Yevgeny Tarle (1874 - 1955)

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Опубликовано в библиотеке: 2018-10-02

by Professor Vladlen SIROTKIN, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Diplomatic Academy of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary since the death of Academician Yevgeny Tarle (1874 - 1955), an eminent Russian historian who carried on the traditions of Nikolai Karamzin, Sergey Solovyov and Vassily Klyuchevsky, the distinguished writers and historians of the last two centuries, who likewise had the honor of being elected to the national Academy of Sciences.

Back in my high-school years I got captivated by the famous historical trilogy of Tarle's: Napoleon (1936), Napoleon's Invasion of Russia (1937) and Talleyrand (1939). It's one thing, though, when you read books, and quite different when you meet their author face to face. I shall always remember my first encounter with Tarle when he made a lecture on the recent history of Europe and North America in what was once the house of prayer of Katkov Lyceum converted to the main assembly hall of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (today the premises of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Federation's Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It happened in 1952. A venerable scholar and member of the national Academy of Sciences, who was awarded a Stalin Prize on three occasions, Tarle lectured to us, sophomore students. An out-of-the-way event! All of the faculty flocked in to hear him.

Spurred by his love of teaching, Tarle would not give it up despite his advanced age of 79. I came to realize this exploit many years after, as Acad. Tarle was no longer in the land of the living, by my personal experience of teaching and lecturing, and on having read up a good deal about Tarle. As a lecturer he never used any text or notes, he did it right off the bat, even though his health and memory let him down now and then. He tutored our French group at seminars; although unable to meet us often because of poor health, he at his seminars instilled great love in us for French history and culture.


Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle, upon completing a course at a classical male gymnasium (grammar school) in the southern town of Kherson, entered the Department of History and Philology of Novorossiysk University in Odessa (1892). Still in the upper grades of the grammar school he chose world history as his major and read many works on the subject, also in French and German. Even as a freshman he saw that the level of teaching at Odessa University was not quite up to the mark, especially where his major was concerned. It came to pass that the young student familiarized himself with the works of Professor Ivan Luchitsky of Kiev University, a foremost expert on 18th-century French history (in 1908 elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences as corresponding member), who is still a world authority on Western Europe's agrarian school. That's whom our budding talent was eager to have as his tutor.

Pages. 91

In its research and scientific potential Kiev University could well vie with the universities of St. Petersburg and Moscow, especially in the socioeconomic history of the West and Russia, a new trend not concerned overmuch with the rule of particular kings and czars but with a focus on fundamental social processes unfolding within chronologically long spans of time (taking in decades and centuries). This approach provided a background for what came to be known as "Legal Marxism" (the economic theory of Karl Marx, yes! But his teaching on dictatorship of the proletariat, no!).

In 1893 Yevgeny Tarle got transferred to Kiev University where he signed up for a seminar of the illustrious scholar, Prof. Luchitsky. The professor was quick to spot the inquisitive and industrious youth and, as Tarle graduated from the university with honors in 1896, recommended him as a promising postgraduate student and a prospective lecturer at the Chair (Department) of General History.

His M.A. thesis Tarle devoted to Thomas More (1478 - 1535), a great English thinker and author of the first secular conception of Utopian socialism (Utopia, 1516). In 1901 Tarle had his dissertation published under separate cover (written in the Legal Marxist key) and sent a copy to Leo Tolstoy himself, a living classic of Russian letters and a philosopher who had a dominant influence on the minds of the Russian intelligentsia, the intellectual elite. Leo Tolstoy's verdict was favorable. The following year Tarle rehashed his M. A. dissertation into an article published in the "thick" liberal-populist journal Russkoje bogatstvo (Russian Wealth) catering to college professors and schoolteachers and edited by the prose writer Vladimir Korolenko; the title of the article read like this: "On the Limits of Historical Prevision". This work ushered in a spate of Tarle's scholarly publications that continued for half a century, up until the author's demise.


Tarle could never confine his interests to science and journalism alone - that would have gone against the grain for him. Brimming with energy, he went overboard in his political and social involvement, what with so many political circles and coteries in Kiev. The choice was wide enough. Like many of his school-fellows (Anatoly Lunacharsky, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergey Bulgakov*), Tarle joined the Social Democrats. He made political reports at organizations of college students, took part in debates and "went to the people", that is to the industrial proletariat of Kiev. Even though he did not go beyond agitation and the propaganda of Legal Marxism, the tsarist secret police arrested him together with the members of the students' coterie. Upon his release Tarle was banished to Kherson, the domicile of his parents, and put under police surveillance.

The free-thinking scholar was not expelled from the university after all. However, the newly fledged "privat-docent", or unestablished university lecturer (for Tarle had defended his M. A. dissertation), was banned from lecturing at H. M. (state) universities and classical grammar schools, politically "unreliable" as he was. That was a hard blow at his self-esteem and ambitions - Tarle had already tried himself out as lecturer, and he could see his audiences spellbound, listening in "open-mouthed". True, the ban did not apply to private schools-it was up to a board of guardians to make a final decision. The young lecturer did not live in poverty-quite the contrary: the face-off between the powers that be and the liberal public reached a high pitch - so much so that Tarle's arrest was viewed as an asset of sorts-he was a victim of tsarism, a dissenter, a dissident. Private high schools in Kiev and Kherson (female schools in particular) wooed him as tutor, and paid twice and even thrice as much as H. M. university - they even sent a cabby to take him to school classes and back home. Besides, as a Legal Marxist and republican, Tarle made speaking tours of the country.

