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The Revolution of 1905: Authority Restored, vol. 2.

This is the second and concluding volume in Ascher's magisterial overview of the Russian revolution of 1905, a set of events which have long been scanted as the "dress rehearsal" for 1917. This cliche obscures the earlier revolution's significance and underestimates the damage it inflicted on the autocracy. Building on renevmd scholarly interest in 1905, Ascher demonstrates convincingly that the dress rehearsal must rather be seen as the beginning of autocracy's final act.

Volume two begins in November 1905, a time often seen as the beginning of the revolution's end. Tsarist forces had suppressed the St. Petersburg and Moscow soviets, signalling a new assertiveness by state power. Also, the autocrat Nicholas 11 had conceded - or "granted" by his lights - the seeming foundations of a constitutional regime, a legislative State Duma and civil rights. Ascher's narrative covers the period in which a beleaguered state authority and the first two Damas of 1906 and 1907 struggled to define what had been won and lost in the revolution. This struggle was marked by discord among the Duma fractions over what the Duma ought to be and by a parallel disarray in the government and Court over how much had really been conceded. Governmental resolve came with the appointment of PA. Stolypin as Minister of Internal Affairs and later Chairman of the Council of Ministers in mid-1906.

Ascher's account ends with Stolypin's coup d'etat of 3 June 1907, an arguably illegal and unilateral assertion of state power at the Duma's expense. The Duma survived but under a revised franchise which favoured the so-called responsible elements in society, rural gentry and wealthy townsmen. Both groups supported Stolypin's emphasis on law and property as the pillars of order and the only bases for meaningful reform of autocracy.

Stolypin's coup and the lack of a meaningful response marked the end of the revolution. Spokesmen for parliamentary constitutionalism - the Kadets - or for revolution - Trudoviki, Social Democrats, and Socialist Revolutionaries - found themselves on the margins of imperial pofitics. Their marginality was ensured by the pacification of the workers and peasants. The same fate befell the movements for the extension of rights or self-government to religious and national minorities. The "3 June system" was mortgaged to Stolypin's land reform, intended to create a future class of peasant smallholders in the countryside, but relied in the meantime on courts martial and the army to keep order.

If authority had been restored, it rested on shaky foundations: ambiguity about the Duma's powers; narrow social support; the acquiescence of a fickle Nicholas II; Stolypin's charisma; and pious hopes for the peasants' conversion into loyal petits bourgeois. Ascher does not explicitly enter the debate about autocracy's viability by 1914, but emphasizes the frailty of the 3 June system and the persisting gulf between state and society as an important limit to the compromise necessary for tsarism's survival.

Ascher emphasizes rightly the role played by persisting social unrest - peasant disturbances, strikes, pogroms, and hooliganism masquerading as political action - in shaping relations between the government and the Duma. He demonstrates that both left- and right-wing extremists engaged in organized terrorism. The atmosphere of the time is conveyed through Ascher's use of contemporary newspaper accounts and diplomatic despatches from the archives of foreign missions to St. Petersburg.

This violence had several consequences. Stolypin's efforts to quell disturbances gained the government supporters among the gentry and urban wealthy, who mere directly exposed to peasant and worker discontent. At the same time, the fractions of the centre-left and left saw themselves as the leaders of a social movement that had not yet reached its peak. As a result, they took an uncompromising stance in conflicts with the state over the Duma's prerogatives. Ascher singles out the Kadets at several junctures for misreading the extent of their mass support, an error which isolated them in the Duma centre without winning them mass support after the First Duma elections. Indeed, Ascher depicts peasants and workers as much more autonomous and canny than their self-appointed leaders chose to believe.

Ascher's use of press and diplomatic sources also resurrects important figures who have been eclipsed in the intervening ninety years. Foremost among these is A.E Aladin, the charismatic but ultimately ineffectual leader of the Trudoviki in the first Duma. From the same sources, Ascher shows the breathtaking pervasiveness of anti-semitism in imperial Russia. He also has a good eye for humorous evocations of the period's atmosphere: in 1907, amidst right-wing attacks on Kadets, especially Jews, one insurance company solicited new customers with the appeal, "Since you have been elected to the Duma, you need to have life insurance' (p. 327).

It is impossible to please everybody in a work of such scope. Historians of labour and officialdom will undoubtedly complain of a lack of nuance in the treatment of their charges. This reader's only cavil concerns the references to Austrian and French diplomatic archives; these are so cryptic as to be of little help in finding the documents in question.

These quibbles notwithstanding, Ascher's work succeeds in tying tsarism's ultimate fate to the revolution of 1905, a long overdue perspective. For its clarity of expression and its attention to detail, Ascher's study will supplant Sidney Harcave's First Blood as the standard English-language treatment of these events.
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Author:McDonald, David
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:874
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