Voluntary Associations and the Russian Autocracy: The Case of Private Charity

Adele Lindenmeyr


Among the most striking manifestations of the rapid social changes taking place now in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev is the reemergence, after decades of apparent extinction, of genuine voluntary associations, including organized charity. There has never been a better time to explore the history of these phenomena, which are often overlooked in studies of pre-revolutionary Russia. An examination of the tsarist government's policy towards voluntarism, focusing not on politically challenging movements but on charity, can shed much light on the history of the relationship between the state and voluntary public initiative. While the autocracy's suspicion of voluntarism waxed and waned from the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, an underlying and highly significant trend can be discerned. Like the sorcerer's apprentice, the autocracy ended up losing effective control over the voluntarism it had initially, beginning with Catherine II, encouraged Russian society to embrace.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/cbp.1990.46


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