ALMOST every new Russian ruler for the last two centuries has been hailed as a liberator upon acceding to power, and in almost every case initial euphoria has given way to disappointment, and worse. When Nicholas I died in 1855, even the harshest critics of the Russian system (the exiled Alexander Herzen among them) welcomed his successor, Alexander II, in glowing terms, especially after a few reforms were announced. Within six or seven months their enthusiasm had waned: “We confess our mistake….This is the same regime, sweetened by molasses.”
The pattern repeated itself when Stalin came to power in the late 20′s. Some Western observers hailed the event as a long-awaited return to normalcy after the excesses of Lenin and Trotsky. This, for instance, was how Sir Bernard Pares, an Englishman and one of the most distinguished early Sovietologists, saw it, not only at the time but even fifteen years later when Russia under Stalin appeared to him “as a nearer approach to true democracy than the liberal movement before the revolution.” And when Stalin died in 1953, needless to say, expectations of a bright new future were even higher.
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