And yet Tarle chafed at his "dissident's status", the brand lay heavy on him. After many solicitations supported by eminent professors of St. Petersburg University, in 1903 the Police Department lifted the ban on teaching, but only for a while: in February 1905 Tarle was detained again for taking part in a students' get-together and dismissed as lecturer. But eight months after that his name resounded all over Russia. To cope with nation-wide unrest, on October 17, 1905, Czar Nikolai (Nicholas) II issued his famous Manifesto on civil liberties providing for freedoms of assembly, strikes, associations, trade-unions, for freedom of conscience and worship. Free exit abroad was likewise guaranteed.** Next day thousands of students and teachers gathered near the Technological Institute in St. Petersburg to welcome the event. But the tsarist autocracy steered two-faced policies: with one hand it granted liberties, and hacked them at the root with the other. While speakers, one after another, were making orations, the meeting was cordoned off by the police, and mounted gendarmes burst into the crowd with their swords drawn for attack. Although the policemen struck with the flat of the sword, Tarle had the worst of all: the blade scalped him, and he fell to the ground, bleeding.

The following day one liberal news paper carried a report: "Tsarist satraps hacked to death Privat-Docent Tarle". Fortunately rumors about his death happened to be "greatly exaggerated". To keep face the newspaper sent a photographer to the hospital who made a snapshot of the patient on his cot, with the bandaged head and all. The editors had this photo copied by the hundred in a private printing shop and put it on sale. Circulated as postal cards, the picture made the victim famous overnight.

The Government Manifesto granted general pardon to all politically unreliable, and Tarle made a triumphant appearance at St. Petersburg University. No longer taking part in public rallies and demonstrations, Tarle switched to

* Anatoly Lunacharsky (1875 - 1933) - subse-quently a Soviet statesman, public figure and writer, elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1930; Nikolai Berdyaev (1874 - 1948) - religious philosopher; Sergey Bulgakov (1871 -1940) - economist, philosopher and theologian. -Ed.

** See: Olga Bazanova's article in the present issue of our magazine ("The First Steps of Russian Democracy"). - Ed.

Pages. 92

social and political journalism on historical subjects obviously consonant with current developments. The headings of his articles published in liberal-democratic journals are eloquent enough: The Fall of Absolutism in France; On the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; Nikolai I's Autocracy and French Public Opinion... That was quite in keeping with the old practice of non-conformist Russian writers and historians-to use the Aesopian language for making parallels between past and present. Tarle adhered to this manner and style for quite some time.


In 1911 Tarle completed his two-volume study The Working Class of France in the Epoch of the Revolution, a work that became his doctoral dissertation. The author interpreted his subject-matter in the vein of Legal Marxism. His next fundamental work, The Continental Blockade (harking back to Napoleon's policies), was translated into several European languages, and made his name known abroad.

During the First World War (1914 - 1918) Tarle (like Berdyaev and other Legal Marxists) was an active partisan of "defencism" and, making common cause with Russian patriots, wrote many anti-German articles in liberal publications. Hailing the February Revolution of 1917 that toppled tsarist autocracy, he joined hands with budding democracy, first as member of the special Commission investigating the crimes of the tsarist regime and then, in June 1917, with the official Russian delegation that went to Stockholm, Sweden, to attend an anti-war international conference of pacifists and socialists (though he spoke out for a "war until Entente's complete victory").

Tarle was rather cautious about the Bolshevik coup of October 1917, and reverted to the Aesopian language. In 1918 the liberal Byloye (Past) Publishers released a large sampling of documents he had collected in the Paris Archives under the title The Revolutionary Tribunal in the Epoch of the Great French Revolution (documents and reminiscences of contemporaries), a poorly disguised aside hinting at the reign of Red Terror in our country. The scholar was spared for a time - the good reputation of being a Bolshevik (communist) fellow-traveler and Legal Marxist saved him. More than that, his scientific and teaching career came to be on the upgrade: for one, in 1918 he was elected as staff (permanent) professor of the St. Petersburg (Petrograd*) university and became a member of the "leading troika" (a three-man commission) in charge of the Petrograd city branch of the Russian Federation's Archival Department, and in this capacity edited several collections of documents dated from the age of "accursed tsarism".

Although Prof. Tarle kept on as brilliant lecturer and speaker at Petrograd's plants and factories, he went through a patch of lull in his research work during 1918 - 1923 by just publishing collections of his old articles and editing his "non-partisan" almanac Annals.

