2 The Statesman

Few figures in Russian history have aroused so much controversy as Petr Arkadev-ich Stolypin (1862—1911), Russia's Prime Minister from 1906 until his assassination five years later. The socialists condemned him as one of the last bloody defenders of the tsarist order. He gave his name to the hangman's noose ('Stolypin's neckties') administered by the military field courts to quell the peasant revolution on the land. The railway cars that were used to carry the 'politicals' to Siberia were called 'Stolypin carriages' (as they still were when they went to the Gulags). After 1917 the most hardened followers of the Tsar would come to denounce Stolypin as an upstart bureaucrat whose dangerous reform policies had only served to undermine the sacred principles of autocracy. But to his admirers — and there are many of them in post-Soviet Russia — Stolypin was the greatest statesman Russia ever had, the one man who could have saved the country from the revolution and the civil war. His reforms, they argue, given enough time, would have transformed Russia into a liberal capitalist society, but they were cut short by his death and the war. A popular tale relates that when the Tsar was signing his abdication order he said that if Stolypin had still been alive, this would never have come about. But this of course is a very big 'if'. Could one man have saved the Tsar? The truth is that Nicholas himself had been sympathetic to Stolypin's opponents on the Right; and, frustrated by this royalist reaction, his reforms were doomed long before his death.

* Lvov was taken ill on the way to Vyborg and had to return to St Petersburg. So he never signed the Manifesto, although he clearly sympathized with it.


Stolypin's fate had in it much that was tragic. Yet his failure had as much to do with the weaknesses of his own personality as it did with the opposition he encountered from both the Left and the Right in Russia. His story is in many ways similar to that of Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were brave, intelligent and single-minded statesmen committed to the liberal reform of an old and decaying authoritarian system of which they themselves were products. Both trod a narrow path between the powerful vested interests of the old ruling elites and the radical opposition of the democrats. They failed in their different ways to see that the two opposing sides were set on a collision course, and that trying to mediate between them could only create enemies in both camps whilst winning few friends. Trained in the monolithic world of bureaucratic politics, both men failed to appreciate that their reforms could only succeed if they gained the support of a mass-based party or some other broad community of interests. They tried to impose their reforms from above, bureaucratically, without attempting to build a popular base, and that, more than anything else, is the key to their political demise.

In his appearance and background Stolypin was typical of that charmed circle of aristocrats that dominated the imperial bureaucracy. Tall, bearded and distinguished, he had considerable personal charm. The Englishman Bernard Pares compared him to 'a big naive friendly bear'.10 Stolypin came from an ancient noble family which had served the tsars since the sixteenth century and, as a reward for their service, had accumulated huge estates in several provinces. Stolypin's great-aunt was related to Lermontov and his parents were friends of Gogol and Tolstoy. During his childhood the family had travelled extensively in Europe, and he himself was fluent in French, German and English by the time he enrolled, in 1881, at the Physical-Mathematical Faculty of St Petersburg University.

In one important respect, however, Stolypin was different from the rest of the ruling elite: he had not made his way up the ranks of the St Petersburg bureaucracy but had been appointed head of the government directly from the provinces. This was to become a dangerous source of friction with his rivals. Stolypin's political outlook was directly shaped by his provincial experience. Even as Prime Minister he remained in essence a country squire, whose primary interest was in agriculture and local administration. His first thirteen years in office (1889—1902) had been spent as Marshal of the Kovno Nobility, a Polish-Lithuanian province where his wife, O. B. Neidgardt, owned an estate. It was here that Stolypin first became preoccupied with the problems of Russian peasant farming. The Kovno region, like most of the west of the Russian Empire, had never experienced the communal system. The peasants owned their plots of land privately and their farming techniques, as in neighbouring Prussia, were much more efficient than those of the peasants in central Russia where the communal system prevailed. The contrast was strengthened for him in 1903, when Stolypin became Governor of Saratov, a land-extensive province with the communal system. Its peasants were among the poorest and the most rebellious in the whole of the country. In 1905—6 more of the gentry's property was destroyed in Saratov than in any other province of the Empire. Stolypin's daughter recalled the sight of 'the steppe lit up at night by the burning manor houses' and long lines of carts moving along the red horizon like 'a peasant army coming back from its wars'.11 All this confirmed Stolypin's conviction — which he brought with him to St Petersburg and made the cornerstone of his agrarian reform — that the land question would not be resolved and the threat of revolution averted until the communal system was abolished and a stable landowning class of peasants created, which would have an equal stake in the status quo to that of the gentry.

