Politics at the margins and the margins of politics in imperial Russia.
Walter Sperling, ed., Jenseits der Zarenmacht: Dimensionen des Politischen im Russischen Reich 1800-1917 (Beyond Tsarist Power: Dimensions of the Political in the Russian Empire, 1800-1917). 477 pp. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2008. ISBN-13 978-3593387666. 49.90 [euro].
In recent years, cultural history and political history have joined in a fruitful symbiosis which continues to generate valuable and inspiring scholarship. (l) They have mutually enriched each other, both thematically and methodologically. Political historians are now employing categories such as gender, class, empire, semiotics, and behavior, while cultural historians are increasingly interested in the world of politics, the mechanics of power, and international relations. In the case of Russian and Soviet history, politics and culture have traditionally been intertwined more closely than elsewhere. The work of Iurii Lotman, Marc Raeff, and Richard Wortman reflects the particular nature of Russian political interference in and use of culture and literature, especially since the time of Peter the Great, when new cultural forms became a constituent element of political power and discourse. (2) Wortman's Scenarios of Power especially seems to have inspired the first of the two books under review here--indeed, Wortman contributed an essay. (3)
Both volumes are in their main parts the results of recent scholarship conducted within two large research clusters (Sonderforschungsbereich, abbreviated SFB) at German universities, here Universitat Bielefeld and Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin. Abundantly funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), such clusters are meant to raise the academic profile of a university and to allow for fundamental research to be carried out. They unite vastly different fields, approaches, and periods under a broad common theme (e.g., poverty, representations, communicative space) which is then (ideally) also reflected in the resulting publications. Both books are thus a reflection of current historiographic trends in Germany and, to a lesser extent, Russia and the United States. They are, if you will, reports from the workshop floor, and as such they are a pleasantly stimulating and inspiring read.
How does the empire reach into the provinces? This question has long been discussed among historians of Russia. But their focus was usually on institutional modernization, economic development, and social mobilization. Imperiale Herrschaft in der Provinz, which consists of 15 chapters, approaches this issue differently. As Jorg Baberowski persuasively argues in his introduction, the empire in the minds of people mattered about as much as its manifestations in the real world. Imperial representations and their perceptions by local people were crucial for the successful transmission and long-term establishment of political power. Yet as he also shows in his own chapter about persisting forms of premodern rule in the late imperial period, a rational, modern, bureaucratic administration often came into conflict with older traditions of governance that were still built on personal trust and patronage. This was particularly the case in the multiethnic borderlands, where long-established local elites tended to be marginalized by bureaucrats who were sent out from St. Petersburg and replaced every few years. But it also applied to the Russian heartland, where reforms of the legal system in the late 19th century promoted the rule of law over local patronage networks--with different degrees of success.
In an autocratic state, the monarchy was obviously at the very heart of any representation of the political order. Richard Wortman in his chapter reiterates some of the points he has made previously in Scenarios of Power, in particular the importance of the symbolic sphere of monarchical rule, its visual and emotional qualities, and its potential for dynamic change from one ruler to the next. But he also points out that his research has not really focused on representations of monarchical power in the provinces and the imperial periphery, where two aspects will be of particular interest: the conflict between the charismatic and personalized representation of the autocratic ruler and a modern state bureaucracy, and the potential clashes between increasingly nationalist representations of the Russian tsar and emerging national consciousness and ethnic traditions in the borderlands. Most contributions in the book belong to one or the other of these thematic areas.
Jorg Ganzenmuller discusses the representational strategies of the empire in the provinces that it had acquired as a result of the Polish partitions. These strategies initially had nothing to do with Russification (at least before 1830) but instead focused on the creation of a "well-ordered police state," which was to be represented in magnificent government buildings, infrastructure, and new institutions. The latter, however, largely lacked the necessary personnel to render them more than a representational shell. Catherine the Great was convinced that her form of enlightened rule would put an end to "Polish disorder," yet as in Russia proper, she could not find trained bureaucrats in large enough numbers to carry out her civilizing mission. Local nobles were thus drafted into administration, while the few top ranks were filled with officials from St. Petersburg. Their position was quite awkward. They could either try to execute central orders and thereby alienate the local elites, or they could accommodate themselves with local power networks and thus increase their chance to accomplish at least some form of political influence. The latter was clearly the more successful strategy.