Meanwhile the New Economic Policy (NEP) allowing for a modicum of private enterprise bred hopes among some segments of the Russian intelligentsia that reconciliation with Bolshevism was possible in the end. Simple-hearted professors and assistant professors thought that Bolshevism could develop into a West-European type of democracy, and that Russia would return to the bosom of the world market economy and civilization. These illusions caused an organizational split of the historical science into the academic school of Yevgeny Tarle and Sergei

* In 1914 St. Petersburg was renamed into Petrograd; in 1924 it became Leningrad and in 1991, St. Petersburg again. - Tr.

Pages. 93

Platonov (elected to the national Academy of Sciences in 1920) in Petrograd, and the Marxist school of Mikhail Pokrovsky (elected to the Academy in 1919) in Moscow. Even though the Russian capital was moved to Moscow in 1918, up until 1934 the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences and its institutions stayed on in Petrograd. New scholarly institutions were set up in Moscow, such as the Communist Academy (today, the Academy of State Service under President of the Russian Federation), the Institute of Red Professorship, among others. Science journals and collections, and series of books were published in both capitals.

For a time the controversies of Marxists and non-Marxists were muffled somewhat, and spilled out only at international forums. At the history congress in Brussels (1923) foreign colleagues and journalists came in droves to Tarle, but snubbed Pokrovsky and his followers: none had ever read their works at all (for lack of translations). The same picture had a rerun in Oslo, in 1928.


The Marxists meanwhile were all set to smash the liberal-minded "bourgeois specialists", eggheads and their ilk. Preparations had begun two years before "Stalin's lid on NEP". In 1927 new statutes were adopted for the Academy of Sciences instead of the old ones of anno 1836. The new regulations also sanctioned collective membership-of "science institutions and public organizations" in the Academy. All the same, as if in a mockery of these innovations Tarle was elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences, while Pokrovsky was blackballed.

In April 1928 came an unprecedented decision to subordinate the Science Academy to the government (the Academy was an independent body with its own property and publishing house). To make the injury double sure Alexei Rykov, the government head, issued an order whereby the number of "vacancies" of full and corresponding members was to be doubled. These academic reforms concurred with the onset of mass reprisals of scientists and experts.

The authorities, however, failed in their attempt at an "academic" frame-up. Therefore the putative "saboteurs and wreckers" were not put on trial but exiled for a term of five years to outlying districts of the east - the Volga area, Siberia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The same lot befell Tarle in 1930: he was banished to Alma-Ata. "I've replaced Trotsky there," the scholar joked bitterly (Leon Trotzky was exiled to Alma-Ata in 1928 and the next year, in 1929, expatriated to Turkey with his vast personal archives).


Acad. Tarle was one of the first to be returned from banishment well before the official amnesty. He shared his impressions in a letter to an old acquaintance of his, stage actrice Tatyana Shchepkina-Kupernik, on October 31, 1932: "I have just been received in the Kremlin. A wonderful, very warm reception it was. Everything is fine, everything will be taken care of. Said they, 'A mighty man like Tarle (i.e. yours truly) should work together with us.'" The scholar did not specify in particular who had received him in person; but judging by certain innuendoes and subsequent events, it was Stalin who had returned him from exile and invited to the Kremlin (like Czar Nikolai I had done in 1826 by returning Alexander Pushkin from exile and receiving him in the Kremlin; "From now on I shall be your censor," he said to the poet.).

Tarle became a member of the State Learned Council at the Department of Public Education. Soon after, "Academia" Publishers approached him with the request: to prepare for publication the memoirs of the famous French diplomat and adroit politician Charles Maurice Talleyrand and supply them with notes (the work came out in 1934). Tarle confided to Shchepkina-Kupernik: "I want to take an order [for a new book]: You shall see then what it means when Talleyrand himself, not une dinde insolente, writes about politics. What matter, if Talleyrand is a coquin and thief, and she {la dinde) is honest: it all depends on one's head. Talleyrand had a regal pate..." The famous Frenchman, who catered to many regimes, Napoleon including, survived and kept his wits about him well into old venerable age.

Tarle escaped by the skin of his teeth from the guillotine of the purges of 1937. On June 10 the central newspapers Pravda and Izvestia ran a well-nigh identical critique of Tarle's book on Napoleon. The nub of the matter was that the preface was contributed by the eminent journalist and public figure Karl Radek, convicted early in 1937 in a show trial as "enemy of the people". It was Stalin who saved Tarle again. In the small hours of June 11 came a telephone call: "Comrade Stalin will be speaking to you," said a male voice. The leader saluted him curtly, and said that he, Tarle, should pay no attention to negative comments. "There will be others coming up," Stalin said and hung up.

Shortly afterwards Stalin wrote a letter to Tarle with a positive appraisal of Napoleon and advised the author to reply to Pravda and Izvestia by an anti-critique or else write a preface of his own to the second edition of Napoleon. But following Talleyrand's precepts, Tarle did none of the two things. Neither did he plea for exculpation and rehabilitation as member of the Academy. He was returned to the fold in September 1937 by a Stalin phone call to the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In legal terms Tarle was cleared of all charges only posthumously, in 1967, at the solicitation of his pupil Professor Yevgeny Chapkevich, of the Orlov Teachers' Training College and author of the captivating biography of Yevgeny Viktorovich Tarle.

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