New Soviet History - Revised and Uncovered Post-Cold-War Scholarship Looks at Lenin, the Atomic Bomb, and KGB Espionage

By Leonard Bushkoff. Leonard Bushkoff reviews books on history and politics. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 9, 1994 | Go to article overview
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New Soviet History - Revised and Uncovered Post-Cold-War Scholarship Looks at Lenin, the Atomic Bomb, and KGB Espionage


Leonard Bushkoff. Leonard Bushkoff reviews books on history and politics., The Christian Science Monitor


LENIN: A NEW BIOGRAPHY. By Dmitri Volkogonov. Translated by Harold Shukman; The Free Press, 529 pp. $30 THE LIVING & THE DEAD: THE RISE & FALL OF THE CULT OF WORLD WAR II IN RUSSIA. By Nina Tumarkin; BasicBooks, 242 pp., $25 THE DREAM THAT FAIL EDTN:REFLECTIONS ON THE SOVIET UNION. By Walter DATE:RE/0/RE Laqueur; Oxford University Press, 231 pp., $25 STALIN AND THE BOMB: THE SOVIET UNION AND ATOMIC ENERGY 1939-1956. By David Holloway; Yale University Press, 464 pp., $30 IMPERIUM. By Ryszard Kapuscinski. Translated by Klara Glowczewska; Alfred A. Knopf, 331 pp., $24 THE FIRST DIRECTORATE: MY 32 YEARS IN INTELLIGENCE AND ESPIONAGE AGAINST THE WEST. By Oleg Kalugin with Fen Montaigne; St. Martin's Press, 375 pp., $23.95 THE STATE WITHIN A STATE: THE KGB AND ITS HOLD ON RUSSIA - PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. By Yevgenia Albats. Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 401 pp., $25

HISTORIANS of the former Communist lands of the cold war face an exciting prospect: The archives of those countries are opening; the cry of "national security" no longer dominates Washington; and the subtle pressures to excuse one side or another are diminishing. And only an honest, realistic understanding of the past will help an informed citizenry develop in democratizing societies.

The very symbol of the Russian "new history" is Dimitri Volkogonov, the former general and professional historian who gained public renown and Gorbachev's support while battling the Stalinists in the 1980s. Following his harsh biography of Stalin, Volkogonov now presents Lenin: A New Biography, a well-documented response to the wishful thinking that all would have been well "if only" this "kinder, gentler" leader had survived, rather than dying in 1924.

This Volkogonov rejects: Lenin, with his brutality, duplicity, and lust for power, was no alternative to Stalin, but simply his predecessor. The two represented not change, but a continuity of horrors inflicted on the peoples of Russia.

In demystifying Lenin, Volkogonov is generous with details from the archives regarding his comfortable life in exile, German financing of the Bolsheviks during World War I, and the ruthlessness with which he attacked his enemies after 1917. What underlay Lenin's behavior, his insistence that ends justify means, is a vital question left unconsidered, but Volkogonov already has gone far in denying the legitimacy of Bolshevism.

Another attack on Soviet mythology is Nina Tumarkin's The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II In Russia, a poignant, beautifully written account of the complex Soviet attitude toward World War II.

Tumarkin comes from a Russian emigre family; her vision of Soviet history is subtle, nuanced, rich with personal insights and autobiographical details. She is deeply saddened by the grim effect on the Russian psyche of the dictatorship's manipulation of mass emotions. Only since Gorbachev has truth begun to emerge in the art and literature that Tumarkin analyzes so perceptively.

In The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union, the learned Walter Laqueur also is concerned with a kind of myth, the theories that Western scholars and writers have developed for decades to explain the Soviet system.

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