A Structuralist Perspective of the Russian Revolution of 1905

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A Structuralist Perspective of the Russian Revolution of 1905

Theoretic and Methodological Debates from the 20th Century

November 11, 2011
“The preconditions for revolutionary victory are forged in the historic school of harsh conflicts and cruel defeats” - Leon Trotsky[1]

The conflict between opposing economic and political systems was clearly one of the defining aspects of the second half of the 20th Century. The establishment of the Soviet Union as the standard bearer of communism was largely a reaction to the lack of modernization, in a political sense “democratization”, that had taken place in that country leading up to overthrow of the Romanoff Monarchy. While the October Revolution of 1917 is usually seen as the key event in the chain of events which led to the profound social change that occurred, its precursor in 1905 offers an interesting look into both what was happening at that time, and why it happened. This paper uses the basic thesis and structuralist framework presented by Acemoglu and Robinson in their book “The Economic Roots of Democracy and Dictatorship” to examine the events leading to (and the repercussions of) the Russian Revolution of 1905. It considers the general context of the socio-political situation in Russia leading up to the revolution, the changes in that country’s political system that were a result of the revolution, the events that took place following the end of the movement, and how all of this coincides with Acemoglu and Robinson’s structuralist theory on political and economic development. I argue that the Russian Revolution of 1905 closely follows the path predicted by Acemoglu and Robinson’s model, and was the historic precursor that effectively planted the seeds for the much more tumultuous and decisive Bolshevik revolution which followed it twelve years later. Additional factors which are considered include the weaknesses of the structuralist approach for analyzing this topic, as well as the viability of using a hybrid approach.

This paper will be divided into three sections. The first section, entitled Background, will provide a brief overview of the significant points of the 1905 Revolution. Given the concise nature of the paper, this will only be a cursory overview, intended to provide the reader with the basic timeline and particularly pertinent as well as relevant facts regarding what took place. The second section, entitled Structuralism, will examine the Structuralist Approach, specifically focusing on Acemoglu and Robinson’s thesis, and how it applies to the events reviewed in the first section of the paper. Finally, the third section, entitled Criticism, will examine the weak points of this argument, attempt to address them, and also consider the possibility of using a less rigid, hybrid approach to examining and analyzing the same sequence of historical events. Background

At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia had made significant strides in terms of its economic development, yet its basic sociopolitical order was still rooted in the traditional agrarian model that had been in place since the time of Peter the Great.[2] Industrialization, while significant in the major cities, was not nearly as developed as it was in most of Western Europe, specifically England, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. This in turn meant that the basic labor structure in place throughout most of Russia at the time was almost Feudal in nature, and lagged considerably behind that of most of the other European nations[3]. The wave of democratization that had spread through much of the continent had not yet led to any significant change in the way that Russia’s Romanoff monarchy ruled the country, which meant that political development, and particularly the development of a more liberal, representative political system, was also lagging considerably behind that of the rest of Europe. However, the same ideological awareness that...
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