove that he had planned the
famine from the rst. His continuing to employ the policies which had produced
the famine, after the famine had clearly declared itself, and indeed to demand
the more rigorous application, does, however show that he regarded the
weapon of famine as acceptable.
Conquest goes on to argue that the nal piece damning evidence against
Stalin was the sealing of Ukraine's borders, cementing what had been a
natural disaster augmented by man-made political errors as mass murder.
Conquest later recanted some of these more deterministic positions later on,
after he was challenged by Mark Tauger, who claimed Harvest of Sorrow was
so full of errors and inconsistencies it was practically Cold War propaganda.
Conquest, a member of the Communist Party in his twenties and an avowed
anti-communist later in life, is certainly open to a charge of bias. But that
doesn't mean that his writing isn't well respected and viewed as an impressive
body of scholarly work. Conquest states in the end of Harvest of Sorrow that
he cannot help but judge, and that in some way, to judge is the role of the
Tauger, in a letter to Conquest, claimed that the famine was for the most part
caused by natural disaster, and the available food was simply insufcient to
feed both towns and cities. This, Tauger claims, is something completely
ignored by Conquest. Tauger claims that the real causes of the insufcient
harvest of 1932 were the policies and practices of collectivization, and so he
follows Stephen Devereux economic, as opposed to political, interpretation,
which Devereux advanced in his 1994 book Theories of Famine. However, he
does give some parting reference to the importance of the national question,
suggesting that the decision as to who to allocate food to was "an important
part of the famine." This admission seems to take much away from Tauger's
rather more sympathetic approach towards Stalin's famines. As Snyder
highlights out in his seven points, decision-making by 1933 had taken on a
distinctly anti-Ukrainian tone, as Stalin came to see the Ukrainian peoples as
Tauger, however, reserves his most withering criticism for Stephane Courtois's
and Nicolas Werth's The Black Book Of Communism, which makes the
unequivocal claim of genocide and presents the Soviet famines as part of a
century-long global continuum of communist terror. Tauger attacks their thesis
in much the same way that he criticized Conquest, claiming that their claims
are inaccurate, based on poorly sourced or partial evidence and are heavily
The Black Book found defenders in historian Tony Judt and the writer Anne
Applebaum (who wrote Gulag: A History) and Tauger himself has been
criticized in recent years for adopting the opposite extreme opinion and nding
the Stalin regime largely blameless for the famine, though not for
Robert Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft have emerged as challengers to the
intentionalist view, but their critiques have been far less radical than those put
forward by Tauger. In fact, both writers have in recent years found areas of
compromise with Conquest, who gradually moved towards the view that Stalin
had no prior intention to cause a famine, but who chose to favor industrial
workers over peasants during the famine. This is not to confuse his position
with Tauger's, who ignores many of the Stalinist actions highlighted by
Conquest and Snyder once that the famine was underway.
Historian Michael Ellman was also criticised by Davies and Wheatcroft for
advocating the genocide question, and responded in his essay "Stalin and the
Soviet Famine 1932-33, Revisited."
Davies and Wheatcroft adopt a functionalist explanation of the famines,
focusing on the misinterpretation of Lenin's slogan, repeated by Stalin, "He
who does not work, neither shall he eat," by local authorities. Initially, they
argue, Lenin had directed this slogan at the middle classes during the Russian
Civil War, not intending mass famine but a proletarianization of Russia's
bourgeoisie. Stalin's rhetoric during the famine was targeted at the kulaks as
supposed rural capitalists but also at "idlers" who had brought the famine on
themselves. The presumption of idleness and the interpretation of rhetoric, in
Wheatcroft's and Davies's view, led to a radicalization of starvation policies.
This would be compatible with a broader view of both Nazi and Stalinist
functionalism, similar to Kershaw's "working towards the Fhrer" concept.
Ellman refutes this notion, however; he agreed that at the start of the
collectivization policy there probably was no starvation plan, but by February
1933 there certainly was, and it was a policy that acted as a cheap alternative
to mass deportation, which secret policemen Genrikh Yagoda, then deputy
head of the State Political Directorate (OGPU), and Gulag chief Matvei
Berman estimated would cost 1.4 billion roubles.
Ellman makes three charges against Stalin:
One, that he exported 1.8 million tons of grain during the famine, a deliberate
policy of starvation (Ellman estimates, perhaps too neatly, that this would have
fed ve million people, which is the standard estimate for fatalities in the
Holodomor alone). Like Snyder he also claims that the prevention of migration
from Ukraine was also a deliberate act of starvation policy, though Stalin
claimed his rationale at the time was to prevent "troublemakers" from
spreading rumours and discontent across the western USSR.
