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Not sharing Solzhenitsyn's strength of feeling on the subject I have to admit that I found Pipes' book interesting. His central argument as I read it is that throughout the whole period between Russia's subjection to the Tatars and its subjection to the Communists, no section of the general society was able to combine to challenge the state on the basis of its own material interest:

'The sum total of the preceding analysis of relations between state and society in pre-1900 Russia is that none of the economic or social groups of the old regime was able or willing to stand up to the crown and challenge its monopoly of political power. They were not able to do so because, by enforcing the patrimonial principle, i.e. by effectively asserting its claim to all the territory of the realm as property and all its inhabitants as servants, the crown prevented the formation of pockets of independent wealth or power. And they were not willing because, in so far as under this system the crown was the ultimate source of all material benefits, each group was strongly inclined to fawn on it. Dvoriane [landowners - PB] looked to the aristocracy to keep their serfs in place, to conquer new lands for distribution to them as pomestia [fief or service land], and to preserve their various exclusive rights; the merchants depended on the crown to grant them licences and monopolies and through high tariffs to protect their inefficient industries; the clergy had only the crown to safeguard their landed properties and, after these were gone [taken by the crown in the eighteenth century - PB] to pay them subsidies and keep their flock from defecting [to the Old Ritualists and other schismatic groups]. Under the adverse economic conditions prevailing in Russia, groups aspiring to rise above the subsistence level had but one option open to them, and that was to collaborate with the state - in other words, to give up political ambition ...

The underprivileged, the mass of muzhiki, also preferred absolutism to any other form of government except anarchy. That which they desired the most, namely free access to all the land not already under peasant control, they expected to obtain from the same tsar who had given personal liberty to their masters in 1762 and to them ninety nine years later. For the impoverished dvoriane, the mass of petty traders and the overwhelming majority of the peasants, constitution and parliament were a swindle which the rich and influential tried to foist on the country to enable them to seize hold of the apparatus of political power for their personal benefit. Thus, everything made for conservative rigidity ...

Such being the case, political opposition, if it was to emerge at all, had to come from quarters other than those customarily labelled "interest groups". No social or economic group had an interest in liberalisation; to the elites it spelled the loss of privilege, to the rural masses shattered hopes of a nationwide "black repartition". Throughout Russian history, "interest groups" have fought other "interest groups", never the state. The drive for change had to be inspired by motives other than self-interest, as the word is conventionally used - motives more enlightened, farsighted and generous, such as sense of patriotism, social justice and personal self-respect. Indeed, just because the pursuit of material rewards was so closely identified with the constitution of the old regime and subservience to the state, any aspiring opposition was bound to renounce self-serving; it had to be, or at any rate appear to be, utterly disinterested. Thus it happened that in Russia the struggle for political liberty was waged from the beginning exactly in the manner that Burke felt it ought never to be waged: in the name of abstract ideals.' (pp. 249-251)

The book has a number of chapters substantiating these points with regard to the different classes. The chapter on the peasantry includes the following:

'Until more scholarly studies on the subject become available, all we can go by are impressions. These do not bear out the picture, derived largely from literary sources, of widespread misery and oppression. The obvious injustice of serfdom must not be allowed to colour one's perception of its realities. Several Englishmen who wrote accounts of their experiences in Russia found that the Russian peasant's condition compared favourably with what they knew at home, especially in Ireland ... The following two excerpts come from such accounts. The first is by an English sea-captain who in 1820 undertook a four-year journey on foot across Russia and Siberia which gave him unique opportunities to observe rural life at first-hand:

"I have no hesitation ... in saying, that the condition of the peasantry here is far superior to that class in Ireland. In Russia, provisions are plentiful, good and cheap; while in Ireland they are scanty, poor and dear, the best part being exported from the latter country, whilst the local impediments in the other [Russia - PB] render them not worth the expense [merits of the famous Russian inefficiency! - PB]. Good comfortable log-houses are here found in every village, immense droves of cattle are scattered over an unlimited pasture, and whole forests of fuel may be obtained for a trifle. With ordinary industry and economy, the Russian peasant may become rich, especially those of the villages situated between the capitals."