Largely as a result of his resolute measures to restore order in Saratov, Stolypin was appointed Minister of the Interior in April 1906. The following July he became Prime Minister, or Chairman of the Council of Ministers. The Tsar wanted a 'strong man' to deal with the country in crisis and stories of Stolypin's personal bravery circulated freely around the capital. Unlike other provincial governors, who had barricaded themselves into their official residences or fled their posts in terror during the recent upheavals, Stolypin visited the most rebellious villages in Saratov and, in confronting the radical agitators, put to good use what his daughter referred to as 'his country gentleman's knowledge of how to dominate peasants'. In one village he persuaded a would-be assassin to lay down his gun by opening his coat to the man and challenging him in front of the crowd to shoot him in cold blood. On another occasion, whilst addressing a village meeting, he became aware of a peasant agitator standing beside him with apparently dangerous intentions. Stolypin broke off his speech and, turning to the agitator, told him to hand him his overcoat. The peasant obediently took the overcoat from the hand of a courier and passed it to the Governor.12 With one arrogant gesture, Stolypin had managed to assert his mastery — the mastery of a squire — over his peasant adversary. This vignette said a great deal about the nature of power in Russia.

These were not isolated examples of Stolypin's personal bravery. During his premiership there were several attempts on his life, including a bomb blast at his house which killed several servants and wounded one of his daughters. He was not deterred. He wore a bullet-proof vest and surrounded himself with security men — but he seemed to expect nonetheless that he would eventually die violently. The first line of his will, written shortly after he had become Prime Minister, read: 'Bury me where I am assassinated.'13


'I am fighting on two fronts,' Stolypin told Bernard Pares in 1906. 'I am fighting against revolution, but for reform. You may say that such a position is beyond human strength and you might be right.' In this, as in all his public statements, there was a certain amount of self-dramatization. Stolypin was nothing if not vain. He liked to picture himself as a man of destiny, fighting in the name of progress against all the odds. His appearances in the Duma always contained an element of theatre. He liked to play to the gallery, making the most of his shortness of breath and the natural spasms in his speech (the result of an unsuccessful operation) to evoke sympathy from the deputies. He encouraged the legend that he had been wounded in a duel.14

Nevertheless, the task he had set himself would truly require an almost Herculean effort. His first aim was simply to restore order. This he accomplished by measures that earned him opprobrium from the liberals. Hundreds of radical newspapers and trade unions were closed down, while nearly 60,000 political detainees were executed, sentenced to penal servitude or exiled without trial during his first three years in office. Thousands of peasants were tried in military field courts. Yet repression alone, as Stolypin well knew, was not enough to strengthen the established order and so he simultaneously mapped out a comprehensive programme of reforms to conciliate the opposition and seize the initiative for the state. He introduced reforms to dismantle the commune and give the peasants property rights and full civil equality; to modernize local government on the basis of citizenship and property rather than membership of an estate; to improve the local courts and regulate the police; to protect civil liberties and end discrimination against the Jews; to provide for universal and compulsory primary schooling; and, among many others, to improve the conditions of the factory workers. In each of these there was a clear political motive: to strengthen the government. Perhaps in this sense, like his hero Bismarck, Stolypin should be described, as Leontovitsch once suggested, as a 'conservative liberal'.15 For the whole purpose of his reforms was not to create a democratic order, as such, but to strengthen the tsarist system.

The same statist instrumentalism determined Stolypin's attitude towards the Duma. He saw it as an appendage to the state, a public body to endorse government policies, but not to check or direct the administration. His constitutional model was more Prussian than English. Sovereignty was to remain with the monarch and his executive, and was never to be conceded to parliament. The Second Duma, which convened in February 1907, was tolerated by Stolypin only in so far as it did what he wanted. His administration had done its best to influence the elections and secure the return of its allies, the Octobrists, who had declared themselves a 'party of state order'. But the 54 elected Octobrists, even if supported by the 98 Kadets and the 60 other Centrist and Rightist deputies, were hardly enough to give the government a workable majority against the huge bloc of 222 socialists (65 SDs, 37 SRs, 16 Popular Socialists and 104 Trudoviks) now that all the parties of the Left had ended their boycott of the Duma. The 25-year-old Georgian Menshevik, Irakli Tsereteli, who would lead the Soviet in 1917, soon became the hero of this so-called 'Duma of National Anger' through his fiery and radical speeches condemning the policies of the government. Nor could Stolypin rely on the peasants to be their usual humble selves. One peasant deputy, from Stolypin's own Saratov province, caused a great sensation during the debate on the land reforms when he said to a delegate of the nobility: 'We know about your property, for we were your property once. My uncle was exchanged for a greyhound.'16

