Samozvanstvo and the Legitimation of Power in Russian Political Culture.
In 1982, Boris Uspenskii published a hugely influential article on the phenomenon of samozvanstvo in which he drew attention to the fact that in Russia the term samozvanets could be applied not only to a pretender or impostor claiming royal identity (such as the First False Dmitrii or Emel'ian Pugachev) but also to certain "real" tsars who were identified by contemporaries as "pretenders on the throne" (Boris Godunov, Vasilii Shuiskii, Peter the Great). The emergence of both of these types of imposture, Uspenskii argued, was influenced by the failure of Old Russian political thought to provide any objective criteria by which a true tsar (designated by God) could be distinguished from a false one (designated by the Devil). (1) Now, more than three decades after the publication of Uspenskii's article, the French scholar Claudio Ingerflom has produced a fascinating book that develops Uspenskii's ideas and extends them chronologically into the Soviet period.
Throughout most of the book, Ingerflom translates samozvanstvo by the French word autonomination (self-designation). (2) He uses this translation especially in his discussion of the forms assumed by the phenomenon in the 17th and 18th centuries, when he argues that it had a primarily religious significance, referring to a tsar who was not designated as such by God, but who falsely appropriated the title himself (25-26, 149-58). (3) The more usual translation as imposture (which for reasons of convenience Ingerflom uses in the subtitle of his book) the author reserves for the broader concepts of confidence trickery and identity fraud, which became particularly widespread in the 19th century (26-27, 333-38). (4)
Ingerflom begins his account with a chapter on samozvanstvo in the Time of Troubles of the early 17th century. He places the Russian events in the context of cossack support for the multitude of pretenders to the Moldavian throne in the 15th to 17th centuries--an appropriate comparison, since many of the same cossack hosts provided backing for the First False Dmitrii and other Russian samozvantsy of the Time of Troubles (57-65). The First False Dmitrii was the first and most successful of all Russian pretenders: having obtained the throne in 1605, he retained it for almost a year, until his overthrow by Prince Vasilii Shuiskii. "Dmitrii" claimed to be the youngest son of Ivan IV ("the Terrible"), Tsarevich Dmitrii of Uglich, who had died in mysterious circumstances in 1591. The old dynasty came to an end with the death of Tsar Fedor Ivanovich in 1598, and the legitimacy of the new tsar, Boris Godunov, was undermined when famine broke out at the beginning of the 17th century. After the murder of the first samozvanets, at least two more False Dmitriis appeared, along with a number of other self-styled descendants of Ivan the Terrible, before stability was restored with the election of Michael Romanov as tsar in 1613. (5) The events of the Time of Troubles, Ingerflom suggests, can be explained simply by circumstances, such as the dynastic crisis of 1598 and the subsequent famine: what requires more explanation is the fact that samozvanstvo continued for centuries after the accession of Michael Romanov to the throne (54--55, 64-65). The explanation of the longevity of the phenomenon, the author contends, lies in the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
In his chapter on Ivan, Ingerflom considers the various ways in which the tsar paradoxically inverted all established juridical, ethical, and religious norms in order to reaffirm these norms. In an episode that still puzzles historians, Ivan abdicated the throne in 1564, as a preliminary to the temporary division of the realm into two parts, one of which (the oprichnina) he took directly under his own autocratic control, while the other part (the zemshchina) was ruled by the boyars. In an even more puzzling episode, in 1575, Ivan again abdicated and divided the realm, this time placing the zemshchina under the rule of the baptized Tatar khan Simeon Bekbulatovich, whom he acknowledged as tsar, while he himself retreated to the oprichnina and acted as a supplicant to Simeon. In renouncing the throne--in Ingerflom's interpretation--Ivan was actually emphasizing his own divine right to be the true tsar, independently of any external attributes of power (94-95). (6) Ivan derived his legitimacy from his direct contact with God, which was undetectable to his subjects; this legitimacy, moreover, was not conditional on his actual behavior, which his subjects were unqualified to judge (95, 150, 174). After the Time of Troubles, however--Ingerflom asserts--the situation changed. Now, the people felt able to pass judgment on the tsar's behavior and--since they believed that a true tsar was a just tsar--to suspect that an unjust tsar must be a false tsar. The belief that the reigning tsar was a false tsar could lead to the appearance of a samozvanets claiming to be the true tsar and legitimize revolt in his name (150, 172-74). Thus Ivan's claim that his legitimacy was based on a mysterious connection with God left a fateful legacy: henceforth anyone could claim such a connection, and anyone could become the tsar (469). Moreover, by establishing Simeon Bekbulatovich as tsar, and himself playing the role of his humble subject, Ivan had obscured the distinction between a true and a false tsar: such role reversals would be developed further by Peter the Great (23, 88-95, 254-55).
