Əsas səhifə Slavic Review Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis.by Ariel Cohen

Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis.by Ariel Cohen

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Slavic Review
January, 1997
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Author(s): Milan Hauner
Review by: Milan Hauner
Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 582-583
Published by: Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2500958
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the kind of work for which we may hope as the new generation of Kazakh historians
appears. Despite its somewhat broad title, the book is a history of the formation, and
then the defeat, of the Alash Orda. Begun as a quasi-political party by a small group

of Russian-educated high-born Kazakhs, Alash Orda (or "the Horde of Alash," the
legendary founder of the Kazakh people) was forced by the February revolution, and

by the power vacuums this left in the steppe, to attempt to form a government that
might somehow protect the interests of the starving, displaced Kazakhs. In Amanzholova's words, "The tragedy of the Alash-Orda was that, having rejected the ideas and
practice of Bolshevism ... they did not find understanding or support among [the

anti-Soviet forces with whom they tried to ally], and so ended up between hammer
and anvil" (136). After the Alash Orda government collapsed in mid-1919, most prominent members switched their allegiance to the Bolsheviks; with t; he exception of Mustafa Chokaev who escaped to the west (where he eventually died in a Nazi prison

camp), the leaders of the Alash Orda were arrested as "bourgeois nationalists" in the

early 1930s and then murdered in 1937-39.
Vilified and forcibly forgotten by the Soviets, the Alash Orda made natural heroes
in the "glasnost wars" of 1989 and afterward, when Kazakh historians were first able

to argue that the USSR was not a joyous and voluntary union of peoples. For many
historians the temptation was to simply reverse the pluses and minuses of past practice

and so depict the Alash Orda as a sort of ur-nationalist movement that was cut short
by Russian and Soviet chauvinism. A much more scrupulous historian, Amanzholova
has profited handsomely from the increased intellectual freedoms that have followed

upon Kazakhstan's independence to make excellent use, not only of central archives
in Moscow, Tashkent, and Almaty, but also of regional archives in Omsk, Tomsk, and

Semipalatinsk, and of rare contemporary periodicals.
To a certain degree, the abundance of material she is processing leads Amanzholova to provide too many trees and not enough forest, telling us more about battles
and congresses than about the ways in which the Alash Orda leadership understood

the issues of nation building that they faced and how they debated these among
themselves. At the same time, however, her insistence on events, names, places, and
dates permits Amanzholova to avoid romanticizing either the aspirations or the accomplishments of the Kazakhs' first government.

Although Amanzholova is not immune to certain intimations of "what if," her
book argues convincingly that the movement's various leaders, whatever their ultimate
aspirations for the Kazakh people, were always forced by events to take on more
responsibility than they could discharge. Indeed, as she demonstrates, the Alash Orda
were indisputably in control only of those areas of the steppe that no Russian forcesCossack, Red, or White-wanted. Composed, in Amazholova's words, of "an illiterate,
politically indifferent patriarchal population, whose 'party' sympathies were most often
defined by their charismatic leaders, who were also frequently the embodiment of
their clan society" (185), the Kazakhs were ill prepared to make a serious claim to

nationhood; as Amanzholova concludes, "throughout the final period of their history
(1918-1920) the Alash Orda were fully conscious of the futility of the idea of full
sovereignty" (186) for Kazakhstan. Only with the collapse of the USSR, which Amanzholova calls "unexpected" (190), did, in her words, "the Kazakhs [Kazakhskii etnos]
first [attain] the possibility of creating an independent government" (190); as the title
of this sober, detailed book suggests, the questions raised by the sad experience of the
Alash Orda-both about the kind of autonomy the Kazakhs might enjoy and whether
they might enjoy any sovereignty at all independent of Russia-remain for the present
Kazakh government to answer.

Colgate University

Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis. By Ariel Cohen. Westport, Conn.: Praeger
Publishers, 1996. xiv, 180 pp. Bibliography. Index. $55.00, hard bound.

