Russian Historiography AOS 1 - L Cashman

Working with Russian
Historiography (AOS 1)
Luke Cashman
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School
[email protected]
What will be covered today?
 What is historiography?
 Why study it as part of the Revolutions course?
 The main historiographical schools and their key exponents
 Relevant topics in the Study Design
 Incorporating historiography into SAC and exam responses
 Where to find historians’ views
 Crucial resources:
 Edward Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, London: Edward
Arnold, 1990.
 Richard Malone, Analysing the Russian Revolution 2nd ed., Port
Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
What is historiography?
 The study, comparison and evaluation of historians’ interpretations
of the people and events of the past
 Can be organised into broad “schools” – historians who agree with
each other (to a great or lesser extent) or adopt a similar approach
in their methodology
 The schools can reflect broader trends in politics and society (eg
the popularity of Marxism, the course and consequences of the
Cold War, emerging ideological trends such as feminism and
cultural studies)
 Sometimes there are enormous differences (origins of the February
and October revolutions; the popularity of Lenin and the Bolsheviks)
 Sometimes they are strikingly similar (impact of World War I)
Why study historiography?
 The Study Design (January 2013):
 Revolutions in history have been reconsidered and debated by historians. The study of a
revolution should consider differing perspectives and the reasons why different groups have
made different judgments of the history of the revolution. (p131)
 Historians place differing emphasis on the role of ideas, leaders and movements in the
development of the revolution. (p132)
 Key skills: consider a range of historians’ interpretations. (p132)
 The VCAA Assessment handbook criteria (VCAA January 2013):
 “Teachers should develop an assessment task that allows the student to… consider a range of
historians’ opinions.”
 Descriptors (criteria): “Critical analysis and evaluation of historians’ opinions.”
 The end of year exam and the Assessor’s Report: “Historiography is assessed in Section A,
Question 3 and Section B, Question 1 where the instruction is given.” (2012)
 It’s the most dynamic aspect of History. Historians will never agree with each other. In this
sense, History will go on forever.
 It reminds us that people rarely agree on current issues (climate change, the necessity of a
carbon tax, who would make the better prime minister)
The historiographical schools
Marxist (Soviet, Western and post-Soviet)
The Marxist view
 Grounded in the tenets of Marxism and Leninism
 Revolution is inevitable as a society passes through certain stages until it
reaches its apogee (the workers’ socialist paradise)
 The October Revolution was the greatest event in world history:
“Supreme vindication of the general laws of history discovered by
Marx.” (Acton, p30)
 Lenin and the Bolsheviks perfectly articulated, fermented and
channeled the unfocused energies of the proletariat into classconscious, political, revolutionary action in 1905, February and October
 Exponents:
History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Soviet)
Leon Trotsky (Soviet)
Christopher Hill (Western)
E.H. Carr (Western)
John Reed (Western)
Dmitri Volkogonov (post-Soviet)?
 “The traditional liberal interpretation has rejected outright every major
tenet of the Soviet view.” (Acton, p35)
 The Russian Revolution was a tragedy that would eventually have global implications &
 Marxism, Leninism and socialism are deeply flawed ideologies
 Rejects notions of inevitability in historical causation, and the broad effects of social and
economic factors
 Instead embraces individual choice and action, and the role of accident and
happenstance: “There is a strong tendency [in the Western-liberal tradition] to attribute
primary causal importance to the actions of political leaders. It is those at the summit who
make the decisive moves in history.” (Acton, p36)
 Deemphasises the role of “the masses” which is seen as “essentially subordinate” to
“political leadership.” (Acton, p37)
 Exponents:
Richard Pipes
Robert Conquest
Michael Lynch
Orlando Figes?
Dmitri Volkogonov?
 Seek to “revise” the Marxist and Western-liberal viewpoints
 Sometimes draws the best from both schools; other times forges a new argument
 “Revisionist work points to an understanding which, while drawing specific features
from each school of thought, supersedes them all.” (Acton, p48)
 Social history; “history from below” (Acton, p45) and the impact of ordinary people on
political events
 How people at the grassroots level influenced political leaders and institutions as much
as they were influenced by them
 Exponents:
Sheila Fitzpatrick
S.A. Smith
Robert Service
Edward Acton
Orlando Figes?
