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The History of Liberalism in Russia

Victor Leontovitsch, Parmen Leontovitsch

Publication Year: 2012

Foreword by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In this highly original study, Victor Leontovitsch offers a reinterpretation of liberalism in a uniquely Russian form. He documents the struggles to develop civil society and individual liberties in imperial Russia up until their ultimate demise in the face of war, revolution, and the collapse of the old regime. This is the first English-language translation of Leontovitsch’s monumental work, which was originally published to critical acclaim in German in 1957.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The present book has suffered the bitter fate of works written in emigration: first published only in a foreign language, it is only appearing now, twenty years later, in its native tongue and twenty years after the death of its author—for all that time remaining inaccessible to the readers of its native land. Yet this book is needed most by Russian readers, as it deals only with Russian history and ideas that more than anything are waiting to be explained and assimilated by Russian society....

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pp. ix-x

On reading De Ruggiero’s famous Storia del Liberalismo Europeo, I was disappointed that in recounting the history of liberalism in Italy, France, England, and Germany, it left out the history of liberalism in Spain and Russia. It thus seemed desirable to sketch out the history of liberalism in Russia in a longer article. This book came from that attempt to add a chapter to someone else’s book....

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Notes on Translation

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pp. xi-xiv

Regarding the transliteration of Russian terms and names, I have followed the U.S. Library of Congress system, with the notable exception of proper names, where I have preferred to use the -sky ending rather than -skii. On the other hand, I have retained the palatalization marker (’). I have tried to use this system consistently, but where there are mistakes or discrepancies, these are entirely my...

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pp. 1-14

The fundamental idea of liberalism—as the name itself indicates—is to make freedom, the freedom of the individual, a reality. Liberalism’s basic approach is not creation, but negation, that is, the elimination of all that threatens the survival of individual freedom and impedes its development. It is precisely because of this approach that liberalism, compared to other programs, finds it difficult to attract support. It does not appeal to those so aptly called “activists” in modern...

Part 1

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pp. 15-16

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Chapter 1

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pp. 17-30

Liberal ideas became more significant in Russia during the reign of Catherine II. Certainly some of the individual laws or measures enacted by Catherine’s predecessors could be seen as liberal, insofar as they confirmed or extended the rights of the subjects of Russia’s rulers and thus served to develop their freedom. First, there was Peter III’s famous ukaz [decree] of February 18, 1762, on the “Freedom of the Nobility.” This was followed by an ukaz proclaimed by the...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 31-37

That Catherine’s reflections on issues of law were significant not merely from a theoretical point of view, but also from a practical one, was shown by her son Paul I’s reign, which must be seen as a period of radical reaction. Paul I was convinced that his patriarchal power was unlimited. He endeavored to regulate every sphere of life, even going so far as to lay down rules for his subjects on their use of language. Severe punishments were meted out to those who were in...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 38-55

Speransky, the man who codified Russian law, held views—as indicated above —that were very close to those of his older contemporary Mordvinov. The most extensive exposition of his ideas is probably contained in the paper called “Introduction to the Codification (Ulozhenie) of the Laws of the State,” presented to Alexander I in 1809.1 Here Speransky not only deals with specific, concrete problems of the structure of the state and the law, but bases his views on the...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 56-68

Including Karamzin in an account of the development of Russia toward liberalism runs counter to the way he is traditionally viewed. Yet on the other hand, his ideas, his general intellectual outlook, and his personality in general had a positive influence on Russia’s progress in a liberal direction. In the first place, Karamzin did a great deal to build general intellectual links between Russia and the European West. He was effective in widening the channels through which...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 69-78

Speransky, as mentioned in the previous chapter, had already discussed the problem of codifying Russian law in his early writings. Moreover, he intended not only systematizing the old laws but also updating and improving existing law. In his opinion, it was possible to start adopting Western law or at least to take advantage of the achievements in the field of jurisprudence in Western countries. Karamzin too had already expressed a view on the problem of codification in...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 79-88

The question as to how significant Nicholas I’s reign was in the context of Russia’s development toward liberalism is certainly not easy to answer. Intellectual freedom was restricted, and censorship was rigorous in all areas. After 1848, these measures were further intensified. On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that some of the gains made under Catherine II and Alexander I, which eventually had to pave the way for the establishment of a liberal order in...

