Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7.3 (2006) 391-395
[Access article in PDF]
Tiutchev versus Foucault?
Citizenship and Subjecthood in Russian History
The declared aim of Vladimir Putin's presidency has been to end a decade and a half of reform and upheaval in Russia by restoring the "vertical [structure] of power" and instituting a "dictatorship of the law." We might observe, as historians, that this places present-day leaders in a lineage that extends back to Brezhnev, Stalin, Stolypin, and Alexander III, and perhaps beyond. We are thus witnessing the recurrence of a pattern long familiar from Russia's past—the tense relationship between liberal aspirations for a full-fledged civil society and the widespread desire for strong, personalized leadership to contain the forces of disorder.
The citizenry's relationship with the state thus remains a central issue for understanding Russia's past and present. The Spring 2006 issue of Kritika contained the first part of a series of articles on subjecthood and citizenship in Russian history, which the present issue continues and concludes. The contributors to the spring issue examined the life and times of prominent liberal thinkers of the late imperial and revolutionary period. The authors in the present issue investigate the evolution of concepts and practices of subjecthood and citizenship in various fields of 19th- and 20th-century Russian life. Paul Werth and Jane Burbank examine how the state and the population engaged one another in the late imperial era, cautiously feeling their way toward a more modern understanding of their reciprocal relationship. Then Melissa Stockdale asks us to consider whether the mass mobilization for the Great War, which marked such a profound caesura in how other countries thought about the political order, might have represented for Russia the beginning of a "path not taken" toward a more "European" understanding of citizenship and nationhood. The remaining three contributions examine how the Revolution and its aftermath affected the evolution of Russian/Soviet thinking about citizenship. Golfo Alexopoulos analyzes how the Soviet regime struggled to define legally what it meant to be a citizen in the isolated revolutionary state that October had inadvertently called into existence. Serhy Yekelchyk and Denis Kozlov, finally, investigate the communist state's effort to link citizenship with public displays of "correct" political emotions, and the growth of a public desire to transcend the bitter legacy of civil strife [End Page 391] and political witch hunts through a political order based on legality and social reconciliation.
Responses to these articles are provided by Alfred Rieber and Timothy Snyder. Reading their commentary, the reader has a sense that not one but two specters haunt this discussion—Tiutchev and Foucault, one might say, or Russia's place in Europe and the role of institutions versus practices. Can and should Russia be judged by a West European yardstick, or is it true that arshinom obshchim [Rossiiu] ne izmerit´? Does modern "citizenship" presuppose the existence of particular constitutional and juridical structures, or is it really everyday social practices that count? Both discussants see our contemporary conception of citizenship as rooted in the liberal context of the modern Western nation-state and ask what relevance the concept might have to Russian history when, as Snyder formulates it, "in the Russian empire there were debates about citizenship but no citizenship itself, while in the Soviet Union most people were classed as citizens but the notion lacked the concepts with which it is associated today in the English-speaking world" (610). Similarly, Rieber sees on one side "rulers [for whom] obligations had always to take precedence over rights," and on the other subjects who "followed their own interests in accepting or resisting the solutions imposed from above" (607). He wonders in conclusion "whether citizenship as a concept can span the gap" (608) between contestants who even "lacked a common political vocabulary with which to explicate their positions" (607).
Both respondents raise an enduring question in the literature of Russian history: the question of despotism and legal rights, which has come to occupy an important place in the...