Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Stuck on Communism: Memoir of a Russian Historian/Remembering Leningrad: The Story of a Generation

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Stuck on Communism: Memoir of a Russian Historian/Remembering Leningrad: The Story of a Generation

Article excerpt

Stuck on Communism: Memoir of a Russian Historian BY LEWIS H. SIEGELBAUM. Northern Illinois University Press, 2019, 216 pp.

Remembering Leningrad: The Story of a Generation BY MARY MCAULEY. University of Wisconsin Press, 2019, 256 pp.

These two memoirs are both written by respected left-wing scholars of Russia, but they differ in the extent to which their authors immersed themselves in Russian life. Siegelbaum entered Columbia University in 1966 and chose to study the Soviet Union because of his communist leanings. His memoir reads like a bildungsroman: Siegelbaum describes his early years as a child of "a Red" (his father joined the U.S. Communist Party in 1939), his participation as a young Marxist in the 1967-68 student protests, and his subsequent development into a Russian labor historian schooled in Marxist theory. As labor history receded in importance, his somewhat reluctant shift toward cultural and material history proved fortunate: his history of the Soviet automobile was awarded two prestigious prizes. Siegelbaum's memoir is also a chronicle of the trends and debates in his field from the 1970s until his retirement in 2018, with a special focus on the new research opportunities that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, as archives were opened and collaboration with Russian colleagues became possible. Apart from Russian historians, informants, and landlords, however, Siegelbaum mentions almost no encounters with the people of contemporary Russia. …

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