One of the major arguments of Ingerflom's book concerns the symbiotic relationship between the concept of autocracy (samoderzhavie) and that of samozvanstvo. Since the autocratic tsar's power was granted directly by God, it could be challenged only by claiming that the reigning tsar was not the true tsar. This--the author suggests--left no ideological space for any contestation of the tsar's policies and prevented the emergence of a modern type of politics which offered an immanent legitimation of power (popular sovereignty) rather than a transcendental one (divine, religious, or quasireligious). (7) Russian autocracy therefore perpetuated a religious perception of the world and impeded the development of secularized political thought (25-27, 175).
Ingerflom's distinction between transcendental and immanent legitimation of power is an important theme throughout the book. He argues that in spite of the transcendental nature of the legitimation of power under the tsars there was one occasion when there was a possibility of modern politics developing within the autocratic system--the Stepan Razin revolt of 1669-71 (177-211). (8) The revolt began as a rebellion in the name of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich against the boyars, but in August 1670 Razin claimed that the rebels had been joined by Tsarevich Aleksei Alekseevich, the tsar's son and heir (the real tsarevich had died a few months earlier). There was considerable mystification attached to the false Tsarevich Aleksei, whom Razin mostly kept hidden; and the rebels' attitude toward Tsar Alexei was also unclear. The author suggests that Razin--who was not a samozvanets--may have planned to make himself tsar, basing his legitimacy on a cossack type of democracy: that is, instead of a transcendental form of power he promised an immanent one, based on popular sovereignty, which might have opened the way to a secular type of politics. This is an intriguing hypothesis, although--as Ingerflom himself recognizes--the evidence to support it is somewhat tenuous. In spite of its many puzzling aspects, the Razin rebellion should, I think, be seen primarily as a "rebellion in the name of the tsar" directed against the "traitor-boyars" and corrupt officials, in the manner of the urban revolts of the mid-17th century (to which the author devotes very little attention).
With the defeat of the Razin rebellion, Ingerflom admits, the opportunity for a breakthrough into a more modern, secular type of politics was lost, and samozvanstvo reappeared in its earlier form. In fact, however, between the accession of Michael Romanov in 1613 and the outbreak of the Razin revolt in 1669 no samozvantsy had appeared within Russia to challenge Michael or his son Alexei as false tsars (a fact that Ingerflom largely ignores). (9) Peter the Great, however, was regarded as a false tsar. According to one version of the rumor surrounding him, he was an infant from the Foreign Quarter of Moscow who had been substituted for a real child of Tsar Alexei; according to another, he was a Swede who had replaced Peter during his Great Embassy to Western Europe in 1697-98 (257). Ingerflom, however, is more interested in the image of Peter as Antichrist. Rumors about the Antichrist in Russia were linked with apocalyptic expectations focussing on the year 1666, which seemed to be confirmed by the definitive schism in the Orthodox Church at the Ecumenical Church Council of 1666-67. Some traditionalist Old Believers regarded Tsar Alexei and Patriarch Nikon, the main architects of the controversial church reforms, as "horns" or precursors of the Antichrist; Peter, however, was widely seen as the Antichrist himself. Ingerflom argues that the identification of Peter as the Antichrist equated to his recognition as a false tsar, and so led to a search for the true tsar (249), but this argument is not very convincing. As the author himself admits, there is no clear evidence of the appearance of false Peters, although a number of samozvantsy appeared who claimed to be Peter's son, Tsarevich Aleksei (293-94). Moreover, a tsar-Antichrist is not a false tsar in the usual sense. (10) And in fact the identification of Peter as Antichrist led not to a search for the true Peter but to mass self-immolations ahead of the Apocalypse or flight to the peripheries of the empire. In later years, the Old Believers' identification of successive Romanov rulers as incarnations of the "dismembered" (raschlenennyi) Antichrist served to legitimize protests in the form of nonpayment of taxes and refusal to render the recruit levy, rather than support for samozvantsy. (11)
Peter's contribution to the phenomenon of samozvanstvo, in Ingerflom's interpretation, lay not only in his image as a false tsar but rather in the various bizarre rituals of inversion in which he indulged beginning in 1689, the best known of which is his All-Jesting and All-Drunken Council of 1691 onward. Like Ivan the Terrible in relation to Simeon Bekbulatovich, Ingerflom argues, Peter sought to affirm his divinely appointed status by renouncing the external trappings of power and conferring them on others (Prince F. Iu. and Prince I. F. Romodanovskii, I. I. Buturlin), while he himself occupied relatively humble roles such as those of an army captain or a Friesian peasant. The strategies of role reversal undertaken by Tsars Ivan and Peter--Ingerflom suggests--reinforced in the eyes of their subjects the idea that the throne could be usurped by the boyars, while the true tsar might be a common soldier or a peasant (254-55, 261-62, 468-69). (12) Peter's succession law of 1722 also contributed to the growth of samozvanstvo, in Ingerflom's view. The tsar declared that he had the right to designate his own successor, even from outside the royal family, and this confirmed the popular idea that anyone could become tsar (291). (We are not given any examples, however, of a samozvanets who claimed to have been nominated by the reigning tsar rather than by God.)
