Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz


Chronikbeitrag aus: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 64 (2016), H. 1 S. 170-176

Verfasst von: Alfred Rieber


Boris Vasilevich Anan’ich (1931–2015)

Boris Vasilevich Anan’ich will be mourned as an outstanding scholar of Russian history, an esteemed colleague and an active promoter of close cooperation between the Russian and international community of historians. He belonged to that generation of Russian historians whose careers, reputations and lives were often exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But he did more than survive; he kept alive the great traditions of the Petersburg school without compromising the high standards he had absorbed from his teachers and strove further to advance their aims. Beginning as an economic historian, he never lost sight of the politics and in his later works arrived at a close synthesis of both fields. He was an early participant in international conferences that included Western historians and engaged in joint publishing ventures with them. Those of us who met him first in the early years of the cultural exchange immediately recognized that here was the man to whom we wanted to send our students. As a ruko­voditel’ he more than fulfilled our hopes and expectations. The list is long of North Americans, Europeans and East Asians who benefited from his sympathetic understanding, his wise counsel and his unparalleled knowledge of the archives. From my own students I heard how he took a personal interest in their work and even their health, welcoming them into his home. With many of them, he kept in contact long after they had returned to their home countries.1 The overflowing bookshelves in his apartment were filled with works of foreign scholars who freely acknowledged his help.
Boris Vasilevich was born into a family that had gained from the rapid upward mobility characteristic of the early years of the Soviet power. His father, coming from a peasant background, rapidly rose from the lower ranks of the Soviet navy, ending his service as a vice admiral. With the outbreak of war, the family was evacuated to Arkhangelsk where his father held a high rank in the White Sea Flotilla. After two years in Tallin, where his father was then posted, he returned to Leningrad to finish his schooling and enter Leningrad University, specializing in international relations. The postwar years were hard on the Leningrad intelligentsia. After having suffered enormously during the siege, they faced a different kind of assault in the so-called “Leningrad Affair” which broke out in 1949 when Boris Vasilevich was in his second year. Along with the well-known arrests and executions that decapitated the party organization, a series of attacks were launched against the Leningrad Filial of the Institute of History (LOII). Beginning in 1949 with accusations of “bourgeois subjectivism”, “anti-patriotism” and “cosmopolitanism”, the denunciations and purges continued for the following four years, culminating in 1953 with the abolition of LOII. At the same time, a similar struggle had opened up in the history faculty of Leningrad University which was already deeply divided at the end of the war. One group of scholars represented the last generation of the pre-revolutionary Petersburg School of historians; among the most outstanding were S. N. Valk, S. Ia. Lur’e, B. A. Romanov and Academician V. V. Struve. Another, younger group, trained in the Stalinist years, eagerly joined in the ideological denunciations. By the time Boris Vasilevich entered his fourth year (195152), the man who would become his chief mentor, B. A. Romanov, had been dismissed from the university faculty, although continuing as part time lecturer (po chasovoi oplate). Romanov was already embattled and deeply scared psychologically from the internal battles in the faculty and his earlier arrest in the so-called “Academic Affair” in 1931, when he had served two out of his five-year term in a concentration camp. But by the time of his dismissal, he had already gathered around him a small group of dedicated students, “my sons” as he called them, who were to become the close, life-long friends and colleagues of Boris Vasilevich. They included N. E. Nosov, A. A. Fursenko, V. M. Paneiakh and P. Sh. Ganelin. Romanov sought to protect his “sons” from the devastating effect of the abolition of LOII in 1953 and at the same time to continue to advise them in their work toward advanced degrees, intervening behind the scenes to get them appointed to the Institute once it had been re-established in 1955.2
