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Negotiating Loyalty in the Russian Empire.

Charles Steinwedel, Threads of Empire: Loyalty and Tsarist Authority in Bashkiria, 1552-1917. 398 pp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016. ISBN-13 978-0253019264. $45-00.

Charles Steinwedel's Threads of Empire zooms in on a region where Russia's European and Asian territories met in order to explore how the tsarist state expanded its land possessions and negotiated the "loyalty" of its subjects. In the course of this extended story from 1552 to 1917, the region under focus came to be known as "Bashkiria," and its inhabitants expanded from the Turkic-speaking, nomadic, and Muslim Bashkir tribes along with a few other indigenous populations to an entire panoply of imperial subjects, among whom Russian Orthodox elites gradually gained both the center stage and the upper hand. Steinwedel sees "loyalty as rooted in changing practical concerns, ones that can form the basis of a more lasting identification with a state or ruler," as opposed to "a sort of disembodied idealism" (5). Rather than taking the absence or presence of loyalty as a given at any moment, he locates it in the continual negotiations of the tsarist state with its subjects about securing their political allegiance: hence the title of the book, Threads of Empire. Steinwedel argues that such a "loyalty remained an important element of cohesion" (5) for the Russian Empire.

The book's seven chapters (plus an introduction and conclusion) follow the chronology of Russian imperial history and expose how changes in Moscow's and St. Petersburg's "scenarios of power," in Richard Wortman's ingenious words, unfolded in the two capitals' relations with the Bashkir tribes and progressively with Bashkiria and its inhabitants as they became integral components of the tsarist empire. (1) We first witness how Bashkirs find themselves in the newly emerging Muscovite state's sphere of influence as it expands by "gathering" the lands of the Golden Horde, as Andreas Kappeler has suggested in his seminal work. (2) While Muscovy conquers and incorporates former Golden Horde lands along the Volga Basin, farther to the east in the Bashkir areas it has to contend with negotiating a checkered contractual relationship that follows the steppe practices of pledging allegiance in return for recognition and protection. Tsarist agents tend to perceive this relationship as one of subjection and attempt to limit the Bashkirs' negotiated privileges from time to time, but the Bashkirs stand their ground through armed rebellion. In the end, a long sequence of pledges, breaches of contract, rebellions, and pledges again defines the status of Bashkirs in the Russian Empire by the early 18th century, primarily by exempting them from enserfment and granting them hereditary landholding rights in return for tribute and occasional corvee service.

As the Russian state evolves from a post-Mongol steppe empire into a European power with absolutist ideals in the 18th century, tsarist agents attempt to assert authority over Bashkirs on a more permanent basis by reducing the nomadic tribes' autonomy and range of mobility through the construction of a line of forts. Bashkirs resist tsarist encroachments in their usual way, through armed resistance, but they do not stand a chance of wining against the growing imperial state over the long haul of this conflict of attrition. Moreover, tsarist agents also learn to target "rebellious" Bashkir notables while coopting others and, which is important, they start migration into the region from European Russia by making Bashkir lands a "commodity that could be sold on the market" (51). The commodification of Bashkir lands starts a long process of land transfer from Bashkirs, who have little understanding of market forces, first to imperial officials, military men, and private industrial entrepreneurs, and over time to immigrant Russian peasants. With increased leverage over the nomadic tribes, the tsarist administration integrates them into the imperial edifice by establishing "Bashkir" as an estate status, replacing contractual tribute with various mandated taxes and fees (but not the poll tax), and further coopting Bashkir elders into the region's expanding administrative apparatus. This is also when we see the language of a "civilizing mission" deployed to guide and justify Russian rule in the region. The Pugachev Rebellion of 1773-75 puts an end to St. Petersburg's absolutist assertiveness, however, and Steinwedel moves to the next scenario of power, which he calls the "empire of reason."

