- A Short History of Russia’s First Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty, and: Rossiia na puti iz Smuty: Izbranie na tsarstvo Mikhaila Fedorovicha [Russia on Its Way Out of the Time of Troubles: Mikhail Fedorovich’s Election as Tsar]
In the study of the Time of Troubles (Smutnoe vremia)—the 15-, or 8-, or 7-year period (depending on how one counts it) of interregna, peasant and Cossack revolts, and foreign interventions straddling the boundaries of the 16th and 17th centuries—one name has reigned over all others for more than a century. Sergei Fedorovich Platonov's magisterial Ocherki po istorii Smuty (Studies in the History of the Time of Troubles), published in its first edition in 1899, has been perhaps one of the most resilient prerevolutionary interpretations of any period or topic in Russian history.1 Platonov's model of a three-phase crisis—a dynastic phase (1598–1606), a social phase (1606–10), and a national phase (1610–13)—has been hard to dethrone, probably because it provides a neat and tidy, though hardly facile, explanation for what is in fact a very complex crisis. There have, of course, been pretenders to Platonov's throne. Even in his own day, Platonov did not go unchallenged; and later, Marxist revisionists attacked Platonov's "bourgeois" analysis in various and piecemeal ways. Today, Platonov's interpretation is undergoing critical reassessment, perhaps the most competent reassessment in more than a century. The books reviewed here represent two of the more recent and able attempts to topple Platonov.
One of the reasons that Platonov's explanation for the Troubles (Smuta) remains so enduring surely lies in the fact that his important book was later reissued in a condensed version for a general readership, and this version was [End Page 243] then years later translated into English, making it the book of choice for undergraduate Russian history survey courses in North America and elsewhere.2 This book was ideal for the classroom. It is short (only 171 pages of text), sports useful maps and appendices (genealogical tables, a chronology, a glossary of terms), and includes a short bibliographical essay of works in English on the Time of Troubles and related topics for the more ambitious undergraduates. But for all its advantages for the classroom, the book is what it is: a compact exposition of the more-than-century-old interpretation set out in Platonov's full-length Ocherki.
Chester Dunning's A Short History of Russia's First Civil War is also a condensed version of a much larger—indeed, monumental—study of the Troubles published with a view to classroom use.3 This smaller book logically deserves much of the same praise that has been heaped upon the full-length version. Dunning goes after Platonov and other treatments of the Troubles with regicidal fervor, telling his readers that the purpose of his book is "to present the real story of Russia's First Civil War" (3). He points to the "disarray in scholarship" (2) on the Time of Troubles, and perspicaciously surveys the historiography up to recent decades, by which time a few scholars, including Dunning, had "challenged virtually every aspect of the Marxist model" and "decisively overturned" (3) the traditional interpretations, Marxist and pre-Marxist.
Dunning's challenge to the reigning views is comprehensive and convincing. Platonov saw a progression of three phases where political and social violence was linked to opposition to the increasingly centralizing state. Marxist historians saw in the Troubles a vast peasant war driven by the class divisions in society and the peasant's rational and calculated opposition to serfdom. Dunning brushes all this aside. He contends...