By Harold J. Laski
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Extra resources for Communism
After the Crimean War, a Westernized elite sought to modernize the country along European lines. In Kaspe’s view, the Polish uprising put an end to this ¤rst stage of liberalization and set a new agenda linking nationalism with democratic reform in a move toward a uni¤ed state. Assimilationist and Russifying politics in many areas replaced the older imperial model based on collaboration with local elites. In the context of imperial society and in the absence of democratic institutions, Russia’s “segmented modernization” nationalized local populations, rather than integrating them.
The administration did not take this “question” as seriously as the Polish or Jewish “questions,” and it had no consistent Muslim policy in its last years. Aleksei Volvenko describes how a new institution designed to effect reform—the famous zemstvo—was engaged, interpreted, and resisted by the Don Cossack Host in the last half of the nineteenth century. In this study of a typically imperial impasse, Volvenko reveals the fundamental con®ict between unitarian ideas promoted by the central administration in the 1860s and 1870s and Cossacks’ estate-based conceptions of their rights and duties.
Spreading a network of lower-level courts across the countryside and allowing local authorities to produce legal judgments empowered subaltern people and automatically adjusted government to social realities. This kind of ad hoc administration can be seen as strengthening the polity, if not the central government, over the long term. On the other hand, of¤cials’ inability to ¤nd a framework for legalizing signi¤cant autonomy in restive and ambitious regions of the empire, or for devolving power to reform the state to equally elected representatives of the whole population, created forums for national independence movements and made the government more vulnerable to mobilized discontent during the world wars.