Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.3 (2005) 535-556
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Armageddon Not Averted
Russia's War, 1914-21
Università di Bologna
Piazza S. Giovanni in Monte, 2
Until recently, scholars in the field of modern Russian studies were divided between specialists in postrevolutionary and prerevolutionary history. This probably reflected not so much a need for some form of division of labor as a difference in historical interests that was deeply influenced by the political climate in the international academic environment in the decades of the Cold War. These political conditions were likely to dispose scholars to be attracted [End Page 535] to one or the other of these fields of study, since October 1917 was generally deemed to be a major political and moral watershed of world significance. Under these circumstances, the problem of "continuity and change" in history seemed particularly intractable in reference to the relationship that historians should establish between prerevolutionary and revolutionary Russia. There always has been, of course, a sense that in Soviet Russia, particularly under Stalinism, some broad continuities or significant returns of the past occurred: Richard Pipes's idea that the extraordinary repressive measures enacted in August 1881, in the wake of Alexander II's assassination, ushered in Russia's abnormally protracted era as a "police state"; Theodore von Laue's interpretation of Stalinist industrialization as a continuation of Count Witte's industrial policy; Moshe Lewin's "rural nexus," linking together the kolkhoz and the pre-1861 agricultural economy; Robert Tucker's "psycho-historical" portrait of Stalin as a resurgent Peter I and Ivan IV.1 Yet the task of clarifying the nature of the vectors that drove historical change from Holy Russia to Bolshevik Russia seems to have been considered too difficult even to be imagined. It is understandable that many scholars educated in the Cold War climate have easily become accustomed to the gap between the respective historical narratives of the two Russias.
Five recent books now pick up the ends of some of the broken threads of Russian history and bring to the fore the issue of the powerfully transforming effect that Russia's participation in World War I had on the political mind of its population, state, and political elites. At least four of the authors share a basic interest in some of the consequences that accompanied the rise of a mass feeling of Russian nationality in the empire during the war years: the accelerated pace at which the imperial army tried to become the "nation in arms" (and after October, in rapid succession, "the workers" and then the "people in arms");2 the evolution of the tsarist administration in the non-Slavic regions of the empire;3 the sudden nationalist mobilization of significant parts of educated society and of the urban populace;4 the massive expansion into the [End Page 536] empire's society and economy of the influence of the army and of new public institutions aimed at supporting the war effort economically;5 and...