In 1953, Boris Vasilevich graduated from Leningrad University, having written his diplom under Romanov’s direction. In a letter recommending him for acceptance into the kandidat program of the Institute, Romanov referred to his last students, Boris Vasilevich and Viktor Moiseevich Paneiakh, as “my two Benjamins, to use a Biblical reference; after them I have no one else and none to come.”3 But the Institute was closed down, and Boris Vasilevich was obliged to take a position at the newly established Leningrad Museum of the Revolution, continuing his studies as a fifth year student. On Romanov’s recommendation, Boris Vasilevich was accepted as an aspirant at the Leningrad State Pedagogical Institute. Assigned an official sponsor, Boris Vasilevich continued to work with Romanov who became de facto his supervisor. Working tirelessly on Boris Vasilevich’s part, Romanov finally succeeded in obtaining a place for him preparing for the kandidat degree at the newly re-established LOII. Together master and disciple prepared a revised collection of documents published in 1926 by Romanov on Russian finances and the European-American Financial Markets (18911914) in the time-honored tradition of the Petersburg historical school, emphasizing the careful editing and annotating of documents. Although the Foreign Ministry blocked its publication, the two scholars succeeded in publishing an article in Istoricheskie zapiski under the title The Effort of S. Iu. Vitte to Open the American Money Market, 18981902, containing part of the archival findings and an introduction. It appeared only after the death of Romanov who had long been suffering from a deterioration of his eyesight. The work left its stamp on all the future research of Boris Vasilevich and formed the documentary basis for his doctoral dissertation. After having defended his kandidat dissertation in 1961, he continued to publish on a wide range of economic and financial history.
This was a time when the Soviet historical profession was engaged in a debate over the nature of Russian imperialism and its implications for the study of Russian foreign policy. Boris Vasilevich remained true to the Petersburg tradition by steering clear of the ideological disputes by insisting on the primary importance of documentary, preferably archival research.4 At the same time, however, his work implicitly supported the view of Romanov that Russia was not a semi-colony or colony of the West, as M. N. Pokrovskii and his Moscow disciples argued, but rather had achieved a level of mature finance capitalism. The debate was resolved by a new consensus, a tacit compromise between the two theoretical points of dispute between Pokrovskii and Romanov. A harbinger of this resolution was the mediation of the powerful head of the kafedra of capitalism and imperialism at Moscow University, Academican A. L. Sidorov, who was well-suited for the task. A student of Pokrovskii who had participated in the denunciation of his mentor in 1937, Sidorov also had criticized Romanov, while at the same time shielding him against the most serious denunciations against him in the early fifties. Apparently determined to bind up old wounds and restore comity to the historical profession, Sidorov took a first step by inviting Boris Vasilevich and Rafael Ganelin to edit the first volume of a new edition of Witte’s memoirs, while reserving for his Moscow colleagues the editorial prerogative for volumes two and three.5 The two Leningraders did not simply confine themselves to their assigned task, which dealt only with Witte’s relations with Alexander III. On their own initiative, they published an extended examination of the entire corpus of Witte’s memoirs which may serve as a model of the art of textual criticism. Their twofold aim was to establish the sources which Witte had used to compose his memoirs and to demonstrate how the manuscript of the memoirs was carefully withheld from public scrutiny so that he could use the material to continue his press campaign during his term of office and after his forced resignation in order to justify his political career.6 For the following three decades, Boris Vasilevich and his friend and colleague would continue to explore Witte’s career and his enormous impact on Russian economic development and foreign policy
Boris Vasilevich’s doctoral dissertation, dedicated to the memory of Romanov, revealed for the first time the full extent of Russia’s entanglement with foreign capital and the internal debates over the increased dependence of the government on that source of financing. In the introduction, Boris Vasilevich boldly reaffirmed the outstanding contribution of Romanov to the discussion of Russia’s imperial expansion in the Far East, writing that “the merit of B. A. Romanov consisted not only in being the first in Soviet historiography to study in detail the conditions and causes of the Russo-Japanese War, refuting with documentary evidence the widely distributed version of Witte, but in finding the key to an understanding of the economic policy of the tsarist government in the Far East.”7
Within a few years, he produced another important monograph which complemented the work of Romanov in Manchuria with an equally comprehensive and richly documented analysis of the Russian economic penetration of Persia through the agency of the Discount-Loan Bank of Persia. Amassing a wealth of archival material, he demonstrated the links between the bank, tsarist officials, leading Russian entrepreneurs and the Russo-Chinese Bank, revealing an imperialist network of enormous extent but one riddled with tension and contradictory aims.8 In these two monographs, as in all that was to come, Boris Vasilevich avoided even a perfunctory obeisance to the “classics” of Marxism-Leninism, as was often the case in introductions to scholarly works in order to provide protective coloring. His reviews of the historiography of the question of economic and financial developments were free of polemics or even discussions of ideological differences among the leading figures in the field, while giving, as it were, equal billing to the contributions of scholars from the Moscow and Leningrad schools.
