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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.1 (2004) 137-147

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The True Nature of Octobrism

Shmuel Galai
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Beer-Sheva, 84105
P. O. B. 653

Partiia "Soiuz 17 Oktiabria." 2 vols. Edited and compiled by Dmitrii Borisovich Pavlov. Vol. 1: Protokoly s''ezdov i zasedanii TsK, 1905-1907 gg. [Protocols of Congresses and Sessions of the Central Committee, 1905-7]. 408 pp. Vol. 2: Protokoly III S ''ezda, konferentsii, i zasedanii TsK, 1907-1915 [Protocols of the Third Congress and of Conferences and Sessions of the Central Committee, 1907-15]. 512 pp. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1996-2000. ISBN 5-86004-066-0, 5-86004-066-9 for both volumes. 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.

Scholars interested in modern Russian history are greatly indebted to ROSSPEN. In less than a decade, it has greatly expanded the documentary base and the accessibility of source material on the political parties, movements, and institutions of late tsarism and the Russian political diaspora in the 1920s and the 1930s. 1 It has concentrated in particular on the publication of material related to what are regarded, especially among post-Soviet Russian historians, as the two main parties of Russian liberalism—the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) and the Octobrists. 2 [End Page 137]

In Western historiography, however, the characterization of these two parties as "liberal" is not universally accepted. From the time of the First Duma, if not from their inception, the Kadets were described by their rivals on the right and later by many historians as radicals, and only the Octobrists were considered to be liberals. 3 The latter were billed as liberals because, so the claim goes, like the Kadets they were constitutionalists and advocated individual rights and civic freedoms, the rule of law, and the equality of all before the law. But unlike the Kadets, they never flirted with revolution and never compromised over the sanctity of private property. Furthermore, unlike the Kadets, they were political realists attuned to Russian conditions, prepared to cooperate with the tsarist authorities to advance the implementation of the liberal agenda.

Dmitrii Borisovich Pavlov, the editor and compiler of the two volumes under review, is the first to admit in his introductory remarks that they contain many documents that were published at the time in the Octobrist and pro-Octobrist press, especially in Slovo and Golos Moskvy. This fact does not diminish the importance of the publication, however, and not only because it also contains many original documents drawn from the archives. The very fact that the previously published documents have been made more accessible and have been linked with the archival material has created a powerful tool for researchers. We are now able, perhaps for the first time, to come as close as possible to discovering the true nature of Octobrism, to compare the political culture of the Octobrists to that of the Kadets, and to ascertain to what extent the Union of 17 October could be considered a liberal party.

One of the first things that strikes the reader of the protocols is connected to the Octobrists' finances. A party that openly admitted to representing the propertied classes, and whose leaders were proud of that fact, 4 might have been expected to have no financial problems. This, however, was not the case. In reality, the party was in dire financial straits, at least during the first two years of its existence. The Octobrists, who counted among their leaders many rich people, including the super-wealthy Riabushinskii brothers—Pavel Pavlovich and Vladimir Pavlovich (1: 45), who were great philanthropists and [End Page 138] later launched and subsidized Utro Rossii and the Progressist Party, which they helped establish 5 —lacked adequate funding not only for conducting election campaigns or convening congresses but even for everyday activities such as...


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