"Primordial and gelatinous"? Civil society in imperial Russia.
Brian Horowitz, Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia. x + 342 pp. illus. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. ISBN-13 978-0295988979, $75.00 (cloth); 978-0295988986, $35.00 (paper).
E. Iu. Kazakova-Apkarimova, Formirovanie grazhdanskogo obshchestva: Gorodskie soslovnye korporatsii i obshchestvennye organizatsii na Srednem Urale (vtoraiapolovina XIX-nachalo XX v.) (The Formation of Civil Society: Urban Estate Corporations and Public Organizations in the Central Urals Region in the Second Half of the 19th arid the Beginning of the 20th Centuries). 290 pp., illus., tables. Ekaterinburg: RAN-Ural'skoe otdelenie, Institut istorii i arkheologii, 2008. ISBN 5769116705.
Bianka Pietrov-Ennker (Pietrow-Ennker) and Galina Ul'ianova, eds., Grazhdanskaia identichnost' i sfera grazhdanskoi deiatel'nosti v Rossiiskoi imperii: Vtoraia polovina XIX-nachalo XX veka (Civic Identity and the Sphere of Civic Activity in the Russian Empire in the Second Half of the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Centuries). 302 pp. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2007. ISBN-13 978-5824308624.
Historians have been looking for a civil society in imperial Russia's past for at least two decades. Though hardly as protracted or romantic as the quest by European navigators for a Northwest Passage, the effort to find a viable public sphere in an autocratic state has inspired expeditions of discovery and revealed new features of the Russian historical landscape. Like these explorers, historians have generally agreed on what it is they seek: a public sphere distinct from the state, the economy, and private life, where Russians formed autonomous associations, social relationships, and communication networks in order to "represent interests, deliberate matters of public concern, and voice opinions," in Joseph Bradley's definition (7). (1) But there is considerable disagreement among historians of civil society about what they have discovered, or whether the object they seek could even exist in autocratic Russia. In one camp are optimists such as Bradley, whose well-written, thoroughly researched new book argues that the evidence of a viable and growing civil society in imperial Russia is strong and irrefutable. On the other side are skeptics such as Lutz Hafner, whose essay in Grazhdanskaia identichnost' i sfera grazhdanskoi deiatel'nosti v Rossiiskoi imperil criticizes fellow historians who "assume the existence [of civil society] a priori" and "evaluate every effort of society toward emancipation from state tutelage as a sign of civil society" (43-46). While the Ekaterinburg historian Elena Kazakova-Apkarimova finds a thriving civil society in the sparsely populated region of the central Urals, Brian Horowitz emphasizes impediments and disharmony in his history of the largest and most successful Jewish voluntary association in imperial Russia. The books reviewed here illustrate diverse approaches to the history of civil society while providing insights into four central issues: the role of the state; Russian exceptionalism; the social and economic prerequisites of civil society; and finally, the significance of civil society to the country's historical development.
Historians began their quest for a Russian public sphere distinct from illegal political parties and radical movements comparatively recently. As Bradley recounts in his introduction, most of us who studied the history of tsarist Russia in the 1970s learned the version that Antonio Gramsci neatly summed up in an often quoted remark: "In Russia the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous." (2) Written in the 1920s not about tsarist-era civil society per se but about Lenin and Trotskii, Gramsci's comment is an example of the kind of offhand comparisons once regularly made between Russian society and the seemingly normative social structures of the West. For many years the very fact of the 1917 revolution, with its attendant collapse of liberal alternatives and their middle-class base, seemed to present prima facie evidence for Gramsci's characterization. The imperative to explain the revolution still dominated the study of imperial Russia and topped the agenda set for graduate students of our generation. The term "civil society" was little known and rarely applied, especially to Russia.
Yet even then there were scholars whose work encouraged younger historians to look harder for a Russian civil society, and who laid a foundation for today's burgeoning scholarship. Among historians of liberalism, one who paid serious attention to voluntary associations was Jacob Walkin; his 1962 book The Rise of Democracy in Pre-Revolutionary Russia presented solid evidence of the steady growth of independent social organizations in the 19th century. (3) Among Soviet historians, generally ignorant or contemptuous of bourgeois institutions and movements, the research on obshchestvennye organizatsii by two cautious nonconformists stands out: A. D. Stepanskii in Moscow, an archivist as much as a historian; and the Leningrad historian V. R. Leikina-Svirskaia. Stepanskii's books alerted scholars to the wealth of sources available for any serious study of civil society--thousands of charters and reports of voluntary associations, and the laws and regulations issued by the tsarist government to both control and promote them. (4) Leikina-Svirskaia's valuable legacy lies in her two monographs on the late imperial intelligentsia. She expanded the definition of "intelligentsia" beyond radical boundaries to include professionals and social activists and the associations, movements, and congresses they organized. Although she did not use the term "civil society," her scholarship revealed its great contribution to Russian popular welfare and social progress. (5)
As historians of imperial Russia turned to social and urban history in the 1970s and 1980s, they produced more foundational works, like Bradley's first book on Moscow, Michael Hamm's on cities, and studies of professions by scholars such as Nancy Frieden and Scott Seregny. (6) In the early 1980s, Marc Raeff declared that from the reign of Alexander I the "growth of civil society proved to be irreversible." (7) The great upsurge in interest in civil society, however, began only in the late 1980s, with Gorbachev's reforms and the revolutions in Eastern Europe. The role of social movements in these changes, along with the remarkable proliferation of neformaly, stimulated historians to look for a "usable past" to guide the renewal of civil society taking place in Russia and other formerly communist states. One of the first major publications was the edited collection Between Tsar and People (1991). It presented new research by many of the scholars working on imperial society's middle-class social formations, while revealing the uneven development and unstable social foundations of civil society, as Alfred J. Rieber argues in his concluding essay. (8) In the 1990s, young Russian historians such as Galina Ul'ianova and Anastasiia Tumanova overcame the distrust of their professional colleagues to produce important studies of voluntary associations and the political and social framework within which they operated. (9) German historians such as Hafner and Guido Hausmann also took a strong interest in the historical development of Russian civil society, impelled at least in part by the revolutions next door in Eastern Europe, as well as by the leading role played by German scholars such as Jurgen Habermas in developing theories of the public sphere and their historical applications. (10)
From a handful of works employing the concepts of the public sphere and civil society 20 years ago, the historiography of imperial Russia has been enriched by dozens of studies of autonomous social life in the capitals and provinces. Recent research has revealed diverse streams of public initiative by men and women alike, from both the elite and bourgeoisie. Despite the restrictions on Russians' civil rights, by 1914 they had established thousands of legally sanctioned voluntary associations, formed numerous professional societies, organized congresses on the social, economic, and cultural questions of the day, and possessed an expanding mass press and reading public. Few historians today would maintain that tsarist Russia lacked a civil society, after researchers have discovered the existence of all its main components. Yet as the works under review here demonstrate, scholars continue to disagree on whether Russian conditions could support a civil society robust enough to have a meaningful influence on the country's historical development.
Voluntary Associations in Tsarist Russia assesses the viability and significance of Russian civil society by means of case studies of five elite scientific societies, founded in the two capitals beginning in the mid-18th century. After an insightful comparative history of voluntary associations and civil society in continental Europe in chapter 1, Bradley devotes a chapter to the founders, activities, and impact of each association: the Free Economic Society (1765) and the Moscow Agricultural Society (1819), discussed together in chapter 2; the Russian Geographical Society (1840s, chapter 3); the Moscow Society of Friends of Natural History, Anthropology, and Ethnography (1863, chapter 4); and the Russian Technical Society (1866, chapter 5). A final chapter, "Advocacy in the Public Sphere," analyzes the role of scientific congresses in the development of both science and autonomous social and political action.
Bradley readily admits that these leading scientific societies are not representative of Russian civil society as a whole. Operating mainly in the capitals, drawing their male leaders and members from officialdom and academia, and dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge and economic development, these elite associations readily gained state approval and support for their patriotic goals. Nevertheless, he defends his selective approach by pointing to these associations' longevity, legally formulated relationship with state authorities, rich archival and published record, and patriotic mission. Their history, Bradley argues, makes possible a long-range study that reveals the evolving legal, social, and political framework in which voluntary associations operated and allows him to "problematize" associational life under a repressive, autocratic state (10). One underlying theme is the "unstable partnership" between the state and society represented by these elite learned societies, which evolved over the course of the 19th century from cooperation to increasing confrontation.
Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia by Brian Horowitz similarly reconstructs the long history of a single association, the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia, from its foundation by the extremely wealthy banker and liquor tax farmer Evzel Gintzburg in the 1860s to its extinction in the 1920s. It follows the evolution of the society's original mission to create schools for Jews, the interactions between the society and various ideological currents within Russian Jewry, and the effects of changing tsarist policies on Jewish social and cultural initiatives. Horowitz situates his book in the historiography of Russian Jews and their contested identity and makes no reference to the history of voluntary associations. His extensive bibliography ignores the literature on civil society (as well as the history of Russian education and philanthropy). This is unfortunate, because the history of this leading Jewish association sheds considerable light on the possibilities as well as the limitations of civic initiative in the empire.
Born in the optimism of the Great Reform era, the society proved to be a tough survivor, enduring pogroms, antisemitism, and the disapproval of Zionists and Bundists. In 1912, it had 29 provincial branches, 5,800 members, and an annual budget of more than one million rubles, which supported 200 "modern schools" for Jewish boys and girls, a college for rabbis in St. Petersburg, a teacher training institute in Grodno, and libraries across the Pale. According to Horowitz, the society was a "successful example of modern Jewish autonomy" whose educational and cultural institutions for Jews "helped spawn a new community politics in which grassroots activism contributed to the spread of middle-class values, democratic practices, and the establishment of a public sphere among the Jews of late-Tsarist Russia" (12). All the more puzzling, then, is his decision not to analyze the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among Jews in the context of the history of civil society. His book reveals a great deal about the internal operations of this particular society, but in isolation from official policies on voluntary associations and the experience of similar associations that attempted, often with mixed success and government resistance, to spread popular enlightenment. By focusing on its rivalries with leaders of other Jewish groups, Horowitz pays little attention to the impact of its branches, institutions, and activists on local Jewish community life or the contributions by the empire's minorities to the formation of a Russian public sphere and "democratic practices."
E. Iu. Kazakova-Apkarimova of the Institute of History and Archeology in Ekaterinburg adopts a local history approach to the study of civil society. Selecting 15 towns in Perm' province, she traces the development of an increasingly diverse public life in the central Urals from the 1860s to the early 20th century. Rich in information drawn from local archives, her well-organized study encompasses a wide variety of social organizations, beginning with the self-governing bodies of Perm's urban estates--meshchane, remeslenniki, and merchants--often ignored by historians of civil society. This decision enables her to demonstrate that traditional corporate forms of association, though hobbled by meager budgets and outmoded law, continued to fulfill such important functions as mutual assistance, sociability, and the representation of members' interests to the central and local government. They were soon eclipsed, however, by the more modern types of voluntary associations that the urban residents of the central Urals founded in growing numbers beginning in the era of the Great Reforms: charities and mutual aid societies, educational and cultural organizations, Orthodox and non-Orthodox lay religious associations, social clubs and societies devoted to sport, leisure, or civic improvement. The evolution of civil society in Perm' province from an "estate-corporate type" to a modern "bourgeois" model characterized by open, heterogeneous voluntary associations was a progressive and, Kazakova-Apkarimova implies, inevitable process that took place in spite of autocratic state power, a small bourgeoisie, and the "strength of conservative principles" (287).
By the early 20th century, the towns of Perm' province boasted more than 100 voluntary associations, whose social, ethnic, and confessional variety belies the stereotype of a provincial backwater. Such associations provided women and men with ways to contribute to the national as well as the local good. At the outbreak of World War I, for example, women in Ekaterinburg, like their sisters across Europe, formed a "Ladies' Circle" to raise contributions of money and materials for soldiers at the front, including a large quantity of underwear collected during a "Nedelia bel'ia" in October 1914. By April 1916, the ladies of Ekaterinburg had raised tens of thousands of rubles and sent seven railcars of supplies to troops in Galicia and the Caucasus. "The institutions of civil society in imperial Russia," Kazakova-Apkarimova concludes, "occupied increasingly stronger positions [and] carried out many social tasks that earlier were monopolies of the state" (287). Equally important, she argues, was their impact on the Russians who participated: "serving as a school of citizenship," voluntary associations raised public consciousness, inculcating feelings of social service, national pride, and a new collective, civic identity (288).
