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The Soviet Century

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Lewin's other concern is in differentiating Stalinism from other, very different, stages of Soviet history. Kruschev's reforms may have largely failed, but his immediate move to begin dismantling of the key aspects of Stalinism succeeded. Political repression may have remained a part of Soviet policy but mass terror never returned, and the infamous gulag system disappeared entirely by the late 50's. One of the interesting details Lewin uncovered was the seemingly widespread policy of “prohylaxis”, wherein the KGB would identify dissidents and, instead of arresting them, throwing them in prison or simply shooting them in the head, would essentially give them a stern talking to and a warning to cut it out. While still obviously oppressive, this policy, which Andropov, the secretly liberal KGB chief in the 60's and 70's was apparently a big proponent of, is a pretty far cry from the menacing reputation the KGB had in the West, and is massively different from the arbitrary way the NKVD operated under Stalin.

Political revolution in Poland in 1989 sparked other, mostly peaceful revolutions across Eastern European states and led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall. By the end of 1989, the USSR had come apart at the seams. Throughout the book, the reader is enlighten on several crucial aspects on how Stalin betrayed Lenin while destroying the Bolshevik Party, and dismounting its accomplishments to accommodate both the party and the state to his own personal goals; which relied on eliminating any kind of connection between the revolutionary cadres that seized power in 1917, both physically -trough slandering, smearing, framing and forced confessions to the ultimate bloodshed of Lenin's comrades- and incorporating new waves of cadres that had nothing to do with the revolution, that were careerists and useful scapegoats at the same time; on top of this, fal You may also opt to downgrade to Standard Digital, a robust journalistic offering that fulfils many user’s needs. Compare Standard and Premium Digital here.A] magnum opus. . . . This invaluable study casts a lost world in a new light."— Publishers Weekly (Starred review) A longtime Communist Party politician, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. He inherited a stagnant economy and a crumbling political system. He introduced two sets of policies he hoped would reform the political system and help the USSR become a more prosperous, productive nation. These policies were called glasnost and perestroika. If the past is a foreign country, The Soviet Century is a unique travelogue from one of the world’s most innovative observers of urban space and material culture. Karl Schlögel’s scholarly Baedeker is the culmination of a lifetime of study, travel, and thought. It guides us across nothing less than a continental empire and a century of upheaval. But Schlögel’s greatest accomplishment is to connect stunningly eclectic new detail to the big picture, allowing us to see and feel a lost civilization anew.”—Michael David-Fox, Georgetown University I was pretty surprised that there's no citation of this speech since all of the writings and speeches of Stalin are published somewhere. If it's a quote from an archive, I would still expect a citation. But this quote also stands out because Lewin extrapolates a lot of Stalin's character traits from it. It's mentioned over and over again so I decided to try and find it myself. By the fortune of me speaking in Russian, I've tried to google something akin to "speech Stalin Sverdlov Party University 1924". As it turns out, it's not a speech, but a series of lectures called "Foundations of Leninism", that Stalin gave at the aforementioned university in 1924. These lectures do not contain the said quote. If it's a thing from memoirs, why not mention who wrote the memoir or whatever the source might be? How should the reader verify that the quote even exists if it's ungooglable and basically impossible to verify?

There is much food for thought in this book, even if Lewin is mainly restating earlier propositions. It is not a general history of the USSR, even if it offers a periodisation of the Soviet Union’s history (at its most basic Lenin, Stalin, post-Stalinism) and an explanation for its downfall. It is wonderfully idiosyncratic. There is next to nothing on the Gorbachev period, but there is a lengthy section on Andropov and a call for a better understanding of his reform programme. Brezhnev is simply dismissed as an example of one of the USSR’s numerous useless leaders. Lewin prefers to focus upon the brighter minds of the Brezhnev period from the academic institutes. But then there is more on Solzhenitsyn than the more interesting Sakharov. There are thus large gaps and chapters in which one has to be prepared simply to follow Lewin’s obsessions. This book should probably be read as a transition to the ‘more systematic future work’ that Lewin says that he has in mind. (p.viii). For all that, it is well worth reading. But far the most popular answer has always been a name rather than an analysis. Stalin is what went wrong. If only Lenin had not died in 1924, he would have steered the Soviet Union towards something like a socialist democracy - a one-party state, certainly, but one where free opinions competed and only a handful of genuine counter-revolutionary terrorists would have to be put behind barbed wire. Empecemos por el principio. No cabe duda de que el autor sabe de qué está hablando. Es un experto en el tema, ha buceado en las fuentes originales y, además, intenta en todo momento ser neutral. Como bien dice, nuestra visión de la Unión Soviética está viciada en buena parte por la propaganda pro/anti soviética. Es perfectamente compatible criticar los horrendos crímenes del estalinismo y, al mismo tiempo, dar cuenta de que el régimen se volvió bastante más humano de Kruchev en adelante. As I have shown in my recent book, Cold War Liberation, the cadres who staffed these institutions remained critical to Soviet international allies in Africa.The Soviet Union had its origins in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Radical leftist revolutionaries overthrew Russia’s Czar Nicholas II, ending centuries of Romanov rule. The Bolsheviks established a socialist state in the territory that was once the Russian Empire. Section two does crucial work in seperating the Stalin era from the post-Stalin era that shows some development including the dismantling of the Gulag prison system, increased leniency of the criminal code, reduction of overall prisoner numbers, and other hopeful shifts that are tempered by debates from the liberal and conservative elements of society. The final section likewise covers various shifts through the whole system and covers their positive and negative elements that contributes to an overall more robust understanding of the USSR outside of straw man representations. Stalin’s victory was thus not inevitable, but it is explicable. It was, in Lewin’s words, ‘not a direct outgrowth of Bolshevism but rather an autonomous and parallel phenomenon and, at the same time, its gravedigger’. ( The Making of the Soviet System, London 1985, p.9) Thus gone were the traditions of debate and discussion in which even Lenin had to struggle to convince comrades through argument. Factionalism was normal and healthy in Lenin’s Bolshevism, it was always perceived as a threat and sabotage in Stalin’s Bolshevism. Lewin does not equate Stalinism solely with Stalin’s personality. There were, he makes clear, broader factors at play: ‘Economic, social, and cultural phenomena have to be introduced into the analysis, even if the object of study is a powerful and arbitrary destructive despot.’ ( The Making of the Soviet System, p.288) At the same time, Lewin was well aware of the personal element: ‘Stalin was less burdened with either theoretical or moral scruples … he was a master-builder of bureaucratic structures, and this it was that determined his conceptions and his methods.’ ( Russian Peasants and Soviet Power, p.517)