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pp. 89-104

The reign of Nicholas I represents a transitional epoch in the true sense of the term. This has often been overlooked because Nicholas I—and more precisely the figure of the tsar, rather than his personality—overshadowed everything. The autocrat dominated every sphere of life. Everything was represented in him and by him. Everything became the business of an inflexible bureaucratic hierarchy, to then be filed away in official archives. Hence, an impression was created...

Part 2

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pp. 105-106

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Chapter 8

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pp. 107-114

Alexander II’s reign has justifiably been called the Era of Great Reforms. From the outset, Alexander II considered the emancipation of the serfs as the most important and urgent of tasks. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that, as he himself relates, his father, Nicholas I, on his deathbed extracted his promise to find a solution to this problem. Thus, Alexander tried right from the start of his reign to convince the gentry that emancipation was necessary. When he returned...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 115-123

How far did the emancipation laws go in granting the serfs their liberty— that is, liberty understood as a body of civil rights based on positive law and protected by the courts? The question requires some analysis. The emancipation laws brought in a transitional period—a transition between serfdom and the status of free rural inhabitants that, according to the legislation, the peasants were to attain through emancipation. During this transition, the peasants were still...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 124-132

At the time of the emancipation, land was not allocated to individual peasants, but rather to village communes. This seemed advisable not least because of the practicalities, thus making the process of land allocation much simpler. The land given to the communes could either be subdivided once and for all among the farmsteads belonging to the commune, or particular plots (arable land) could be given to certain farmsteads for a limited time. At the end of this time, the land...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 133-142

The idea that it was the state’s duty to secure the peasants’ livelihood, and in general to care for them in the spirit of paternalism, became particularly entrenched during Alexander III’s reign. Accordingly, the idea, apparent in the 1861 statutes, of allowing the peasants to enjoy rights under civil law and making their allotment land into genuine private property receded progressively. The land allocated to the peasants was regarded more and more consistently as a special land...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 143-154

Such then was the situation of the peasantry at the start of Nicholas II’s reign. The draft of the abovementioned law of December 14, 1893, which was enacted shortly before the death of Alexander III, was extensively criticized in the State Council, especially by the former finance minister, Bunge. The entire State Council expressed the view that a far-reaching, comprehensive review of all the legislation on the peasantry had to be undertaken....

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Chapter 13

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pp. 155-163

As Chicherin pointed out so clearly and forcefully, there was a close affinity between the old forms of peasant collectivism and the ideal of the socialist collective. Chicherin highlighted that, on the one hand, as we have already noted, the rural commune influenced the outlook of the peasants, so that they became especially susceptible to socialist ideas, while on the other hand many socialists viewed the commune with particular enthusiasm, because they perceived it as an...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 164-174

Even before the outbreak of the 1905 revolution, the government had taken several measures that have to be seen as making some progress in a liberal direction. At the end of 1902, Witte had raised the issue of the abolition of the krugovaia poruka, the system of mutual guarantees, as well as reductions in direct taxes and redemption payments that weighed heavily on the peasants. In an understanding with the minister of the interior, Pleve, Witte laid draft legislation...

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pp. 175-186

The Right on the State Council, just as in the Duma, did not want to reject the draft law—the decree of November 9, 1906—out of hand, although it did suggest some amendments with the aim of slowing down the transition from agrarian collectivism to private property as sought by the legislation. Through one of these amendments, communes were to be given the right of first refusal on the land of peasants who had left. On the one hand, this meant favoring the...

