Cover image for From serf to Russian soldier
From serf to Russian soldier
Wirtschafter, Elise Kimerling.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xix, 214 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
U771 .W57 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Here is the first social history devoted to the common soldier in the Russian army during the first half of the 19th-century--an examination of soldiers as a social class and the army as a social institution. By providing a comprehensive view of one of the most important groups in Russian society on the eve of the great reforms of the mid-1800s, Elise Wirtschafter contributes greatly to our understanding of Russia's complex social structure. Based on extensive research in previously unused Soviet archives, this work covers a wide array of topics relating to daily life in the army, including conscription, promotion and social mobility, family status, training, the regimental economy, military justice, and relations between soldiers and officers. The author emphasizes social relations and norms of behavior in the army, but she also addresses the larger issue of society's relationship to the autocracy, including the persistent tension between the tsarist state's need for military efficiency and its countervailing need to uphold the traditional norms of unlimited paternalistic authority. By examining military life in terms of its impact on soldiers, she analyzes two major concerns of tsarist social policy: how to mobilize society's resources to meet state needs and how to promote modernization (in this case military efficiency) without disturbing social arrangements founded on serfdom.

Originally published in 1990.

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Reviews 1

Choice Review

Wirtschafter's study is a pioneering effort to describe the life of the lower ranks of the pre-reform Russian army. Using original sources, both published and archival, Wirtschafter follows the peasant from enforced recruitment into military life, and also discusses discipline, military justice, and forms of rebellion. For this reviewer, the most successful sections of the book are those that demonstrate the regime's policy toward the military rank and file, such as the manner in which recruitment was carried out; government policy in regard to the army; the norms and methods for provisioning the soldiers; and the legal status of military personnel. The sections dealing with the atttitudes of the soldiers themselves are less successful. The courts martial data Wirtschafter uses to explore the attitudes of the soldiers present problems of generality, accuracy, and interpretation. More penetrating comparisons with other European armies would have enchanced the value of his conclusions. Despite these caveats, the historian will find that this work performs a valuable service in illuminating the world of the Russian common soldier. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -J. Zimmerman, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg