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An introduction from the editors.

Boris Nikolaevich Mironov first came to the attention of a wide range of Russian specialists in 1999 with the publication of his monumental Sotsial 'naia istoriia Rossii perioda imperii. (1) Richly documented and wide-ranging in its topics and themes, the work was a tour de force and quickly began garnering a reputation, coming out in rapid order in English translation, two lightly revised Russian editions, and now a fourth significantly expanded edition that includes substantial new material as well as a new title. Gone is the long and not exactly made-for-marketing original name. The new version is called simply Rossiiskaia imperiia: Ot traditsii k modernu (Russian Empire: From Traditions to the Modern). (2)

Mironov's basic argument, however, has not changed over the various editions, and it boils down to the following simple proposition: imperial Russia has been unfairly disparaged by historians--Russians as well as scholars in the West--and consequently its history, in particular the history of the late imperial period, deserves to be thoroughly reconsidered. Contrary to the view that prevailed in Soviet historiography and persists among "pessimists" in the West, the autocracy did not experience an intractable "crisis" in the late imperial era. The old regime was not doomed. Rather, as Mironov sees it, just the opposite was true: life in Russian society was steadily improving and the tsarist state, for all its troubles, was a "normal country" modernizing in much the same way as its Western peers. The critical difference was simply that modernization began later in Russia, which then necessarily intensified the inevitable tensions and disjunctures of the process. Thus the country's principal predicament, if one could call it that, by the turn of the 20th century was not "backwardness" but "asynchronicity." Russia was moving in one direction with Europe, only at a different time.

The events of 1917 did not make much of an appearance in the first edition of Sotsial 'naia istoriia Rossii, but it is fair to say that it has loomed much larger in Mironov's work since then. In Blagosostoianie naseleniia i revoliutsii v imperskoi Rossii, (3) for example, a major study of Russian biometrics during the imperial era that Mironov has himself described as a kind of continuation to Sotsial naia istoriia Rossii, he made clear that the phenomenon of revolution as he sees it was at once both an integral facet of the late imperial experience (hence its place in the title of the book) and an aberration--a regrettable and avoidable detour from the country's otherwise "normal" development that was largely imposed on Russian society by the opponents of the government. Despite the fact that Russian life was generally improving over the late imperial decades, elites opposed to the monarchy could not see this because they honestly could not believe that the life of the people might be improving under autocratic rule. They thus constructed a "crisis paradigm" and worked steadily to inculcate this view within the broader public.

Indeed, neither 1905 nor 1917 would have been possible, Mironov argued in Blagosostoianie, without what he called the "brilliant PR activity" of the "liberal-radical intelligentsiia" (liberal'no-radikal'naia intelligentsiia). The revolutions were thus the product of political ambition and calculation rather than of "objective" socioeconomic conditions and, in this sense, "were not much different from ... the so-called velvet,' orange,' 'pink,' and 'lilac' revolutions of ... the post-Soviet era," which in his view were also orchestrated affairs and therefore, by implication, illegitimate. (4)

Reactions to these arguments in Russia have been mixed but invariably intense. Some historians have embraced Mironov's message, in particular his portrait of a successfully modernizing Russian Empire. Others have objected to what they see as the teleology implicit in his use of modernization theory and his overdrawn and conspiratorial conclusions regarding the revolution, while challenging the conclusions he draws from quantitative data. By and large, Mironov has responded by doubling down, forcefully restating his case for seeing the late empire as a going concern that was, for a variety of reasons, knocked off its otherwise "normal" arc to progress by the revolutionary detours of the era. The editor of a recent round table focused on Rossiiskaia imperiia describes Mironov as "the most polemical [polemichnyi] historian of [Russian] national history." Assuming that "polemical" here covers both his critics' heated arguments against him and his own equally heated arguments back, this seems like a fair description. (5)

All of which brings us to this ex tempore discussion featuring new scholarship by Mironov on the working class in 1917, followed by responses from three authorities--Sarah Badcock, Diane Koenker, and William Rosenberg--each an expert on Russian labor and social history as well as the broader history of the revolutionary era. Given the views expressed in his earlier works, it is no surprise that Mironov's article here, too, lays out a view of a revolution that should never have happened, with a particular emphasis in this case on the role and price paid by Russian proletarians.

