The first twenty years of the 20th century were a period of sweeping changes in Russia. At the beginning of the century the country remained a monarchy with obsolete economy and poor development of industry and technology. The liberal-democratic revolution 1905 made the first blow to tsarism: the monarch Nikolay II gave some of his state authority to the parliament (State Duma). In 1906 the minister Stolypin launched agrarian reforms that failed to modernize the inefficient economy.
In 1914 Russia entered World War I, which undermined already weak country. By 1917, almost all layers of the society were discontent with the social, economic and political condition of the country. In October 1917 the Bolsheviks along with other political parties unleashed the October revolution that completely overthrew the monarchy, ended Russia’s participation in WWI and finally reformed the economy, but eventually led to bloody Civil War in the country.
What caused numerous uprisings, revolutions and civil war, when all objectives (regarding peace, land and power) appeared to have been met? This matter remains a hot issue for both Russian and especially Western researchers, which creates “obvious singularity of this decade” for Western experience . Soviet historians thought that October revolution of 1917 was the culmination of revolutionary movements of the decade. In contrast, Haimson argues that there was no political and economic stability, thus the revolutionary masses were largely stratified.
Despite the “all-nation opposition to absolutism”, this nation was very heterogeneous, consisting of gentry, educated people, big businessmen and industrialists, workers and peasants, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and intelligentsia . Some participants of the revolution strived for modernization of the obsolete system of authority, while proletariat was displeased with the results of industrial modernization that led to impoverishment of the province and appearance of the industrial slums, as well as new capitalist relations.
Haimson introduces the concept of “dual polarisation” that characterized the urban society before 1914. The first level of this polarization was represented by “the sense of isolation, of psychological distance, that separated the Petersburg workers from educated, privileged society” . This huge gap caused the inefficiency of the multiple strikes of the period. A vivid example is the Petersburg strike in July 1914, which failed, because the workers failed to involve other social strata to this strike.
The second level of polarization, after Haimson, represented the distance between “the vast bulk of the privileged society and the tsarist regime” . In the long run, this distance was decisive to the final overthrow of tsarist rule (Nicholay II abducted the throne) . The educated intelligentsia, inspired by the French revolution and aware of the Russia’s dire need for modernization of authority and economy, was ready to join the proletariat and establish a more progressive authority.
However, in practice these social layers were too different not to disintegrate, as soon as the old regime was overthrown. Even the intelligentsia itself was very differently orientated. Haimson’s conception is very helpful for a Westerner who wants to look into the complicated history of Russia in the 20th century. The notion of double polarization reveals that the revolutionary masses were highly heterogeneous and were united only for a temporary aim, so that the civil war was in a kind inevitable.
It also visualizes the main forces that motivated the people to participate in strikes and revolutions, despite their differences in social status and aims. Haimson’s idea also helps to account for the elemental, spontaneous character of the October revolution that engaged at once almost all the population of the country – and then resulted in the civil war and re-division of land and power with Bolsheviks finally coming to power to establish the Soviet union. To sum up, this conception helps to explain the internal mechanism of the revolutions that were crucial to formation of the democratic society.