Dmitri Volkogonov


Dmitri Volkogonov

Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov (Дмитрий Антонович Волкогонов in Russian) (22 March 1928, Chita – 6 December 1995, Moscow) was a Russian historian and officer.

Contents

Biography

A Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of History, Colonel General (1986), Volkogonov was the head of the Institute of Military History at the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union between 1988 and 1991. He was director of the arm of the Soviet military concerned with "psychological warfare", writing a manual on this subject for Soviet forces (The Psychological War). He also presided over a number of governmental and presidential committees.

Long known in Western military circles as one of the hardest of hard-liners, Volkogonov began, by the middle of Leonid Brezhnev's rule,[citation needed] to have serious doubts about the Soviet regime. At first these only concerned Joseph Stalin, whose purges led to the deaths of both of Volkogonov's parents. He spent nearly twenty years compiling a revisionist (by Soviet standards) biography. Though he forthrightly described Stalin's alleged crimes, he remained an admirer of Vladimir Lenin[citation needed] and (following the Nikita Khrushchev line) believed that Stalinism was a perversion of true Leninism. (His views on Lenin changed after he went back into the archives to do his biography of Lenin. It was then that he read that Lenin too had murdered thousands of his opponents.)[citation needed] That his book would be controversial was obvious to others, especially his superior, to whom he showed the book once it was completed. After reading "Joseph Stalin" he[who?] told Volkogonov that he was, in effect, attacking not just Stalin but also Lenin.[citation needed] Volkogonov's wife also begged him not to publish the book and he did hold it back for a time, fearful of the consequences. Once the book was published, these consequences were not slow in coming. He was fired in 1991 from his job as director of the Institute of Military History at the Ministry of Defense of the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Once the Soviet Union's collapse was complete, Volkogonov combined his historical work with political activity in the newly established Russian state. Following the failed coup attempt of 1991, Volkogonov was appointed Defense Advisor to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. By then he was already afflicted with the cancer that would kill him in 1995. Before he died, he contributed much to the so-called "liberal" strain of Russian thought that was condemned during the Soviet period. Volkogonov was one of the leaders of the movement to call for a separation between Soviet and Russian historical identities. The independent streak that had come to the fore in the Eighties continued until the end of his life. He opposed the use of force in ethnic disputes and criticized Yeltsin for "having taken the advice of wrong-headed counselors" in the decision to invade Chechnya.[1]

Volkogonov is most famous for his trilogy Leaders (Вожди, or Vozhdi), which consists of the three books about Vladimir Lenin (Lenin: A New Biography), Leon Trotsky (Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary) and Joseph Stalin (Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy) and Autopsy for an Empire: the Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime (Russian title: Sem Vozhdei), 1998. Although his works have been attacked by critics[who?] in the West for various flaws of scholarship and writing,[citation needed] the English editions were essentially condensed versions of the much longer Russian originals (as acknowledged by their translator and editor Harold Shukman).

Criticism

Volkogonov is not without criticism from colleagues. One British historian, summarizing Volkogonov's criticisms of Stalin's military role in WWII, then notes "A number of officers at the Institute of Military History who had fought on the Eastern Front were critical of Volkogonov's writings on the war because he had never set foot on a battlefield. He was, they said, an 'armchair-general'."[2]

With regard to Alger Hiss, Volkogonov wrote him a letter on October 14, 1992, in reply to a request to check Soviet files for mentions of Hiss. In his letter, Volkogonov reported that although the files mentioned Hiss as a diplomat a number of times, no reference to Alger Hiss as a Soviet intelligence agent occurred in any of the files at any time.[3] Later Volgokonov repudiated what the American press took as his exoneration of Hiss. The New York Times reported:

The Russian official who was reported to have cleared Alger Hiss of spying for the Soviet Union says that he was "not properly understood," and that he only meant to say he found no evidence of the charges in the K.G.B. documents to which he had access. The official, Gen. Dmitry A. Volkogonov, a military historian who has been closely involved in studying various Soviet-era archives, said that at Mr. Hiss's request he had searched through K.G.B. files for the 1930's and 1940's, and in them he found only one mention of Mr. Hiss, in a list of diplomats at the United Nations. "I was not properly understood," he said in a recent interview. "The Ministry of Defense also has an intelligence service, which is totally different, and many documents have been destroyed. I only looked through what the K.G.B. had. All I said was that I saw no evidence." ...As the general said, even if he had scoured all the voluminous archives of the K.G.B., the Defense Ministry and the Communist Party, there were also untold files that were destroyed in the upheavals after Stalin's death... "Hiss wrote that he was 88 and would like to die peacefully, that he wanted to prove that he was never a paid, contracted spy," General Volkogonov said. "What I saw gives no basis to claim a full clarification. There's no guarantee that it was not destroyed, that it was not in other channels... "This was only my personal opinion as a historian," he said. "I never met him, and honestly I was a bit taken aback. His attorney, Lowenthal, pushed me hard to say things of which I was not fully convinced."[4]

Works

  • Mythical "threat" and the real danger to peace, Novosti Press, 1982
  • The Psychological War, Progress Publishers, 1986
  • The army and social progress, Progress Publishers, 1987
  • Psychological War, Imported Pubn, 1987
  • Stalin: Triumph and tragedy, Grove Weidenfeld, 1991 ISBN 978-0802111654
  • Lenin: A New Biography, Free Press, 1994 ISBN 978-0029334355
  • Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary, Free Press, 1996 ISBN 978-0684822938
  • The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire: Political Leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev, HarperCollins Publishers, 1998 ISBN 978-0002557917
  • Autopsy for an Empire: the Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime, Free Press, 1999 ISBN 978-0684871127

Sources

Notes

  1. ^ Editor's Preface, Autopsy for an Empire, Shukman, 1997
  2. ^ Albert Axell, Russia's Heroes, 1941-45; 2001:248.
  3. ^ Volkogonov's Letter to John Lowenthal, October 1992
  4. ^ Schemann, Serge (December 17, 1992). "Russian General Retreats on Hiss". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE0DF1338F934A25751C1A964958260. Retrieved 09 April 2011. 

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