The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States

The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States

The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States

The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States

Synopsis

The West has always had difficulty understanding the Soviet Union. For decades, analyses of America's Cold War foe were clouded by ideological passions and a shear dearth of information. Then came the flood of dramatic revelations under glasnost, followed by the sudden, shocking collapse of the Communist empire. Today, with the stunning secrets of newly opened archives and the excitement of political revolution still fresh in our minds, and we can look back at this remarkable nation and see it whole, see Soviet history as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In The Soviet Experiment, Ronald Grigor Suny does just that, in a landmark work that gives us the fullest account yet of the most remarkable story of our century. With a clear-eyed mastery of the historical issues and literature, Suny combines gripping detail with insightful analysis in a narrative that propels the reader from the last tsar of the Russian empire to the first president of the Russian republic. He focuses in particular on four revolutions, each identified with a single individual: the tumultuous year of 1917, when Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik takeover of the tsarist empire; the 1930s, when Joseph Stalin refashioned the economy, the society, and the state; Mikhail Gorbachev's ambitious, and catastrophic, attempt at sweeping reform and revitalization; and the breakup of the Soviet Union led by Boris Yeltsin. Never have we had a more complete, nuanced, and crystal-clear examination of the complex themes running through Soviet history. Suny confidently moves from party debates and personal rivalries, to centuries-old ethnic tensions, to vast economic and social developments. He unravels tangled issues with ease, explaining "deeply contradictory" policies toward the various Soviet nationalities; Moscow's ambivalence over its own New Economic Policy of the 1920s; and the attempts at reform that followed Stalin's death. Suny's treatment of the Soviet break-up warrants particular attention, as he details precisely how Gorbachev's program unleashed forces that had built up during the previous decades--particularly the nationalism that had been shaped, ironically, by the Soviet structure of ethnically defined republics. Along the way, he offers a fresh telling of familiar as well as little-known events--capturing, for example, the movement of the crowds on the streets of St. Petersburg in the February revolution; Stalin's collapse into a near-catatonic state after Hitler's much-predicted invasion; or Yeltsin's political maneuvering and public grandstanding as he pushed the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and then faced down his rivals. The Soviet Experiment provides a rich, multilayered, seamlessly woven account of one of the great forces of modern history. With dispassionate insight and human detail, Suny has constructed a masterful work.

Excerpt

Trying to understand Russia or the Soviet Union has preoccupied serious Western observers at least since the fifteenth century, probably much earlier. A society closed to easy penetration and comprehension, Russia has fascinated many precisely because it is so difficult to know. Winston Churchill spoke of Russia as a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Journalists and political leaders, Kremlin watchers and scholars have written so many contradictory things about the USSR that they confirm what the American humorist Will Rogers said: "Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it's true."

The last years of the twentieth century seem to be the right moment to tell the story of the Soviet Union as a whole. That turbulent tale now has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So traumatic and painful have been this century's transformations of Russia and the Soviet republics, so controversial their motivations and effects, and so filled with political passion have the observers and participants been that no single historian's view can be convincing to all. The Soviet Union may be gone but its effects remain. Understanding that experience, giving it meaning and making judgments about it, will continue for a long time to engage present and future generations of social scientists and students. This book is an attempt to deal fairly and dispassionately with a complex history that has divided friend from foe, East from West, Left from Right -- not with the vain hope of reconciling irreconcilable differences, but with the expectation that an analytic and interpretative narrative will add to our understanding.

In overall design this history of the Soviet Union is conceived as the story of three revolutions, each identified with a single individual: the revolution of 1917, in which Vladimir Lenin played a key role and that founded the Soviet political order; Joseph Stalin's revolution of the 1930s, which forged the statist economic system that the West would call "totalitarian" and the Soviet leaders would identify as "socialism"; and Mikhail Gorbachev's revolution (1985-91), which tried to dismantle the Stalinist legacy and ended by undermining the Leninist heritage as well. Two major periods of reform separated . . .

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