At this stage, the logic and dynamics of which are already well explored in the historical literature, we find Catherine II (1762-96) and her descendants attempting to integrate the regions Bashkir tribes by inventing ways and institutions that recognize and accommodate the tribes' diversity. (3) Organizing Bashkir tribes into military cantons like the Cossack units, further coopting tribal elites, and creating the Orenburg Muhammedan Ecclesiastical Assembly (OMEA) as an institution to legitimize and regulate the Muslims' religiously guided civic affairs lay the foundations for the emergence of Steinwedels "threads of empire" for the first time on a real basis. The military cantons shuffle Bashkir clans and replace their tribal organization with a territorial structure that the tsarist administration controls. OMEA incorporates Muslim religious elites into the imperial scaffolding in addition to the coopted lay elites. Meanwhile, more ethnic Russians move to the region, purchasing or otherwise appropriating Bashkir lands and swelling the ranks of Bashkiria's nascent urban population. On the one hand, the imperial state recognizes the impoverishment of Bashkirs as they lose land, but on the other hand, it encourages migration to the region to replace Bashkir nomadism with sedentary agriculture, which yields more returns for the imperial coffers. The language of civilization begins to problematize "Bashkir" difference and requires their transformation as the state introduces educational venues to train new Bashkir elites that are not only coopted but also crafted. Bashkirs rebel less and start to take advantage of the stability that comes at the expense of restrictions on their earlier tribal and nomadic life, partly adopting agriculture and noticeably increasing in numbers by the mid-19th century.

While Steinwedels narrative up to this point largely draws on secondary sources and published primary materials in Russian, his research on the period after 1855 goes deeper into the archives and other primary sources. Perhaps thanks to this closer examination, the pace of his transitions between successive scenarios of power also accelerates. He analyzes the Great Reforms era with a focus on the zemstvo experience and hence frames his argument around the trope of "participation." This seems accurate on the face of it, as we follow Bashkir notables taking seats in zemstvo governments in Ufa guberniia and ordinary Bashkirs being transferred from military to civil administration, electing their elders, becoming subject to regular conscription, petitioning the government to protect their lands, and even taking paid jobs in cities and the region's mines.

However, this rather rosy picture needs to be qualified with the caveat that, aside from the limited zemstvo experience, what forced Bashkirs into engaging with the tsarist state and the fast-integrating imperial market in this fashion was not necessarily the democratic impulse to participate. Rather, it was the impoverishment that came with continuing land dispossession, as a result of the unfavorable sale or systematic misappropriation of their landholdings. These misappropriations reached such levels that, as Steinwedel curiously notes, they cost the seats of two high-ranking officials, but the Bashkirs nonetheless did not get their lands back. Instead of negotiating their obligations and rights as partners of a bilateral contract, they now had to understand and defend their interests by participating in a public sphere whose language they did not understand and where they were not recognized as full participants.

As the Bashkirs evolve into an increasingly dispossessed estate characterized by privation, they disappear from the book's narrative as subjects with agency and become the objects of various government projects that tend to be assertively centrist at the imperial level and liberally inclusive at the local, zemstvo level, reflecting imperial politics following the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Steinwedel examines this divergence within the framework of empire versus nation and in doing so parts with Robert Crews's analysis of tsarist administration as tolerant without much attention to variations in time and place. (4) Following a trend in late 19th-century imperial circles that viewed the empire as aseries of "problems" to be solved through administrative intervention, as Elena Campbell points out, tsarist elites--many of whom identified closely with Russian Orthodoxy--coined the phrase "the Bashkir problem." (5) As the railroad connected Ufa to Moscow in 1888 and the growth of industry and immigration transformed Bashkiria, Orthodox churchmen and tsarist officials devised plans to educate the Bashkirs while they surveyed and made their lands available for agricultural production and argued over the utility of OMEA or the qualifications of its leaders. Meanwhile, some Muslim elites, the Jadidists, themselves adopted a progressive line and turned to education as the means to empower ordinary Bashkirs.6 Interestingly, these elites found a friendly supporter in the Ufa zemstvo. However, many of the debates that Steinwedel explores in rich detail here involved only a small minority of Bashkirs. Most remained economically deprived and outside the imperial political system.