With little prospect of finding support for his reforms, Stolypin had no qualms about dissolving the Duma and changing the electoral law so that when the next assembly convened it would be dominated by conservative elements. The electoral weight of the peasants, the workers and the national minorities was drastically reduced, while the representation of the gentry was even more exaggerated. When the Third Duma assembled in November 1907 the pro-government parties (Octobrists, Rightists and Nationalists) controlled 287 of the 443 seats. The Kadets and the socialists were reduced to small and fragmented minorities. Even Prince Lvov, the mildest of liberals, could not find a seat. This, at last, was a Duma with which Stolypin could do business. It was, he believed, a parliament dominated by 'responsible' and 'statesmanlike' people, who would be able to see the need for a new and constructive partnership between state and nation for the purpose of gradual reform. The radicals called it a 'Duma of Lords and Lackeys'.

Yet even this 'king's parliament' proved too hard for Stolypin to manage, as he found himself under growing pressure from both Left and Right. The electoral decree of 3 June was technically an infringement of the Fundamental Laws and the liberals were quick to denounce it as a coup d'etat. Even the Octobrists, the new law's chief beneficiaries, felt uncomfortable with it and aimed to atone for their 'illegal' gains by trying to defend and expand the Duma's powers.

Alexander Guchkov, their leader, had special ambitions for the Duma in the military field. As an industrialist who had served as a Red Cross official in the war against Japan, he could see both the military need and the economic advantage of a big rearmaments programme. The Octobrists were increasingly committed to a policy of imperial expansion, but in their view this could only be achieved if responsibility for the military was shifted from the court to the institutions of the state. There was no point spending more money on the army without at the same time reforming its command, which was dominated by the aristocracy and the military doctrines of the eighteenth century. Russia needed heavy artillery, not more elegant Horseguards. In this conviction Guchkov was supported by the 'military professionals', such as General Brusilov and Stolypin's own Assistant Minister of War, A.A. Polivanov. Guchkov was Chairman of the Duma's Committee of Imperial Defence, which had a veto over the military budget, and he used this position to launch an attack on the court's supreme command. In 1909 the Duma threatened to refuse the navy credits unless its strategic planning agency, the Naval General Staff, came under the control of the Ministry rather than the court. Nicholas was furious. He saw in this ultimatum a brazen attempt by the Duma to wrest military command from the crown, and used his veto to block its Naval General Staff Bill. The fact that Stolypin and his Council of Ministers had supported the bill made matters worse, since now there was a fundamental conflict of interests, with the government taking the view that it should control the armed forces and the court and its allies insisting that this was the sole right of the Tsar. Stolypin offered to resign, and Nicholas was pressed by his more reactionary allies to accept his resignation. But at this moment, having restored the country to a kind of order, Stolypin was indispensable and the royalists had to be satisfied with the lesser triumph of forcing him to reconfirm the Tsar's exclusive prerogatives in the military sphere.17

Beneath the technicalities of the naval staff crisis lay a fundamental problem that was to undermine Stolypin's efforts to save the tsarist system by reforming it. As far as the Tsar was concerned, Stolypin's political programme threatened to shift the balance of power from the court to the state institutions. The Naval General Staff Bill was an obvious signal of this intention. Stolypin stood foursquare in the Petrine tradition of bureaucratic modernization so detested by Nicholas. Everything in his Prime Minister's conduct was intended to break with the old patrimonial system. Whereas previous chief ministers had been treated as little more than household servants by the Tsar, Stolypin deliberately avoided the court and preferred to spend his weekends at home with his family, as a Western Prime Minister would, rather than on hunting parties with the Tsar and his lackeys. Stolypin viewed the state as a neutral and universal agent of reform and modernization which would protect Russia's imperial interests. In his view, the state stood above the interests of the aristocracy — even above the dynasty itself — which negated the notion of a social order based on the old estate rankings. Everyone, from the peasant to the prince, was a citizen (so long as he owned property). This essentially Western view of the state was a direct challenge to the Muscovite ideology so favoured by the Tsar and his courtiers, who imagined the autocracy as a steep and mystically sanctioned pyramid of patrimonial power based on a strict social hierarchy headed by the nobility. If Stolypin's reforms were allowed to succeed, then the Tsar's personal rule would be overshadowed by the institutions of his state, while the traditional social order would be undermined.


