The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union: The Dialectics of Rupture and Continuity




Romanov Empire, USSR, historiography, memory politics, rupture, continuity


Historians, politicians, and other mnemonic actors are actively debating the question about what characterises the relationship between the Romanov Empire and the Soviet Union, i. e. continuity or rupture. The Soviet regime of the interwar period emphasised discontinuity, both in domestic policy and in the international arena. Whenever references to the Romanov Empire appeared in international treaties of the Soviets of that time, it was only in the context of a renunciation of that legacy. However, on the eve of World War II, the Soviet authorities clearly outlined the Soviet state’s claims to its status as a successor state of the Russian Empire, declaring its right to the territories of the Baltic states, Bessarabia, and the western regions of Ukraine and Belarus that had once been part of the Romanov empire, or were claimed by Russia in WWI, such as Galicia and Bukovina. In the USSR, starting in the second half of the 1930s, the image of the Russian Empire as a “prison of peoples” faded into the background, replaced by the arguments about “objective progressiveness” in annexing certain territories and ethnic groups into the empire. However, the role of the October Revolution as the founding myth of the Soviet society persisted until the Soviet Union’s implosion and left no doubt that the rupture was crucially important for the Soviet authorities. During Boris Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s, Russia was trying to shape a new narrative of a young nation, which was starting its history from 1991, but the attempt quite predictably failed. After becoming president, Vladimir Putin almost immediately switched to the narrative of “a thousand-year-old state”, proclaiming the legacy of both the Romanov Empire and the Soviet Union part of national history. The article discusses various historiographic approaches to the issue of rupture and continuity between the Romanov empire and the USSR and concludes that one can speak of a radical rupture between the Russian Empire and Soviet Russia (and later, the Soviet Union), since the Soviet project rejected the key components of the late Russian imperial project. At the same time, we can also argue that the imperial nature of the polity itself survived albeit transformed, not just during the 1917–1922 revolutionary crisis but also during the crisis of the 1990s.

Author Biography

Alexei Miller

Dr. Hab. (History), Professor, European University at St Petersburg; Leading Researcher, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

6/1А, Gagarinskaya Str., 191187, St Petersburg, Russia.

51/21, Nakhimovsky Ave., 117418, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-8139-0976


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How to Cite

Miller, A. (2024). The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union: The Dialectics of Rupture and Continuity. Quaestio Rossica, 12(1), 339–352.



Conceptus et conceptio