Part 3

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pp. 187-188

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Chapter 16

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pp. 189-202

In Hauriou’s view, the questions of political liberty and the decentralization of power overlap.1 Thus, political liberty is the liberty enjoyed by the citizen thanks to the separation of powers anchored in the constitution. It is important to recall the difference between political and civil freedom. Although political freedom is an extension (prolongement) of civil liberty, there is nevertheless a fundamental difference between these two forms of freedom. Hauriou writes:...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 203-219

Alexander III issued his famous Manifesto of April 29, 1881, in which he asserted his belief in autocracy and his firm resolve to protect it from any assault. The leading liberals in the government, Loris-Melikov and Abaza, drew the obvious conclusion and asked to be relieved of their posts. The fact that these requests were a direct consequence of the manifesto’s proclamation of belief in autocracy was considered ungracious. In Abaza’s case, Alexander III wrote in person...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 220-226

The main aim of the “Liberation Movement: (osvoboditel’noe dvizhenie) was to bring down the autocracy in Russia and force a change to constitutional government. Those who joined this movement did not seek, in contrast to those who represented zemstvo circles, to overcome the division between the state and society. They were not interested in establishing mutual trust and normal cooperation between the representatives of government and the public at large....

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Chapter 19

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pp. 227-241

Even if several zemstvo representatives were founding members of the Union of Liberation, overall, zemstvo opinion was extremely unsympathetic to the direction that the union was prepared to pursue through an alliance with the revolutionaries. Most zemstvo members preferred the road of peaceful evolution. The representatives of very different political camps saw it as the safest and soundest way to achieve constitutional government. According to this view, a future Russian...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 242-253

The ukaz of December 12, 1904, was based, as we have seen, on the liberal program drawn up by the zemstvo congress. Through this ukaz, the Committee of Ministers was charged with preparing legislation to secure the freedom of the press, free speech, and religious tolerance, as well as a guarantee of legality in administrative affairs. The powers of local self-government were also to be extended, the recourse to emergency powers curtailed, and unnecessary restrictions...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 254-268

The zemstvo deputation decided to present a report on the Peterhof reception of June 6 to the congress, and for this reason the next congress was arranged for July 6.1 If hopes had been rekindled at the reception that agreement could be reached between the state and society as represented by the zemstvo circles, this was quite clearly shown to be an illusion only four weeks later, at the July 6 congress....

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Chapter 22

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pp. 269-282

The most detailed and accurate account of the history of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, which proclaimed the change to a constitutional system of government, is provided in his memoirs by Witte, the man who masterminded it.
Witte returned to Russia from America on September 16, 1905, after reaching a peace agreement with Japan. He was especially concerned that revolutionary unrest was turning into full-scale revolution, and he recognized that the situation...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 283-291

In his book, Maklakov asks what was new or special about the 1906 constitution, a constitution that was well designed and beneficial for Russia.1 Surely, its most valuable aspect was that the liberal concept of the separation of powers occupied a prominent place. Furthermore, the fact that in the Constitution of April 23, 1906, this principle was adapted to suit the circumstances prevailing in Russia at the time is especially important. The constitution met the historical and political...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 292-299

At the zemstvo congresses of November 1904 and November 1905, there was a distinct minority group alongside the radical majority, except that the minority at the 1905 congress was different from that in 1904. In 1904, the minority came out against constitutional government, while being in favor of it in 1905. This group was composed partly of old constitutionalists like Guchkov, partly also of men like Shipov from the 1904 congress minority, who had been against...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 300-310

There can be no possible doubt that the tsar really wanted to keep his promise that he was fully determined to implement the program based on the ideas announced in the October 17 Manifesto.1 The new era in Russia’s political life was, according to the tsar’s wishes, to be ushered in ceremonially. The opening of the State Duma and the reformed State Council would take place in the form of a reception for the members of both chambers at the Winter Palace. This opening...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 311-320

The Second Duma was just as reluctant as the First Duma to work with the government. There was, however, a significant difference between it and its predecessor, which should not be overlooked. A purely Kadet majority had been possible in the First Duma, but in the Second Duma, the socialist Left was strengthened on the one hand, and on the other, a right-wing block, which did not exist in the First Duma, established itself. The Kadet Party could no longer...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 321-330

The Second Duma was dissolved on June 3, 1907. As a pretext, the government used the circumstance that the Duma had hesitated too long in lifting the immunity from prosecution of Social-Democrat deputies who were allegedly involved in a plot. However, this pretext in itself was of little interest. Whether or not the plot actually existed, and whether or not ministers really believed in its existence, is surely of secondary importance, because the real reason for the...


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pp. 331-370

Index of Names

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pp. 371-378

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977919
E-ISBN-10: 0822977915
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944157
Print-ISBN-10: 0822944154

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012