Soviet historiography

Soviet historiography

Soviet historiography is the history of the academic study of history as written by scholars of the Soviet Union. [It is "not" the history of the Soviet Union. See definitions of historiography for more details.]

Soviet history mostly served to promote Communist ideology. It was declared that the October Revolution had opened a new epoch of the human civilization [ [ Историография античной истории (под ред. В.И. Кузищина)Москва, "Высшая школа", 1980;] ] [ [ А.В.Адо, Французская революция в советской историографии] ] . The "class struggle" and the history of Communist Party led by Lenin became the overarching themes of Soviet historiography [ [ YURI AFANASYEV, Reclaiming Russian History,(see chapter The Phenomenon of Soviet Historiography] ]

Until the death of Stalin in 1953 no real political history was written, and a majority of the Russian Revolution leaders had become "non-persons", meaning unmentionable in print. [ [ The Russian Revolution By Sheila Fitzpatrick; p.6; ISBN 0192802046] ]

At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev denouncing Stalin opened the door for some level of scholarship although constraints and dogmas on the Communist party as vanguard of the working class still had to be observed. It became possible to mention in a pejorative context the "non-persons" like Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev. Khrushchev decoupled Lenin and Stalin that allowed Soviet historians to produce books and articles of more diversity than during the Stalin era. The reform in history writing was referred to as the return to "Leninist norms". [ [ The Russian Revolution By Sheila Fitzpatrick; p.7; ISBN 0192802046] ]

The era of Brezhnev was the time of "samizdat" (circulating unofficial manuscripts within the USSR) and "tamizdat" (illegal publication of work abroad). The most prominent Soviet "tamizdat" historian was Roy Medvedev, the author of "Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism". [ [ Let History Judge by Roy Medvedev; ISBN 0231063504] ] published in 1971 in the West. The most famous dissident author of the era was historical polemicist and novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. His Gulag Archipelago was published in the West in 1973. Both authors were unable to publish in the USSR until the era of Perestroika and Glasnost.

Party line

Soviet historiography had been severely criticized by scholars, chiefly — but not only — outside Soviet Union, with its very status as scholarly called into question, and described as ideology and pseudoscience.Gwidon Zalejko, "Soviet historiography as "normal science", in "Historiography Between Modernism and Postmodernism", Jerzy Topolski (ed.), Rodopi, 1994, ISBN 9051837216, [,M1 Google Print, p.179-191] .] In particular, Robert Conquest concluded that Robert Conquest "Reflections on a Ravaged Century" (2000) ISBN 0-393-04818-7, page 101 ] :All in all, unprecedented terror must seem necessary to ideologically motivated attempts to transform society massively and speedily, against its natural possibilities. The accompanying falsifications took place, and on a barely credible scale, in every sphere. Real facts, real statistics, disappeared into the realm of fantasy. History, including the History of the Communist Party, or rather "especially" the history of the Communist Party, was rewritten. Unpersons disappeared from the official record. A new past, as well as new present, was imposed on the captive minds of the Soviet population, as was, of course, admitted when truth emerged in the late 1980s".

That criticism stems from the fact that in the Soviet Union, science was far from independent. Since the late 1930s, Soviet historiography treated the party line and reality as one and the same.Taisia Osipova, "Peasant rebellions: Origin, Scope, Design and Consequences", in Vladimir N. Brovkin (ed.), "The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revolution and the Civil Wars", Yale University Press, 1997, ISBN 0300067062. [ Google Print, p.154-176] ] As such, if it was a science - it was a science in service of a specific political and ideological agenda, commonly employing historical revisionism.Roger D. Markwick, Donald J. Raleigh, "Rewriting History in Soviet Russia: The Politics of Revisionist Historiography", Palgrave Macmillan, 2001, ISBN 0333792092, [ Google Print, p.4-5] ] In the 1930s, historic archives were closed, original research severely restricted. Historians were required to pepper their works with references — appropriate or not — to Stalin and other "Marxist-Leninist classics", and to pass judgment — as prescribed by the Party — on pre-revolution historic Russian figures.John L. H. Keep: "A History of the Soviet Union 1945-1991: Last of the Empires", pages 30–31]

The state-approved history was openly subjected to politics and propaganda, similar to philosophy, art, and many fields of scientific research. The Party could not be proven wrong, it was infallible and reality was to conform to this line. Any non-conformist history had to be erased, and questioning of the official history was illegal.