'The second is by a British traveller who had gone to Russia for the express purpose of finding material which would cast it in a less favourable light than that found in the literature of the time [Robert Bremner: Excursions in the interior of Russia, 1839]:

"On the whole ... so far at least as mere [! - Pipes' exclamation mark] food and lodging are concerned, the Russian peasant is not so badly off as the poor man among ourselves. He may be rude and uneducated - liable to be ill-treated by his superiors - intemperate in his habits and filthy in his person; but he never knows the misery to which the Irish peasant is exposed. His food may be coarse; but he has abundance of it. His hut may be homely; but it is dry and warm. We are apt to fancy that if our peasantry be badly off, we can at least flatter ourselves with the assurance that they are much more comfortable than those of foreign countries. But this is a gross delusion. Not in Ireland only, but in parts of Great Britain usually considered to be exempt from the miseries of Ireland, we have witnessed wretchedness compared with which the condition of the Russian boor is luxury, whether he live amid the crowded population of large towns, or in the meanest hamlets of the interior. There are parts of Scotland, where the people are lodged in houses which the Russian peasant would not think fit for his cattle."

Pipes continues:

'It is particularly important to be disabused concerning alleged landlord brutality toward serfs. Foreign travellers to Russia - unlike visitors to the slave plantations of the Americas - hardly ever mention corporal punishment. The violence endemic to the twentieth century and the attendant "liberation" of sexual fantasy encourage modern man to indulge his sadistic impulses by projecting them on to the past: but the fact that he longs to maltreat others has no bearing on what actually happened when that had been possible. Serfdom was an economic institution not a closed world created for the gratification of sexual pleasures ... Where statistics happen to be available they indicate moderation in the use of disciplinary prerogatives. Every landlord, for example, had the power to turn unruly peasants over to the authorities for exile to Siberia. Between 1822 and 1833, 1,283 serfs were punished in this fashion; an annual average of 107 out of over twenty million proprietary serfs is hardly a staggering figure.' (pp.151-2) 

The major grievance felt by the peasantry, Pipes argues, was simply their conviction that they themselves, the people who worked the land, were its rightful owners. They failed to understand that there is something called 'law' which gives property rights to people who appeared to be contributing nothing useful to the community - hence the belief in a 'black repartition' which, in his Russian Revolution, Pipes argued played an important role in 1917. And his picture of violent and anarchic peasant seizure of the land is also found in Solzhenitsyn, describing events well before October.

The last chapter in Pipes' book is called 'Towards the police state' which does indeed imply a continuity between late Tsarism and Communism, especially as he quotes the Code of 1845 together with the 1927 Code (the famous Article 58 under which Solzhenitsyn was arrested) and of 1960 and comments:

"This type of legislation [an "omnibus" legislation covering any form of disrespect shown towards established authority - PB], and the police institutions created to enforce it, spread after the Revolution of 1917 by way of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to other authoritarian state in Europe and overseas. One is justified in saying, therefore, that Chapters Three and Four of the Russian Criminal Code of 1845 are to totalitarianism what the Magna Carta is to liberty." (p.295)

Hence Solzhenitsyn's complaint that 'Pipes even bestows upon Emperor Nicholas I the distinction of having invented totalitarianism.' But the basis of Pipes' charge of totalitarianism isn't the authority the monarch claims over the conscience of the subject - that could be said to have been well established throughout Christendom since the days of Theodosius the Great at the end of the fourth century. It is embodied in the conversion of Kievan Rus under St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles, and in the principle of 'cuius regio, eius religio', established after the Reformation. Pipes, however, is referring to legislation in which any expression of opinion deemed to be subversive of the state, or any indication of any possibility of any subversive action can be punishable - severely punishable - by law. We have an example of this in recent British legislation against militant Islam - since Pipes maintains that terrorist threat in the Russian Empire was exaggerated the analogy seems quite pertinent. But Pipes also makes it perfectly clear that the difference between the application of the 1845 Code and the Soviet code was immense:

'Under Nicholas I the draconian laws against political dissent were much less strictly enforced than one might be inclined to imagine. The machinery of repression was still too primitive for the police authorities to function in a systematic fashion: for this to happen, railways, telegraphs and telephones were needed. For the time being, the rules were applied in a rough sort of way. Usually, people suspected from informers' reports were detained and, after being questioned, either released with a warning or sent into the provinces for some specified period of time ... With the accession of Alexander II the government made an earnest effort to put an end to the arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy and police, and transform Russia into what the Germans called a Rechstaat, a state grounded in law ... It was not long, however, before this effort was sabotaged - this time, for once, not by bureaucrats but by the radical intelligentsia and its sympathisers among the well-meaning, enlightened and liberal public' (pp. 295-6. The last sentence could have been written by Solzhenitsyn!). And again: 'Just as the tactics of massive breakthrough by mechanised armour, inaugurated but not exploited by the British at Cambrai were perfected by their enemies the Germans in the Second World War, so the techniques of police rule, introduced piecemeal by the Russian imperial regime, were first utilised to their fullest potential by their one-time victims, the revolutionaries' (p.317)