Document Type

Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Russia and Western Civilization: Cultural and Historical Encounters


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, historians have again turned their attention to the birth of the first communist state in hopes of understanding the place of the Soviet period in the longer sweep of Russian history. Was the Soviet Union an aberration from or a consequence of Russian culture? Did the Soviet Union represent a retreat from Westernizing trends in Russian history, or was the Bolshevik Revolution a product of Westernization? These are vexing questions that generate a great deal of debate. Some have argued that in the late nineteenth century Russia was developing a middle class, representative institutions, and an industrial economy that, while not as advanced as those in Western Europe, were indications of potential movement in the direction of more open government, rule of law, and free market capitalism. Only the Bolsheviks, influenced by an ideology imported, paradoxically, from the West, interrupted this path of Russian political and economic Westernization. Others, in contrast, suggest that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 developed squarely out of Russian traditions of invasive state practices, violent protest and repression, and autocratic rule with little or no public representation. These are not merely academic considerations. If one views the Soviet period as an aberration in Russian history, then Russia's post-Soviet future may be less turbulent and it may promise cooperation and integration with the West. However, if the Soviet period was inherently "Russian," then the twenty-first century might promise further repression and hardship and continued tension and isolation from the West.


Published as:

Qualls, Karl D. "The Russian Revolutions: The Impact and Limitations of Western Influence." In Russia and Western Civilization: Cultural and Historical Encounters, edited by Russell Bova, 113-41. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.

This author pre-print is made available on Dickinson Scholar with the permission of the publisher. For more information on the published version, visit M.E. Sharpe's Website.