Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joshua A. Sanborn's "Imperial Apocalypse"

Joshua A. Sanborn is Head of the Department of History and Chair of the Russian and East European Studies Program at Lafayette College. His books include Drafting the Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905-1925 and, with co-author Annette Timm, Gender, Sex, and the Shaping of Modern Europe: A History from the French Revolution to the Present Day.

Sanborn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 is indeed an important page of the book. It is in the heart of the central chapter, which deals with the military, social, and political consequences of Russia’s "Great Retreat" in 1915. I deal on page 99 with the revival of oppositionist politics in the summer of that year after several months of a self-imposed political truce. In particular, I cite the speech of a liberal politician from Kyiv at a party conference of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party in June:
"The moment is critical for the Kadet party; either it helps save the country or it will perish itself. The imprint of old tactics lies upon the theses of the Central Committee [of the Kadet Party]… Already in August [1914] we in Kiev were more closely aware of the true state of affairs and already in December urgently pressed to convene a conference in order to tell you those things that you only now are understanding. And if you had listened to us, maybe things would have turned out differently."
This sentiment is telling, as it highlights one of the core arguments of my book. Social and political unrest migrated from the (destabilized) war zones in the western empire back to the center over the course of the war. Thus, the political frictions were not simply between opposition parties and the autocratic government, but even within those blocs based on how close they were to the fighting. As the war proceeded, however, this distinction lessened, as the "home front" experienced the social (and epidemiological) pathologies that had infected the war zone as early as 1914.

These were the "things that you only now are understanding," and as that understanding grew, so too did the momentum for revolution. The "revolution" that emerged, however, was bound to express itself in different ways in different zones of the empire. If social class framed the revolution in the metropole, anti-imperial sentiment helped to do so in the western borderlands. It mattered that the dark truths of the Great War became evident first to people living in Poland, Ukraine, and Armenia. The collapse of the empire was well underway even before Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne.
Learn more about Imperial Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue