In This Review

Modern Tsars and Princes: The Struggle for Hegemony in Russia
Modern Tsars and Princes: The Struggle for Hegemony in Russia
By Jeremy Lester
Verso, 1995, 320 pp.

‘Hegemony’ here is used in the sense that Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist, described. Lester’s appropriation of it reminds one that the social science concepts dominant in most Western universities are not the only ones students of Russia can adopt in trying to keep their feet. Gramsci was not preoccupied with the social contract of post-Enlightenment democratic theorists, nor did he have much time for taming power through civil institutions. He thought society always came under the domination of a ‘historical bloc,’ a transcendent cultural force able to draw civil institutions and the state to its purposes.

Lester writes about the three forces in Russia competing to become the next blocco st˜rico. The Westernizers are united only by their sense of inferiority toward the West and are now said to be dominated largely by those devoted to private property and rugged individualism. The Russophiles, including communist presidential candidate Gennadi Zyuganov, are bent on finding salvation for Russia in the mists of its history. The centrists would split the difference but lean toward the Russophiles. To Lester’s regret, a fourth contender, a democratic socialist left, is missing, although he devotes a chapter to the smattering of would-be protagonists. The author’s approach leads to an interesting and often insightful classification of the forces slowly precipitating in Russia, but Gramsci and therefore Lester are no better than Marx or any other Western futurologist for predicting which will triumph.