Such fears were fuelled by the old elite groups who all had their own reasons to oppose Stolypin's reforms and who now rallied to the defence of the Tsar's autocratic prerogatives. This legitimist bloc was brought together by the naval staff crisis, which presented an obvious threat to the crowns traditional rights. It had powerful institutional support within court circles, the State Council, the United Nobility, the Orthodox Church, the Union of the Russian People, the police and certain sections of the bureaucracy and, although it operated through informal channels, was strong enough to defeat virtually all Stolypin's political innovations.

His proposal to expand the state system of primary education was defeated by reactionaries in the Church, who had their own interest in the schools. The same fate awaited his legislation to ease discrimination against religious minorities, the Old Believers and the Jews in particular. His efforts to curb the illegal behaviour of the bureaucracy and the police were doomed, since he never had full control of either. The provincial governors, with their family ties at court, constantly sabotaged his reforms, while senior bureaucrats in St Petersburg intrigued against him. As for the actual control of the police, Stolypin was virtually powerless. The Empress's own candidate, General P. G. Kurlov, was appointed chief of the secret police, over Stolypin's protests. Kurlov used his position to divert large sums of government money to extremist Rightist groups and newspapers. He placed Stolypin himself under surveillance, intercepted his mail, and kept the Empress informed about his intentions, especially with regard to her favourite Rasputin. When Stolypin was finally assassinated, in August 1911, rumours immediately began to circulate that Kurlov had commissioned the murder. To this day, the rumours have never been proved. But they tell us a good deal about the public perception of the relations between Stolypin and his enemies on the Right.

The United Nobility was by far the most vociferous of these groups. It had been formed in the wake of the 1905 Revolution to defend the gentry's property rights and its domination of rural politics. Stolypin's local government reforms threatened the latter by giving the peasants, as landowners, representation in the zemstvos equal to that of the nobles. They also proposed to abolish the peasant-class courts, bringing the peasants fully into the system of civil law. Stolypin saw these reforms as essential for the success of his land reform programme (see pages 232-41). The new class of conservative peasant landowners which he hoped to create would not support the existing order unless they were made citizens with equal political and legal rights to those enjoyed by other estates. 'First of all,' Stolypin said, 'we have to create a citizen, a small landowner, and then the peasant problem will be solved.'

The provincial gentry, however, interpreted this inclusive gesture as a threat to their own privileged position in the rural social and political order.


Stolypin was proposing to establish a new tier of zemstvo representation at the volost level, in which the franchise would be based on property rather than birth. He was also planning to increase the powers of the zemstvos and abolish the land captains, who had previously ruled the roost in the countryside. The effect of all this, as the outraged squires pointed out, would be to end their ancient domination of the system of rural government. The local zemstvos would be transformed from gentry into peasant organs, since for every squire at the volost level there would be several hundred newly-enfranchised peasant smallholders. The squires accused Stolypin of trying to undermine 'provincial society' (i.e. themselves) through bureaucratic centralization, and on this basis rallied their forces against him in the Duma, the State Council, the United Nobility and among their allies at court. Too vain to suffer certain defeat, Stolypin gave up the battle. The system of rural administration, by far the weakest link in the tsarist state, stayed in the hands of 20,000 nobles, a tiny and outdated social group which, thanks to its supporters in high places, was able to fend off all reform in defence of its own narrow interests. Had Stolypin succeeded in broadening the social base of local government in the countryside, then perhaps in 1917 it would not have collapsed so disastrously and Soviet power might never have filled the subsequent political vacuum as successfully as it did.

Much the same clash of interests lay behind the famous western zemstvo crisis of 1911, which marked Stolypin's final demise. With the decline of the Octobrists, as a result of the naval staff crisis and the rightward shift of the landowning squires, Stolypin was obliged to tailor his policies to the other main government party in the Duma, the Nationalists, which had been established in 1909 with strong support among the Russian landowners of the nine Polish provinces. The party, in the words of its historian Robert Edelman, was 'not so much a party of nationalism as a party of the dominant Russian nationality in a multinational Empire'.18 The zemstvos had never been established in these western provinces, since most of the landowners were Poles and the Polish Rebellion of 1863 was still fresh in the memory of Alexander II. But the Nationalist Party campaigned for a western zemstvo bill, arguing that Russia's imperial interests in these crucial borderlands could be guaranteed by a complex voting procedure based on nationality as well as property. Stolypin knew this western region from his days in Kovno. The peasant smallholders, who were mainly Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian, were among the most advanced in the Empire and he expected them to develop rapidly into yeoman farmers under his agrarian reforms. If they were given the largest share of the vote in the zemstvos, as planned by the lower property franchise of his Western Zemstvo Bill, they might become the model yeoman-citizens of the Russian imperial state.


