Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.1 (2004) 149-168
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Russian Liberalism in War and Revolution
Institute of Russian History
Russian Academy of Sciences
ul. Dm. Ul'ianova, 19
Protokoly Tsentral'nogo komiteta i zagranichnykh grupp Konstitutsionno-demokraticheskoi partii, 1905-seredina 1930-kh gg. [Protocols of the Central Committee and Émigré Groups of the Constitutional Democratic Party, 1905-mid-1930s]. 6 vols. Compiled, with introduction and notes, by Dmitrii Borisovich Pavlov. Vol. 3: 1915-1920. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998. 590 pp. ISBN 5-86004-043-1. Part of the series Politicheskie partii Rossii: Konets XIX-pervaia tret ' XX veka. Dokumental'noe nasledie [Political Parties in Russia: The End of the 19th and First Third of the 20th Century. The Documentary Inheritance], under the general editorship of Valentin Valentinovich Shelokhaev.
S''ezdy i konferentsii Konstitutsionno-demokraticheskoi partii [Congresses and Conferences of the Constitutional Democratic Party]. 3 vols. Vol. 3, bk. 1: 1915-1917 gg. Compiled, edited, and annotated by O. N. Lezhneva. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000. 831 pp. ISBN 5-86004-062-8. Vol. 3, bk. 2: 1918-1920 gg. Compiled, annotated, and with a preface by N. I. Kanishcheva. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000. 248 pp. ISBN 5-86004-062-8. Part of the series Politicheskie partii Rossii: Konets XIX-pervaia tret' XX veka. Dokumental 'noe nasledie [Political Parties in Russia: The End of the 19th and First Third of the 20th Century. The Documentary Inheritance], under the general editorship of Valentin Valentinovich Shelokhaev.
Although historians have made use of the official documents of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party before now, 1 the significance of the publication project undertaken by ROSSPEN cannot be overstated. For the first time, the minutes of the congresses, conferences, and meetings of the Central [End Page 149] Committee—the entire committee or informal groups of its members—have been brought together in one place. Some of these materials have been published previously, whereas others are held in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) and the Bakhmeteff Archive at Columbia University. Some of the minutes from the 1917-20 period have not survived. Even so, these materials, now readily available, make possible a relatively thorough understanding of the motives driving Kadet politics at a moment critical not only for Russia but for the world as a whole.
A half-century ago, Michael Karpovich identified the "eternal" question of Russian liberalism: was Russian liberalism doomed to failure, or was there a moment when it might have succeeded? 2 A close reading of Kadet protocols—which, borrowing from Herzen (who was speaking in a different context), we could characterize as "marked by the blood of events" (zapeklas' krov' sobytii) —allows us, in my opinion, to answer this eternal question. Although the editors of Kritika have set aside a generous amount of space for a review of the ROSSPEN publications, it would be presumptuous to attempt a complete analysis of the published texts, so I focus on one key concern of any political party: the ability to recognize and explain current events, including the actions and interests of different political forces and social groups, and to make a realistic assessment of the party's own prospects.
History, in my view, is generally the history of misperceptions. This is especially true in critical revolutionary periods, when the gap between perceptions and events widens. World War I is an extreme case of politicians and generals erring in their estimation of the character, duration, and social consequences of war. Few among them could imagine that a conflict expected to be brief could destroy the world they knew, and that the problems and conflicts of the prewar period would pale next to what awaited Europe after the four-year cataclysm.
Viewed against the backdrop of these misconceptions, the Kadets' inadequate assessments of reality do not seem so extraordinary. It is, however, instructive to trace in these sources the precise nature of the Kadets' delusions as well as the myths that they created...