The top representatives of the empire in the regions, the provincial governors, were by the very nature of their office caught in this Catch-22 situation. Yet as Susanne Schattenberg suggests in her chapter, there was also a third way. Drawing on Max Weber's idea of patrimonial rule, she convincingly argues that the governors' role should be seen within a system of clientelism and patronage. While the governor was a client of the tsar, he was at the same time supposed to be a patron in the local political system. But this role came not as an automatic extension of his exalted position. Instead, as Schattenberg shows through several examples from the first half of the 19th century, a governor was initially seen as an intruder by the local nobility and had to win over their trust to assume the role of a local patron. A successful governor created his own clientele, thus dividing the local nobility into his supporters and an opposition (usually grouped around the marshal of the nobility). Formal legal criteria mattered little in such a situation, and governors who relied only on them and ignored the actual power structures soon had to face complaints which their opponents lodged with the central authorities in St. Petersburg; or they were simply ignored, isolated, and not addressed properly with their due titles.
Insulting officials and violating their honor and, by implication, the honor of the state that they represented became a widespread issue on the lower administrative level after the emancipation of the serfs. Based on numerous prosecutors' files from Riazan' province between 1861 and 1900, David Feest shows how ideas of an abstract state and respect for its symbols developed only slowly among Russian peasants. He analyzes several cases of insults of village elders and similar low-level state representatives. These people were part of local society and thus also perceived in private roles, different from their official function. Yet an insult against them or their symbols of power would often be construed as an insult against the state, even if it was somewhat justified, as in cases of abuse of office. Clearly, official representational forms as an indirect way of exerting state power needed to be inculcated. If officials, symbols, and procedures were not recognized and accepted by the population, their usefulness remained quite limited.
However, representations, even if they fail to resonate with their addressees, can still tell us something about the intentions of their producers, as Theodore Weeks makes clear in his chapter about representations of Russian rule in Vil'na (Vilnius) in 1864-1914. Urban planning projects, monuments, new histories, and changes of street names can be read as potent symbols of imperial aspiration to power, even if we do not study the reactions to them. Vil'na was supposed to become a "Russian" city through these efforts and a center of Russification policies. But little remained of "Russian" Vil'na after World War I; monuments had been removed, and buildings destroyed. Representations of Russian power, one might argue, had obviously not fulfilled their intended propagandistic purpose.
Similar opposition to and contestation of representations of political power happened in other non-Russian borderlands as well, reflecting, of course, the complex ethnic and religious relations on the margins of the empire. One example is the visit of Nicholas II to Warsaw in 1897. Malte Rolfdiscusses this episode as a social and media event and as an expression of different representational strategies of the various participants: the imperial government, the municipal authorities, urban society, representatives of different religious confessions, and so forth. Although the general message of the visit, which was unanimously propagated by all sides, was one of reconciliation and friendship, Roll very skillfully elaborates the pitfalls of representational policies. Symbolic action and ceremonial procedures could be (and indeed often were) interpreted differently; the Russian and the Polish press differed on many aspects of the visit, as did numerous other observers. Representations of power, as becomes obvious in this sophisticated chapter, are not merely static, mirror-like reflections of power. In a time of running media commentary, they are constantly reinterpreted and themselves turn into a form of actual power.
Aleksandr Nevskii cathedrals as representations of Russian rule were, it seems, a favorite export into the non-Russian borderlands. Nicholas's visit to the construction site of such a cathedral was one of the contested issues during his time in Warsaw; other such cathedrals had already been erected in Tiflis (Tbilisi) and Riga. In 1900, finally, an Aleksandr Nevskii cathedral was consecrated in the very center of Reval (Tallinn), as Karsten Briiggemann discusses in his contribution. Religious competition between Orthodox and Lutherans in the Baltic provinces had been going on for some time, forming a backdrop to growing Russian--(Baltic) German nationalist antagonisms. But as the author points out, even this conspicuous architectural symbol, which was the culmination of a longer campaign legitimizing Russian rule, had little effect on the local Estonian and German populations, who remained steadfastly Lutheran. But this did not necessarily mean that they were disloyal to the empire. Like the Russians, the Baltic Germans in 1910 celebrated the 200th anniversary of their provinces' integration into the empire; and they praised Peter the Great as the guarantor of their privileges, while the Russians celebrated him as a conqueror who had gathered new lands for Russia. Just as with Nicholas's visit to Warsaw, one particular representational event could be filled with completely different meanings.
Representations help explain reality, and their purpose is to create meaning. But they are also open to interpretation, and their intended meanings can be misunderstood or misconstrued. Without some basic previous knowledge or a shared code of reference, representations can mean anything. If people in the Baltic provinces or Warsaw had not known Muscovite architecture, then the new cathedrals with their onion domes would have been nothing more than architectural curiosities and not such provocative nationalist statements. But how then does one represent something for which no shared code of reference exists, for which meaning has yet to be invented? This was the problem that people in the Russian provinces faced when they wanted to promote their particular region in order to become connected to the railway system. In an intriguing chapter, Walter Sperling discusses the subsequent advertisement campaigns as a "discovery" of the provinces. Unlike Western Europe, where geographic space had long been filled with meanings by writers, travelers, and the tourism industry, the Russian provinces before the mid- 19th century remained without specific local attributes, simply a faceless mass of countryside. When railway building accelerated in the 1860s, local activists (merchants, nobles, teachers, etc.) began to lobby to have the tracks routed through their particular areas. To this end, they wrote petitions, held meetings, published articles, distributed photographs, and began to represent their region in a positive light through all kinds of distinguishing features: convenient location, agricultural wealth, economic importance, natural beauty, and so forth. Accompanied by other developments, such as the rise of local studies (kraevedenie) and zemstvo statistics, these activities promoted distinct imaginations and the emergence of "mental maps" of the empire's provinces while instilling some kind of local consciousness in the regions.
Representation in a conceptually broad sense is used in the chapter by Christoph Gumb and Daniel Hedinger. They draw comparisons between Russia and Japan and their respective paths to modernization. In both countries, the authors argue, military battle formation became a blueprint that served as a representational device of the civilian order more generally. In both countries, social reform happened as a result of lost wars against modern, "Western" forces in the middle of the 19th century. Both the Great Reforms in Russia and the Meiji Restoration in Japan were thus carried out in the name of military improvement. The introduction of universal military service in both countries was meant as a transmission belt and an extension of battle formation into society. But whereas in Japan this led to the collapse of the old estate system and a radically new order, in Russia the autocratic system remained in place, preventing the emergence of a true citizens' army, with well-known results in 1905.
But 1905 not only brought the military defeat against Japan. It was also the year when state authority within Russia widely collapsed. Christoph Gumb, in a separate chapter, investigates the Russian garrison in Warsaw to show this implosion of the state power monopoly. Persuasively, he presents the massive outbreaks of street violence and the revolutionary excesses as a "gigantic crisis of the representations of state power." One of their constituent messages, the threat of state violence against wrongdoers, had ceased to work. The Warsaw fortress, which had long symbolized this threat, had become useless under the conditions of partisan street warfare. Instead, after a serious decimation of the police (some 300 policemen were killed in 1905 alone), the army quite literally had to leave the fortress, had to become more mobile, and had to take over law-enforcement functions in the streets. It was forced to use tactics which it had previously employed only in such dangerous and lawless peripheral regions as the Caucasus. In addition, military courts and summary justice were introduced, effectively replacing the representation of power with the actual, immediate use of it. The liberal lawyer Vladimir Nabokov, quite appropriately, called this new situation "legalized vigilante justice," as due legal process was hardly observed in these improvised trials.