There was one occasion, however, when he participated, in an enterprise with strong political overtones. In 1992 together with several long-standing associates, he accepted, it appears only after overcoming “serious hesitations”, an invitation from the president of the Presidium of the St. Petersburg Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, academician Zh. I. Alfedrov, to assist in editing a massive collection of documents dealing with the administrative political process that in 19291930 condemned and sent into exile without a trial over one hundred of the most distinguished historians of the pre-revolutionary era, mainly from Leningrad and Moscow. Among them was B. A. Romanov.9 The editors were assigned the tasks of selecting, arranging and editing the relevant documents and writing introductions to each of the ten volumes. The first volume, devoted to the case of S. F. Platonov based on the material fabricated by the OGPU, appeared in 1993. Boris Vasilevich joined the editorial collective for the second volume on E. V. Tarle, published in two parts in 1998.10 In the meantime, he continued to publish a series of articles analyzing the problems of dealing in a scholarly way with the fabricated documents. For reasons that are not entirely clear but may be imagined, work on “The Academic Affair” was suspended after the volumes on Tarle.
The decade of the nineties brought to fruition a number of works building upon decades of research and publication. Among them, three may be singled out. In 1991, the monograph Bankirskie doma v Rossii, 18601914 appeared. To answer the question he posed at the outset, as to whether Russia possessed its Rothschilds, Mendelssohns, Morgans and Bleichroders, he focused on the activities of Shitglits, Gintsburg, Poliakov and Riabushinskii, and concluded with a more general analysis of the place of Russian investment banks in the economic development of the country. The work bears all the distinguishing marks of his scholarship, beginning with the problem of sources. As he pointed out, the source base was elusive. A central collection of documents on the question did not exist; materials were widely scattered and of uneven quality. Relations between the banks and the government were tangled and often obscured by the absence of legal accountability on the part of banks, in contrast to joint stock companies. The government often received information from indirect sources such as the censorship bureau. And there were few monographic studies on private banks to build upon. Under these challenging conditions, Boris Vasilevich’s painstaking reconstruction of the activities of private banks would have done justice to a government commission. Beginning in the 1860s and 70s, the big banks played an important role in financing railroad construction, in controlling the money market and managing the stock exchange. Yet, banks took on different characteristics. While Gintsburg and Poliakov maintained close relations with the government, Riabushinskii kept its distance, true to the ethical spirit of the Old Belief. By the turn of the century the family banks were issuing shares, turning into joint stock banks. New banks were springing up. Yes, there were Russian equivalents of Mendels­sohn and Morgan. But, despite evidence of entrepreneurial vigor and adaptation of new forms of organization, the banks were still constrained and their investment activities limited by the centralizing power of the state. Thus, the overall picture was mixed. “The Russian bourgeoisie was not yet strong enough to change the existing laws which constrained its credit operations, but strong enough to prevent the strengthening of state control over credit operations.” 11
As a leading interpreter of the role of entrepreneurship and international finance in Russia’s economic development, Boris Vasilevich was brought into a number of cooperative international ventures. As early as 1978, he was invited to a conference sponsored by the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington which resulted in the publication of his paper in a collective volume. In his view, participation in an even more ambitious Soviet-American project on the links of international banks contributed to the final version of his book on banks.12
