Sorry, Tsarfan, that does sound like utter crap to me! But I'm not an expert on Muscovite princes.
Elisabeth, this is a post you put up on another thread in which you took the position, if I understood correctly, that Orlando Figes' work was meritorious:
"I think Figes actually argues that the so-called 'innate' Russian brutality and disregard for individual human life was only a by-product of the arbitrary and unjust brutality of the Russian state from time immemorial. In other words, he blames the violence of the Russian Revolutions on tsarist rule: one extreme form of violence created another, even more extreme, but also nevertheless still state-imposed violence."
How does this differ from the position I took earlier on this thread -- other than being more extreme? Figes says tsarist violence created soviet violence. I only said that tsarism enabled it by retarding the development of political institutions and instincts that could have resisted it.
I don't know Figes' background. Is he another of those naive Americans who simply cannot grasp the fundamental concepts of how atrocities happen?
Gotcha! Although in my defense, this quote has been taken somewhat out of context. At the time I was having an argument with Stephen Kerensky over Figes’ interpretation of peasant violence in A People’s Tragedy
. Kerensky was thoroughly outraged because in his opinion Figes views the Russian people as innately violent and careless of human life; therefore Lenin-Stalinism and the Gulag were somehow a natural expression of the Russian national "character." In Kerensky’s view, then, APT boils down to blaming the Russian people – specifically their national character – for the fact that they wound up with the Bolsheviks. I thought this was an absurd interpretation, if for no other reason than that Figes makes clear that there were various explanations for peasant violence, one of which was the fact that the people had suffered for centuries under the "general lawlessness of the state" (p. 99, APT). So yes, in this context it would appear that Figes views the tsarist state as ultimately more responsible than the Russian people for helping to bring about the Bolshevik regime. Having reread Figes, however, it occurs to me that it really does him a disservice as a historian to reduce the subtlety of his position to some simplistic "blame game." Nowhere does he absolve the Russian people of responsibility for their own fate. And anyway, it’s a chicken and the egg argument: which came first, the Russian national character or the tsarist state?... But this is leaving out the whole question of ideology… which I still think is more pertinent to the discussion than questions of national character.
Anyway, I honestly don’t think that anyone here, least of all myself, is arguing that the form the Russian Revolution took was not in some ways influenced by Russian history and specifically the history of the autocratic Russian state. In the same way there were probably precedents for Hitler in German history. But at the same time I’m not going to make a sort of simplistic Daniel Goldhagen-style argument that tsarism was directly to blame for the Soviet regime. Nor am I saying that Communism was uniquely evil (haven’t I mentioned Nazism enough? I think my point was that Nazism was not uniquely evil, either). And yes, RichC, Islamic fascism insituted as a state ideology would no doubt lead to mass killing on a massive scale. As I said, I thought we were discussing the impact of evil ideologies. No one can convince me that the tsarist state would have murdered people en masse if they’d simply had the technology. What made the major difference in the Soviet regime was the ideology – not the technology, not centuries of tsarism or peasant violence, not the Russian national character, etc., etc. And I think we see that truth reflected in what has happened to other countries that have tried the great Communist experiment.
But actually I’m no longer sure what we’re arguing, Tsarfan. It seems to be merely a question of degree. You posit that Stalin was as much an aberration as Ivan the Terrible; I have argued on the contrary that he was a natural outgrowth of Lenin and communist ideology, and that other successors such as Trotsky might even have been worse. Nowhere did I say that revolutionary fervor would not have eventually expended itself and settled into the mire of bureaucratic red tape.
And Simon, I guess I was being sarcastic when I said that if Hitler had died in 1938, I would like to think we wouldn’t be congratulating his successors and applauding his many successes on the domestic and international fronts, even while the Nuremberg laws and the euthanasia program had until only recently still been in force… As the Clash put it, "If Hitler were alive today,/ They’d roll out the red carpet anyway." Of course. And that’s the whole point about the Soviet Union, it murdered more people than Hitler but it managed to get away with it, because of the longevity of the regime (although come to think of it, less than 75 years is less than one lifetime, after all - unless you’re a Russian male, that is).