Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.2 (2005) 409-416
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Khristoforov's new monograph covers the period from the tsarist regime's first publicly acknowledged steps toward the reform of serfdom through the eclipse of Petr Andreevich Shuvalov, who dominated the administration from 1866 to 1874. His subject is those who "presented themselves as opponents of the reforming course" and were variously called "the aristocratic party," "the oligarchs," "krepostniki (adherents of serfdom)," "plantatory (planters, i.e. Simon Legrees)," and "our homegrown Tories"—all these terms were derisive pejoratives. Historians have neglected the aristocrats, supposing, Khristoforov argues, that these opponents of the overdue "great reforms" must have been inspired by "rare shortsightedness or selfishness," which makes them "not very attractive material for analysis." But, he insists, to oppose the reformers did not mean to oppose reforms (5–6, 36).
Khristoforov is a student of Larisa Zakharova, herself a disciple of the late Petr Andreevich Zaionchkovskii of Moscow University; she now holds his chair in imperial Russian history. The events of 1855–61 are the stomping ground of Zaionchkovskii and his disciples; and Khristoforov treats their work very respectfully, including this reviewer's book. The 1861–74 period is the terrain of Valentina Chernukha of St. Petersburg, and Khristoforov challenges her on several occasions.
Khristoforov shows himself a worthy intellectual grandchild, so to speak, of Zaionchkovskii. His book displays the profound erudition and scrupulous care that were the hallmarks of Petr Andreevich's work. He has, however, his own orientation. Zaionchkovskii, Zakharova, Terence Emmons, and I all focused on government officials and on those public figures with whom they interacted.1 Khristoforov focuses on the aristocrats who wrote articles [End Page 409] for the press, delivered speeches at assemblies of the nobility, and circulated memoranda—in short, on those who produced policy documents. He has sedulously uncovered and analyzed these texts, and his work has a rare precision and level of detail. He has, however, neglected aristocrats without any particular literary or oratorical ambitions—notably the sanovniki, or holders of high office, who were sympathetic to the aristocrats; the diary of Pavel Pavlovich Gagarin is not cited, and Aleksandr Sergeevich Men´shikov's diary is cited only once. This pattern is a shortcoming, inasmuch as the aristocrats' leaders were courtiers and social lions who hung around with the sanovniki, but it is an advantage insofar as it helps Khristoforov to illuminate the broad issues that underlie his work.
At the accession of Alexander II in 1855, Russia's noble landowners had a near-monopoly of private landed property and of high positions in government and the military; for generations, the regime had unstintingly lavished favor on them. They constituted a ruling class, if the concept has any meaning. In 1855, there was not one noble serfholder in a hundred who favored the abolition of serfdom; not one in a thousand would have endorsed a reform of serfdom like the legislation of 19 February 1861. In 1857–59, the regime promised the nobility various forms of participation in drafting the reform legislation and then reneged.2 In 1861, just after the abolition of serfdom was promulgated, the emperor signified his impatience with reformers and (by implication) his sympathy for the nobles who opposed them by dismissing Sergei Stepanovich Lanskoi, who, as minister of internal affairs, had overseen the legislative process, and Lanskoi's deputy, Nikolai Alekseevich Miliutin, the principal author of the reform legislation. Yet the reform process continued. Reforms of local government and of the conscription system, in particular, further eroded the privileges of the nobility. The nobles' astonishing passivity through all this constitutes a "curious incident"—Sherlock Holmes's term for a dog that unaccountably failed to bark in the night. The nobles did not bark and certainly did not bite, but they did whine and whimper. Khristoforov's...