Some reread Marx, concluding that all would have been well if Lenin had not been so selective about the great man's message. Many others conclude that the attempt to build Marxist socialism in Europe's least industrialised society was doomed from the start. A few think that Lenin was to blame for what he did to the Bolshevik party before the revolution: forging it into a conspiracy whose natural style of government could only be dictatorship. Georgian-born revolutionary Joseph Stalin rose to power upon Lenin’s death in 1924. The dictator ruled by terror with a series of brutal policies, which left millions of his own citizens dead. During his reign—which lasted until his death in 1953—Stalin transformed the Soviet Union from an agrarian society to an industrial and military superpower.A museum of—and travel guide to—the Soviet past, The Soviet Century explores in evocative detail both the largest and smallest aspects of life in the USSR, from the Gulag, the planned economy, the railway system, and the steel city of Magnitogorsk to cookbooks, military medals, prison camp tattoos, and the ubiquitous perfume Red Moscow. The book examines iconic aspects of Soviet life, including long queues outside shops, cramped communal apartments, parades, and the Lenin mausoleum, as well as less famous but important parts of the USSR, including the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the voice of Radio Moscow, graffiti, and even the typical toilet, which became a pervasive social and cultural topic. Throughout, the book shows how Soviet life simultaneously combined utopian fantasies, humdrum routine, and a pervasive terror symbolized by the Lubyanka, then as now the headquarters of the secret police.

But if that 'Where did it go wrong?' question were put to Lewin, I think he would answer: 'Not everything did!' Most of this book, which is crammed with detailed research and not always easy reading, is concerned with the decades after Stalin. 'The sound and fury over dissidence ... should not be allowed to obscure the systemic trends that were at work in the Soviet Union.' Arbitrary terror was replaced by repression, which was at least applied through a legal framework; the Soviet Union became for a while a 'great power' economically and politically, as well as in armed strength; health and living conditions improved steeply. B. Lewin is no apologist for Stalinism. He reports the body count, the level of imprisonments and exile, the arbitrary application of state power, without flinching. The Soviet Century is not exactly a narrative but a selection of themes in Soviet history which can now be re-interpreted in the light of the new archive material. Lewin is scornful of Western interpretations and equally scathing about Russian post-Soviet attitudes. 'Not content with looting and squandering the nation's wealth, the "reformers" mounted a frontal assault on the past, directed at its culture, identity and vitality. This was no critical approach to the past; it was sheer ignorance.'


Probably no other Western historian of the USSR combines Moshe Lewin’s personal experience of living with Russians from Stalin’s day—as a young wartime soldier—to the post-communist era, with so profound a familiarity with the archives and the literature of the Soviet era. His reflections on the ‘Soviet Century’ are an important contribution to emancipating Soviet history from the ideological heritage of the last century and should be essential reading for all who wish to understand it. Eric Hobsbawm This book seems like a clear-eyed investigation of Soviet history. The author goes into a lot of the complexities and makes sense of them. For example the phenomenon of how the living standards were improving in the 1970's and 80's, but in an unsustainable way, so the population who remember it with nostalgia are half-right. WOW! This was one heavy, dense book on Soviet economics, which is not for the casual reader. It started out as more of a historical account of how Bolshevik-ism transformed into the Soviet system that was well known during the middle part of the 20th Century. However, it seemed too often to get lost in the weeds of specificity. This isn't a book for beginners. There's an assumption that the reader has a certain level of knowledge about the Soviet Union, which I do not possess, so it was heavy going for me but very much worth the effort.

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