Two, acts of omission were also part of Stalin's crimes, and that a failure to
accept offers of overseas aid was part of a starvation policy.
Three, Ellman also criticises the functionalist notion put forward by Davies and
Wheatcroft that Stalin was not the progenitor of starvation policies, but the
reluctant adopter of OGPU designs. On the contrary, he argues that Yagoda
was actually demoted during this time for being insufciently enthusiastic
about mass starvation.
Ellman claims an "archival revolution" in Soviet historiography since the end of
the Cold War has enabled historians a far greater insight into the thoughts and
motivations of Stalin. This he argues, has given far greater evidence of Stalin's
intentions and therefore culpability. Nazi intentionalist arguments are
frequently weak owing to Hitler's dislike of paperwork and the mass
destruction of documentation in 1945, causing writers such as Lucy
Dawidowicz to overly rely on Mein Kampf. Stalinist internationalists, on the
other hand, are enjoying a renaissance with new access to archives, and this
perhaps accounts for new intentionalist theories and a wave of new debates
regarding Stalin's famines.
The end of communism in the 1990s has given Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the
other former republics of the USSR the opportunity to create historical
narratives for themselves that are not imposed by Moscow. For much of the
post-war era, speaking about the Soviet famines has either been an ofcial
crime or strongly discouraged, but the movement to have the famines, and the
Holodomor, in particular internationally accepted as genocide has had some
notable successes. Countries such as Canada and Australia, with sizeable
Ukrainian minorities, have both risked their relationships with the Russian
Federation by recognizing the Ukrainian famine as genocide. They were joined
by the European Union in 2003.
But when Ukrainian President Victor Yankuvich said in 2010 that "it would be
wrong and unfair to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide against
[only] one nation," he faced a furious attack from opposition parties and
members of the public. Evidently in Ukraine, the memory of the crime is a
powerful part of national identity, and the search for recognition of Ukrainian
loss is an important part of the resolution of shared trauma. Yankuvich
reected a line that is more readily accepted in Russia. Pressure groups from
Ukraine and its various migr communities across the world have been
particularly insistent that Walter Duranty, the U.S. journalist corrupted by the
Soviets, be posthumously stripped of the Pulitzer Prize he was awarded for
covering Stalin's show trials.
It is difcult to fully judge the validity of the genocide charge without examining
the arguments of Raphael Lemkin, the man who rst coined the term.
Lemkin, a Polish Jew, ed Poland in 1939 after ghting the German invasion,
eventually making his way to America. He had been a lawyer before the war
and had specialized in what he was later to call genocide, studying the Turkish
atrocities against the Armenians in 1915. Lemkin already had xed ideas
about genocide long before the end of World War II, when he discovered that
most of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust. His seminal work on
genocide, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, formed the basis for the Nuremberg
trials and the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and the
Punishment of Genocide. It was this document that Naimark argues the Soviet
Union refused to endorse unless the classication of "social groups" was
Lemkin himself spoke out about the Ukrainian famine in 1953, claiming that it
fullled the necessary criteria of genocide with or without this categorization:
The Ukrainian is not and never has been a Russian. His culture, his
temperament, his language, his religion, are all different. ... [T]o eliminate
[Ukrainian] nationalism .. .the Ukrainian peasantry was sacriced ... a famine
was necessary for the Soviet and so they got one to order. ... [I]f the Soviet
program succeeds completely, if the intelligentsia, the priest, and the peasant
can be eliminated [then] Ukraine will be as dead as if every Ukrainian were
killed, for it will have lost that part of it which has kept and developed its
culture, its beliefs, its common ideas, which have guided it and given it a soul,
which, in short, made it a nation. ...This is not simply a case of mass murder. It
is a case of genocide, of the destruction, not of individuals only, but of a culture
and a nation.
Ellman offers a similar legal evaluation, rst stating that Stalin's crimes were a
combination of acts of omission and commission, and the debate, Ellman
claims, hinges on the issue of intent. He argues that Davies's and Wheatcroft's
understanding of intent, that it is "only taking an action whose outcome is
solely to cause deaths amongst the peasantry" is too narrow. Ellman argues
that legal opinion is largely consistent on the idea that intent can be proven if
the defendant took an action and could forsee it would most likely have lethal
consequences. Ellman argues that Stalin's sealing of Ukraine's borders is a
case in point. It would be difcult to argue that he was not aware of the death
sentence he was most likely imposing on the eeing peasants. Stalin's
indifference, as opposed to the active prosecution, to the deaths of millions is
no defense.
