(Re)writing Russian History

By Sokolsky, Mark | International Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

(Re)writing Russian History


Sokolsky, Mark, International Journal


The Soviet Colossus in retrospect

December 2 on marked the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The "evil empire" and the Cold War disappeared, not with civil strife or the long-feared global conflagration, but suddenly and almost bloodlessly. As the nemesis and mirror of the west, the USSR had acted as a polestar for everything from foreign policy to weapons systems to popular culture, one that could divide as much as it united. Soviet history itself was contested ground, as it could be made to speak to everything from the general validity of socialism (and therefore capitalism) or to the nature of Russia (and therefore, the "west"). Twenty years on, this political valence has ebbed but has not disappeared entirely.

Michael Kort's The Soviet Colossus, a classic survey of modern Russian history, is emblematic of the debates surrounding the Soviet past and how perspectives have changed - or, in some cases, stayed the same - as we move away from the Cold War/ Colossus remains among the most widely used texts on the USSR, and for good reason; it is accessible, well written, and covers a great range of material in a fairly short space. First published in 1985, Kort's work offered a general history of the USSR together with a concise account of pre-revolutionary Russia. Kort examined Russian political development from ancient Rus' through to the end of the old regime, highlighting the origins of the Russian autocracy, the intelligentsia, and the various strains of the late imperial period before moving on to Soviet history proper. The first edition of Colossus carried through to the "gerontocracy" of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chemenko, and though the author was aware of the internal strains within Soviet society - and presciently drew attention, for instance, to the challenge of resurgent nationalism - he, like most contemporary observers, did not believe that such problems had "become a challenge to the system itself (293). Kort amended successive editions to reflect new developments (the book now extends to the Putin era), though his treatment of earlier periods is largely unchanged.

Colossus' narrative traced broad lines of continuity between pre- and postrevolutionary Russia, evoking throughout a highly bifurcated view of the world - east versus west. In part, this perspective grew out of the reality of the divergence between Russia and Europe, and in part reflected a rhetorical and heuristic tradition that has a long pedigree in both western and Russian historical scholarship. Consistent with this view, Colossus stressed the statist, bureaucratic, and authoritarian nature of Russian and Soviet societies, tracing historical continuity across the revolutionary divide. Yet in seeking continuity, Kort projected his conception of the USSR - totalitarian and antiwestern - deep into the Russian past.

Kort's work fell firmly within the totalitarian school of Soviet history, a model that has been challenged over the years but remains popular. Broadly speaking, this approach conceives of the Soviet Union as a dictatorial police state in which a single ruler (Stalin) or the Communist party elite controlled an atomized, brutalized, and apathetic population through terror, surveillance, economic planning, and propaganda. This interpretive framework owed much to the pioneering theory of Hannah Arendt, as well as to the accounts of Russian emigres fleeing to the west. Foundational works by Robert Conquest, Merle Fainsod, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others focused on the centrality of Communist ideology, along with the creation and function of the Soviet party-state, at the time still shrouded in much uncertainty.2 Such works provided invaluable accounts of the inner function of the Kremlin - the view from within the "black box" - along with the horrors of the Gulag, the purges, and collectivization. The totalitarian approach also stressed similarities between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, a view that had policy implications for governments facing the postwar emergence of a Soviet superpower. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

(Re)writing Russian History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.