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The Optimistic View

The Revolutionary Masses

In assessing Russia’s prospects of peaceful political development prior to the war some analysts take an optimistic view. They argue, for example, that the constitutional experiment and the establishment of the Duma not only provided representatives of the new political parties with experience of government and administration, but also helped to develop  political culture of various social classes, including the peasantry, by familiarizing them with the procedures of parliamentary elections. Besides, this group argues, the tsarist regime was not as isolated and vulnerable as it seems. There were many powerful groups, particularly among Russia’s educated elites, who were willing and able to back a forward-looking government if it offered them some role in government. Bankers, entrepreneurs, landowners and professionals had little to gain from revolution; they were much more interested in political stability. 

The Red Square in Moscow. A futuristic postcard dating back to 1914

In addition, the ‘optimists’ continue, Russian society was becoming increasingly progressive and democratic every year.  Modern education spread rapidly at different levels and was remarkably humanitarian and liberal. Russian universities enjoyed virtually full freedom. Even the periodical press, in spite of various restrictions, gave some representation to every point of view, including the Bolshevik. To be sure, grave problems remained, in particular, economic backwardness and the poverty of the masses. Yet, the economic revival that began from 1907 showed that the rapid economic growth of the late nineteenth century was no accident.

Through continued vigorous industrialization and Stolypin’s land reform, Russia’s economic ailments were on the way to being solved. Despite enormous strains of modernization, there was every reason to think that a competent government would be able to cope with them and preside over a successful transition to some form of mature capitalist society. The conclusion that the ‘optimists’ draw from all this is that had it not been for the intervention of the war, Russia would in all probability have followed a peaceful path of democratic capitalist development, and the revolution would have been avoided.

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Between Revolutions

 

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