After 1905, not only real power but a credible representation of state power as well had to be reestablished. That this process had to take into consideration the promises of reform, made in response to the revolution, is further explored by Felix Schnell. His chapter about the "disciplined police" in Moscow is a sophisticated analysis of post-1905 political culture in Russia. He shows how cases of corruption among policemen as well as newly introduced formal procedures by the police were utilized by different political camps and public opinion to demand various extensions of constitutional rule. The police were construed in these discussions as pars pro toto; they were seen as representing the state as a whole. If they acted within legal norms, the state could be expected to do the same.
Not only state power had to reconfigure its representations after 1905. The new political parties and groups also had to find ways of representing and expressing their ideas. Particularly resourceful in this respect was the Union of the Russian People. As Igor' Narskii shows in his chapter about rituals of exaggerated loyalty and submission among the Black Hundreds in the Urals, they were the only political grouping that actually used special rituals, flags, and similar symbols. Symbols, of course, are themselves condensed representations, as they refer to ideas about something intangible. This reliance on symbols and rituals helped codify the world for these people. In the wider political and social context, it allowed them to set themselves off against perceived outsiders (liberals, Jews, students, capitalists, revolutionaries, etc.) and create a semblance of (at least representational) order and integration in a reality that was feared as chaotic and dangerous.
Contested representations, expressing challenges to established power, were a common phenomenon in late imperial Russia. In neighboring Austria-Hungary, too, similar situations could be observed, as the contribution by Tim Bucher about Galicia makes clear. The struggle here was between representations of the old order and a newly emerging peasant mass movement in the 1880s and 1890s, led by a charismatic priest, Stanisiaw Stojatowski. This Jesuit "demagogue in a frock" promoted ideas of Christian socialism and rural cooperatives, drew large crowds of followers, appeared with them uninvited in respectable urban spaces during ceremonies and holidays that were meant to strengthen the established order, and thus seemed to threaten the traditional power arrangements. Attempts by the authorities to smear and silence him through the courts and higher church authorities usually backfired. Yet even as Galician peasants revolted against local nobles and conducted pogroms against local Jews, they revered and indeed claimed to act on behalf of the ultimate representation of state power, Emperor Franz-Joseph in distant Vienna. It is hard not to be reminded of Father Gapon in this context and the popular monarchism that "his" workers displayed while challenging lower-level representatives of the establishment.
A chapter about representations over a longer term concludes the book. Alexander Martin's article about filth, smell, and representations in Moscow (1770-1880), originally published in The Russian Review, discusses representations of Moscow as a town that has all the positive characteristics of the provinces and nothing of the ugly, unhealthy trappings of Western cities. The first producers of this myth were mostly Germans, who wrote ethnographic and medico-topographic works. (4) But with the emergence of urban physiologies and the rise of naturalist style in literature, this myth of a clean and healthy city began to collapse, only to be turned on its head. Moscow thus emerged as a backward, filthy, and dangerous place toward the end of the 19th century. (5)
As the rich variety of contributions to Imperiale Herrschaft in der Provinz makes abundantly clear, the study of representations of political power is a promising and still relatively underdeveloped approach in Russian history. A focus on representations in the provinces, furthermore, appears particularly worthwhile. As Wortman has rightly pointed out, there is still a lot to be done, particularly with regard to ethnic and national representations at the peripheries of the empire. For anybody interested in these issues, this book is an essential read.
Jenseits der Zarenmacht moves beyond representations of political power and, indeed, as the subtitle suggests, beyond the traditional sphere of politics altogether. In 15 chapters, its contributors explore those "dimensions of the political" that, due to dominant historiographic theories and conventions, have been missed or ignored by historians. This is, in many parts, a very original and at times deeply revisionist book, as becomes instantly clear in Walter Sperling's refreshingly critical and perceptive introductory chapter.
Above all, Sperling takes issue with the rigid dichotomy between autocracy and society that has for so long guided (and, indeed, marred) the master narrative of Russian history. He shows how teleological assumptions and sociological models, ideas of "modernization" and "autocratic decline" (Christopher Read) have all been superimposed onto Russian history, and how alien concepts and inappropriate definitions have distorted our approaches to Russian history and hampered our understanding of it. (6) Instead of becoming hostages of theories based on concepts such as "civil society," "modernization," and "public sphere," and then subordinating their empirical materials accordingly, historians should welcome and cherish the multifaceted, open-ended nature of their sources and look at historical phenomena creatively and without analytical blinders that predetermine their interpretations. Once one thinks "civil society," Sperling argues, one automatically thinks about missed chances and historical development as it should have been. Instead of focusing on the static concepts of autocracy on the one end and society on the other, he suggests that we broaden the customary meaning of the word "political" and construe it as a "communicative space"--the main theme of the Bielefeld research cluster--in which all kinds of issues can be negotiated under the auspices of broader historiographic validity--rules of social life, power relations, the limitations of words and actions, and so forth. Such a broad perspective allows scholars to see and study in a new light a wide variety of less conventional topics whose political dimension would usually be denied by historians, such as autobiographical writings by peasants or the staging of photographs of local fire crews, to name just two examples from the volume. If understood as political, topics that might appear mundane at first sight, instead of being relegated to the domain of cultural or literary history, can add crucial insights into Russian political culture beyond the despotism of the autocracy on the one hand and the self-assertion of a suppressed society on the other.
Angela Rustemeyer sets the stage with a chapter reaching back into Muscovite times, when consensual elements characterized power relations. She focuses on the role of the arcane (arcanum) as an important part of a ruler's legitimacy which, in Muscovy, was effectively open to redefinition by the subjects through the zernlia, the assembly of the land, and the institution ofslovo i dela gosudarevo, the unique practice of reporting in secret directly to the tsar. Both vehicles of political communication lost traction by the 18th century, when ordering and obeying became the characteristics of Peter's "military monarchy" and the rules of communication between ruler and ruled changed, at least in theory. From now on, the tsar and his officials alone defined what the de/o gosudarevo, the driving force of the monarchical power was to be, thereby reflecting West European practices more than Muscovite ones. According to this understanding of the ruler's prerogatives, cases of lesemajeste and state crimes gained in importance, as did new institutions prefaced with the adjective "secret" (sekretnaia, tainaia). But with state administration turning more and more civilian at the end of the 18th century, cases of lesemajeste were increasingly interpreted as matters of mere cultural difference, of ordinary people not knowing what they were doing, q-he bureaucratic elite thus set itself off from the masses through its level of education and by doing so claimed a right to take part in the arcane through participation in political discussion. In the 19th century, tsarist paternalism and the educational mission of the intelligentsia were in many ways consequences of this 18thcentury construction of socio-cultural hierarchies. The notion of a common interest between the elite and the tsar, based on a shared cultural qualification, made a division of powers in the liberal sense unnecessary.
If culture was the condition for participation in political reasoning and discussion in Russia, what about other factors that allowed people to partake in political life in other countries? Martina Winkler investigates the role that private property played in Russia in the 18th and early 19th centuries. After all, many of the "flaws" of Russian history, which prevented the rise of a "civil society" (backwardness, lack of political freedoms, etc.) have long been explained by the absence of property rights, in addition to the collective mentality of Russian peasants. Winkler shows how even in the absence of codified laws, the state still was seen as a guarantor of property rights, a position that became clear in times of crisis--for example, in 1812. Memoirs and diaries from that year show how secure and important private property had been before it was threatened by the Napoleonic invasion. This kind of understanding had developed hand in hand with the rise of individualism in the second half of the 18th century, when property took on the more abstract meaning of ownership rather than temporary responsibility in exchange for state service. That this individualist approach to property was not just a phenomenon among the elite can be further explored in Tracy Dennison's recent book about the institutional framework of Russian serfdom. (7)
Whereas ideas of property have potentially quite serious implications for wider political issues such as the rule of law and constitutional structure, the scholarly writings of high-ranking state officials written during their leisure time seem, at first glance, less important for our understanding of politics. Yet this is not at all the case, as Vera Urban makes eloquently clear in her contribution. She investigates the historical writings of Dmitrii Tolstoi, minister of education and later minister of the interior, and Rostislav Fadeev, the famous general and military writer. Both were conservatives, but with different views on quite a number of ideological issues. Both used history to promote their respective opinions and thus turned it into a space of contemporary political communication and competition, into a "political meta-discourse," as Urban calls it. Particularly interesting in this context is her analysis of different styles: Tolstoi's was rather professional, with footnotes and archival citations, suggesting objectivity and argumentative weight; Fadeev's was without notes, in a rather publicist and polemical fashion. No less interesting was their choice of publication format: the more commanding monograph (Tolstoi) versus the journal article (Fadeev). Since many more state officials were doubling as amateur historians, the kind of analysis that Urban presents here will hopefully yield further valuable insights into the worldviews of people who were, ideally, impartial and without particular political affiliation but who, of course, did not live and act in a political vacuum.
At the center of the next two chapters lies not history but geographic and communicative space in which political meaning was produced and contested. They are both written by authors we have already met in the first book. Here, Walter Sperling and Malte Rolf develop their respective topics further in two different directions. Sperling discusses the imaginary invention of the provinces in connection with railway building and offers an intriguing micro-study of the communications between central authorities and the local elite in the town and region of Romanovo-Borisoglebsk on the Volga. Rolf takes us back to Warsaw. This time, the building of the Aleksandr Nevskii Cathedral lies at the heart of his study. He shows how Russian officials during the planning and building phase could not avoid being drawn into struggles about representation. After all, the cathedral was being erected in the very center of the city. It commanded a visually and acoustically dominant position, was meant (by Russians) and perceived (by Poles) as a symbol of Russian hegemony, and was duly demolished and its parts used as sidewalk pavement after Polish independence, so that "the Poles were now able to literally step onto the Russian-Orthodox heritage" (189). Geographic space obviously could acquire numerous meanings and served as an arena, both practically and metaphorically, for the negotiation of wider political issues.
One arena of political communication has been overlooked by historians for far too long. Kirsten Bonker takes us into the small world of local politics in three towns in Saratov province. She specifically investigates the activities of the Union of the Russian People on several levels of political life--the city dumas, the local press, and the street. She shows how this extreme group was able to adapt its style to suit the respective forum, from relatively moderate political speeches to crude cartoons and outright violence. Obviously, she concludes, local politics consisted of a number of separate public spheres, and the political rhetoric of the Ultra-Right and its violent acts in the streets did not necessarily prevent it from simultaneously playing a constructive role in local politics.
Parallel public spheres characterized more than local politics. They were also a phenomenon in regions with non-Orthodox populations, which became particularly evident during the Russification policies of the second half of the 19th century. In his chapter, Marsil' Farchsatov discusses how attempts by the central authorities to create state schools among the Muslims of the Volga--Ural region were stifled by a massive petition campaign, led mostly by local merchants and mullahs and addressed to all levels of the imperial bureaucracy. Although the petitions criticized secular educational institutions in favor of traditional Muslim schools, thereby enhancing political communication among and within Muslim communities, they were not meant as a sign of disloyalty to the empire. Indeed, they all stressed allegiance to the tsar. Among local and central state officials, the petitions nevertheless fed long-ingrained fears of religious fanaticism and a general feeling of hostility against the Muslim population. A dialogue was clearly not possible; an act of political communication--the petition campaign--in the end strengthened mutual stereotypes. Eventually, secularization and modernized schooling would spread anyway, not as a result of state measures but through reformist trends among the Muslim elite itself.