An area formerly dominated by Polish landowners would be ruled by Russians,* albeit of peasant origin.

The bill was passed by the Duma but defeated in the State Council, where the gentry's fundamentalists were unwilling to see the privileges of the noble estate (even its Polish element) sacrificed to ensure the domination of Russian interests; the fact that the Poles were aristocrats should in their view take precedence over the fact that the peasants were Russian. Their opposition was encouraged by Trepov and Durnovo, favourites at court, who sought to use this opportunity to bring down their rival. They ensured the bill's defeat by persuading the Tsar to go behind Stolypin's back and issue a statement encouraging the deputies to vote as their 'conscience' dictated (i.e. implying they should vote against the government). It was a clear vote of no confidence in Stolypin engineered by the court and its camp followers on the Right. But there was still one glimmer of hope. Nicholas had second thoughts about his role in the plot and promised Stolypin that if the bill was reintroduced, he would support its passage through the upper chamber. Stolypin, however, was not a man to compromise. He was unaccustomed to opposition and was poorly versed in the skills of the modern politician, skills which might have enabled him to negotiate a way through. Rather than wait for a second reading of the bill he chose to make a firm stand on the first, realizing in any case that his career was probably finished. He threatened to resign unless the Tsar prorogued the Duma and the State Council and passed the bill by emergency decree under Article 87 of the Fundamental Laws. He also demanded that Durnovo and Trepov should be expelled from the capital. After four days of consideration Nicholas finally agreed to Stolypin's demands. On 14 March, with the two chambers closed, he promulgated the Western Zemstvo Bill and ordered Durnovo and Trepov to leave St Petersburg until the end of the year. It had taken several hours of persuasion by his mother, the eminently sensible Dowager Empress, to get the Tsar to go against the advice of his wife (who was at the centre of the plot against Stolypin). When he received Stolypin at the Gatchina Palace his face was 'red from weeping'.19

Stolypin had prevailed by sheer force of character. But his high-handed tactics in the western zemstvo crisis alienated almost everyone and his political fortunes now declined rapidly. The Tsar had been deeply humiliated by his own Prime Minister and, spurred on by his royalist cronies, now sought revenge. The liberals were outraged by Stolypin's contemptuous treatment of the Duma. Guchkov resigned from its presidency and the Octobrists moved into opposition; the Nationalists were the only Duma faction to support Stolypin in a motion

* Like all Great-Russian nationalists, Stolypin counted the Ukrainians and Belorussians as bearers of the Russian national idea.


of censure. Isolated and spurned, Stolypin himself lost all his former confidence, lost sleep and became moody.20 He sensed that his days were numbered.

At the end of August 1911 Stolypin arrived in Kiev for celebrations to mark the unveiling of a monument to Alexander II. He had long been prepared for a violent death and before he left St Petersburg had entrusted one of his senior aides with a box of secret papers which he ordered to be destroyed should he fail to return. He ignored police warnings of a plot to kill him and travelled to Kiev without bodyguards. He refused even to wear his bullet-proof vest. On I September the Kiev Opera put on a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Legend of Tsar Sultan. Nicholas and his four daughters occupied the royal box near the orchestra, while Stolypin sat in the front row of the stalls. During the second interval, while he stood talking with Count Fredericks in front of the orchestra pit, a young man in evening dress approached and, drawing a revolver from under his programme, fired twice at Stolypin. One bullet struck him in the right arm, the other in his chest, where a medal deflected it into his liver. Slowly, as if unaware of what had happened, Stolypin took off his gloves, carefully placed them on the barrier and unbuttoned his jacket, whereupon he saw his waistcoat covered in blood and sank into a chair. In a voice audible to all those around him, he said, 'I am happy to die for the Tsar,' and, on seeing him in the royal box above, lifted his hands and motioned him to withdraw to safety. Nicholas remained standing there and Stolypin, in a last theatrical gesture, blessed him with a sign of the cross. For four days the Prime Minister's condition remained stable. The Tsar continued with the programme of celebrations in Kiev and visited him in hospital. But on 5 September, Stolypin began to slip away. He died that evening. The Tsar came the next morning and said prayers by his bedside. Over and over he repeated the words, 'Forgive me.'21

* * * The man who shot Stolypin was D. G. Bogrov, a student-revolutionary turned police informer through financial need. Nobody ever managed to discover which side Bogrov was working for — the Right or the Left — and in a sense that is the real point. For Stolypin had many enemies on either side. Long before Bogrov's bullet killed him, he was politically dead.

