Russia Under the Old Regime, Paperback
5 out of 5 (1 rating)


This study analyzes the evolution of the Russian state from the 9th century to the 1880s, and its unique role in managing Russian society.

The development of Russia was different from that of the rest of Europe.

The natural poverty of geographical conditions made it extremely difficult to construct an effective regime, and a "patrimonial" state arose in which the country was conceived as the personal property of the tsar.

The book describes the evolution of this regime, and analyzes the political behaviour of the principal social groupings, peasantry, nobility, bourgeoisie and clergy, and accounts for their failure to stand up to the increasing absolutism of the tsar.

Only the intelligentsia were able to make such a stand, and the book shows how in countering this challenge, Russia developed into a bureaucratic police state.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384 pages, maps, notes, chronology, index
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9780140247688



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This book is a good example of scientific historical analysis. Pipes starts with a debatable proposition and proceeds to identify and examine all the facts and relationships to support his proposition and produces a must read book on Russian history.Pipes argues that the basis of the Russian state is a patrimonial state; that is, a state based on the ruler treating the country as a personal possession. Key relationships within the patrimonial state were developed to support the ruler in his ownership and that the personal will of the ruler would be carried out. There are 3 key factors that lead to this development. Firstly, the climate and quality of the soil limited the types of social and political organization that could develop. Secondly, the domination of the Dnieper basin by the Vikings in the 9th century introduced the centrality of the economic motive in the purpose of the state to the still lowly developed Russian tribes. Finally, the Monguls/Tartars in the 13th and 14th centuries, whose “absentee” control provided the annual tribute was paid and the leading Prince paying homage to the Khan, reinforced the concept of the paramount authority of the Grand Prince and the principality as his personal possession. The result was a country where the objective of the state was the material enrichment of the ruler and the blocking of the development of alternative sources of power that could challenge the ruler. The national psyche too developed with the ruler as the provider of all benefits in society at its core. Pipes goes on to argue that all of Russia’s history down to his day’s Communist Party was merely a development of this patrimonial state. The attempts by Peter I and Catherine II to Europeanize Russia all resulted in being subsumed within the patrimonial concept, continuing to enhance the authority of the Tsar. The late 19th century attempts by the boyars to develop along the lines of western Europe were a failure and only gave rise to a new centralized ruler in the Communist Party that would refashion existing institutions and psyches to perpetuate the patrimonial state. Easy to ready, lively arguments and plenty of descriptions of key events makes this an excellent contribution to the understanding of Russian history.