Certainly samozvanstvo flourished in the 18th century after Peter's death in 1725-partly, it seems, as a response to the large number of female rulers, whom many traditionalist Russians considered to be illegitimate monarchs because of their gender (279-80, 297-300). Ingerflom catalogues the numerous false Tsarevich Aleksei Petroviches, as well as the various samozvantsy claiming to be Tsarevich Petr Petrovich, Tsar Peter II Alekseevich, and Tsar Ivan VI Antonovich. The most popular identity, of course, was that of Peter III, the murdered husband of Catherine II ("the Great"). Somewhat surprisingly, Ingerflom does not devote much space to the most famous False Peter III, the Don cossack Emel'ian Pugachev, who led the great cossack-peasant revolt of 1773-74; the author is more interested in the phenomenon of the false court that surrounded Pugachev, with its false generals who adopted the names of Catherine's courtiers (306-10). (13)
Ingerflom's discussion of samozvanstvo up until the end of the 18th century mainly follows a chronological path; for the 19th century onward, he resorts to a more thematic approach, while also expanding his coverage from monarchical samozvanstvo to various other forms of identity fraud, including false clergymen and officials. Much of this activity amounted to little more than criminal deception, so that the author for this later period uses the translation imposture rather than autonomination, while recognizing that the two types of samozvanstvo overlapped to some extent throughout the four centuries under discussion (333-34). The expansion of its subject matter to nonmonarchical samozvanstvo makes the book somewhat diffuse in its later chapters, entertaining though many of its examples are. The chapters that are most relevant to the main theme of the earlier part of the book are those that discuss popular concepts of true and false legislation and of true and false emissaries from the tsar. In many cases where peasants rejected tsarist decrees, they apparently believed that, since the tsar was just, he could issue only just legislation; legislation that they felt to be unjust (such as the Emancipation Act of 1861) must therefore be false. Serfs would therefore go in search of a literate villager who would read them the "true" text; in some cases, false decrees were forged (a tactic that was controversially adopted by the revolutionary Iakov Stefanovich at Chigirin in 1877) (369-81, 411-15). (14) Similarly, false emissaries sometimes arrived in the villages, promising true freedom to the serfs; in other cases, when real officials brought unwelcome news, the peasants declared them to be impostors (383-90). These cases, however, do not really fit in with Ingerflom's main argument about samozvanstvo: here the tsar himself was not deemed to be false, but rather the wicked boyars or officials were believed to have faked the decrees or to have impersonated the tsar's real agents.
Between 1905 and 1917, modern politics finally arrived in Russia, and one might have expected samozvanstvo to disappear. When the Bolsheviks came to power, however--Ingerflom argues--they replaced the modern political criterion of immanent legitimacy, based on popular sovereignty, with a new transcendental form of legitimation based on the spurious claim of Marxism-Leninism to be a science (24, 432-33, 484-85, 492). (15) As a result, samozvanstvo reappeared in the Soviet period. Ingerflom provides some examples of false Romanovs and false Soviet leaders, as well as "everyday samozvanstvo" of the type discussed by Sheila Fitzpatrick. (16) The quasi-religious character of Soviet ideology, he argues, was to be found not only in its transcendental claim to be scientific but also in the embalming and public display of Lenin's corpse, with its resemblance to the veneration of the relics of Orthodox saints (484-87), as well as in aspects of the Stalin cult (488-91). Ingerflom's main concern, however, is the frequent use by the peasantry, especially during the forced collectivization campaign of 1929-31, of the concept of the Antichrist to denounce Soviet power (224--26, 480-84, 491-95, 497-98). (17) The author's discussion of this phenomenon--and of its connections both to the concept of samozvanstvo and to the earlier identification of Peter the Great as Antichrist--is, however, confusingly opaque and philosophically dense.