As he frames the issue, late imperial workers were nothing like their inspiring image in Soviet historiography. Neither a class in the Marxist sense of the term nor a coherent social group, they were not even particularly political. Furthermore, being poorly educated, they had, in Mironov's estimation, at best a dim grasp of conceptual or abstract ideas, including the ideological content of turn-of-the-century Social Democracy. Instead, and as he suggests we should naturally expect, their understanding of socialism was more hands-on and direct, even elemental, while they themselves were volatile and, to a degree, pliable, open to being manipulated by outside players. Consequently, and not surprisingly in Mironov's scenario, the workers turn out to be the great unwitting victims of the revolution. Rather than a would-be Soviet vanguard leading to revolutionary fulfillment (or even a variegated social group motivated by a mix of economic, political, and personal issues), they were the ultimate dupes of the political parties, in particular the Bolsheviks, all of whom sought to use them as "cannon fodder" for their own purposes.

The critiques offered by Badcock, Koenker, and Rosenberg are respectful but sharp, faulting Mironov for flattening the complexities of proletarian life and identity and relying too heavily on generalizations from social-scientific data and cognitive theory that favor his interpretation while neglecting to engage with the critical findings of social historians and more recent scholarship. Mironovs response, also at once respectful yet critical, in turn provides a restatement of his argument, defending the virtues of his methodology and offering additional statistics to buttress his claims, some of which are indeed interesting if not altogether always on point.

For Mironovs commentators, then, 1917 comes across as a time of flux and agency, of multivalence and confusion, of workers who were actively engaged with the political process in myriad ways. Mironov, by contrast, seems to view the revolution as a more fixed engagement between the manipulators and the manipulated.

As editors, we want to be frank: our sympathies in this dispute lie with Mironovs critics. In our view, his article indeed overreaches, attacking a straw man of what he (and many other historians before him) rightly criticize as a Soviet myth of workers as rational, organized, supremely class-conscious revolutionary proletarians only to replace this one-dimensional caricature with a similarly reductionist claim that they were little more than rubes and puppets, in part at least because they were uneducated and therefore more susceptible to political manipulation.

Like the editors of any professional journal, we regularly face difficult decisions about what to publish and what to reject. The mix of criteria that wre rely on in making these decisions inevitably varies from article to article, but one issue of perennial interest is our sense of the work's relevance to the field. When Mironov sent us his unsolicited submission last fall, even though we were aware of his general take on the revolution, our first reaction was shock at some of the particulars of the argument. We also found ourselves questioning aspects of his methodology and use of sources. We thus debated what to do; this was clearly not a conventional article but more a polemic, and we considered the option of simply moving on. But in this centenary year, we ultimately concluded that opening an ex tempore discussion on Mironovs controversial views, especially given his stature and influence, would be of value to the field. At a minimum, such a forum allows Kritika to share some of the current discussion of 1917 in Russia with our English-language readers while continuing to provide a venue for scholars of varied academic cultures and backgrounds to interact through constructive exchange. And what better occasion to do this, after all, than a case like this, when the disagreements between the participants seem otherwise so stark?

Finally, we also decided to pursue the ex tempore out of a belief that exchanges like this provide a useful moment for taking stock of why we historians approach our subjects in the way that we do. In an essay he wrote some years ago, Mironov argued eloquently that historians are never without their "individual 'self'" (istorik ne mozhet ... otkazat'sia ot svoego "ia") Although we may aspire to be "sterile" communicators of historical truth, we cannot magically scrub ourselves from our scholarship. Our personal "intellectual orientations and political affinities," as he put it, are always present. We are never not the products of our times and influences. (6)

In keeping with this idea, in the conclusion to his response to his opponents here, Mironov suggests that Western historians went too far in their attempt to validate the experience of the workers of the late tsarist era. Influenced by the social history of the 1960s and 1970s, they went searching for "worker heroes" and, once they found them, then proceeded to mistakenly project the qualities of these few onto the broader worker population, which in turn produced an overly rosy view of proletarian agency and self-awareness (415). Knowing how much history is influenced by the times in which it is written, we agree with Mironov on this general principle--we should indeed strive to reflect on critiques that point to our own historical embeddedness.

