Russian Conservatism in Retrospect

Дата публикации: 14 сентября 2018
Автор(ы): V. Grosul
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Номер публикации: №1536953502

V. Grosul, (c)

by Vladislav GROSUL, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Russian History, RAS

Russia's first fundamental research monograph on the subject of Russian conservatism has been published recently. As no such work had appeared in this country before - either before the 1917 Revolution, when the conservative tradition was rather strong and many of its proponents were rising to power, or among emigrants of the post-October period, who expressed considerable interest in it - we asked the managing editor of the book and one of its authors to introduce the publication to our readers.

Here is a strange historiographic fact - this publication has been rather late * in coming, particularly with regard to the first studies on the subject of Russian liberalism and revolutionary movement of the late 19th-mid- 20th centuries.

I don't believe that there were really any significant barriers in Russia to such publications either before the Revolution or in the Soviet times. Though a generally negative attitude to the conservative tradition and conservatives is a long established fact. Progressists, true or imaginary, were regarded as the most respected and popular figures. But such is the tribute to fashion which is rather destructive for real science as it leads to the diktat of general public opinion. And when in late 1980s the USSR Institute of History (today the Institute of Russian History, RAS) conceived the idea of generalized research into the history of Russian political conservatism, this trend still predominated. It must be pointed out that none of the authors in the team which was formed in early 1990s to write such a book belonged to political conservatives but they all were sincerely eager to conduct unbiassed research without preconceived condemnation of anybody.

It may seem strange that at that time nobody knew even the most general contours of this, one of the most powerful and undoubtedly most influential 19th- century socio-political trends, let alone

* Russian Conservatism of the 19th Century. Ideology and Practice. М., Progress-Tradition, 2000. Edited by V. Grosul. Authors: V. Grosul, B. Itenberg, V. Tvardovskaya, K. Shatsillo, R. Eimantova.

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inner differences, shades and types.

First of all we had to face a problem of research methods. It was suggested that we start out with a preliminary concept, to write the book in a sociological, even a philosophical mode, with global theoretical generalizations. However, after prolonged discussions it was decided to carry out historical research, i.e. to proceed not from an idea and a concept, but through a careful analysis of historical specifics - of man and society.

But discussions went on. They dealt with the definition of political conservatism itself, its genesis, typology, assessment of the world-outlook of certain outstanding personalities, such as the writers N. Karamzin, A. Pushkin, F. Dostoyevsky, F. Tyutchev.

Discussions have demonstrated how complicated are the problems of conceptual character. And our definition of political conservatism as "an ideological and political trend of protective character, aimed at preservation of existing social relations and statehood in principle" is a result of a compromise between authors. It considerably differs from interpretations in Soviet reference books of the 1980s and from definitions of the pre-revolutionary period. It is interesting that our definition was accepted without any doubts in the first reviews on the book which appeared in the press.

Though the book is mainly devoted to the 19th century, in actual fact its chronological boundaries are wider. We started from the pre-history of Russian

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political conservatism, i.e. from the middle of the 18th century (the period from Peter I till Catherine II) and ended by 1905, when it got its second breath.

Though the 18th century was marked by the activity of such obvious conservatives as Grand Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov, Metropolitan Arseny Matseevich, famous men of letters Alexander Sumarokov and Gavriil Derzhavin, it is hardly possible to talk about the established socio-political trend. It took shape as a reaction to liberalism of Alexander I (1801-1825) whose family played an important role in it as well, with his mother, widowed Empress Maria Fyodorovna, beloved sister Yekaterina Pavlovna and closest of brothers Konstantin Pavlovich, acting as a counterbalance to him. The conservative camp was at once joined in by literary antipodes - Admiral Alexander Shishkov and outstanding historiographer Nikolai Karamzin.