With the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991, the subject of Russian/Soviet imperialism has become seductively popular. Although the Soviet Eurasian empire ex-

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isted barely three-quarters of a century, it had a good four hundred years of historical
precedent in the shape of the Russian empire. Cohen, however, claims that area spe-

cialists spent little time examining Russian or other historical examples. In particular,
comparison with the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Romanov empires would have revealed
"that the USSR was at the end of its imperial life cycle" (xi). Was it indeed?

Since the political scientists, who dominated the field of interpreting the Soviet
Union in the United States, failed abysmally to predict the imperial demise, Cohen
justifies his fundamentally historical approach with respect to three perspectives (classic, contiguous, and multiethnic) by opening the investigation with four sets of ques-

tions: (1) What kind of state was the Soviet Union: Was it an empire as its multinational
character and the domination of non-Russians suggested? (2) How did its Bolshevik
founders deal with the heritage of the Romanov empire? (3) What could one learn by
looking at other multiethnic empires and their development and decline? (4) What
historic linkages between the Soviet state and its Russian imperial predecessor were
relevant to predicting the future of the Soviet Union?

Are Cohen's questions the right ones? Has he not merely stated the symptoms
without penetrating to the deep and specific causes of Russian/Soviet imperialism?
Has he not exaggerated the weight of the multiethnic factor, which was not typical

for the Russian/Soviet type of imperialism? In several cases he has tried to demonstrate
that Russian and Soviet imperialism pursued a demonstratively Slavic colonization

policy in situations where military reasons, demography, and autocratic control were

of decisive importance. The author has also left without comment its integrating power
in creating a special class of imperial proconsuls and geographic explorers with very
non-Russian sounding names.

The book consists of a theoretical overview, three historical sections-the tsarist

empire up to 1917, the Soviet empire 1917-1985, and the "perestroika" empire until
its dissolution in 1991-and a conclusion. The most valuable is Cohen's first chapter
in which he discusses methodology and general theories of imperialism. His comprehensive typology is then synthesized in the conclusions. On the geopolitical level, he

recognizes no more than two generally powerful patterns: metrocentric and pericentric. In the first group he has included such diverse authors as John A. Hobson,

Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Schumpeter; in the second, Jack Gallagher and Ronald
Robinson, as well as Wolfgang Mommsen and John S. Galbraith. The third group,

which has a multidimensional theory of empires, Cohen calls "systemic" and includes
J. B. Cohen and Paul Kennedy, among others.

Cohen's general pattern of theories of imperialism is useful, but it is hardly applicable to the Russian/Soviet type. The reader has the impression of being confronted
with two books in which the theoretical section is superimposing itself on Russian and
Soviet history through an avalanche of tiny bits of comparative evidence, none of
which is in effect overwhelmingly convincing. The usual stereotypes of Byzantine,
Ottoman, and Habsburg are useless if thrown in without the proper geopolitical framework and historical perspective. Most strikingly, Cohen never mentions the American
imperial model-which Russian authors themselves found to be the most attractive
and suitable to imitate.

Another serious omission is the land and sea dichotomy. Although Cohen is obviously aware of it, he does not pursue the issue and considers the center versus

periphery contradiction to be the main geopolitical axis of conflict. Had he not omitted the land and sea dimension, he would also have found sophisticated Russian/Soviet

responses to the theories of imperialism, from Dmitrii Mendeleev and Veniamin
Semenov-Tian-Shanskii to the contemporary theoreticians like Igor Malashenko, Konstantin Pleshakov, and Konstantin Sorokin.

These unfortunate omissions will only fortify the opinion of many Russians that,
despite the end of the Cold War, western analyses of Russia still remain superficial.
Instead of providing a real analysis, the western experts, while ignoring the original

contributions of Russian thinkers, are trying instead to impose and superimpose western models, regardless of whether the patterns correspond to the geopolitical and
historical setting of the complex Russian/Soviet reality.

University of Leipzig

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