Glasnost I

A decade ago, when Leonid Brezhnev was still the leader of the Soviet Union, W. Bruce Lincoln wrote of glasnost and its role in Russian politics. His book, In the Vanguard of Reform, might today be making seers and soothsayers envious but for the fact that the dynamics of change he described were those of Czarist Russia in the mid-19th century, not those of the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th. Now, with his latest work. The Great Reforms, he reintroduces new-old Russian words like zakonost and proizvol in order to "shape a synthesis of the Great Reform Era" and to reexamine the success or failure of the Russian governmental reforms of the 1860's in light of the scholarship of the last thirty years. At a time when news sources regularly trumpet change and perestroika in Moscow, it may be useful to reconsider previous reform efforts in Russian history. Perhaps, indeed, it is the only way to gain perspective on current Russian reform.

Not once does Lincoln indulge in facile parallels between then and now. He is enough of a historian to know that you cannot step in the same river twice. Instead, he draws on his five previous works of 19th-century Russian history, as well as upon new archival sources, to develop important means of analysis that help make intelligible the ultimate failure of the effort to reform the autocracy of Czarist Russia. There is little doubt...

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