N. Karamzin is without doubt the most famous conservative ideologist. This fact must be pointed out especially as V. Leontovich, the author of the book History of Liberalism in Russia. 1762-1914 (М., 1995), taking into consideration the spiritual significance of the writer's works regarded him as a liberal. In fact Karamzin was the biggest historian and man of letters, who played an important role in the dissemination of Western ideas in the country, but this is not what is decisive while defining a political orientation of this or that political figure. The main thing is his attitude to political and social make-up of the state. Karamzin was always a staunch defender of absolutism, preservation of serf-

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dom, and an opponent of constitutionalism. Moreover, his Notes on Ancient and New Russia т Her Political and Civil Aspects, ordered by Grand Princess Yekaterina Pavlovna, became the most important ideological document of nascent political conservatism. It contains a triad "autocracy, orthodoxy, motherland", the forerunner of the other, more known triad, advanced by Prince Sergei Uvarov, "orthodoxy, autocracy, national identity". Besides, N. Karamzin became an antipode of such famous reformer-liberal as Mikhail Speransky, and, taking into consideration the inner struggle within Russian society, we can assert that he was not an ordinary conservative but one of the founders of this political conservatism.

The most important goal the authors of the book had to cope with was a definition of the makeup of Russian conservatism. Up till now it was limited to 10-15 names of political figures and men of letters such as М. Shcherbatov, N. Karamzin, М. Katkov, K. Leontyev, K. Pobedonostsev, L. Tikhomirov, etc. It goes without saying that they occupy an important place in our work too, which is reflected in the corresponding index. However, it was a must to write about this significant 19th-century socio-political trend in more detail. Almost 500 of its representatives are mentioned in the monograph. Among them are names and works of second and third "rank" public figures such as V. Askochensky, N. Bezobrazov, V. Orlov-Davydov, S. Stroganov, etc. Some are only mentioned, but even this mentioning of one name more often than not was a result of hard work and made easier to

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understand the makeup of conservative camp, opened up new vistas for the study of the life and world-outlook of one or another representative of conservatism. Among them are P. Lilienfeld-Toal, who published a course of political economy in 1860, historiographer from Kiev М. Yuzefovich, poet- parodist from Moscow B. Almazov. A separate book can be written about any of them regarding their place in the analyzed movement. Such people help understand the movement as a whole, and this is one the most important results of our work. To compare: A. Rutkevich's monograph What Is Conservatism? (St. Petersburg, 1999) devotes only 8 pages out of 213 to Russian conservatives.

The authors did not leave without attention the so-called provincial conservatism and its ideologists: O. Pozdeev, who had country estates in different gubernias, М. Drutskoi-Sokolinsky, land-owner from Smolensk, the Annenkovs, land- owners from Kiev, Sheremetev from Nizhni Novgorod; they also analyzed political moods of gubemia nobility. It must be stated that provincial conservatism proper as an independent subject of investigation is only emerging. But the first steps have been already made: publications of scientists from Perm, Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, Penza, Rostov-on-Don and other university centers have appeared recently.

However, the major attention in the monograph is paid to the most outstanding figures in this trend - their world-outlook, actual political steps, results of activity. The authors, first of all, were interested in their attitude to the state system of Russia, its social and economic problems, and especially to the agricultural and peasant problem

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(the period from the second half of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century). There are also quoted extracts from the works on agriculture by one of the prominent conservatives, writer and translator Ivan Zakharov, close to A. Shishkov and G. Derzhavin. Assessment of economic views of Sergei Sharapov, engaged in entrepreneurship and criticizing the policy of the government holds place of prominence. He was against attracting foreign capital and for preferential development of agriculture and not of industry. A special paragraph entitled "Peasant Question" is devoted to the economic views of the conservatives of the 1880s.

In the course of the 19th century, landowners managing their lands (representatives of the liberal trend made up a minority) were the pillar of the conservative movement. Among them was a famous poet, Afanasy Fet, who outlined his economic views in the article "Notes on Hired Labor" and in essays "From the Countryside". He demanded from authorities to actively protect landowners' possessions and preserve the privileges of nobility. However, our studies have demonstrated that though many representatives of the conservative camp paid attention to economic problems, among them were no such great economists as among liberals and narodniks ("populists").

