Cronies or Capitalists? The Russian Bourgeoisie and the Bourgeois Revolution from 1850 to 1917.
This book is an analytical synthesis of well-known secondary and primary sources (overwhelmingly in the English language) concerning political relations between the Russian merchantry and the state in the last decades of tsarism.
David Lockwood reinterprets Russian developments from 1905 to 1917 (the book's actual chronological range) using the tools of historical materialism, so as "to draw some conclusions that are useful for Marxism in an era that is leaving behind the domination of states and entering the domination of capital" (243). He argues that Marx and Engels mistakenly saw the state as a superstructural development (i.e., as the instrument of the ruling class) rather than as an "autonomous" historical agent that helped bring about the bourgeoisie's development but then competed with the bourgeoisie for control over markets. Lockwood believes that, from 1850 through the mid-twentieth century, European states vied with the bourgeoisie for direction of market forces, and that in recent decades (since 1945 or so), the bourgeoisie, largely freed from its national origins through the process of globalization, has established primacy in the market; meanwhile, during this last period state power over markets has waned. He sees the assertion of bourgeois primacy as "the final stages of the bourgeois revolution," and thus as laying the material basis for a future socialist order (246).
For Lockwood, the Russian example is a case study. Under Sergei Witte, he maintains, the Russian government invested capital in industry mostly for security purposes, unwittingly fostering an increasingly powerful bourgeoisie. From 1905 to 1914, the bourgeoisie, through the Progressive and Octobrist parties, advocated political and economic modernization of a more thoroughgoing sort than that pursued by tsarist officials. The Octobrists tried to use the Duma to exert control over the Russian military, and they promoted war as a means to secure "reform" in domestic life. Ironically, by 1917 the bourgeoisie found itself trapped into statist policies: A. I. Konovalov supported "welfare statism," while V. P. Ryabushinskii favored "military statism" (a strong nationalist state controlled by the bourgeoisie) (171). In Lockwood's opinion, this wartime statism prepared the way for the Bolsheviks' centralized statism and was therefore a policy ultimately fatal to the bourgeoisie's commercial ambitions.
In the book, there is little new beyond Lockwood's revisionist theory of bourgeoisie-state relations. This theory rests on shaky foundations. The label "bourgeoisie" implies more social and ideological coherence among the empire's variegated, far-flung merchants than may have existed. It exaggerates the merchants' autonomy vis-a-vis the state, since large firms in St. Petersburg and Moscow depended on state patronage, especially in wartime. It also underestimates the degree to which Progressists and Octobrists sought the rule of law as an end in itself, not as means to advance their material interests. Finally, the book's title suggests a false dichotomy: couldn't Russian merchants have been both cronies and critics of the government?
Claremont McKenna College
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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