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The Origins of Autocracy

By (author) Alexander Yanov
Format: Hardback
Publisher: University of California Press, Berkerley, United States
Published: 31st Jan 1982
Dimensions: w 150mm h 230mm
Weight: 678g
ISBN-10: 0520042824
ISBN-13: 9780520042827
Barcode No: 9780520042827

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Kirkus US
Exiled Russian journalist Yanov is driven by the conviction that history, and its interpretation, has a palpable influence on our actions in the present and future. Unfortunately, he expends much of his energy on strawmen: preeminently, Soviet historians. He considers it paradoxical that they hold up Ivan IV, or Ivan the Terrible, as a great leader and praise his war against the Germanic peoples of Europe - when it was this war that opened up Russia to attack from the south and east, resulted in the eclipse of Russian power (until the arrival of Peter), brought about the "deEuropeanization" of Russia, and, most crucially, brought on autocratic rule. This, of course, is his interpretation, not theirs; the "paradox" is of his own making. Then, to make his salient point about "autocracy," Yanow laboriously rebuts Wittfogel's Oriental Despotism (another strawman - since no one any longer takes it seriously), arguing that Ivan's Russia was not despotic in Wittfogel's sense: i.e., it was not unchanging as a result of the annihilation of economic innovation through collapse of the economy into the state. Neither was it absolutist, on the European model, with the aristocracy serving as a buffer between monarch and masses. Instead, he terms it "autocratic" and its leader an "autocrator." The autocratic state is characterized by revolutions from above, by change instituted by the state - as per Ivan's enserfment of Russia's peasants. Or, Stalin's collectivization. The connection, manifestly, is there from the outset. Removed from its polemical shell, all of this is plausible; but there is a lot of polemics - much debunking of the Soviet historians' praise of Ivan, much destruction of their version of the greatness of the Ivanian state. What's left, however, is provocative. (Kirkus Reviews)