Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stolypin's Last Days

This semester I took a course called Ideology and Revolution, which I enjoyed the hell out of because I am a nerd. The basic gist of the course was "ideological revolutions are horrid because they have abstract goals," i.e. the American Revolution was not such a threat to the world as we know or knew it, because it was mostly over us being a long-ass boat ride from England and having them ride herd was not working out, whereas, say, the French Revolution was a Serious Problem because they wanted to supplant the societal structure of France with a brave new world style new society. In this class, we read a lot of Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn, who wrote both the Gulag Archipelago and The Red Wheel, which are both incredibly beautiful, authoritative works on Why Ideology Is Bad But We Still Shouldn't Give Up.

The assignment is as follows: In what ways does Solzhenitsyn's The Red Wheel explain the accelerating process of Revolution without succumbing to a Marxist-style doctrine of "historical inevitablity"? Discuss three chapters from the work that both illuminate the unfolding of the revolutionary process and illustrate how different choices by the principal actors in the drama might have led to a different outcome (that is might have led to some other outcome than the eventual seizure of power by a determned dictatorial minority headed by Vladimir Lenin).

Amongst the Gulag and Wheel selections, we read a chapter called "Stolypin's Last Days." I pride myself on being somewhat better on Russian history than most Americans (NB - is no one worried about the sudden reappearance of Victory Day parades in Moscow? BESIDES ANNA KARENINA, that's cheating. No? Okay then.) but I had not heard much beyond throw-away comments on Stolypin. My final paper for the I&R course was a choice between several topics - writing about The Red Wheel, writing on Hannah Arendt, and making up a paper topic on an Alain Besancon book called "A Century of Horrors." I chose the Wheel assignment mostly because I enjoy Russia and am fascinated by the rise of the Soviet revolution, and also because I love Solzhenitsyn's writing.

Pyotr Arkadyevitch Stolypin was a Prime Minister of Russia. Not only was he a Prime Minister of Russia, but he was a Prime Minister fighting for economic reforms that included the peasantry in a time when the Soviets were mostly promoting the whomping of peasants. He wasn't all good dude - anyone who once had his name associated with a nickname for a hangman's noose is probably someone you should approach with caution - but the fact remains that he was a significant individual who pushed a fairly radical strategy for social and economic development at a time that Sovietism was busy starting its reign of face smashing.

So, interesting guy. On the one hand, I think it's cool that there are people like that out floating around waiting to be discovered, and on the other...dude why I have I not heard more about this individual? I know we exerted a lot of energy towards the SOVIETS BAD mindset but would it kill history to be all "PS not everyone was on board"?


  1. Aww, I was about to say that I am, too, concerned, but I see you beat me to it.

    Also, I take issue with your transliteration of Arkadyevich (NO "T"), but that's beside the point and not at all important to anyone but me.

    I heart Solzhenitsyn. Yay.

    By the way, that Victory Day parade was something else. I must say that I'm not surprised at ALL, and that now I can point and yell "See? SEE? I TOLD YOU."