Rereading Old Texts: Sergei Witte and the Industrialization of Russia

  • Frank Wcislo


Few personalities loom larger in the historical literature studying late imperial Russia than Sergei Witte, and few of those texts have withstood the vicissitudes of time and fashion more successfully than Theodore Von Laue’s portrayal of the ancien regime’s great industrial modernizer. While the interpretive concerns of historians of Russia have moved beyond the framework of backwardness and industrialization within which Von Laue portrayed the tsarist statesman, among nonspecialist European historians Witte’s name often still remains synonymous with what Von Laue termed the efforts of the autocratic state to industrialize, modernize, and thus overcome the “penalties of backwardness” that rendered the Russian ancien regime archaic in the modern Western world.1 One need only consider introductory undergraduate surveys of European history and the degree to which Von Laue’s Witte, either directly or implicitly, still occupies a central place in narratives of the Empire’s last decades. When generalists survey early-twentieth-century Europe, Witte, the great industrializer, and more broadly the “Witte system” of state-sponsored industrialization that Von Laue elaborated, remain historiographical fixtures in explaining the revolutionary end-time of the tsarist Empire and the emergence of its Soviet, communist successor. More than three decades after its appearance, Von Laue’s portrayal of Witte and his Russia remains a touchstone in interpreting Russia’s place in European history.


Russian Economic Development Freight Transport Freight Rate Industrial Culture European History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Theodore Von Laue, Sergei Witte and the Industrialization of Russia (NY: Columbia University Press, 1963 and Atheneum, 1969), ch. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    V. Naryshkina-Vitte, Zapiski devochki (Leipzig: Izdanie avtora, 1922), 5.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    See Sergei Vitte, Printsipy zheleznodorozhnykh tarifov po perevozke gruzov, Tret’e dopolnennoe izdanie (St. Petersburg: Brokgauz and Efron, 1910)Google Scholar
  4. and Graf S. Iu. Vitte, Po povodu natsionalizma. Natsional’naia Ekonomiia i Fridrikh List, 2-e izdanie (St. Petersburg: Brokgauz i Efron, 1912).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire1875–1914 (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 10–12.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Paul R. Gregory, Before Command: An Economic History of Russia from Emancipation to the First Five-Year Plan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Peter Gatrell, The Tsarist Economy, 1850–1917 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  8. Alexander Gerschenkron, “Problems and Patterns of Russian Economic Development,” in Michael Cherniavsky ed., The Structure of Russian History. Interpretive Essays (New York: Random House, 1970);Google Scholar
  9. Arcadius Kahan, Russian Economic History: The Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989),Google Scholar
  10. ed. Roger Weiss. A major departure that interrogates the cultural underpinnings and assumptions of development is Yanni Kotsonis, Making Peasants Backward: Agricultural Cooperatives and the Agrarian Question in Russia, 1861–1914 (Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Place (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), especially ch. 1Google Scholar
  12. and Michael Freeman, Railways and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    B.R Mitchell, European Historical Statistics1750–1970 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    T.M. Kitanina, Khlebnaia torgovlia Rossii v 1875–1914gg (Leningrad: Nauka, 1978)Google Scholar
  15. and Thomas Fallows, Forging the Zemstvo Movement, Ph.D. diss. (Harvard University, 1981).Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    See, in particular, Frank Wcislo, Reforming Rural Russia: State, Local Society and National Politics, 1855–1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), chs. 2–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Susan P. McCaffray and Michael Melancon 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Wcislo

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations