Stephen F. Williams

The Reformer

How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution

Encounter Books 2017

New Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network November 30, 2017 Samantha Lomb

The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution (Encounter Books, 2017), written by legal scholar Stephen F. Williams, uses a biographic...

The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution (Encounter Books, 2017), written by legal scholar Stephen F. Williams, uses a biographic account of the life and career of Vasily Maklakov to explore issues of legality and rule of law in Tsarist Russia from 1905, following the promulgation of the October Manifesto, which established a legislative body for the first time since the 1600s, till the Bolshevik Revolution. Maklakov, a moderate Kadet (Constitutional Democrat) reformer and practicing defense attorney (most famous for his defense of the Jewish Menahem Beilis, sometimes considered the Russian Dreyfus), was a delegate to the Second, Third and Fourth Dumas who advocated for political compromise, the establishment of rule of law and gradual constitutional reform. He advocated for a wide range of amendments to the Tsarist legal code, especially in the realms of religious freedom, national minorities, judicial independence, citizens judicial remedies, and peasant rights. As such Maklakov’s policies presented vivid contrast to the political tactics of the better-known Russian Left (the Narodniks, SRs, and Social Democrats) who refused to work with the autocracy and actively engaged in terrorism, at one point killing over 300 government employees a month in 1906, and advocating for the over through of the Tsarist regime. While Maklakov and other liberal reformist Russians ultimately failed in staving off revolution, in part due to the unwillingness of their own party to compromise with the Tsarist regime and accept anything other than a fully constitutional monarchy, Maklakov’s story serves as an example for movements seeking to liberalize authoritarian countries today—both as a warning and a guide.


Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book,Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.

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