Many works of Western historians were forbidden or censored, many areas of history were also forbidden for research as, officially, they never happened. As such, it remained mostly outside the international historiography of the period. Translations of foreign historiography were often produced in a truncated form, accompanied with extensive censorship and corrective footnotes. For example, in the Russian 1976 translation of Basil Liddell Hart's "History of the Second World War" pre-war purges of Red Army officers, the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, many details of the Winter War, the occupation of the Baltic states, the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, Allied assistance to the Soviet Union during the war, many other Western Allies' efforts, the Soviet leadership's mistakes and failures, criticism of the Soviet Union and other content were censored out. [Lewis, B. E. (1977). [ Soviet Taboo. Review of "Vtoraya Mirovaya Voina, History of the Second World War" by B. Liddel Gart (Russian translation)] . "Soviet Studies" 29 (4), 603-606.]

The official version of Soviet history has been dramatically changed after every major governmental shake-up. Previous leaders were always denounced as "enemies", whereas current leaders were usually a subject of a personality cult. Textbooks were rewritten periodically, with figures - such as Lev Trotsky or Stalin himself - disappearing from their pages or being turned from great figures to great villains.

Certain regions and periods of history were made unreliable for political reasons. Entire historical events could be erased, if they did not fit the party line. For example, until 1989 the Soviet leadership and historians, unlike their Western colleagues, had denied the existence of a secret protocol to the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, and as a result the Soviet approach to the study of the Soviet-German relations before 1941 and the origins of World War II were remarkably flawed. [Bidlack, Richard (1990). [ Review of Voprosy istorii i istoriografii Velikoi otechestvennoi voiny by I. A. Rosenko, G. L. Sovolev] . "Slavic Review" 49 (4), 653-654.] In another example, the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 as well as the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920 were censored out or minimized from most publications, and research suppressed, in order to enforce the policy of 'Polish-Soviet friendship'.Ferro, Marc (2003). "The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children." London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415285926. See Chapters 8 "Aspects and variations of Soviet history" and 10 "History in profile: Poland".] Similarly, the enforced collectivisation, the wholesale deportations or massacres of small nationalities in the Caucasus or the disappearance of the Crimean Tatars are not recognized as facts worth of mention. Soviet historians also engaged in producing false claims and falsification of history, for example Soviet historiography falsely claimed that Katyn massacre was carried out by Germans rather than by Soviets as was the case. Decision to commence investigation into Katyn Massacre, Małgorzata Kużniar-Plota, Departamental Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, Warsaw 30 November 2004, [ (Internet Archive)] (also see the [ press release online] ), last accessed on 19 December 2005, English translation of Polish document] Yet another example is related to the case of Soviet reprisals against former Soviet POWs returning from Germany; most of them were treated as traitors (for having surrendered) and imprisoned in GULAGs for many years, yet that policy was denied or minimized by Soviet historians for decades and modern Western scholars have noted that "In the past, Soviet historians engaged for the most part in a disinformation campaign about the extent of the prisoner-of- war problem."Rolf-Dieter Müller, Gerd R. Ueberschär, "Hitler's War in the East, 1941-1945: A Critical Assessment", Berghahn Books, 2002, ISBN 1571812938, [ Google Print, p.239] ]

Marxist influence

A major factor influencing unreliability of Soviet historiography was that the Soviet interpretation of Marxism predetermined much of the research done by historians. Due to that, Soviet historians could not offer non-Marxist explanations for their theories, even on occasions where other theories fit the reality much better. The creation of the Soviet Union was presented as the most important turning event in the human history, based on the Marxist theory of historical materialism. This theory identified means of production as chief determinants of the historical process. They led to the creation of social classes, and class struggle was the 'motor' of history. The sociocultural evolution of societies had to progress inevitably from slavery, through feudalism and capitalism to communism. Furthermore, the Communist Party became the protagonist of history, as a "vanguard of the working class", according to development of this theory by Lenin. Hence the unlimited powers of the Communist Party leaders were claimed to be as infallible and inevitable as the history itself David Satter. "Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union", Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-08705-5 ] . It also followed that a world-wide victory of communist countries is inevitable. All research had to be based on those assumptions and could not diverge in its findings.

The Marxist bias has been also criticized, for example, for assigning to the Roman rebellions the characteristics of the social revolution, or for errors in comparing the recent developments in Russia with those in the Western countries (for example, Soviet Union mostly "skipped" the period of capitalism required by Marxist theory before the period of communism can be reached).

Often, the Marxist bias and propaganda demands mixed: hence the peasant rebellions against the early Soviet rule were simply ignored - as inconvenient politically and contradicting the Marxist theories.

Reliability of statistical data

The quality (accuracy and reliability) of data published in the Soviet Union and used in historical research is another issue raised by various Sovietologists.Nicholas Eberstadt and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule", American EnterpriseInstitute, 1995, ISBN 084473764X, [,M1 Google Print, p.138-140] ] The Marxist theoreticians of the Party considered statistics as a social science; hence many applications of statistical mathematics were curtailed, particularly during the Stalin's era. Under central planning, nothing could occur by accident.David S. Salsburg, "he Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century", Owl Books, 2001, ISBN 0805071342, [,M1 Google Print, p.147-149] ] Law of large numbers or the idea of random deviation were decreed as "false theories". Statistical journals were closed; World renown statisticians like Andrey Kolmogorov or Eugen Slutsky abandoned statistical research.

As with all Soviet historiography, reliability of Soviet statistical data varied from period to period.Nikolai M. Dronin, Edward G. Bellinger, "Climate Dependence And Food Problems In Russia, 1900-1990", Central EuropeanUniversity Press, 2005, ISBN 9637326103, [,M1 Google Print, p.15-16] ] The first revolutionary decade and the period of Stalin's dictatorship both appear highly problematic with regards to statistical reliability; very little statistical data were published from 1936 to 1956 and The reliability of data has improved after 1956 when some missing data was published and Soviet experts themselves published some adjusted data for the Stalin's era; however the quality of documentation has deteriorated.

While on occasion statistical data useful in historical research (such as economical data invented to prove great successes of the Soviet industrialization, and some published numbers of Gulag prisoners and terror victims) have been completely "invented" by the Soviet authorities there is little evidence that most statistics were significantly affected by falsification or insertion of false data with the intent to confound the West.Edward A. Hewett, "Reforming the Soviet Economy: Equality Versus Efficiency", Brookings Institution Press, 1988, ISBN 0815736037, [,M1 Google Print, p.7] and following chapters] Data was however falsified both during collection - by local authorities who would be judged by the central authorities based on whether their figures reflected the central economy prescriptions - and by internal propaganda, with its goal to portray the Soviet state in most positive light to its very citizens. Nonetheless the policy of not publishing - or simply not collecting - data that was deemed unsuitable for various reasons was much more common than simple falsification; hence there are many gaps in Soviet statistical data. Inadequate or lacking documentation for much of Soviet statistical data is also a significant problem.

Myths of Soviet historiography

A number of specific claims made by Soviet historians and supported by some of their Western colleagues have been described as examples of big lie by prominent historians Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes. The examples of alleged fallacies on their part included the following:
#Myth: The Bolshevik party during the October revolution was supported by masses, and especially by Russian working class.
Reality: "Bolsheviks only got a quarter of the vote at the height of their popularity in the elections that followed". Massive strikes by Russian workers were "mercilessly" (as Lenin said) suppressed during Red terror
#Myth: "Stalinism was a success, having fulfilled its historical mission to force the rapid industrialization of an undeveloped country".
Reality: "Russia had already been fourth to fifth among industrial economies before World War I.". USSR had been second among industrial economies before World War II [ [ Allied and Axis GDP] ] and third if Gulag slave labour (which allegedly accounted for about 15% of GDP [Paul Gregory, "The Political Economy of Stalinism", London, Cambridge, 2004] ) is excluded.
Theory: According to Conquest, Russian industrial advances could have been achieved without collectivization, famine or terror. The industrial successes were far less than claimed. The Soviet-style industrialization was "an anti-innovative dead-end" . Hoover Institution's Research Fellow Paul Gregory claims that a non-communist Russia would have "produced a contemporary Russian economy not that far removed in affluence from its immediate European neighbors" [Paul Gregory, "Russian National Income1885–1913". Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982]
#Myth: Mass terror during Stalin ruling was an aberration of the communist system, which resulted from Stalin's personal paranoia and his "cult of personality". If only Lenin had been alive, those abuses would never happened.
Reality: It was Lenin who introduced Red terror with its hostage taking and concentration camps. It was Lenin who developed the infamous Article 58 that was used later during Great Terror. It was Lenin who established the autocratic system within the Communist Party Richard Pipes Communism: A History (2001) ISBN 0-812-96864-6, pages 73-74.] Vyacheslav Molotov, when asked who of two leaders was more "severe", replied: "Lenin, of course... I remember how he scolded Stalin for softness and liberalism".