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One of the most important objectives of our monograph was dealing with the problem of typology of Russian conservatism. Recognizing the prominence of the book as the first step in dealing with such a complicated problem, we strived to be as correct, even delicate, as possible, since estimation attitudes are often of relative and disputable character. We tried to avoid "sorting out by boxes and shelves" but still proposed our typology As for the first half of the 19th century, the authors, besides the government conservatism, have singled out some more types up to enlightened conservatism. Summing up the results of all work, we preferred to single out three types: so-called liberal conservatism, conservative centrism and ultraright, reactionary conservatism.

This was a difficult task. And it is even more difficult to assess the political views of some prominent representatives of Russian society. A. Pushkin, the author of Volnost (Liberty) (1817) and Derevnya (Village) (1819), in his young years was a free-thinker and by no means a conservative. However, evolution of his views is beyond doubt, and Pushkin of the 1830s is regarded (although with definite reservations) as a representative of enlightened conservatism. Writers N. Gogol and former petrashevets * F. Dostoyevsky ultimately joined the conservative fold too.

Without regard to their civic position in different periods of the country's history, the idea of socio-political thought of Russia would be incomplete.

It goes without saying that conservatism is part and parcel of the life of Russian society and as such

* Petrashevtsi - members of a St. Petersburg oiganization (1844-1849) coming out in favor of democratization of Russia's political system. - Ed.

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it was in opposition to official circles. Nonetheless, the 19th century as a whole was predominantly conservative. And this will be easily understood if we depart from the usual scheme of Soviet historiography "lower classes - upper classes" or "upper classes - lower classes". The real state of affairs is much more complicated. The existence of society as an independent organism, holding intermediate position between the government and people, must be also taken into consideration. Moreover, despite the link between the autocracy and bureaucracy, there was no complete concord between them, as the latter defended also its own interests. * Conservatives often criticized bureaucracy as ardently as liberals and revolutionaries. However, there were periods of almost absolute unity between conservatives and the government, e.g. after 1820, when it was connected with Alexander I's policy, and after 1881 - after Alexander I I's assassination by members of "Narodnaya volya" (People's Will). Neither liberals nor left radicals ever had such close relations with the government, even at the beginning of the reign of Alexander I and Alexander II.

Out of all three prominent sociopolitical trends of the 19th century, the conservative one remained closest to the autocratic rule,

* See: A. Yakovlev, "Alexander II: How Much of a Reform Was He?", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1996 . - Ed.

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defending it most of all. It was the most listened to in upper classes and created possibilities for a number of nobility revenges, which become clearer through the book. The decisive reaction of nascent conservatism to the "Imperial Edict" of Catherine II to the Legislative Commission, which had to work out a new code of laws, prevented the inclusion of the peasant question into it as a special chapter. The position of conservative nobility considerably strengthened in 1812, when М. Speransky was removed, and especially after 1820. A new nobility revenge * took place after 1881. And also after June 3, 1907 (the dissolution of the 2nd State Duma).

Without understanding these historic cycles, it is impossible to comprehend the essence of Russian history and its component part - history of the country's political conservatism. A good deal still remains beyond the

* See: O. Barkovetz, A. Krylov, "Thirteen Years of the 13th Emperor", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1995 . - Ed.

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scope of our monograph. We have only approached the problem of bourgeois conservatism, which nourished in the 20th century. In this connection special attention must be paid to the views of a prominent businessman of the mid-19th century S. Maltsov and a less prominent entrepreneur S. Sharapov. Bourgeois conservatism, including that of old-believers, must become a subject of independent studies as well as the attitude of conservatives to the church problem, which is dealt with in the books of O. Kishlenkova, V. Pinkevich, S. Rimsky, etc. The works of young scientists - A. Yermakov, A. Repnikov, U. Khristoforov and others, which appeared recently, testify to an increase in the number of those interested in Russian conservatism. Our monograph, published under the aegis of the Russian Humanitarian Scientific Fund, is one of the stages on the way to new fundamental works in this field.


Опубликовано на Порталусе 14 сентября 2018 года

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