The impact of autonomous social action on the formation of civic consciousness and identity is also the question around which Bianka Pietrow-Ennker and Galina Ul'ianova organize their edited collection, which brings together research by scholars from Russia, Germany, and the United States. Unfortunately, neither the editors nor the contributors seem to have decided on common definitions for the book's basic concepts of civil society and civic identity. Instead of engaging with one another, the authors situate their essays in the context of work done by other Russianists from their respective countries. The lack of a common framework for discussion is evident in the book's two introductions. In the first, Pietrow-Ennker and Ul'ianova seek the historical preconditions and characteristics of civil society and civic identity in modernization theory, historical sociology, and social psychology. Their introduction clarifies neither the definition of "civic identity" nor the objective of this book, beyond stimulating further research and discussion by presenting what they acknowledge to be the contributors' widely differing views on civil society. In the second introductory essay that follows, Lutz Hafner complains about historians' lack of rigor in their use of terms like "civil society"; the more fashionable civil society has become, he writes, "the more amorphous it becomes, the more eroded its contours" (35). Using political theory and sociology to establish strict socioeconomic parameters for civil society, Hafner concludes that imperial Russia lacked the requisite levels of social and economic development to support one.
From these contradictory introductions the book spins off in multiple directions. The topics of the essays range widely, from student circles in Odessa to the history of Russian fashion and charity. Although the majority of the authors are authorities on civil society, this collection contains little that is new. Chapters by Bradley, Ul'ianova, and Christine Ruane summarize books that had already appeared or appeared soon after this volume's publication. Rainer Lindner's chapter on Ekaterinoslav and Guido Hausmann's on the student movement in Odessa review their prior work on these towns, while the contributions of Iurii Petrov and James West on late imperial Moscow's business elite are based on their earlier research. Nigel Raab's interesting chapter on volunteer fire brigades is drawn from his dissertation. The chapter on Russian legal thought by Tat'iana Sviridova seems to have ended up in the wrong book. Despite the knowledge and scholarly creativity of its contributors, the overall impression produced by Grazhdanskaia identichnast' i sfera grazhdanskoi deiatel "nosti is the risk entailed in applying such concepts as "civil society" and "civic identity" without clear definitions and objectives.
One recurring question in Grazhdanskaia identichnost', as in other studies of civil society, is the role of the state. How could a public sphere thrive under a political system where there was no rule of law and Russians lacked basic civil rights and avenues of legal recourse when they became victims of arbitrary administrative power? One should not forget, Hafner advises, that "civil society means equality before the law and security of rights [pravovaia bezopasnost']" (59), and that the Russian state routinely violated even its own legal norms right up to its fall in 1917. Lindner's essay in Grazhdanskaia identichnost' emphasizes the enduring presence of government control even as Ekaterinoslav, buoyed by the economic development of the surrounding region, turned into a vital, dynamic city in the late imperial period; censorship, for example, prevented the city's newspapers and journals from becoming real outlets for public opinion, he claims. Horowitz's history of the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among Jews illustrates the suspicion or hostility toward public initiatives that voluntary associations regularly encountered from governors and other state officials, exacerbated in this case by antisemitism and ever-changing yet generally restrictive laws on Jews.
The history of Russian civil society is decidedly not a story of continuous repression, however. The steadily growing numbers of all kinds of associations in the postreform period demonstrate that ministries approved most of the charters they received for new associations. Furthermore, Bradley and Kazakova-Apkarimova both present substantial evidence that the tsarist government and its provincial authorities actively contributed to the creation of civil society "by sanctioning and patronizing private associations" (Bradley, 259), be they learned societies of academics and high-ranking officials in St. Petersburg or modest charitable associations in distant Perm'. At the local level especially, Kazakova-Apkarimova maintains, the personality and outlook of individual governors often determined the relationship between the authorities and civil society; while V. V. Lukoshnikov actively promoted and helped to finance charitable societies in Perm', a later governor opposed granting permission to any new associations in the town of Kungur, even one ostensibly devoted to developing members' love of literature, science, and art. Organizations pursuing goals in accord with government objectives--scientific scientific advancement, technical progress, the relief of poverty, and reduction of begging--found a cooperative partner in the tsarist state and its officials. Friction arose in predictable situations: civic initiatives by ethnic or religious minorities, and especially efforts by civil society--from the elite Russian Technical Society to the lowliest provincial club--to spread education among the masses in the form of evening classes for adults, public lectures, reading rooms, or primary schools. While some voluntary associations pursued progressive goals that brought them into conflict with authorities, others, like the volunteer fire brigades studied by Nigel Raab, constituted a "conservative public sphere" that offered Russians ways to express their loyalty to the monarchy and patriotism. (11) The sum effect of current research on civil society is, at the least, a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of the state--society relationship in late imperial Russia.