Yet by the same token, aspects of Mironov's own argument in his article are a reminder of influences of another sort. Russia in this centennial of 1917 is a closing society, a place where disagreement with the Putin government is increasingly viewed as unpatriotic dissent and where protest invariably leads to talk of outside forces colluding to undermine or overthrow the state. Ordinary people need to be wary, the television intones. Unsanctioned protest is the first step to instability, and instability in turn quickly leads to a "color revolution." President Putin has weighed in with this view himself, suggesting that protest is always manipulated by sinister outside forces and invariably leads to deception and mayhem. Just look at the Arab Spring or the "Maidan." (7)

In our view, such claims are at best an unwise simplification and, at worst, a purposeful distortion that supports the establishment in power by effectively delegitimizing any "unsanctioned" criticism of the political status quo. In reality, people are complex. Protests by their nature are never just one thing, and political change is not only--or at least, does not have to be reduced to--a zero-sum game of manipulation in which innocent people are invariably set up to be "played" by conspiring and cynical outsiders.

Russians, obviously, are not the only people open to seeing politics in conspiratorial terms. One hears similar claims about paid protests and rigged demonstrations today from voices across Europe and the United States, most strikingly from the current US president. We do not believe that Mironov is mechanically transposing this particular present onto Russia's revolutionary past--at least he does not make such a projection explicitly here. But at the same time, the parallel between his representation of 1917 as a revolution abetted by ignorance and manipulation and the conspiratorial views of our current moment seem hard to ignore.

(1) B. N. Mironov, Sotsial'naia istoriia Rossii perioda imperii (XVIII-nachalo XX v.): Genezis lichnosti, ckmokraticheskoi sem V, grazhdanskogo obshchestva i pravovogo gosudarstva, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 1999), published in English as A Social History of Imperial Russia, 1700-1917, with Ben Eklof (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000), 2 vols.

(2) B. N. Mironov, Rossiiskaia imperiia: Ot traditsii k modernu, 3 vols. (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2014).

(3) See B. N. Mironov, Blagosostoianie naseleniia i revoliutsiia v imperskoi Rossii (Moscow: Novyi khronograf, 2010). Much like Sotsial'naia istoriia Rossii, this work was quickly reissued in a second edition in 2012 and, that veiy year, in English translation as well. See Boris Mironov, The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Russia, 1700-1917, ed. Gregory Freeze (New York: Routledge, 2012).

(4) Mironov, Blagosostoianie naseleniia i revoliutsiia, 671-72, 674, 692-93.

(5) For Mironov's engagement with his critics concerning the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 as well as his broader interpretation of the imperial era, see his reprint of his contributions to these exchanges in his Strasti po revoliutsii: Nravy v rossiiskoi istoriografii v vek informatsii (Moscow: Ves' Mir, 2013). See also his points in Rossiiskaia imperiia, 3:676-91. The quotation describing Mironov as "polemical" appears in "Ot redaktsionnoi kollegii," Bylye gody 41, 1 (2016): 846 ( For a revealing discussion of the debates that swirled around Russian history in Russia in the early 2000s, see the interesting reflections of Andrei Medushevskii, a former editor of the journal Rossiiskaia istoriia (

(6) [Boris Mironov], "Nullius in verba: Nich'im slovam ne veriu ('Kruglyi stoP v zhurnale 'Rossiiskaia istoriia')," in Strasti po revoliutsii, 104. For the original version of the essay, see "Rossiia v istorii: Ot izmereniia k poimaniiu. Novaia kniga B. N. Mironova v otklikakh i razmyshleniiakh ego kolleg," Rossiiskaia istoriia, no. 1 (2011): 145-204.

(7) For Putin's comments following the protests of 26 March 2017 in Moscow and other Russian cities, see Henry Meyer, Stepan Kravchenko, and Anna Andrianova, "Putin Takes Tough Stance on Protests, Warns of Arab Spring Chaos," Bloomberg Politics, 30 March 2017 ( putin-takes-tough-stance-on-protests-warns-of-arab-spring-chaos).
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Title Annotation:Ex Tempore: Did the Working Class Matter in 1977?
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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