Economic Heritage of Count Witte

Professor Sergei D. Martynov

It is gradually becoming recognized that today’s Russia could benefit from drawing from past experiences.

Attempts to present the ideas of Witte’s work as a reformer and a creator of a successful economic program, the Witte System, are being made by many scientists.

At the beginning of the twenty first century Russia still has difficulties in coping with its economic problems. There have been many attempts to find a suitable national model for the Russian economy, which would guarantee the revival and the future prosperity of the country. In these critical times it is natural to turn to previous reforms and reformers and to analyze the methods they used in their time. (Professor Sergei D. Martynov).

Unfortunately, the true value of Witte’s reforms is not yet publicly acknowledged. A state patriot, whose purpose in life was to serve his country, he was not understood by his contemporaries and the subsequent Soviet system. Despite his famous name, only few are familiar with his achievements. During the Soviet time his name was linked with capitalism and was denied by the authorities. Those who tried to research his work were not supported. His theoretical work was not republished and the archives with his material were scarcely accessible. In Russian history as viewed by the Bolsheviks, Lenin and Stalin, not Witte, were the originators of industrialization (W. E. Mosse, An Economic History of Russia 1856-1914 NY USA1996).

Professor Theodor von Laue

There have been many attempts to analyze Witte’s achievements by western scientists. In his 1969 book "Sergei Witte and the industrialization of Russia" the American scholar Theodor von Laue presented an empirical western point of view on an agricultural and feudalist country, where one person struggles to create a modern society and to overcome economic backwardness.

Professor Sidney Harcave

Another American, Sidney Harcaves, published an English version of Witte’s memoirs, “The Memoirs of Count Witte” in 1990. The book is a translation from the Russian original and includes text from the unpublished “Zapisi Grafa Vitte” (Manuscripts of Count Witte). As the author writes: “The memoirs are important not only for what they say about the past but also for their relevance to the present. Consider the following thoughts expressed by Witte. “Finland must not be allowed to become another Poland, kept under Russian control by force and arms...” The author continues: “examples of the striking freshness of what Witte had to say many of Witte’s unfulfilled hopes and expectations must continue to engage our attention: his hope for a disarmed, unified Europe...”( Memoirs1990).

“Without a doubt, Count Sergei Juljevich Witte occupies the first place among our leading governmental figures. His name is firmly linked with the major reform of our monetary system and the basic reorganization of the government budget, which enabled Russia rapidly to become an equal partner in international trade.” (Memoirs 1990).

Professor Martynov

According to a Russian Professor Martynov’s recently published book “Gosudarstvo i Ekonomika”, 2002 (State and Economy) a comprehensive scientific study of the Witte System is still missing. Most research on Sergei Witte has been done by historians. Now it is time for the economists to pay more attention to the Witte System.

Professor Raskov

According Nikolai Raskov, professor of theoretical Management at St. Petersburg State University, there are in the State Archive in Petersburg plenty of Witte’s manuscripts, surveys and notes, which have never been published. These all facts limit the possibility to make a full-scale picture of one of the most remarkable statesman of the nineteenth century.

Professor Ananich

There are plenty of good reasons to pay more attention to the history of the economic policy of the Witte System and also to the man behind it himself. As Professor Ananich, one of the best Witte experts, writes in his book “Sergei Juljevich Witte i evo vremja”, (Sergei Juljevich Witte and his time 1999) ...the creator of a “new Russian economy “was not aware of all what he has done...Witte was much ahead of most Russian statesmen of pre-Revolutionary times...” (B.V. Ananich 1999).

The latest historical study of Sergei Witte has been published by above mentioned Professor B. Ananich in his book “Sergei Juljevich Witte i evo vremja”, (Sergei Juljevich Witte and his time 1999). This book contains material on Witte, which is only accessible in USA. According to B. Ananich “Witte hoped through state support and foreign investments to stimulate a faster industrialization in a certain period of time and catch the western countries”