- Russia’s First World War: A Social and Economic History, and: Krest′iane, rabochie i soldaty Rossii nakanune i v gody Pervoi mirovoi voiny
Study of Russia’s participation in World War I has come a long way in recent years. Some groundbreaking works, a number of which were reviewed in this journal by Francesco Benvenuti, are helping redefine the paradigms for the field.1 Peter Holquist’s thesis of placing Russia’s experience of World War I within a “continuum of crisis” encompassing the Revolution and civil wars, has allowed a reassessment of the war’s impact on the population and on state practices. This has encouraged scholars to conceptualize the revolutionary period in a more organic way and has opened the way for a conceptualization of crisis that goes further to include culture, society, and economics. [End Page 685] The extent to which World War I engaged notions of nation and citizenship fits into recent enquiries in the field more broadly of late imperial and early Soviet studies.
The two books under review are both to some extent informed by and contributing to this developing field. Both address the problem of developing national identity in wartime; and both focus primarily on the war itself, rather than the broader “continuum of crisis” chronology of 1914–21. They present something of a challenge to review together, since despite their common chronology, they take very divergent approaches. Both works seek to present a synthesis of Russia’s participation in World War I. Porshneva sets herself an extraordinarily ambitious task of penetrating the mentality and consciousness, and understanding the social behavior, of workers, peasants, and soldiers during World War I. Gatrell restricts himself to more prosaic ambitions of presenting a detailed analysis of Russia’s participation in the war, with economic considerations its chief focus. Gatrell’s work represents a brilliant realization of its ambitions and will be required reading for the next generation of undergraduates and graduate students. Porshneva’s work, however, presents more problems than it resolves.
The greatest strength of Porshneva’s study is the impressive array of archival sources from central and regional archives she draws on, namely the archives of Sverdlovsk, Perm′, Bashkortostan, and Novosibirsk, alongside a relatively small array of newspapers. The material she refers to confirms that there is a wealth of barely utilized archival materials on the World War I period, which promise to further enhance our understandings of the revolutionary period. She uses the Soviet historiography freely but Western historiography very little. The types of sources consulted are diverse: official documents from the center and the regions, Bolshevik materials, church records, stenograms of the State Duma and soviets, soldiers’ letters, and reports from the General Staff, War Ministry, police, and censors. This is a well-researched piece, which is a testament to many years of archival work. The book is divided into five parts; a lengthy introductory chapter outlining methodology, historiography, sources, and method of study; a chapter each on the mentality and behavior of peasants, workers, and soldiers, and a chapter outlining mass mentality in 1917–18. Porshneva draws on examples from across the former Russian empire. She takes Russian ethnicity as the only clear demarcator of whom she will study and draws on examples from European Russia, the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East, where the majority of Russians lived, as well as the ethnically Russian territory of the Belorussian frontiers, Russian Ukraine, the North Caucasus, Kazakhstan, and so on. Porshneva acknowledges the importance of regional specificity at the outset (7) but does not really explore it through the study itself.
In a lengthy opening chapter, Porshneva outlines her claim to adopt a diverse multidisciplinary approach, drawing on social and historical psychology, [End Page 686] sociology, cultural anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics. One of the methodological weaknesses of...