Ellman points out that the UN also stipulates that a genocide can be the
destruction "in whole or in part" of a national group; however, a later ruling at
the International Criminal Court indicated that the mass killing of individuals
needs to be concentrated in a small geographical area in order for it to be
considered genocide. This weakens the legalistic case, in Ellman's view, and
he stated that if he were a juror in the trial against the Soviet state, he would
have to return a "not guilty" or "not proven" verdict as the evidence can be
interpreted in a variety of ways. Ellman believes there is little in the way of
concrete proof of intention, but he also argues that there is enough evidence
to convict Stalin and his conspirators of crimes against humanity, a charge that
requires a lower threshold of intentionalist proof. The fact that Nazism stands
guilty of genocide where Soviet communism today does not, perhaps is a clear
case of victor's justice, and it might also be related to the fact that Stalin's
indifference to the suffering of others and his prevailing goal of industrialization
differed subtly in emphasis from the Nazis' explicit desire to annihilate the
Jewish people. But Stalin has only prevailed in a legalistic sense; in other
moral indices of guilt he does not fare very well at all.
Both Snyder and Naimark have made bold and deeply deterministic cases
against Stalinism, and as we have read, Lemkin himself was the rst person to
apply the term genocide to the regime.
The various functionalist and economic arguments that portray Stalin's
famines as crimes of omission, tragic side effects of a awed ideology
imposed on the USSR in a rush for industrialization, fail to take into account
Stalin's seven clear acts of commission, as laid out by Snyder. The most
lenient interpretation that functionalists could possibly reach in these cases is
one of negligence, but as Ellman points out, this is difcult to sustain given the
provable knowledge that Stalin clearly had about the extent of the death toll
and about the likely consequences of sealing the border.
Similar famines, such as the 1892 Volga famine, claimed just 5 percent of the
estimated deaths of the Stalinist famine, and whilst this was certainly a crime
of negligence by the tsarist regime of Alexander III, it was far smaller in its
scope because whilst the regime failed to act, it did not actively intervene to
exacerbate the situation.
The distinguishing features of the Ukrainian famine are therefore the features
that Snyder has listed. It is perhaps unlikely that the decisions Stalin and other
Soviet ofcals made was solely motivated by a desire to destroy an entire
people, but Stalin's class-based perspective made these actions seem
perfectly reasonable and straightforward. If the standard of intentional proof
required by the United Nations is lowered, the case for Stalin as a genocidaire,
as Snyder and Naimark have both done, is more convincing, and it also raises
numerous other questions about other Soviet crimes.
The Holocaust -- as a single, monolithic, and dening horror of our age -- has
come to shape the terms of the debate about genocide, and the legalistic
manner of Nuremberg puts a premium on establishing intention. It is from
these discourses that modern notions of Holocaust intentionalist and
functionalist historiography have sprung. Whilst this has deeply enriched the
debate regarding the Third Reich, it has, by extension, placed constraints on
how we can interpret Stalin's crimes. Any popular comparison between the two
invariably partially exonerates Stalin because of a lack of perceived malice
aforethought, even though his crimes were comparable to Hitler. The
interpretation that has evolved as a result of this, one which has been
challenged by Snyder's Bloodlands, is one of a Soviet communism, that whilst
brutal, was innocent of premeditation (though the purges are another story
An excerpt from the Black Book of Communism articulates the legacy of the
Holocaust on Soviet famine historiography:
After 1945 the Jewish genocide became a byword for modern barbarism, the
epitome of twentieth-century mass terror. ... [M]ore recently, a single-minded
focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the Holocaust as a
unique atrocity has also prevented the assessment of other episodes of
comparable magnitude in the Communist world. After all, it seems scarcely
plausible that the victors who had helped bring about the destruction of a
genocidal apparatus might themselves have put the very same methods into
practice. When faced with this paradox, people generally preferred to bury
their heads in sand.
The existence of Soviet crimes presented a generation of postwar
commentators and thinkers in the West with an inconvenient challenge to the
useful binary opposition that existed from the 1930s onwards. As it has
become essentially impossible to make the case that Soviet communism is
good because Nazism is bad, there have been ever more numerous
challenges to the functionalist economic argument. The legalistic case against
Stalin as genocidaire may have not yet been made, but a wider moral case for
the Soviet famines to be considered genocides is strong and compelling.
Suggested Reading

Robert Conquest: Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-
Famine (1987)

Stephen Devereux: Theories of Famine (1993)
Eric Hobsbawm: The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991
Alan Bullock: Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1996)
Orlando Figes: A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924
Sheila Fitzpatrick: Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times:
Soviet Russia in the 1930s (1999)
Anna Reid: Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine (2000)

Ian Kershaw: Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis (2001)
Cormac Grda: Famine: A Short History (2009)
Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010)
For more history writing, podcasts and the Explaining History Ebook Series,