The second major work of these years was the culmination of his long commitment to interpreting the life and times of S. Iu. Witte. It was written in collaboration with his long time friend and colleague Rafael Ganelin. Originally intended as a political biography, it evolved into a broader study of the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II illuminated by Witte’s role in shaping a wide range of policies. The book integrated a number of scholarly articles  Boris Vasilevich had published on Witte over the previous decade, paying homage to B. A. Romanov and the “moguchaia kuchka” of his students who had inherited his legacy and redeemed his reputation as they rose to become the leading figures in the Leningrad Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences. One of the most innovative aspects of the book was the exploration of lesser known aspects of Witte’s life and career his involvement with the Holy Brotherhood, his views on the “Jewish question”, his alliance with Vyshnegradskii and the Moscow press, his opposition to the extension of the activities of the zemstvos, his important participation in drafting the structural reforms of 190405, and his persistent public campaign after his removal from office to head off the disastrous course of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy as well as adding substantial detail to the issues of constructing a national economy, building the Trans-Siberian and organizing the economic penetration of Persia and Manchuria. Among their fresh documentary sources, the authors included material from the Bakhmeteff archive of Columbia University which Boris Vasilevich had visited in 1997. The result was a nuanced and balanced picture of Witte as a statesman. Without underplaying the negative aspects of his personal life and career, the book ends on a strongly positive note.13
The third major work of this decade was a magisterial study on the relationship between power and reform in Russian history from the formation of the Russian state to the end of NEP. The authorial collective represented several generations of Leningrad historians, with Boris Vasilevich serving as editor in chief and author of the section on the reigns of Alexander III and Nichols II. The work is distinguished by the breadth and variety of sources, drawing upon archival documents and the best of the pre-revolutionary and Soviet historians as well as several western authors. Unlike many collective histories, this one was held together by a unifying theme, due largely to the editorial skill of Boris Vasilevich, which he outlined in his introduction. The repeated efforts of the autocracy to overcome serious structural problems had led to improvements but ultimately failed to overcome the underlying weaknesses that led to a series of crises. Boris Vasilevich placed special emphasis on the determination of the last two tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II to maintain a “popular autocracy” in opposition to a parliamentary model and to exercise strict government control over the rapid industrialization of the economy. These policies failed to achieve the long term ends of overtaking the more highly developed countries of Western Europe, leading to the disillusion of the liberal public and opening the way to revolutionary politics. The task of fulfilling the reforms of the 1860s fell to the Provisional Government. Overwhelmed by the tasks of fighting the war as it tried to reconstruct the state, it too collapsed in revolution, leading to more and more radical outcomes. “Russia did not become a government of laws”, was his sober conclusion.14 It was a brilliant summation of his earlier work, distinguished by scholarly balance and intellectual integrity that characterized his entire oeuvre.
In the last decade, Boris Vasilevich further developed his interest in entrepreneurship as a key factor in Russian economic history. Joining with foreign scholars, he undertook to explore new spatial and cultural dimensions of entrepreneurial activity.15 At the same time, he embarked on another major study of a prominent figure in the waning years of the monarchy who was linked to Witte, but stood out as his own man, Count Ivan Ivan­ovich Tolstoi. As shown in his studies of Witte and the great banking figures, Boris Vasil­evich was always intrigued by the role of the individual in history. But this interest was closely related to his critical and analytical approach to the evidence of the activities that they chose to leave behind; for many years he taught a university seminar in “the memoir as historical source.16 Tolstoi was a distinguished numismatist and archaeologist, and vice president of the Imperial Russian Academy of Arts, when Wtitte tapped him to be his Minister of Education in the tumultuous years of 190405. Too modest to write a memoir, Tolstoi revealed his thoughts in his diary. Boris Vasilevich edited this work and, as was his custom, located it within the larger cultural and political milieu of the times. Boris Vasilevich had found a figure he could admire as one of the few in the last years of the monarchy who undertook the noble causes: the emancipation of the Jews, the reform of the Imperial Academy of Arts, the improvement of urban life, all without joining a political party, becoming involved in the intrigues of the court or being enmeshed in the toils of bureaucracy.17 One cannot help but seeing aspects of Boris Vasilevich in this portrait.

