Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union, 1945-1991

Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union, 1945-1991

Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union, 1945-1991

Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union, 1945-1991

Synopsis

Designed with the general reader in mind, this clearly written narrative history of the Soviet Union from the end of World War II to its collapse in 1991 provides an integrated introduction to the "Last of the Empires." There were more than one hundred nationalities in the USSR; Keep deals with those that held union-republic status, especially the Baltic peoples and those of Central Asia. His approach is to exclude foreign affairs and defense policy, emphasizing instead the central themes of political, economic, social, and cultural development with a good deal of attention paid to the key problem of inter-ethnic relations. The story begins with the last years of Stalin's despotic rule. Keep does not explore the origins of Stalinism, which have been fully treated elsewhere, but treats these years as the introduction to the comparatively optimistic era of Khrushchev. Under his leadership Communist rule was reformed, though not necessarily liberalized, and there was an overall relaxation of police terror and an improvement in living standards. Keep shows how the ensuing Brezhnev years brought greater material prosperity but marked a setback to popular aspirations for change in other respects. Yet it was in these years that official ideology became less relevant than ever to people's everyday concerns; Keep argues that the Party lost moral authority due to internal corruption, and that the system gradually eroded. Finally, the younger and more pragmatic leadership symbolized by Gorbachev took over. The fate of their reform policies is the subject of the book's final chapters, which delineate how central institutions crumbled as national minorities claimed their rights and centrifugal pressures brought about the empire's collapse. Making use of a broad literature of "sovietological" expertise along with the new information that has become available since Soviet secrecy was relaxed in 1988, Last of the Empires sums up what is now known about postwar Soviet history and presents it in a clear and coherent narrative.

Excerpt

This is a narrative history of the USSR from the end of World War II to its collapse in 1991. It has been designed with the general reader in mind and does not set out to be comprehensive; foreign affairs and defence issues have been excluded. The emphasis is on the central themes of political, economic, social, and cultural development, with a good deal of attention being paid to the key problem of inter-ethnic relations. For whatever else the Soviet Union may have been, it was certainly an empire--although one of a peculiar kind, since it cost Russians dear as well as non-Russians. There were more than one hundred nationalities in the USSR: we deal here only with those that held union-republic status, especially the Baltic peoples and those of Central Asia. Whether the USSR was indeed the last empire, as our title suggests, only the future will show, but at least any future multinational state in this region will be based on intellectual and institutional foundations different from those of the Soviet era.

The state ideology of Marxism-Leninism, the Communist Party's organizational practices, the workings of the governmental system and the 'planned' or command economy--all these topics are the subject of a vast literature by Western specialists. We have made use of this 'sovietological' expertise, complementing it wherever possible by new information that has become available since 1988, when the mantle of Soviet secrecy began to lift. Historians and publicists in what is now the Commonwealth of Independent States are currently hard at work exploring the vast archival resources that have recently become accessible. It will take decades before their labours, and those of scholars from other lands, bear monographic fruit. We are at the beginning of a new era of independent historical inquiry. But that is no excuse for not trying to sum up what is now generally known, even if we are still too close to events to be able to judge them with proper objectivity. In the mid-1990s the defects of the Stalinist and post-Stalinist regimes loom larger than their . . .

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