Not all areas of Soviet historiography were equally affected by the ideological sturdiness of the regime's, which in any case varied considerably over time. The degree of the ideologization of different areas of historic science varied as well. The worst was situation with history of 19th and, especially of 20th centuries.Fact|date=September 2007 Therefore, despite part of the Soviet historiography being affected by extreme ideological bias, and compromised by the deliberate distortions and omissions, it has produced a large body of significant scholarship which continues to be used in the modern research.Hannes Heer, Klaus Naumann, "War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War II", Berghahn Books, 2004, ISBN 1571812326, [ Google Print, p.304] ] For example, Soviet works on Byzantium, created and published in Soviet Union, are held in high regard.Fact|date=September 2007

oviet historians

Mikhail Pokrovsky (1862-1932) was held in highest repute as a historian in the Soviet Union and was elected to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1929. He emphasized Marxist theory, downplaying the role of personality in favour of economics as the driving force of history. However, posthumously, Pokrovsky was accused of "vulgar sociologism", and his books were banned. After Stalin's death, and the subsequent renouncement of his policies during the Khrushchev Thaw, Pokrovsky's work regained some influence.

Revival of Soviet historiography

A new book published in Russia in 2006, entitled "“A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers”" has received significant attention after being publicly endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a conference for history teachers. On that occasion, Putin said that "we can't allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us," and that the new manual helps present a more balanced view of Russian history than that promoted by the West. The book acknowledges the repressions carried out by Stalin and others, but argues that they were "a necessary evil in response to a cold war started by America against the Soviet Union." It cites a recent opinion poll in Russia that gave Stalin an approval rating of 47%, and states that "The Soviet Union was not a democracy, but it was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society."

According to The Economist magazine, the promotion of this book by a Russian President represents a revival of certain themes prevalent in Soviet historiography, most notably the idea that "Russia's past was admirable, its present is more than magnificent and as for its future—it is beyond anything that the boldest mind can imagine" (first articulated by Count Alexander Benckendorff in the 1830s). The Economist magazine further contends that the book is inspired by Soviet historiography in its treatment of the Cold War, as it claims that the Cold War was started by the United States, that the Soviet Union was acting in self-defence, and that the USSR did not lose the Cold War but rather voluntarily ended it. According to The Economist, "rabid anti-Westernism is the leitmotiv of [the book's] ideology." [ [ Russia's past. The rewriting of history] , November 8, 2007, The Economist ]

In popular culture

Soviet system, including the practice of rewriting history by Soviet historiography era were used as inspiration by George Orwell for the Ministry of Truth and other concepts in his classic dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as for his other work, the Animal Farm. [Bernard Bailyn, Edward Connery Lathem, "On the Teaching and Writing of History: Responses to a Series of Questions", UPNE, 1995, ISBN 0874517206, [ Print, p.12] ] [Yaacov Ro'i, Avi Beker, "Jewish Culture and Identity in the Soviet Union', NYU Press, 1991, ISBN 0814774326, [ Google Print, p.336] ]

Victor Suvorov, in his book "The Liberators", "The Liberators" ( _ru. Освободитель), 1981, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-10675-3; cited from Russian edition of 1999, ISBN 5-237-03557-4, pages 13-16 ] satirized Soviet historiography by claiming it could be used to show that every Soviet leader was a traitor. For instance, Suvorov wrote that "Vladimir Lenin was an enemy", because all his friends were proven to be "enemies of the people" by the Soviet courts, which are the most democratic and just in the world. These "enemies" were Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Karl Radek. It was Lenin who brought these "wrecklers" to power, said Suvorov, so that brave chekists had to kill them all with bullets or ice axes. "Stalin was also an enemy", "as has been proven to the entire world at the historical 20th Congress of the Communist Party". Of course, "Stalin himself destroyed thousands of enemies and spies from his closest surrounding, but he could not exterminate them all", so that his "closest friend Lavrenty Beria and his notorious gang have been executed only after Stalin". Sadly enough, continued Suvorov, Khrushev, who got rid of Beria, turned out to be a traitor, just like his successor Leonid Brezhnev, who was guilty of terrible corruption.