Stolypin's political demise must be explained by his failure as a politician. Had he been better versed in 'the art of the possible', perhaps he could have gained more time for himself and his reforms. Stolypin had said that he needed twenty years to transform Russia. But partly through his own fault he had only five. He adhered so rigidly to his own aims and principles that he lost sight of the need to negotiate and compromise with his opponents. He antagonized the old political elites by riding roughshod over their traditional privileges and lost the support of the liberals by suppressing the Duma whenever it stood in his way. This political inflexibility stemmed from his narrow bureaucratic outlook.


He acted as if everything had to be subordinated to the interests of the state, as these were defined by his reforms, and believed that this placed him above the need to involve himself in the dirty business of party manoeuvring. He thought he could get his reforms by administrative that, and never moved outside the bureacracy to mobilize a broader base of support. Although he acknowledged that the key to his programme was the creation of a conservative peasant landowning class, he never considered the idea of sponsoring the foundation of a smallholders' party. There was a Stolypin but no Stolypinites. And so when Stolypin died his reforms died with him.

According to some historians, the tsarist regime's last real hope was wiped out by the assassin's bullets. Stolypin's reforms, they argue, were its one real chance to reform itself on Western lines. If only they had been given more time, instead of being disrupted by the First World War, then perhaps the Revolution of 1917 would not have taken place. This optimistic view rests on two assumptions: that Stolypin's reforms were succeeding in their aims; and that they were capable of stabilizing Russia's social system after the crisis of 1905. Both assumptions are patently false.

First, the reforms made relatively little headway in moving Russia towards a constitutional parliamentary order. Indeed some of Stolypin's own methods — such as the coup d'etat of June 1907 and his tactics over the Western Zemstvo Bill — were a flagrant abuse of that system's ideals. True, there were some gains in civil liberties, in the freedom of the press, and in the fact that the Duma itself continued to exist, if only as a symbol and a school for the new culture of constitutionalism, between 1906 and 1914.* But this hardly meant that tsarist Russia was necessarily moving towards some sort of Western liberal normality. The nature of the tsarist regime was the single biggest guarantee of its own political irreformability. The Muscovite ideology of patrimonial autocracy which Nicholas and the Rightists increasingly favoured was deeply hostile to the Western constitutional vision entailed in Stolypin's programme of reforms; and the entrenched powers of the court, together with the vested interests of the Church and the provincial nobility, were quite strong enough to prevent that programme from ever being realized. Once the revolutionary crisis of 1905—7 had passed, the monarchy no longer needed the protection of Stolypin, and increasingly detached itself from his government, paralysed its programme, and began to pursue its own separate agenda, based increasingly after 1912 on the use of Russian nationalism to rally 'the loyal people' behind the throne.

* This last cultural aspect was a crucial one — and itself a sign of the mountain to be climbed — for the introduction of a constitutional order in a country such as Russia which then (as today) had no real traditions of constitutionalism. Whereas in Western countries the constitution merely had to guarantee the rights of a pre-existing civil society and culture, in Russia it also had to create these. It had to educate society — and the state itself — into the values and ideas of liberal constitutionalism.


Second, by 1912, if not before, it had already become clear that no package of political reforms could ever resolve the profound social crisis that had caused the first crack in the system during 1905. True, for a while, largely as a result of government repressions, the labour movement subsided and showed signs of greater moderation, enough to give grounds for the Menshevik hope that it might evolve on European lines. But in the two years after 1912 there was a dramatic increase in both the number of industrial strikes and in their level of militancy, culminating in July 1914 with a general strike in St Petersburg, where in the midst of a state visit by the French President there was street fighting and barricades. The workers of the capital cities, according to Leo Haimson's seminal work of thirty years ago, were rapidly turning away from all the democratic parties — including even the Mensheviks — which advocated the adoption of constitutional or gradualist methods, and were moving over to the Bolsheviks, who encouraged direct workers' action and a violent struggle against the regime.22 Despite all the efforts at political reform, urban Russia on the eve of the First World War found itself on the brink of a new and potentially more violent revolution than the 'dress rehearsal' of 1905.

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