The last two chapters of the book, in which Steinwedel examines the revolutionary years of 1905-7 and the last decade of the empire, offer an expansion on the policy debates of the preceding two decades. However, Steinwedel focuses more closely on Ufa, where he can bring to life the revolutionary process of politicization in colorful strokes. We witness how political freedom leads to an expansion of political possibilities and therefore factions. We follow patriotic (primarily Russian) workers as they vie for the mastery of the streets with revolutionary students. Although this patriotism in the end stifles the revolution, it also shifts the very center of loyalty in the empire from the tsar to the "people" and raises the question of how to define the "people" or the "nation." Bashkirs, or "Muslims" more broadly (which Steinwedel gradually introduces as a more prevalent category), rarely appear as a consideration in these debates at the beginning, but their electoral success in the first Duma election and in a few zemstvo districts sets off alarm bells. "To both the tsar system's supporters and its opponents in both the east and the west, the empire became fragmented into an empire of nationalities after 1905" (203), as Steinwedel writes. Finally, we end with a decade of competing visions and policies about the nature of the Russian Empire and the place of various ethnic or confessional categories, including the Orthodox Russians, within it. Stolypin's agrarian reforms reduce the distinctiveness of the Bashkir estate by turning most land into hereditary property, but ethnic nationalism emerges from the activities of reformist intellectuals as an alternative preserving that distinctiveness. Centrist agents of the imperial establishment promote various versions of the Russian ideal and look for ways to exclude the empire's non-Russians from it, such as by restricting their electoral rights, or to assimilate them into it through Russification. Meanwhile, ironically, the Ufa zemstvo continues to defend what once used to be Russia's imperial ideal of managing its subjects in an integrative pluralist space.

Steinwedel does not offer a detailed, interior view of Bashkir--or Russian Muslim--history. He does not use sources in Turkic languages, nor does he pursue the Bashkirs beyond the extent to which they appear in tsarist--or more broadly Russian--sources as seen by the tsarist state, to evoke James Scott's intriguing work. (7) Therefore, one should resist jumping to conclusions about Bashkir--or Russian Muslim--history based on this book. However, as a contribution to Russian imperial history, similar to other contributions that explored tsarist archives in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union (such as the works of Robert Geraci, Paul Werth, and, again, Robert Crews),8 Threads of Empire is a well-researched and well-thought-out book that offers crucial texture and detail. Many of the scenarios of power that Steinwedel surveys and analyzes have been told before from the vantage points of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but bringing those scenarios to a frontier province like Bashkiria fleshes out how they unfolded on the ground. Additionally, Steinwedel's concluding chapter and the conclusions of each of his chapters offer judicious assessments of the wider implications of his narrative and guide the reader carefully to the state-of-the art historiography on the imperial and colonial projects of--especially--the 19th century. As such, Threads of Empire is essential reading for students of both Russian imperial history and the history of empires more broadly.

Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Duke University

Box 90259

Durham, NC 27708-0259 USA

(1) Richard S. Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).

(2) Andreas Kappeler, The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History (Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001), 21-59.

(3) See, e.g., Alan W. Fisher, "Enlightened Despotism and Islam under Catherine II," Slavic Review 27, 4 (1968): 542-53; D. D. Azamatov, Orenburgskoe magometanskoe dukhovnoe sobranie v kontse XVIII-XIX vv. (Ufa: Gilem, 1999); and Robert D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

(4) For a similar revision of Crews's work, see Mustafa Tuna, Imperial Russia's Muslims: Islam, Empire, and European Modernity, 1788-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), reviewed in Kritika 18, 2 (2017): 417-36.

(5) Elena I. Campbell, The Muslim Question and Russian Imperial Governance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), reviewed in Kritika 18, 2 (2017): 417-36.

(6) Among the many sources on Jadidism, see Edward J. Lazzerini, "Ismail Bey Gasprinskii and Muslim Modernism in Russia, 1878-1914" (PhD diss., University of Washington, 1973); Adeeb Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (Berkeley. University of California Press, 1998); Danielle M. Ross, "From the Minbar to the Barricades: The Transformation of the Volga-Ural 'Ulama into a Revolutionary Intelligentsia" (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2011); Mustafa Tuna, "Madrasa Reform as a Secularizing Process: A View from the Late Russian Empire," Comparative Studies in Society and History 53, 3 (2011): 540-70; and Tuna, Imperial Russia's Muslims, 146-94.

(7) James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

(8) Robert P. Geraci, Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001); Crews, For Prophet and Tsar; Paul W. Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).
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Title Annotation:Threads of Empire: Loyalty and Tsarist Authority in Bashkiria, 1552-1917
Author:Tuna, Mustafa
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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