Boris Vasilevich will be remembered by his friends, colleagues and students throughout the world as a man of great personal warmth, generous and astonishingly modest for all his achievements; a model for young scholars to emulate at a time when the historical profession confronts challenges that he demonstrated should and can be overcome.

Alfred J. Rieber, Budapest

Zitierweise: Alfred Rieber: Boris Vasilevich Anan’ich (1931–2015) in: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuroas 64 (2016), H. 1, S. 170-176, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Chronik/Rieber_Nachruf_Ananic.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2017 by IOS Regensburg and Alfred Rieber. All rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact redaktion@osteuropa-institut.de


1I am particularly grateful to Nicholas Breyfogle, associate professor of history at Ohio State university and Muriel Joffe, Executive Director for international Programs at the University of Maryland University College for their recollections.

2For a detailed description of these difficult years and complex events see V. M. Paneiakh Tvor­chestvo i sud’ba istorika: Boris Alexandrovich Romanov. St.-Peterburg 2000).

3Paneiakh Tvor­chestvo i sud’ba istorika, p. 346.

4Cf. B. V. Anan’ich / R. Sh. Ganelin Nauchnaia sessiia po problem ‘Osnovnye zakonomernosti i osobennosti razvitiia Rossii v epokhu imperializma, in: Voprosy istorii (1962), 3, pp. 118123.

5S. Iu. Vitte Vospominaniia. 3 vols. Moskova 1960.

6B. V. Anan’ich / R. Sh. Ganelin Opyt kritiki memuarov S. Iu. Vitte (s sviazi s ego publitsisticheskoi deiatel’nost’iu v 19071915 gg.), in: Voprosy istoriografii i istnochnikovedeniia istorii SSSR. Moskva, Leningrad 1963, pp. 298374.

7B. A. Anan’ich Rossiia i mezhdunarodnyi kapital,18971914. Leningrad 1970, p. 5.

8B. V. Anan’ich Rossiiskoe samoderzhavie i vyvoz kapitalov, 18941914 gg. (po materialam Uchetno-ssudnogo banka Persii). Leningrad 1975.

9Stranitsy Rossiiskoi istorii. Problemy, sobytiia, liudi. Sbornik statei v chest’ Borisa Vasilevicha Anan’icha. Ed. by R. Sh. Ganelin / V. M. Paneiakh / A. A. Fursenko. St.-Peterburg 2003, p. 9.

10Akademicheskoe delo 19291931 gg. Delo po obvinenniu akademika E. V. Tarle. 2 parts. St.-Peterburg 1998.

11B. V. Anan’ich Bankirskie doma v Rossii, 18601914 gg. Ocherki istorii chastnogo predprinimatel’stva. Leningrad 1994, p. 36 for quotation and pp. 151152 for summary.

12Entrepreneurship in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, edited by Gregory Guroff / Fred V. Carstensen. Princeton 1983, and International Banking, 18701914. Ed. By Rondo Cameron / V. I. Bovykin. New York 1992.

13B. V. Anan’ich / R. Sh. Ganelin Sergei Iul’evich Vitte i ego vremia. St.-Peterburg 1999.

14Vlast’ i reform. Ot samoderzhavnoi k sovetskoi Rossii. Ed. by B. V. Vasilevich (editor in chief), / R. Sh. Ganelin / V.M. Paneaikh. St.-Peterburg 1996, p. 10.

15Commerce in Russian Urban Culture, 18611914. Ed. by Boris V. Anan’ich / William Craft Brumfield / Iurii Petrov. Washington 2001, with a Russian translation in 2002, and Chastnoe pred­prinimatel’stvo v dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii: ėtnokonfessional’naia struktura i regional’noe raz­vitie XIX nachala XX v. Ed. by B. V. Anan’ich / D. Dal’man / Iu. A. Petrov. Moskva 2010.

16Ekaterina Pravilova B. V. Anan’ich. In Memoriam, in: Ab imperio (2015), 2, p. 398.

17B. V. Anan’ich I. I. Tolstoi i peterburgskoe obshchestvo nakanune revoliutsii. St.-Peterburg 2007, and [I. I. Tolstoi] Dnevnik v dvukh tomakh. Ed. by B. V. Anan’ich. St.-Peterburg 2010.