Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies

2023 Recipient

Tomila Lankina

The Estate Origins of Democracy in Russia: From Imperial Bourgeoisie to Post- Communist Middle Class

The Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, established in 2008 and sponsored by the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eurasia, or Eastern Europe in anthropology, political science, sociology, or geography in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Tomila Lankina
Title: The Estate Origins of Democracy in Russia: From Imperial Bourgeoisie to Post- Communist Middle Class (Cambridge University Press)

The Estate Origins of Democracy in Russia is a pathbreaking study of social continuities in Russia over the past century and a half, through three different regimes and multiple generations. Using both quantitative data and qualitative research, at the macro-, meso-(community), and micro-level, Tomila Lankina leads us slowly through the many ways in which the educated estates of the pre-revolutionary era (the bourgeoisie or meshchane estate in post-1861 Russia) not only survived, but in some ways thrived, in the communist era. It is these bourgeois social group legacies that have also conditioned the geographical patterns of democracy in Russia after 1991, Lankina argues, maintaining that the aspirations, values, and public life proclivities of the ‘old’ bourgeoisie were substantively different from the new middle class created by Soviet modernization.

The book challenges some of the long-held assumptions about the social transformation enacted by the Soviet regime and reveals the power of social groups to withstand state pressure and appropriate the regime goals and objectives to its own social reproduction ends. Most scholarship on Russia stresses the importance of communism in fundamentally altering the social structure and creating a rough and ready equality that never existed before. Lankina maintains this is simply a false acceptance of the Soviet way of looking at things, which fails to appreciate exactly how pre-revolutionary elites transformed their positional, cultural, and even economic capital into educational and cultural positions within the post- revolutionary order in ways that are easy to miss. Everyone who visited Russia under communism understood there was a certain amount of deference to the old order and classical culture, but Lankina shows that, in relying on the older elites to carry out “revolutionary tasks,” communism was effectively colonized and appropriated by old bourgeois elite. Lankina shows the ways in which this class managed to replicate itself within the confines of Soviet institutions in the 1920s, into the high Stalinism of the late 1930s, and through the war.

Although not all readers will agree with key implications of Lankina’s analysis for the fate of Russian democracy after the Soviet collapse and the centrality of pre- Soviet meshchane estate for the future of Russia’s political development, the book represents a major advance in research on historical legacies and provides convincing detail about the sources and operation of inter-generational continuities spanning different regimes in Russia. The book also opens a new page in the periodization of Russian history, which in the existing historiography has stressed the breaks of 1917 and 1991. Lankina maintains that the continuities between the society that took shape after 1861 in Russia and the present are much stronger, thereby undermining undue deference to easy orthodoxies of periodization that may dull our ability to understand the present.