For some people Russia has been a mysterious sphinx, for others an improbable monster. Their interest has always been characterized by a certain pragmatic consideration, whether prompted by the novels of Dostoevskii or nourished by fears of the Evil Empire. Few eras in the history of Russia, however, have been as obscure and enigmatic as the high-water mark of Stalinism, the period between the victory of 1945 and Khrushchev's famous denunciation of the tyrant in 1956. Fortunately, thanks to the blessings of glasnost, we are now in a position to assess this grim and dramatic subject on the basis of authentic historical records.
We must not imagine that Soviet history can be confined to the chronological boundaries 1917-1991. In fact, we Russians still labor psychologically under the legacy of the Soviet past. The majority of living Russians were born and acquired their social consciousness in the Soviet period. The older people among us lived through the war and the eras of Stalin and Khrushchev and have their own conception of those times. Their personal impressions and experience represent an enormous fund of social memory crucial to an understanding of both our past and present, and the serious historian is hardly entitled to sacrifice this living, contemporary history to subjects more abstract and farther afield.
After the great expansion of interest in social history during the past few years, the importance of mind-sets and public opinion is no longer an unfamiliar idea. Still, research in the social psychology and cultural anthropology of the Soviet period is only now beginning to take shape. Until recently our entrenched historiographic tradition was dominated by political research. Soviet history was represented chiefly as the record of isolated decisions made on high, while the