Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda

Article excerpt

Kevin M.F. Platt and David Brandenberger, eds. Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. xvi, 355 pages. Illustrations. Index. Paper.

Like Diane Koenker and Ronald Bachman's Revelations from the Russian Archives (1997) and even more like Ron Suny's The Structure of Soviet History: Essays and Documents (2003), Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda presents excerpts from Russian documents in translation, this time in support and elaboration of unique essays about the Stalinist period. The collaboration often scholars across several disciplines, Epic Revisionism aims to refocus our attention on the Soviet 1930s, reminding us that this decade was the height of Stalinization in the Soviet Union and providing both evidence and analysis of the argument.

The volume features introductory material by literary scholar Kevin Platt and historian David Brandenburger, demonstrating from the outset that these two disciplines are intrinsically linked for Russia and for scholars of Russia. Like much recent historical scholarship, Platt and Brandenberger's volume aims to contribute to the study of Soviet mass culture. Individual articles, however, hit on the Soviet "greats," from Bednyi and Bulgakov to Eisenstein and Shostakovich. Borrowing from my study Writing a Usable Past: Russian Literary Culture 1917-1937 (2000), the editors recall American critic Van Wyck Brooks's concept of history as a hunting ground for concepts to create national identity-and heroes on which to model that identity. Thus the book includes sections on Soviet versions of nineteenth-century authors Pushkin, Lermontov, and Lev Tolstoi as well as on the historical and pseudo-historical figures of Ivan the Terrible, Aleksandr Nevskii, and Ivan Susanin.

Unlike Suny's useful book, which covers the entire history of the Soviet Union and (re)prints period articles along with many documents in translation for each era of Soviet life, Brandenberger and Platt had a more narrow agenda. …