 Like Western-liberalism, a critique of Marxism, but from a
Leftist-anarchist perspective
 Based on the principle that societies and individuals function to their full
potential when there is no economic or political exploitation
 “The people” are perfectly capable of self-management; there is no need for
a dictatorship of the proletariat.
 For libertarians, “the Bolshevik triumph marked not the fulfillment of but the
failure of the revolutionary promise of 1917”. (Acton, p39)
 The Bolshevik Party snatched power and self-determination from the mass
movement of peasants and workers in order to establish a centralised,
coercive and elitist regime
 Exponents:
M Brinton
G Konrad & I Szelenyi
R Gombin
P Corrigan
The 1905 Revolution
 All historians concur that the Russo-Japanese War and the Bloody
Sunday massacre fatally damaged the prestige and authority of
the tsar
 Marxist: Led by the workers and the Bolshevik Party; the liberalbourgeoisie betrayed the people by accepting the October
 Western-liberal: Liberals took the lead; socialists played little to no
role; the regime only gained a breathing spell
 Revisionist: Broad-based attack on the regime; the workers
outpaced the socialist parties; the outcome of 1905 was
unsatisfactory for all
The Marxist perspective:
The Bolsheviks called upon the masses to rise in arms against the
tsar and the landlords… The working class headed the struggle
of the masses against the autocracy. The Bolshevik slogan of
mass political strike had borne fruit. The October general strike
revealed the power and might of the proletarian movement
and compelled the mortally frightened tsar to issue his Manifesto
of October 17, 1905…. Nevertheless, the Manifesto of October
17 was a fraud on the people, a trick of the tsar to gain some
sort of respite in which to lull the credulous and to win time to
rally his forces and then to strike at the revolution…
CPSU, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
(Bolsheviks), Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2005 [1939],
pp94 - 5.
Why did Tsar Nicolas II abdicate?
 All historians agree that the tsarist regime (government,
bureaucracy and infrastructure) was unable to cope with the
prolonged demands of World War I
 Marxist: The Petrograd workers and soldiers, lead by the
 Western-liberal: Revolt began at the top and spread to the
middle classes; workers and socialist parties played no role in
Nicholas’ decision to step down; not inevitable, but highly
likely; due more to the sheer incompetence of the regime
and Nicholas’ stubborn refusal to implement necessary
 Revisionist: Tsarism collapsed under pressure from both
popular demonstrations and the withdrawal of elite support
The Revisionist perspective
The February events were complex. The workers had rebelled, and the soldiers
had refused to suppress them. But the strikes, demonstrations and mutiny could
have been quashed if coercive agencies had kept faith with Nicholas II. There
was no popular certitude that the last knell of Romanov power had been
tolled. What made the difference, finally, was that the middle-ranking enforcers
of order on the streets had lost their will to use violence to maintain the status
quo… it was the workers and soldiers and not the politicians, administrators,
generals, businessmen and ambassadors who acted. And a revolution requires
action, audacious action. Action came in the form of strikes, demonstrations
and mutiny in central Petrograd. On 2 March, the bewildered Nicholas II
agreed to abdicate. The ultimate pressure had been applied by a group of
Duma politicians, who proceeded to form a Provisional Government. It was
adherents of the Progressive Block who predominated in the cabinet, and
Kadets were its majority. Ministers moved swiftly to promulgate [put into effect
legally] civic freedoms of speech, assembly and association and promised to
hold elections, with a universal adult franchise, to a Constituent Assembly… The
workers with their street demonstrations had brought down Nicholas the Bloody,
and yet they stood aside as a ‘bourgeois’ cabinet assumed power.
Robert Service, The Russian Revolution 1900 – 1927 3rd ed., New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 1999, pp33 – 6.
The July Days
 Marxist: A spontaneous, poorly conceived uprising led by the
ill-educated workers and sailors; the Bolsheviks joined in only
after advising against an attempt at seizing power
 Western-liberal: Staged by the Bolsheviks to preempt the
Provisional Government’s decision to send pro-Bolshevik units
of the Petrograd garrison to the front
 Revisionist: Spontaneous act by Petrograd workers and lowerlevel Bolsheviks; Lenin and the Central Committee wavered
and only joined in the later stages
The Western-liberal perspective
No event in the Russian Revolution has been more wilfully lied about
than the July 1917 insurrection, the reason being that it was Lenin’s
worst blunder, a misjudgement that nearly caused the destruction of
the Bolshevik Party: the equivalent of Hitler’s 1923 beer-hall putsch. To
absolve themselves of responsibility, the Bolsheviks have gone to
unusual lengths to misrepresent the July putsch as a spontaneous
demonstration which they sought to direct into peaceful channels. The
July 3—5 action was precipitated by the government’s decision to
dispatch units of the Petrograd garrison to the front for the anticipated
enemy [German] counteroffensive. Inspired primarily by military
considerations, this decision was also meant to rid the capital of the
units most contaminated by Bolshevik propaganda. To the Bolsheviks
the move spelled disaster since it threatened to deprive them of the
forces which they intended to use in their next bid for power…
Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution 1899 – 1919, London: The Harvill
Press, 1997, p419 – 420.
The nature of the Bolshevik
 Marxist: A tight-knit, professional, dedicated revolutionary vanguard of
the proletariat as demanded by Lenin in What is to be done? (1902);
small; top-down decision-making process; “democratic centralism”
(Lenin); perfectly expressed the will of the masses
 Western-liberal: similar to the Marxist view but a different “flavour”; tightknit and centralised but not reflective of the people’s will. According to
Pipes, more of “ein Orden” (an Order) where the leader’s will was
implicitly obeyed. They Bolshevik Party was an institutionalised form of
Lenin’s personality.
 Revisionist: A loose organisation that grew rapidly throughout 1917; the
new, lower-level members urged the Central Committee to seize power;
what counted more was the party’s intransigent position on the far left
of Russian politics which became more attractive to the masses as the
Provisional Government proved incapable of dealing with the
deepening crises of 1917
The Revisionist perspective
In 1917 the Bolshevik Party was very different from the tightly knit
conspiratorial party advocated by Lenin in 1903 [the year the Russian
Social Democratic Party was created]. Though more unified that the SRs,
Mensheviks, and anarchists, the Bolsheviks were a diverse lot and even
after Lenin’s April Theses became official policy, the gradualist views of
Kamenev and G.E. Zinoviev (dubbed ‘Lenin’s mad dog by the
Mensheviks) continued to enjoy strong support. Alongside cadres who
had endured years of persecution, tens of thousands of workers, soldiers,
and sailors flooded into the party, knowing little Marxism, but seeing in
the Bolsheviks the most committed defenders of the working class.
Bolsheviks were indefatigable in agitating for their policies in factories
and on street corners. The result was that party membership rose from
perhaps 10,000 in March to nearly 400,000 by October.
S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: OUP,
2002, p24.
October: Coup or popular
 Marxist: Lenin and the Bolsheviks judged the moment perfectly
and seized power in the name, and with the support, of the
workers, peasants and soldiers of Russia
 Western-liberal: A classic coup d’etat; the seizure of
government authority by a tiny, radical party with neither
broad, deep nor lasting popular support. The tacit
acceptance of the workers and peasants was not agreement
– it was more a sign of indifference or disillusionment
 Revisionist: The October revolution was carried out by relatively
few people, but the millions of Russia were not needed to push
over the empty shell of the Provisional Government. The
takeover had the widespread support of those who wanted to
see power in Russia pass to the soviets.
Western-Marxist perspective
[I]n these years of trial the Bolsheviks had evolved a political philosophy
and analysis of events more realistic than those of any of their rivals was
shown by the ease with which they swept aside all other parties in the
revolutionary months of 1917… In Russia it was the Bolshevik mastery of
fact that was decisive. The party knew exactly what it wanted, what
concrete concessions to make to different social groups at any given
stage, how to convince the masses of the population by actions, its own
and their own. The party’s organisation allowed greater flexibility in
manoeuvre, combined with firmness and strength in pursuit of the clearly
envisioned ultimate objectives. It was this which won the confidence of a
following sufficient to enable the Bolsheviks to seize and retain power
whilst the Mensheviks and SRs discredited themselves by the helplessness
of their most eloquent phrases in the face of the rude and stubborn
Christopher Hill, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Harmondsworth:
Penguin Books, 1971 [1947], p63.