Nor was Russia unique in the cautious approach its government adopted toward civil society. In a detailed comparative discussion in chapter 1 that serves as a useful corrective to Russian exceptionalism, Bradley argues that the differences in law and administrative practice toward voluntary associations among Russia, France, and Germany "were less than commonly assumed," and that the "Russian case was part of a broader European phenomenon" (17). The voluntary association was a model developed within the British political tradition of limited, constitutional monarchy and imported into absolutist political cultures on the continent as well as Russia in the 18th century. The fit, then, between one of the basic institutions of civil society and continental European law and practice was awkward from the beginning. In continental Europe as in Russia, states permitted their subjects to form voluntary associations as a privilege, not a right. Vigilant against possible efforts to use legal associations for anti-state purposes, governments kept associations under their supervision and tutelage well into the 19th century. Restrictive German laws on association, for example, limited membership of women and minors, required societies to submit reports and agendas, and imposed police surveillance on meetings, all similar to Russian law and practice. Only in 1908, two years after Russia's Temporary Rules of 4 March, did a new law on associations grant Germans the rights of association and assembly. Everywhere, Bradley insists, and especially on the European continent, states oscillated between suppressing and nurturing educational activity outside of their direct control, and viewed "unmediated contact" between civic activists and the laboring population as potentially subversive; the conflict between the Russian Technical Society and the autocracy over worker education was hardly unique (200). Government censorship and intrusion into civil society may have been more long-lived and arbitrary in Russia, and the legal and administrative obstacles to voluntary association more formidable or frustrating for Russians than for Germans or the French. But as Jonathan Daly points out in an insightful article on political crime in late imperial Russia, the autocracy faced ubiquitous political opposition, real threats to its security, and at times, a number of "utterly fanatical opponents." In a comparative European context, he argues, the nature and extent of its means of repression were characterized less by their severity than by their unpredictability and inconsistency. (12) Even the government's suspicions of seemingly innocuous voluntary associations were not necessarily baseless, for radicals did try at times to use legitimate charitable societies, for example, to raise funds for political prisoners or spread oppositionist ideas.
If an authoritarian political culture is not an insurmountable impediment to the development of civil society, what about Russian social and economic backwardness? The development of civil society depends on a middle class, Hafner maintains in his introduction to Grazhdanskaia identichnost', and scholars have failed to establish that a middle class as an analytical category existed in prerevolutionary Russia. The very low levels of urbanization and economic development were not the only impediments to the formation of a middle class. There were also very few places where people could come together and socialize, Hafner points out, and very few people who could take advantage of them. Only a small fraction of the population went to gimnazii and universities, for example, and only the relatively well-off possessed the "economic independence and the corresponding necessary free time" to attend theaters or join social organizations (48). It was therefore extremely difficult, Hafner argues, for a common class and civic identity to coalesce in Russia's geographically dispersed, economically stratified, fragmented middle strata. Local historical studies, he admits, reveal social, economic, and cultural advances taking place in some parts of the country. Nevertheless, Russia remained a "primarily peasant country," where a "civilizational, ideological, and cultural program oriented, first and foremost, toward urban values," failed to take root, leading to the "failure of the transformation of the prerevolutionary Russian socium into a civil society on a national scale" (57-58).
Hafner's skepticism poses a challenge: how should one interpret the evidence that other scholars have unearthed of the existence of institutions of civil society in localities across the empire? Are they another Potemkin village? Whether one finds a viable civil society in Russia seems still to depend on where one looks, and if taking a national perspective proves discouraging, some of the case studies reviewed here suggest the opposite. Take the example of 18th-century learned societies. In Europe as in Russia, their founders were not some Habermasian bourgeoisie but a heterogeneous group of noble landowners, civil servants, and individuals from emerging professions such as medicine and academia. Pointing to studies of German civil society that take a local or microhistorical approach, Guido Hausmann in Grazhdanskaia identichnost' advocates the study of "subcultures" of association and argues that one such subculture--the Russian student movement--functioned as a "school of civil society" (242-43). Rainer Lindner's article in the same book points to the small but highly influential entrepreneurial elite of Ekaterinoslav. These "bearers of civic identity" not only produced the region's booming industrial economy but also became its local government leaders and major philanthropists and led the transformation of the city's social space.
