Alexander III: a pogrom-maker? : capability and culpability in Russian society, 1881-1894.
This thesis intends to show that pogroms in the reign of Alexander III were neither
encouraged nor instigated by the government. While other historians have demonstrated
why the government could not have been involved in a pogrom policy, a thesis to which
the author adds new primary source materials, it is possible to go one step further with
new information emerging on alternative origins and reasons for the pogroms. It is
argued that there was independent anti-Jewish action among the peasantry that clearly
shows their capability for self-motivation and organisation.
Chapters 1 and 2 review the literature on the Russian peasantry, the nature of the
autocracy, the tensions within Russian society and the role of the Jewish population
within the Russian Empire until the 1880s. These are the areas on which the crux of the
thesis rests. Chapter 3 re-examines the period 1881-1894 in more detail in an effort to
understand more clearly Jewish and Russian social perceptions of the pogroms, and how
this has led to misconceptions among historians. Chapter 4 looks more closely at the
government policy on the Jewish Question, using new data that allows research to take
into account the real feelings and concerns that were expressed at the highest levels of
government. Chapter 5 considers the same unofficial and frank source of documentation
but at lower levels, i. e. police and local officials. From these police reports, comes the
factual evidence of the existence of peasant leadership, organisation and movements
against authority, and more specifically against Jews.
Chapter 6 concludes that by 1881, the autocracy did not control or understand
Russian or Jewish society, and it was during the next thirteen years that this became
evident. The re-evaluation of available data only serves to show that the pogroms were a
clear illustration of this fact.