The emergence of a common purpose and a political voice within a group not associated with the educated elites could also be noticed beyond a religious context. Indeed, political mobilization in the late 19th century reached all kinds of people who usually lacked an independent voice in history. Workers and peasants have been studied widely, but usually through the prism of the state, the police, or the radical intelligentsia. Rarely have they contributed to their history in their own words. Once they did so, their writings were eagerly studied and/or published by members of the intelligentsia. And the yearning for such original voices from the people seems not to have diminished, as the popularity of Semen Kanatchikov's autobiography among today's students suggests. Julia Herzberg, in her chapter, presents part of a wider study of peasant autobiographies from the late 19th century. Solicited by a populist activist and publisher, Nikolai Rubakin, as part of an investigation of peasant reading habits, these writings (and the associated correspondences) show how peasants "wrote" themselves into an "imagined community" of like-minded albeit geographically dispersed people. Unlike Kanatchikov, however, who wrote his work much later, their main goal was neither the attainment of a socialist consciousness and party political credentials nor the success story of a Bolshevik politician but rather a quite modest discussion of the common good and the spread of education and literacy. Under the existing conditions, this, too, was a political act. It simply happened outside the existing political institutions and beyond or rather, below, a Habermasian public sphere.
A real rather than an imagined rural community is the focus of Stephan Merl's contribution. His study of peasant credit associations in Iaroslavl' province before the Stolypin reforms shows that it was much more complicated actually to promote the common good than simply to philosophize about it. Peasant attitudes toward authority and the traditions of land redistribution in the village hampered the new institutions, which in their essence were comparable to associations among urban society. Despite ideally instilling some kind of democratic behavior, the success of peasant credit associations much depended on the leadership of certain dedicated activists, usually members of village intelligentsia such as teachers and priests.
Although political awakening in the countryside happened at various speeds, depending on such factors as location, literacy, or entrepreneurial spirit, cities and towns were generally more conducive to political communication. As Alexander Kaplunovskii shows in his chapter about the politicization of white-collar workers, shop clerks and lower-level employees began to organize themselves into all kinds of associations as early as the 1860s. "[heir political awakening took place in response to such issues as mutual aid and a workfree Sunday; they communicated through informal personal networks and local press organs and tried to defend their associations against employers by coopting honorary members from the local elite and employing religious and conservative language in their reform projects. By the end of the 19th century, the white-collar associations had spread and were interconnected over the whole empire. They had also made clear distinctions between who could belong to them and who could not, workers and self-employed entrepreneurs, for example, were not allowed to join. The 1905 revolution led to the fulfillment of most white-collar demands and thus made the associations redundant. Their communicative space was now filled by the newly created unions and political parties.
Conservative language and imagery, as used by the white-collar associations, obviously did not contradict the promotion of reforms. Nigel Raab persuasively argues a related point in his chapter about visualizations of society. Indeed, he suggests that the long-held assumption that civil society was by definition progressive and arrayed against autocracy and patriarchal rule may not be so clear-cut after all. His argument is based on photographs of firemen. Both photographers and firemen took an active part in urban life. Voluntary associations, such as fire brigades, are customarily understood by historians as expressions of an emerging civil society. They were prominent motifs for photographers and illustrated reports in the press. Yet if one looks at these pictures, they exude an atmosphere of conservatism, theatricality, and festive solemnity, replete with symbols of technological progress, authority, and autocracy. This was a predominantly male society, with women conspicuously absent from the photos. Raab's claim that women and machines were rarely connected in visual imagery during the late imperial period is less convincing, however, as a look at contemporary postcards and commercial advertisements shows. (8) But this should not distract from his main point: civil society need not be progressive and opposed to autocracy.
Political communication took on many different forms in late imperial Russia. Violence was an increasingly dominant one, as the last three chapters show. Alexis Hofmeister discusses anti-Jewish pogroms as a "crisis of political communication" (406), which led to a change in expectations among the Jewish population of the empire, thus resulting in the emergence and rapid growth of Bundism and Zionism, while also affecting political life more generally. The mere perception that pogroms were condoned by tsarist authorities--which, as Hofmeister shows, was based on a communicative misunderstanding--put the state monopoly on violence into question, helped blur the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate force, and promoted political polarization throughout the empire. Violence most commonly and quite literally "took place" in the streets of towns and cities. Anke Hilbrenner discusses this spatial aspect in her chapter on terrorism. Violence, she claims, increasingly became the "language of the street," not just in the well-studied capital but also in provincial centers and on the imperial periphery, where social radicalism fused with ethnic tensions. More and more often, terrorism and violence were also discussed in the State Duma. Lutz Hafner, in the last chapter, investigates this institution as a communicative space and shows how deputies from all parties, in the spotlight of the periodical press and despite all political differences, were still able to reach compromises. At least on the highest level of political communication, if not in the streets, social fragmentation and polarization could still be bridged.
Representations of power and modes of political communication often overlap. Representations communicate meanings, while communication frequently uses representations and symbolic expressions to transport and condense messages. These two books are thus in many ways complimentary, they look at the same thing from different angles. Their common focus is politics in the Russian Empire, written with a small "p." Their topics thus often touch on liminal issues--the emergence of political awareness or new institutions, the fleeting quality of power in peripheral or provincial regions, the changeable nature of social interactions, the delicate or violent processes of political negotiations. These are some of the essential building blocks that help us to understand politics with a capital "E" Many of them still need to be unearthed and investigated, especially at the provincial and local levels and in the imperial borderlands. In this respect, these two books are just a beginning. They are highly stimulating and will surely help expand the cultural history of politics in Russia and beyond.
(1) For recent assessments, see Frank Bosch and Norman Domeier, "Cultural History of Politics: Concepts and Debates," European Review of History/Revue europeenne d'histoire 15, 6 (2008): 577-86; and Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, "Einleitung: Was heigt Kulturgeschichte des Politischen?" Zeitschrift fur historische Forschung (Beiheft), 35 (2005): 9-24. Some excellent examples from European history include Tim Blanning, The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, Des Kaisers alte Kleider: Verfassungsgeschichte und Symbolsprache des Alten Reiches (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2008); and John Adamson, ed., The Princely Courts of Europe: Ritual Politics, and Culture under the Ancient Regime, 1500-1750 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999).
(2) See, for example, Ernest A. Zitser, The Transfigured Kingdom: Sacred Parody and Charismatic Authority at the Court of Peter the Great (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004); and Jan Hennings, "The Semiotics of Diplomatic Dialogue: Pomp and Circumstance in Tsar Peter I's Visit to Vienna in 1698," International History Review 30, 3 (2008): 515-44.
(3) Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, 2000).
(4) Strangely, Martin seems not to be aware of Genrikh Ludwig von Attengofer, Mediko topograficheskoe opisanie Sankt-Peterburga (St. Petersburg: Imperskaia akademiia nauk, 1820), when he writes (370) that there were obviously no medico-topographic descriptions of St. Petersburg and other cities before Nicholas I. On this, see also Andreas Renner, Russische Autokratie und europaische Medizin: Organisierter Wissenstransfer im 18. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2010).
(5) For a similar development in St. Petersburg, see my "Der St. Petersburger Heumarkt im 19. Jahrhundert: Metamorphosen eines Stadtviertels," Jahrbiicherfiir Geschichte Osteuropas 44, 2 (1996): 162-77.
(6) See Christopher Read, "In Search of Liberal Tsarism: The Historiography of Autocratic Decline," Historical Journal 45, 1 (2002): 195-210.
(7) Tracy Dennison, The Institutional Framework of Russian Serfdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
(8) For examples, see Mikhail Anikst, ed., Russische Graphik 1880-1917 (Munich: Bangert, 1990).
HUBERTUS F JAHN
University of Cambridge
Cambridge CB2 1TL, United Kingdom
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|Author:||Jahn, Hubertus F.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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