Volkogonov on October
…the Mensheviks were right when they said in 1917 that Russia was not ripe
for socialist revolution. Yet he was prepared to exploit the opportunity for his
own party to seize power in October… Lenin therefore leapfrogged the
classic Marxist scheme… He recognised that the war had not only been the
chief cause of the February revolution which finished off the Russian Empire,
but would also dash the hopes that had been aroused by them… [Lenin
called] for the defeat of his own country, and for making an already
hideous war into something even worse: a nightmare civil war. With the
seizure of power in mind, this may have been the logical position to take,
but from the moral point of view it was deeply cynical... When the Russian
people had been driven to the limit by the war, and state power in effect
lay on the streets of the capital, the Bolsheviks obtained power with
remarkable ease, in exchange for the promise of peace… The Bolsheviks
survived because of their leader and because of their commitment to
unbridled force.
Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin: A new biography, New York: The Free Press, 1994,
pp67 – 81.
Assessment tasks and the exam
 Teachers can select from a range of four assessment options:
Analysis of visual and/or written documents
Argumentative essay
Research report
Historiographical exercise
 The different tasks make slightly different demands in terms of the use
of historiography
 For 1 and 4, see below
 For 2 and 3:
 Introductions and conclusions to set up debates and outline your own
 Topic sentence to introduce ideas and arguments
 In body paragraphs to present opinions and some evidence not available
 For the exam, analysis and evaluation of historians’ views for Russia
AOS 1 is ONLY required in Section B - document analysis (2012
Assessor’s Report)
Using historians’ views in your own
 Create a historiography grid (see example) to systematise your knowledge
 Avoid referring to the schools of thought because they don’t always agree:
 Figes and Volkogonov are points in case on this matter
 Specific historians’ views on particular topics
 If quoting, keep it brief and incorporate into your own writing
 Paraphrasing is also acceptable, as is putting an historian’s name in
 How many references to historians’ views?
 Depends to an extent on the task
 Don’t attempt to “solve” the Russian Revolution
 Assessor’s want to see that you can stake out a position in the debate that
is backed up by historians’ views and, more importantly, specific historical
Evaluate the extent to which this representation provides a complete
depiction of the revolutionary situation in Russia in October 1917.
In your response, refer to parts of the representation and to different
views of the Revolution. (VCAA exam 2012)
The painting by Kochergin presents a fascinating, if somewhat fanciful, depiction of the
events surrounding the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917. He presents the storming
of the Winter Palace as an event of great heroism and struggle, as exemplified by the pose
of the anonymous Red Guard in the very centre of the image and the battered gates
behind him. In a typical display of Soviet propaganda, it implies that the Provisional
Government was toppled by an anonymous mass of workers, soldiers and sailors. While British
Marxist Christopher Hill would agree with such a depiction of October, the actual storming of
the palace was much less dramatic and something of a non-event. No one, it seemed, was
willing to stand up for the Provisional Government (Trotsky). Pipes, however, seeks to
undermine the popular legitimacy of the Bolshevik regime by arguing that October was little
more than “a classic coup d’etat… with hardly any mass involvement.” Revisionists like
Fitzpatrick and Service dispute this view by noting that, as Fitzpatrick writes, “the Bolsheviks’
greatest strength… was the party’s stance of intransigent radicalism.” This made the
Bolsheviks by far the most popular political alternative, at least in the industrial centres of
Petrograd and Moscow. The image also does little to explain the role of Trotsky, as head of
the three-man MRC, in personally planning and staging the October Revolution. Trotsky
himself argued that his, and Lenin’s, presence in Petrograd was vital to the success of the
Revolution, while Ian D. Thatcher emphasises Trotsky’s preference to seize power in the name
of the soviets rather than the Party, which was ultimately more popular. Therefore, while this
painting emphasises the role played by the ordinary people of Petrograd in the October
Revolution, it places too much importance on them and not enough on the determination
and organisation of revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky. (312 words)
 VCE History Study Design:
 VCE History: Revolutions Assessment Handbook:
 Past VCAA exams and assessor’s reports:
 Textbooks:
 Richard Malone, Analysing the Russian Revolution, 2nd ed.
 Perfect, Ryan & Sweeny, Reinventing Russia.
 Michael Lynch, Reaction and Revolution: Russia 1894 – 1924.
 Bibliography – see final page of this booklet
Final thoughts
 As more and more work is done in Russian archives, the more
we will learn about this fascinating country and its past.
 The historiography of Russia is alive and well!
 It’s an ever evolving beast that will never provide “the”
 Instead… demonstrate your familiarity with the scope of the
debate and, perhaps, choose an historian whose
ideas/arguments you admire and/or agree with. Then back
up that line of thinking with historical evidence and specific
 Read read read; write write write

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