ee also

*Agitprop (Soviet propaganda)
*Censorship in the Soviet Union
**Censorship of images in the Soviet Union
*Criticisms of Communist party rule
*Samizdat (illegal underground publications in Soviet Union)
*Suppressed research in the Soviet Union

Further reading

* Lietuvos istorijos metraštis: [ From sovietology to Soviet history: three trends in Western historiography] by Dalia Marcinkevičienė
* National Review January 18, 1993: [ Soviet historiography, western journalism — western journalists slow to report General Dmitri Volkogonov's explanation of his exoneration of convicted spy Alger Hiss] by Amos Perlmutter
*Avrich, Paul H. (1960). [ The Short Course and Soviet Historiography] . "Political Science Quarterly" 75 (4), 539-553.
*Enteen, George M. (1976). [ Marxists versus Non-Marxists: Soviet Historiography in the 1920s] . "Slavic Review" 35 (1), 91-110.
*Gefter, M. J. & V. L. Malkov (1967) [ Reply to a Questionnaire on Soviet Historiography] . "History and Theory" 6 (2), 180-207.
*Ito Takayuki (ed.), "Facing up to the Past: Soviet Historiography under Perestroika". Sapporo: Hokkaido University, 1989.
*Keep, John (ed.),"Contemporary History in the Soviet Mirror". N.Y. – London: Praeger, 1964.
*Markwick, Roger D. "Rewriting History in Soviet Russia: The Politics of Revisionist Historiography, 1956-1974". N.Y.: Palgrave, 2001.
*Mazour, Anatole G. & Herman E. Bateman (1952). [ Recent Conflicts in Soviet Historiography] . "The Journal of Modern History" 24 (1), 56-68.
*Mazour, Anatole G. "The Writing of History in the Soviet Union". Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1971.
*McCann, James M. (1984). [ Beyond the Bug: Soviet Historiography of the Soviet-Polish War of 1920] . "Soviet Studies" 36 (4), 475-493.
*Asher, Harvey (1972). The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of M. N. Pokrovsky. "Russian Review" 31 (1), 49-63.
*Baron, Samuel H. (1974). [ The Resurrection of Plekhanovism in Soviet Historiography] . "Russian Review" 33 (4), 386-404.
*Daniels, Robert V. (1967). [ Soviet Historians Prepare for the Fiftieth] . "Slavic Review" 26 (1), 113-118.
*Eissenstat, Bernard W. (1969). [ M. N. Pokrovsky and Soviet Historiography: Some Reconsiderations] . "Slavic Review" 28 (4), 604-618.
*Enteen, George M. (1969). [ Soviet Historians Review Their Own Past: The Rehabilitation of M. N. Pokrovsky] . "Soviet Studies" 20 (3), 306-320.
*Enteen, George M. (1970). [ Pokrovsky's Rehabilitation: A Reply to Bernard W. Eissenstat] . "Soviet Studies" 22 (2), 295-297.
*McNeal, Robert H. (1958). [ Soviet Historiography on the October Revolution: A Review of Forty Years] . "American Slavic and East European Review" 17 (3), 269-281.
*Schlesinger, Rudolf (1950). [ Recent Soviet Historiography. II] . "Soviet Studies" 2 (1), 3-21.
*Schlesinger, Rudolf (1950). [ Recent Soviet Historiography. III] . "Soviet Studies" 2 (2), 138-162.
*Schlesinger, Rudolf (1950). [ Recent Soviet Historiography. I] . "Soviet Studies" 1 (4), 293-312.
*Schlesinger, Rudolf (1951). [ Note on Recent Soviet Historiography, Part IV] . "Soviet Studies" 3 (1), 64.
*Shapiro, Jane P. (1968). Soviet Historiography and the Moscow Trials: After Thirty Years. "Russian Review" 27 (1), 68-77.
*Barber, John. "Soviet Historians in Crisis, 1928-1932".
*Pundeff, Marin. "History in the USSR. Selected Readings".
*Shteppa, Konstantin F. "Russian Historians and the Soviet State".
*Black, C. E. "Rewriting Russian History. Soviet Interpretations of Russia's Past".
*Nancy Whittier Heer. "Politics and History in the Soviet Union"
*Švābe, Arveds (1949). "The Story of Latvia", Chapter 9 — " [ Lies and Violence as Instruments of Russian Policy] ". Latvian National Foundation

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