In the introduction to his book, Ingerflom cites an instance in 2011 when Vladimir Putin was described by one of his advisers as a savior sent to Russia by God at a difficult time for the country. This episode, together with a couple of cases of Putin's veneration as a saint and an apostle, leads the author to suggest that a transcendental legitimation of power has reappeared in the post-Soviet period as an echo of the earlier transcendental legitimations under the tsars and the Soviets. In his brief conclusion Ingerflom returns to the reference to Putin as "savior" and expresses the hope that this sort of religious legitimation of power will eventually disappear in the new society that has developed in Russia in recent years.
In general, Ingerflom's discussion of the post-tsarist period is somewhat fragmentary and impressionistic, and he does not make a convincing case for any kind of continuity or even analogy between the tsarist and Soviet experiences of samozvanstvo, let alone between the concepts of divine right in the tsarist and Putin epochs. The main merit and interest of the book lie in its earlier chapters, which provide a wide-ranging, richly documented, and highly erudite discussion of the phenomenon. Even here, though, there is a significant omission: Ingerflom does not really explore the motivation and psychology of the samozvantsy themselves (admittedly, this is one of the most obscure aspects of samozvanstvo). He frequently asserts (as implied in his title) that anyone could become the tsar, since anyone could claim to be designated as tsar by God (23, 219, 260, 282, 291, 469). But it is not at all clear how this worked in practice. Ingerflom mentions one samozvanets (Ivan Minitskii) who claimed that Christ had told him in a dream that he was Tsarevich Aleksei Petrovich (294, 472). But we are not told how other samozvantsy, apparently notified by God that they were the true tsar, then "discovered" their specific royal names and identities. (18) To explain this, we may need to return to more traditional approaches to samozvanstvo in terms of dynastic crises and the rumors and "legends" about "returning tsar-deliverers" which gave rise to samozvantsy. (19)
Nor does Ingerflom's interpretation in terms of the binary contrast between true and false tsars explain why so many samozvantsy in the 17th century claimed to be not the true tsar but one of his relatives. During the Time of Troubles, only a handful of samozvantsy claimed to be Tsar Dmitrii, as compared to the dozen or so "tsareviches" who also called themselves descendants of Ivan the Terrible but who acted in Dmitrii's name, rather than opposing him. Later in the century, Razin's false Tsarevich Aleksei Alekseevich was not a rival to his father; nor was his "brother," the false Tsarevich Simeon Alekseevich who appeared among the Zaporozhian cossacks in 1673. (20)
More broadly, it is a major weakness of the book that Ingerflom fails to explain the connection between samozvanstvo and other forms of "popular monarchism," such as "rebellion in the name of the tsar" or the related widespread popular belief that all injustices stemmed not from the tsar himself but from his evil counsellors. In neither of these manifestations of popular monarchism do we find the view that the reigning tsar is a "false tsar," which Ingerflom considers to be the most characteristic feature of Russian popular political thought.
Finally, Ingerflom's main conclusion is that the most important function of samozvanstvo was the legitimation of revolt: it permitted the supporters of a samozvanets to rebel "without committing a sin" (173, 474), since they were rebelling not against a true tsar appointed by God but against a false tsar, a pretender on the throne. This conclusion, however, is hardly original, as it can be found--admittedly, in a number of variants--in most earlier scholarly discussions of the phenomenon. (21) Nevertheless, just as a journey is often better than its destination, so Ingerflom's masterly tour d'horizon of samozvanstvo in all its forms provides great interest and entertainment in itself, even if its conclusion is somewhat disappointing.
Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
(1) B. A. Uspenskij, "Tsar and Pretender: Samozvanchestvo or Royal Imposture in Russia as a Cultural-Historical Phenomenon," in Boris Uspenskij and Victor Zhivov, "Tsar and God" and Other Essays in Russian Cultural Semiotics, ed. Marcus C. Levitt (Boston, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2012), 113-52 (first published in Russian in 1982). See also Maureen Perrie, "Uspenskii and Zhivov on Tsar, God, and Pretenders: Semiotics and the Sacralization of the Monarch," Kritika 15, 1 (2014): 133-49.
(2) Ingerflom uses the term samozvanstvo throughout (rather than the alternative version samozvanchestvo, which is used by Uspenskii).
(3) The religious aspect of the phenomenon was also stressed by Uspenskii ("Tsar and Pretender," 114).
(4) Rather than attempting to convey the distinction between imposture and autonomination in English, I shall use the transliterated Russian term samozvanstvo throughout.
(5) On the pretenders of the Time of Troubles, see, e.g., Maureen Perrie, Pretenders and Popular Monarchism in Early Modern Russia: The False Tsars of the Time of Troubles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
(6) This argument is also made by Uspenskii ("Tsar and Pretender," 123-27).
(7) In this connection, Ingerflom provides instructive comparisons with England and France, where versions of the doctrine of "the king's two bodies" enabled a space to develop for the emergence of criticism of the rulers policies (19-20, 22-24, 94-95, 172-75, 239-41).
(8) An earlier version of this chapter was published as Claudio Sergio Ingerflom, "Entre le mythe et la parole: L'action. Naissance de la conception politique du pouvoir en Russie," Annates: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 51, 4 (1996): 733-57. There is also an English version: Claudio Sergio Nun-Ingerflom, "How Old Magic Does the Trick for Modern Politics," Russian History 40, 3-4 (2013): 428-50. The translator here uses the clumsy terms "self-appointment" for samozvanstvo and "self-appointed claimant" for samozvanets.
(9) There were, however, a few samozvantsy who operated beyond the Russian frontier--for example, in Poland-Lithuania or the Balkans. Of these, only Timofei Ankundinov (Ankudinov, Ankidinov, Akudinov, Akidinov, etc), a false Tsarevich Ivan Shuiskii, developed a critique of the Romanovs as usurpers and as illegitimate and hence oppressive rulers. For an excellent modern edition of documents relating to this samozvanets, see Delo T. Ankundinova: Evropeiskii avantiurist iz Moskovii, ed. Diula Svak [Gyula Szvak] (Budapest: Russica Pannonicana, 2011). Within Russia, the phenomenon that Pavel Lukin describes as narodnoe samozvanchestvo involved only a metaphorical use of phrases such as "I am the tsar" in order to express one individual's superiority over another: P. V. Lukin, Narodnye predstavleniia o gosudarstvennoi vlasti v Rossii XVII veka (Moscow: Nauka, 2000), 103-69.
(10) For an argument that the legend of Peter as Antichrist belonged to a different genre of popular culture from the rumors about him as a substituted tsar, see Morin Perri [Maureen Perrie], "Russkaia narodnaia eskhatologiia i legenda o Petre I--Antikhriste," Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta (Istoriia), no. 4 (2016): 77-86.
(11) See, in particular, N. S. Gur'ianova, Krest 'ianskii antimonarkhicheskii protest v staroobriadcheskoi eskhatologicheskoi literature perioda pozdnego feodalizma (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1988).
(12) Ingerflom's interpretation of Peter's inversions is based on those of Viktor Zhivov and Ernest Zitser. See V. M. Zhivov, "Cultural Reforms in Peter I's System of Transformations," in Uspenskij and Zhivov, "Tsar and God", 191-238 (first published in Russian in 1996); and Ernest A. Zitser, The Transfigured Kingdom: Sacred Parody and Charismatic Authority at the Court of Peter the Great (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).
(13) Boris Uspenskii describes this phenomenon as "a mythological act of identification" in which "the name has become, as it were, a function of the position" ("Tsar and Pretender," 120-21 [italics in the original]).
(14) For discussion of this type of popular monarchism, see Daniel Field, Rebels in the Name of the Tsar (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976); and David Moon, Russian Peasants and Tsarist Legislation on the Eve of Reform: Interaction between Peasants and Officialdom, 1825--1855 (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1992).
(15) The author tells us (24, 432-33) that this line of argument (which is somewhat problematic, in my view) was made in one of his earlier works: Claudio Ingerflom, Le citoyen impossible: Les racines russes du leninisme (Paris: Payot, 1988).
(16) Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).
(17) See, e.g., Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); and Lynne Viola, Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of Peasant Resistance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
(18) Boris Uspenskii also suggested that pretenders could "to some degree" believe in their predestination, especially if they had "royal marks" on their bodies--but he too failed to explain how they chose their identities ("Tsar and Pretender," 120). On "royal marks," see Maureen Perrie, '"Royal Marks': Reading the Bodies of Russian Pretenders, 17th--19th Centuries," Kritika 11,3 (2010): 535-61.
(19) K. V. Chistov, Russkie narodnye sotsial'no-utopicheskie legendy XVII-XIX vv. (Moscow: Nauka, 1967), 233, 235.
(20) On this phenomenon, see Maureen Perrie, "Pretenders in the Name of the Tsar: Cossack 'Tsareviches' in Seventeenth-Century Russia," Forschungen zur osteuropiiischen Geschichte 56 (2000): 243-56.
(21) Chistov, Russkie narodnye sotsial 'no-utopicheskie legendy, 233; Perrie, Pretenders and Popular Monarchism, 246.