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.
Sheila Fitzpatrick was a geeky ten-year-old Melbournian when, on a Saturday afternoon in 1951, Robert C. Tucker had an epiphany. He was in Moscow.
I had been browsing in the Academy of Sciences bookstore and was walking down Gorky Street toward the U.S. embassy on Mokhovaia. In full view below was the Red Square and, off to its right, the Kremlin. … Suddenly I had … a momentous thought …: What if the idealized image of Stalin, appearing day after day in the party-controlled, party-supervised Soviet press, were an
The historiography of the Soviet Union contains three major fields of contention. The first is the Revolution of 1917, a debate about origins and legitimacy. Why did the Revolution happen? Who supported it? Could it have been avoided? Was it a legitimate revolution or an illegitimate coup? 1 The Soviet Union's end is also controversial, a debate about the future of socialism as much as its history. Was the Soviet Union reformable? Could 1991 have been avoided? Was it doomed from the start, or could it have developed into a more
A loud silence
One voice was conspicuously absent from the 1986–87 debate on Stalinism: Moshe Lewin, then at the University of Pennsylvania. An unorthodox Marxist scholar of the Soviet experience, a social historian well before ‘revisionism’ emerged, Lewin had become a mentor to many who thought of themselves as ‘socialist historians’, and ‘Marxist–Lewinists’. 1 Sheila Fitzpatrick was neither, and Lewin had never been very impressed by the Australian. In 1979, after he had read her nearly decade-old volume, The Commissariat of Enlightenment
Stalin’s Last Purge
One of the things that I had really liked over the years was the possibility of giving documentary workshops in different countries. And
the longer the period the better. So when I was invited by Ngee Ann
Poly in Singapore to be a guest lecturer there for six months I was
absolutely delighted. On arrival I was even more delighted to find
that I only had to teach one and a half days a week. In addition I had
a few hours of consulting, but nothing serious. As a result of these
arrangements I had a lot of time on my hands. The only problem was
A modest proposal
In 1986, a 45-year-old scholar, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin with three major books and an important edited collection under her belt, published a survey of emerging social history scholarship on Stalinism. This article, she pleaded, ‘should not be read as a New Cohort manifesto’. Rather, it was an investigation of ‘the likely impact of historians, particularly social historians, on the study of the Stalin period’. Her claims were modest: ‘What has emerged from the recent scholarship’, she wrote, ‘is an
model. The term reappeared repeatedly in the chapter on Stalin biographies. Leon Trotsky, Robert Tucker and Adam Ulam all asserted that Stalinism was ‘totalitarian’.
The prominence of the term might surprise, given how often it has been declared dead. A ‘defunct’ theory, we read, even if the word might still be ‘useful’. 1 Such utility, declare others, is restricted for propaganda purposes, which invalidate any analytical use. 2 The term conflates Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, reads a common complaint. It irons out crucial differences. It assumes ‘total
anyone else that Stalin was not a dictator.’ She listed other examples of left-wing misrepresentations of Stalinism, ‘less notorious but as distressing’, before moving on to the other side. ‘It is almost obligatory’, she observed, ‘in American works on Soviet literature to surround their text with an introduction and conclusion on the concept of totalitarianism.’ Oddly, however, these same scholars seemed to be wedded also to the idea of Russian exceptionalism and continuity with the result that ‘more than one scholar has wondered if pre-revolutionary Russian
, Pipes and Lewin were both Polish Jews who had fled their homeland in the Second World War – one going west, the other east. After they arrived in the United States their work would mark the respectable left and right wing of academic debate on the Soviet Union. Both contributed to the debate on how Stalinism emerged.
Pipes was not a historian of Stalinism itself, but of the Russian and Soviet empires more broadly. 6 Nevertheless, some of his most influential books – The Formation of the Soviet Union (1954), Russia under the Old Regime (1974), The Russian
Stalin and the housewife
The socially minded woman
A young mother lays in an iron bed, her head on her elbow and a smile
on her face, the picture of a happy mother. She reaches across her
newborn baby to hand the viewer an envelope (Figure 5.1). A framed
photograph of Stalin rests on the bed stand, next to a bouquet of fresh
flowers. The caption to this image explains that the woman is voting
for the person in the photograph, who is her and the child’s “best
This is an image of a Soviet labour ward of 1938. Here, the father of
the child is replaced by