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The Evolution of Russia by Otto Hoetzsch
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This is a short survey of Russian history from the beginnings in the 9th century until after the 2nd World War; it was published posthumously 20 years after the author’s death. Otto Hoetzsch (1876 – 1946) was a conservative member of the Reichstag during the Weimar Republic ( German National People's Party / Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP) and since 1913 Professor for Eastern European history in Berlin until he was retired by the Nazis but reinstated immediately after the war. The foremost authority on East European history during his time, Hoetzsch was greatly respected for his ‘incorruptible professionalism’ . He rejected the Kulturträgertheorie (widely supported between 1850 to 1950 but since the 1990s dismissed) which considered the East-European Slavic countries as barbaric, first civilized by German expansion. In this work he emphasises the continuity in the evolution of the Russian empire even after the Revolution of 1917.

This English-language edition is of a high standard: lavishly illustrated with a comprehensive Index and Bibliographical Notes suggesting further reading.

All of the information, and in much greater detail, can nowadays be found on Wikipedia. However, Hoetzsch’ work should not be dismissed as superseded. For once, I value his very readable informed and concise presentation, but then also find his judgments of interest. Some examples of the latter: concerning the Congress of Berlin (1878) and Bismarck’s role he writes: “Bismarck, who with unnecessary speed and little justification, concluded an alliance with Austria in 1879, by which he involved the German Empire, which at that time had no real interests in the Near East, in Austro-Russian rivalries. Thus he sowed the seeds of future war between Germany and Russia.” (Hobsbawm hints at Bismarck’s reasons: fearing repercussions for Germany should the Austrian-Hungarian empire break up: Age of Empire, p. 313).
On Alexander II (1855-1881): “If Alexander II did not attain the same level of personal greatness as Peter I and Catherine II, the years covered by his reign had more profound effects than theirs on the course of his country’s development.”
About Pobedonostsev he says that he “was for a quarter of a century (1881-1907) the effective ruler of the empire and its evil spirit.”, and that Dostoyevsky is thought to have based the character of the Grand Inquisitor on him. ( The English Wikipedia entry on Pobedonostsev is poor)

On the Agrarian collectivization under Stalin 1929-37 Hoetzsch writes: “For all the harm done [indescribable famine, millions of peasants wiped out or deported] it was probably a necessary change, without which the mechanization of agriculture would have taken years to complete – if it could have been completed at all […]; when war broke out in 1941, the provisioning of the towns and army was assured.” (195)
And on the new attitudes that were in 1936 ‘utterly different from those of 1917’: “Within a generation [the people] had been awakened, disciplined and educated, partly as a result of large-scale educational policy, partly thanks to vigorous intellectual and literary activity in the early years of the revolution.” (196)

Of course, these judgments can be contested, but then the writing of History beyond bare facts must always remain, to some extent, subjective. (VIII-16) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Sep 1, 2016 |
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