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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 739-745

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Oleg Vital'evich Budnitskii, Terrorizm v rossiiskom osvoboditel'nom dvizhenii: Ideologiia, etika, psikhologiia (vtoraia polovina XIX-nachalo XX v.). Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000. 399 pp. ISBN 5-8243-0118-2.

This work by Russian historian Oleg Budnitskii deals with a principal aspect of the radicals' struggle against the tsarist regime during the last half-century of its existence - the issue of revolutionary terrorism - and is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the political history of imperial Russia. First of all, Budnitskii recognizes (and states explicitly) that the extremists who practiced individual acts of violence against the establishment produced a devastating effect on the stability of the state and on the psychological development of Russian society - something that until recently most scholars have failed to appreciate. Yet, from April 1866, when former student Dmitrii Karakozov made the first attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II, through the collapse of the imperial regime in 1917, the country's history was bloodstained by revolutionary terrorism. While devoting attention to the origins of extremism and its early developments in the 1870s and 1880s, Budnitskii's study justifiably focuses on the later period. It emphasizes the sudden and unprecedented escalation of political violence after the turn of the 20th century, especially during its most explosive stage - the turbulent years of the 1905-07 revolution. At that time, when a rapid intensification of radical activity in general took place, terrorism became an all-pervasive phenomenon, affecting not only high government and military officials (the most sought-after targets of the extremists), but also representatives of the "enemy classes," as well as all those who in the eyes of the radicals appeared as enemies of the revolution. Assassinations and expropriations (or politically motivated robberies) thus became part of daily life and had a tremendous impact on every layer of Russian society. Budnitskii's point about the necessity "to reveal the causes of this phenomenon, which has few analogues in world history" (4) and to establish the extent and significance of its impact on the country's development, is well taken.

Equally appropriate is Budnitskii's attempt to deal with the problem of the definition of revolutionary terrorism. Having discussed various attempts on the part of Russian and Western scholars to characterize terrorism as a set of violent means employed by extremists to destabilize an enemy regime and to intimidate and demoralize its leading representatives, the author comes to the conclusion that no definitive formula is satisfactory. Evidently, Budnitskii concurs with Walter Laqueur, a recognized authority on anti-government violence, who argues [End Page 739] in his classic work on the subject that "any definition of political terrorism venturing beyond noting the systematic use of murder, injury and destruction or the threat of such acts toward achieving political ends is bound to lead to endless controversies." Budnitskii also accepts Laqueur's conclusion that "it can be predicted with confidence that the disputes about a comprehensive, detailed definition of terrorism will continue for a long time, that they will not result in a consensus and that they will make no notable contribution toward the understanding of terrorism." 1 Instead of searching for an all-encompassing denotation of terrorist practices (at the risk of getting bogged down in terminological nuances), Budnitskii, like Laqueur, prefers to emphasize the particular situation in a given "historical site" where specific conditions contribute to the development of various forms of political violence that fall under the general definition of terrorist activity.

Although legitimate on the whole, Budnitskii's approach generates what seems to be a major conceptual problem. While discussing the escalation of political violence in late 19th- and early 20th-century Russia, he largely ignores the significance of that fact established by other historians, notably Norman M. Naimark. Naimark argues that, in essence, the structure of terrorist acts, the reaction of the public and the authorities, and the archetypal behavior of political extremists in various societies demonstrate more similarities than differences...


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