PRINTING POWER, PRESSING POLITICS: M.N. KATKOV AND THE RISE OF PRIVATE NEWSPAPER PRESS IN LATE IMPERIAL RUSSIA, 1860s-1880s
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This dissertation examines the rise of the private political press and its engagement in Russian politics during the 1860s-1880s. During these three decades, Russia’s newspaper press underwent a dramatic cultural, technological, and political change. Censorship liberalization and accelerating communication technology transformed the Russian newspaper from a marginal genre on the print landscape into a hub of information exchange and a vibrant forum for political discussion, where editors sought to influence not only public opinion, but also bureaucratic decision making. Whereas existing literature has focused on the influence of the state on the press (censorship) or the role of the press in shaping a civil society, this dissertation uncovers the ways in which the press influenced political discussion and decision-making.Concentrating on a handful of prominent newspapers during the 1860s-1880s, such as M.N. Katkov’s Moskovskie Vedomosti, A.A. Kraevskii’s Golos, A.S. Suvorin’s Novoe Vremia, and I.S. Aksakov’s Rus’, this study explores a variety of ways in which these newspapers and their powerful editors shaped debates, careers, and political outcomes in Russia’s political stage.
The dissertation is the first to examine the increased readership and impact of the private political press within the bureaucratic ranks and at court, and to track the penetration of newspaper discourses into policy discussion and decision-making. It dissects the complex relationships of collaboration, patronage, and mutual dependency between press editors and bureaucratic officials. Prominent editors aligned themselves with like-minded bureaucratic interest groups to advance political ideas, engage in fierce polemics, and take on political rivals; their partisanship made the press a surrogate of party politics in Russia. The growing entanglements of politics and press spanned wide networks of press informants, agents, and protegees within government ranks, whose leaks fueled public debate and further eroded the government control of information.
Discreet instruments of political maneuvering, private political newspapers ultimately served as vehicles for the political agendas and ideologies of their editors. This dissertation traces the emergence of the “journalist-politician” M.N. Katkov, who, as an ideologue of Emperor Alexander III’s rule, formulated a new basis of monarchic legitimacy grounded in national politics (narodnost’), an all-estate approach (vsesoslovnost’), and welfare policies (blagosostoianie). Taking a broader approach to Katkov’s intellectual legacy – beyond his national politics – and borrowing revisionist approaches in recent literature, this study builds an alternative framework for understanding perhaps the most prominent newspaper editor of the nineteenth century. Delving into Katkov’s direct work on two key reforms of Alexander III’s rule, this study sheds light on an extent of influence exercised by the press on political processes.
This work contributes fresh perspectives on the role of the press on the political stage and its relationship with the state in late Imperial Russia. It reveals that the press, far from the supplicant of the government, became a powerful political actor in its own right. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that the rise of Russia’s private political press eroded the government’s control over information, over the shaping of political narratives, and finally over political processes.