The Formation of the Soviet System
In a strict sense, history is not an event but an account of an event. History is not made at the moment an event occurs; it is only made when events are conveyed to (and, more accurately, when they are registered by) a receptive audience. In other words, an event becomes history only when it is told and heard and enshrined in memory. Memorial bears that memory, invoking the power of the word to re-member a fragmented past.
The broad and detailed gyrations of Soviet history have been known and openly discussed and debated in the West since 1917. By contrast, the discussion and debate in the Soviet Union were carried on by beleaguered groups of dissidents under clandestine circumstances. Censorship--deletion and alteration--began, for the Soviets, under Lenin and continued well into the Gorbachev era. This, of course, did not prevent people from observing what was happening around them, but the ever-growing repressive apparatus made discussion of even quasi-public events risky. In consequence, ordinary conversations, especially between casual acquaintances, sometimes assumed a surrealistic quality. As one Russian put it, "It's easy to talk about the future and the present, but the past keeps changing every day."1 Fortunately, this is becoming less circumspect since the unofficial and official versions of Soviet history are converging toward consensus. Memorial's history is the metahistory of the struggle to achieve freedom of speech. As we briefly examine the major trends characterizing the three decades of Stalin's reign, we can observe how "revolutionary violence," that is, state terror, with its Kafkaesque system of bureaucrati-