Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

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

Ausgabe: 61 (2013), 1, S. 143-144

Verfasst von: Gregory L. Freeze


Natal’ja A. Ivanova / Valentina P. Želtova Soslovnoe obščestvo Rossijskoj imperii (XVIII – načalo XX veka). [Die ständische Gesellschaft des Russländischen Reiches (18. – Anfang 20. Jh.)] Moskva: Novyj chronograf, 2010. 741 S. ISBN: 978-5-94881-103-1.

By the time that Vasilij O. Kliučevskij published his “Istorija soslovij v Rossii” (Moscow 1886), the soslovie (estate) system had already become an integral component in Russian historiography. While the estate paradigm receded in Soviet scholarship (in favor of a Marxist, class-based analysis), it nonetheless elicited some recurring attention, especially with respect to the privileged social strata. The soslovie model figured more prominently in Western scholarship and, after 1991, gained growing attention in post-Soviet Russian historiography. The present volume by N. A. Ivanova and V. P. Želtova is a major chronological expansion of their earlier monograph (Soslovno-klassovaja struktura Ros­sii v konce XIX – načale XX v. Moskva 2004) and seeks to provide a systematic treatment of seven estates from the Petrine era to 1917. In addition to the groups traditionally identified as estates (nobility, merchants and townspeople, clergy, and peasants), the authors extend the estate model to the imperial family, Cossacks, and inorodcy (alien tribes,the case study here focusing on Jews). In each case, the authors sift through the relevant laws (well over half of all citations refer to thePolnoe sobranie zakonov Ros­sij­skoj Imperii” and the various editions of theSvod zakonov Rossijskoj Imperii”). The goal here is to suggest how the juridical status of each soslovie changedin terms of composition, privileges, and obligationsand how that affected its political and social condition.

The result is a readable, comprehensive summary of the evolving legal status of these seven estates. In sheer space, the most extended treatment is given to the nobility and urban groups (with two separate chronological chapters devoted to each). Although the text draws primarily on legal sources, it does refer abundantly to other official sourcespublished reports (otčety) and various state publicationsto complement the prescriptive legal documentation (for example, citing the reports of the imperial office that managed the Romanov properties and incomes). The authors also privilege pre-revolutionary classics, in part because these often emphasize the same legal source base, but also because those works still set the baseline for future scholarship and merit close reading. The section on each estate also begins with a historiographic overview, which generously lists and occasionally challenges the newer Russian scholarship. Both the systematic exegesis of the laws and the bibliography of recent Russian research provide a basic starting point for research on any of these seven groups.

This lengthy work is not, however, without its flaws. First, it is obviously perilous to rely so much on prescriptive law; this source can tell much about intentionality, but little about implementation, impact, unintended consequences, and reception. It is of course important to know what the state tried to do; it is also important, however, to consider what actually happened. The authors in a few instances do step beyond the laws (for example, in aggregating data from other researchers to calculate the noble component of the state bureaucracy [p. 173]), but such hard statistical data is rare. The authorsoverly juridical approach indeed reflects an exaggerated sense of what the state, despite all its autocratic pretensions, could actually do. The authors presupposethe presence of absolute control of the authorities over the populationand theextremely weakinfluence of society on the state (p. 724), but in fact the state had limited capacity to govern; the regime found it easy to dictate, but well nigh impossible to regulate. The authors make some attempt to discern what actually happened (e. g., on shaping hermetic boundaries around the nobility and clergy), but it would have been useful to run a reality check on more of this abundant (but often ineffective if not outright counterproductive) legislation.

Second, the text makes only passing reference to what are called theinterstitials” – the myriad of emerging new groups, such as professionals, who did not fit neatly into the traditional estate structure and indeed sometimes acquired a semi-estate status on their own. The scholarly literature on such groups as raznochincy and intelligencija, not to mention specific professions like doctors, lawyers, and teachers, is abundant; it would have been useful to tackle this conundrum of extra- and para-estate groups by exploring this phenomenon and by providing a case study of a single group (as the authors did in the section on Jews in the inorodcy chapter). Only then can one begin to reconstruct and understand the highly complex and protean social structure of pre-revolutionary Russia.

Third, one can raise questions about the empirical database and historiographical foundations of this study. It incorporates virtually no archival research; only two percent of the 2,684 notes refer to archival sources; and of these only archival references in the chapter on Cossacks substantively shape the analysis. While mastering the 128 volumes in the three series of thePolnoe sobranie zakonov Rossijskoj Imperii” is no small feat and enables the authors to codify and systematize the law; however, that does not generate much new data and often replicates what is already known from earlier accounts. Nor did the authors make more than only nominal use of Western scholarship and rely almost exclusively on works that happen to have been translated into in Russian. To be sure, the footnotes do list a few Western monographs in English and German (pp. 7, 89, 232, 325–326, 548), but the text itself does not actually engage even these works and hence cannot address key historiographical questions. To be sure, the authors had some mediated access to Western scholarship (the few works that have been translated and the discussions in other works that forcefully engage Western works, such as Boris N. Miro­novsSocialnaja istorija Rossii perioda Imperii” (3rd ed.; S.-Peterburg 2003). Still, it is disconcerting to see no reference to such basic monographs as Christoph SchmidtsStänderecht und Standeswechsel in Rußland 18511897 (Wiesbaden 1994) or the standard works on individual soslovija by scores of Western scholars.

Nevertheless, this is a still a very useful contributionone that provides a coherent, highly readable account of Imperial law. Historians will find it a helpful guide to the juridical framework before moving on to such complex questions as economic condition, mobility, subcultures, and identities.

Gregory L. Freeze, Waltham, MA

Zitierweise: Gregory L. Freeze über: Natal’ja A. Ivanova / Valentina P. Želtova Soslovnoe obščestvo Rossijskoj imperii (XVIII – načalo XX veka). [Die ständische Gesellschaft des Russländischen Reiches (18. – Anfang 20. Jh.)] Moskva: Novyj chronograf, 2010. 741 S. ISBN: 978-5-94881-103-1, http://www.oei-dokumente.de/JGO/Rez/Freeze_Ivanova_Soslovnoe_obscestvo.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2013 by Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung Regensburg and Gregory L. Freeze. 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@ios-regensburg.de

Die digitalen Rezensionen von „Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. jgo.e-reviews“ werden nach den gleichen strengen Regeln begutachtet und redigiert wie die Rezensionen, die in den Heften abgedruckt werden.

Digital book reviews published in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. jgo.e-reviews are submitted to the same quality control and copy-editing procedure as the reviews published in print.