Did The Russian State... - Part II by Nils Johann (On the 'Curse' of the Orient)
It was a widely held opinion from the 1850 and onward, that the Asian states were “despotic”. Also the Asian peoples lacked the European/Western ability for rational thought. -Thus a mongoloid Russia would explain a backward Russia. Karl Wittfogel runs with a less extreme notion than above, of what Mongolian influx might mean, as Ostrowski also mentions in his article. To criticize Wittfogel today might seem to be like kicking in open doors, but his most famous work "Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power." "Wittfogel's scientific contribution in the ideological conflict with Soviet Communism" still echoed in the lecturing rooms when I started to interest myself for Russia in 2005. (With that quote it should be abundantly clear that we are not reading history, when reading Wittfogel) The book takes its thesis about the 'Hydraulic society', developed in his book “Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Chinas” (1931), and superimposes the concept on Russian history, to explain his contemporary Soviet Union, using the concept as a 'grand theory of everything'. Thus Soviet Communism is explained as follows: Along the great rivers like the Euphrates or the Jiang-tsek-iang, centralized states arose because the coordinated regulation of irrigation was crucial for agriculture, and the steadfastness required by agriculture made people easier to rule. This gave rise to a system of government Wittfogel named “Oriental Despotism”. Later this mode of government would also spread to the whole of Asia, remaining more or less
unchanged up to Wittfogel's time. It is also spread to areas without irrigation-systems, like Russia. With the Mongol invasion, Wittfogel claims, Russia was “asieatesized” and thus the despotic structures that had risen in the Far-East were integrated into the coming Russian systems of government, commencing up until Soviet Communism.
Western Europe at the same time. Yanov advocates that the period from 1480 till 1560 is a period of “European tradition” in Russia, whilst the 'Oprichnina' of Ivan IV breaks this tradition. After that it was a long and hard struggle for Russia to “get back to Europe”, and it finally gets there after the breakup of the USSR. This is also in part tendentious, as it leans on a positive, highly unrealistic, mythological portrait of western Europe.
The works of Yanov and Wittfogel are representatives of two opposing archetypal interpretations of Russian history and Russia. The one understands it as “meant to be” 'European', the other as 'Asiatic'. -Or 'Western' and 'Eastern'. It is important to note that not all writing about Russia falls into this category. Ostrowski, who's focus is primarily on early Slavic history, has also published extensively in the field of comparative history, and methodology, and this seems to keep him from oversimplification and generalization.