Perm', where only 6 percent of the province's population lived in towns in 1897, would seem to be an especially unlikely place to find the social preconditions for civil society. Yet despite the narrow social base for a civil society on the provincial level, the scattered towns of the central Urals produced enough men and women from a variety of social backgrounds to support a growing body of institutions of civil society. Beginning with the urban corporate estates--which, Kazakova-Apkarimova believes, should be counted among the "first democratic institutions" of the region (286)--social organizations had a real impact on the lives of Perm''s urban inhabitants. "Voluntary associations," she argues eloquently, "provided creative people with the opportunity to satisfy their cultural interests; demonstrate their talents and knowledge, facilitating the development of urban culture; show their leadership abilities in the public arena; fulfill representative functions for interactions with local authorities; [and] helped develop an independent personality type [nezavisimyi tip lichnosti]. They offered new forms of self-definition and socializing among people in the sphere of philanthropy, the patronage of culture, [and] the democratization of knowledge" (285).
Some of the disagreement over whether Russia could support a civil society originates in how one conceptualizes it. Is civil society a concrete attribute of bourgeois capitalist society, dependent on measurable socioeconomic characteristics such as urbanization, income stratification, and educational levels? Or is it an ideal type, a social process, always developing but never achieving its final form? If one adopts the first approach, Russia is an obvious outlier, where political repression and socioeconomic backwardness prevented the creation of a healthy public sphere. In the succinct words of Laura Engelstein, "twentieth-century Russia--imperial, Soviet, or post-Soviet--lacked the basic features of the Western liberal model: rule of law, civil society, and an uncensored public sphere." (13) But if one considers civil society as an ideal type, then historians' quest for evidence of a civil society in formation in Russia, rather than being off course, represents a productive way to identify and evaluate broad processes of social and political change. The public sphere that developed in tsarist Russia may not have looked like those in Europe or North America, nor did it operate in a favorable political climate. But as Engelstein acknowledges, "the prototype of civil society is hard to define, and its local embodiments do not always match the ideal." (14)
Historians who share Bradley's belief that a civil society could and did exist in imperial Russia tend to agree about its historical impact. In a concrete sense, the significance of civil society may be measured by the numbers of people it reached and institutions it created. From St. Petersburg and the Pale of Settlement to Ekaterinoslav and Perm', Russians used voluntary associations to create new forms of socialization and horizontal social networks, thereby developing, in Bradley's favorite phrase, "society's capacity to talk to itself" (233). They created a variety of public institutions--elementary schools, vocational training courses, reading rooms, orphanages, volunteer fire brigades--that filled local or national needs that Russians themselves identified, independent of the state's dictates. Sometimes the needs that voluntary associations identified conformed to the government's own goals--the advancement of scientific knowledge or higher education, or the reduction of begging. But with growing frequency, as police archival records show, the government and civil society's definitions of the public good diverged. In either case, civil society emancipated Russians from government tutelage and broke the tsarist state's monopoly on determining the public good.
Some historians go farther and argue that civil society transformed Russian identity and mentality. "Grassroots activism," Horowitz claims, contributed to the spread of "middle-class values." When Russians became involved in voluntary associations, according to Kazakova-Apkarimova, they developed civic and national pride, a "new collective, civic identity," and even "an independent personality type." The connection between civil society and the transformation of Russian identity, collective or individual, is the premise of the book edited by Pietrow-Ennker and Ul'ianova, and its editors and authors deserve credit for addressing such an important yet elusive question. But concepts such as "middle-class values" and "civic identity" are difficult to define, let alone measure. The works reviewed here include little direct evidence of how Russians themselves understood their social activism and only infer its impact on their worldview, personality, or values. Individual and collective biography--using evidence from diaries, memoirs, letters, or social interactions like congresses--might better illuminate the effects of autonomous social activism on Russians' mentality and identity. Historians of civil society might also find insights in the expanding subfield of the history of subjectivity and selfhood, while historians interested in personality and the self in modern Russia might profit from looking at the transformational potential of activity in the public sphere.
The significance of civil society for Russia's historical fate is perhaps as difficult to assess as its effect on values and identities. Theorists and historians of civil society have long debated its potential as an engine of democratization and barrier against political extremism. When Kazakova-Apkarimova characterizes Russian voluntary associations as "schools of citizenship," she is following the lead of Alexis de Tocqueville, among others. A growing number of self-governing voluntary associations, guided by written charters and administered by officers elected by the general membership, contributed to the spread of a constitutional, representative model of governance across Russia years before the October Manifesto. But the Russian case also presents a "paradox," according to Bradley: although voluntary associations and their works could be found all over the empire, "acting with ever-greater assertiveness and a louder voice," when the autocracy collapsed in 1917 "civil society did not generate a lasting liberal democratic regime." Gramsci's dismissive comment about Russia's primordial civil society holds up the West as a counterexample: "in the West," Gramsci asserts, "there was a proper relationship between state and society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed."
This "paradox" does not hold up under closer analysis. Blaming civil society for failing to produce a Western-style democracy that could withstand Bolshevik extremism restates the decades-old accusation against Russian liberals for losing the revolution. It ignores the complex history of civil society between the outbreak of war in 1914 and the final consolidation of communist rule in the early 1920s, as well as its continuation in the Russian emigration. During the first three years of the war, Russians maintained a surprisingly "sturdy structure of civil society," one that drew many thousands of civilians into established and new social groups, augmented horizontal communication networks, and provided essential supplies and services for soldiers, refugees, and other victims of the war. (15) Committees of volunteers, for example, handled the enormous task of distributing state monthly ration packets to soldiers' families. (16) One such volunteer was Vera Leikina-Svirskaia, who once recounted to this author how as a schoolgirl she visited soldiers' wives in Petrograd to help them register for aid. As Russians mobilized existing and new civil institutions to meet the demands of war, the tsarist government, Duma, and Provisional Government in turn undertook to reform existing law on association and expand Russians' rights. (17)
By the time the Provisional Government issued legislation that liberated voluntary associations from administrative control in the spring of 1917, however, the threats to their continued existence were mounting. Civil society confronted inflation, scarcity, and economic disorganization, along with deepening popular distrust and radical agitation. One example of the challenges civil society faced in 1917 may be found in Petrograd, where soldiers' wives receiving state relief began to march, issue demands, and create their own version of civil society. Across the city, women demanded membership on the volunteer committees that distributed aid, or the abolition of the committees and the transfer of the task of distribution to relief recipients themselves. (18) Four hundred soldiers' wives met in one factory cafeteria, for example, elected a chairwoman, and voted to take control of the preparation and distribution of rations. (19) The Constitutional Democrat (Kadet) leader Vladimir Obolenskii quit his position in the Union of Towns when the refugees he assisted accused him of pocketing their aid and demanded to take charge of distributing their aid themselves. (20) After three years of war, the resources and institutions of civil society, and the women and men who worked in them, were rapidly becoming exhausted, even in places where revolutionary challenges were less concentrated and social hostilities less acute than in Petrograd.
Historians have barely studied the fate of Russia's battered structures of civil society after the October Revolution. It may not be possible to find sufficient archival sources to reconstruct more than fragments of its history in the Civil War and Soviet Russia. But what civil society could survive conditions of civil war, economic collapse, and social breakdown, to say nothing of relentless repression against nonproletarian social groups and bourgeois institutions? What is clear is that when Russians fled abroad after the revolution and Civil War, they took their experience of voluntarism and civic responsibility with them. From San Francisco to Prague, Paris to Harbin, emigres reestablished or invented channels of mass communications, voluntary associations, and civic institutions. These social structures enabled them to provide mutual support and assistance, voice their opinions, and communicate with one another across the globe; emigre communities used them to manage their affairs, represent their interests to governments and the League of Nations, and preserve a civic and cultural identity nurtured in prerevolutionary civil society. The history of Russian civil society did not end with the revolution; it continued to exist and evolve across the archipelago of Russia Abroad.
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(1) Bradley's introduction offers a very useful discussion of how to define and distinguish the elusive, overlapping terms voluntary (or civil) associations, civil society, and public sphere. Briefly, voluntary associations form the "institutional core of the social infrastructure of civil society" (8). Civil society, in turn, is an abstract term that can be "used as an analytical tool both to describe an existing political configuration and to posit a desirable state of affairs," and may be defined as "the network of human relationships and institutions outside the direct control of the state that structure individual action and allow private persons, unconnected by personal attachments, to manage their affairs" (6). The public sphere is "the domain of civil society where private people, freed of duties and obligations to the ruler, come together voluntarily as a public to represent interests, deliberate matters of common concern, and voice opinions" (7).
(2) Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks, quoted, e.g., by Bradley (3) and by Laura Engelstein in "The Dream of Civil Society in Tsarist Russia: Law, State, and Religion," repr. in her Slavophile Empire: Imperial Russia's Illiberal Path (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), 79.
(3) Jacob Walkin, The Rise of Democracy in Pre-Revolutionary Russia: Political and Social Institutions under the Last Three Czars (New York: Praeger, 1962).
(4) A. D. Stepanskii, Istoriia obshchestvennykh organizatsii dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii (Moscow; Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi istoriko-arkhivnyi institut, 1977); Stepanskii, Samoderzhavie i obshchestvennye organizatsii na rubezhe XIX-XX vv. (Moscow: Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi istoriko-arkhivnyi institut, 1980); Stepanskii, Obshchestvennye organizatsii v Rossii na rubezbe XIX-XX vv. (Moscow: Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi istoriko-arkhivnyi institut, 1982). Stumbling upon the Lenin Library's sistematicbeskii katalog in 1976, I found--and copied by hand--the entries in 13 card catalogue drawers of the library's holdings on "sotial'naia pomoshch'," including printed reports and charters of hundreds of charitable societies and institutions.
(5) V. R. Leikina-Svirskaia, Intelligentsiia v Rossii vo vtoroi polovine XIX v. (Moscow: Mysl', 1971); Leikina-Svirskaia, Russkaia intelligentsiia v 1900-1917 gg. (Moscow: Mysl', 1981). She was the only Soviet historian I met before the 1990s who took seriously my research on Russian charitable organizations.
(6) Joseph Bradley, Muzhik and Muscovite: Urbanization in Late Imperial Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Michael F. Harem, ed., The City in Late Imperial Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Nancy Mandelker Frieden, Russian Physicians in an Era of Reform and Revolution, 1856-1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); Scott J. Seregny, Russian Teachers and Peasant Revolution: The Politics of Education in 1905 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).
(7) Marc Raeff, Understanding Imperial Russia: State and Society in the Old Regime, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 129.
(8) Edith W. Clowes, Samuel Kassow, and James West, eds., Between Tsar and People: Educated Society and the Quest for Public Identity in Late Imperial Russia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).
(9) G. N. Ul'ianova, Blagotvoritel 'nost' moskovskikh predprinimatelei, 1860-1914 (Moscow: Mosgorarkhiv, 1999); A. S. Tumanova, Samoderzhavie i obshchestvennye organizatsii v Rossii (Tambov: Tambovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 2002).
(10) Guido Hausmann, ed., Gesellschaft als locale Veranstaltung: Selbstverwaltung, Assoziierung under Geselligkeit in den Stadten des ausgehenden Zarebreiches (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002).
(11) In addition to his article in Grazhdanskaia identichnost, see Nigel Raab, "A Conservative Public Sphere: Imperial Russian Fire Departments, 1850-1914" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2002).
(12) Jonathan Daly, "Political Crime in Late Imperial Russia," Journal of Modern History 74, 1 (2002): 62-100; quotation on 98. I am grateful to Paul Werth for this reference.
(13) Engelstein, Slavophile Empire, ix.
(14) Ibid., 79.
(15) See, for example, I. P. Pavlova, Sotsial'noe popechenie v Rossii v gody pervoi mirovoi voiny (Krasnoiarsk: Krasnoiarskii gosudarstvennyi agrarnyi universitet, 2003).
(16) Liudmila Bulgakova, "Privilegirovannye bedniaki: Pomoshch' soldatskim sem'iam v gody pervoi mirovoi voiny," in Na puti k revoliutsionnym potriaseniiam: Iz istorii Rossii vtoroi poloviny XIX-nachala XX veka (St. Petersburg and Kishinev: Nestor-Historia, 2001), 429-93.
(17) See Tumanova, Samoderzhavie i obshchestvennye organizatsii v Rossii, chap. 5.
(18) Bulgakova, "Privilegirovannye bedniaki," 465.
(19) Prizrenie i blagotvoritel 'nost' v Rossii, no. 5 (1917): 151-52.
(20) Prince V. A. Obolenskii, Moia zhizn' i moi sovremenniki (Paris: YMCA Press, 1988), 522-23.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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