Debates on Stalinism gives an up-to-date, concise overview of major debates in the history of Stalinism. It introduces readers to changing approaches since the 1950s, and more broadly to scholarly views on this society reaching back to the 1930s. It argues that writing the history of Stalinism is not only about the Soviet past. It is also centrally shaped by current anxieties and concerns of the scholars studying it. In short, there is a politics of writing the history of Stalinism. Combining biographical investigation of leading historians with thematic and chronological analysis of major topics of study, Debates on Stalinism uncovers the history of these politics. The book provides a snapshot of the state of the field and suggests possible future avenues of further research.
This chapter introduces the book. It gives a brief overview of Soviet history during the Stalin years (1928–53) and sketches the major debate surrounding it. It provides definitions of key terms, such as ‘Stalinism’ and ‘historiography’, and outlines the book and its arguments.
This chapter recounts a heated debate between historians of Stalinism in the pages of the scholarly journal The Russian Review in 1986 and 1987. Sparked off by a review essay by the social historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, it led to a broad range of emotional responses to Stalinism and the politics of history-writing in the late Cold War.
This chapter recounts the life, times and works of Moshe Lewin, a major historian of Stalinism. It shows how his life as a political activist and wartime refugee to the Soviet Union structured his later scholarship. The chapter also explores Lewin’s influence on a younger cohort of scholars, his efforts at field and institution-building, and the legacy of his work on Stalinism.
This chapter recounts the life, times, works and influence of Richard Pipes, a major historian of the Soviet experience. It shows how his life as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe, and his trauma at surviving the Holocaust, structured his later scholarship as a historian of Russia. It examines the development of his oeuvre, his life as a scholar, policy adviser and pundit, and his influence on the field of studying nation and empire under Stalin and under the Soviet regime more generally.
This chapter recounts the life, times, works and influence of Sheila Fitzpatrick, a major historian of Stalinism. It describes her formation as a scholar in a unique Australian milieu, her secondary socialization in 1960s Moscow, and her career in the UK, the United States and Australia. One of the great innovators in her field, Fitzpatrick not only made a major contribution to the professionalization of Soviet history, she also trained one of the largest cohorts of younger historians of Stalinism.
This chapter explores writings on Stalin’s life, time and personality. It shows how biographies of the dictator often served as vehicles for social and cultural, political and economic histories of Stalinism. It traces the development of a canon of works on Stalin, mutual influences between scholars and their works, and processes of learning and forgetting between the 1930s and the 2010s.
This chapter questions a standard narrative about the development of the scholarship on Stalinism: the narrative of a succession of generations, beginning with the totalitarian ‘fathers’ (and mothers) moving on to the revisionist sons and daughters, to find an historical endpoint in the post-revisionist ‘grandchildren.’ Instead, the chapter shows how different authors of these different approaches to the study of Stalinism both learned from each other and forgot or misrecognized this process of learning by declaring themselves new and superior to the previous generation of scholars.
This chapter explores the various approaches which emerged after the polemic between revisionism and totalitarianism had run out of steam. It explores the emergence of a group of self-described ‘post-revisionists’, but also the challenges and alternatives to their views which flourished since the opening of the archives after the breakdown of the Soviet Union.
Vladimir Putin shows a remarkable interest in history in general and the Second World War in particular. This chapter explores this historian-president’s attempts to codify the memory of this war in an open attempt to transmit a useful past to the younger generation. It argues that top-down models of historical memory are of little explanatory value in the Russian situation. The president rides a wave of historical revisionism that he shapes at the same time. Putin’s government successfully uses it to mobilize Russian society against critical minorities within, and perceived enemies without. The far-reaching consequences of this politicization of the history of the Second World War are sketched in the final section of the chapter.