Nihilism for Oligarchs
What is the state of Russian culture today, and what is its standing on the world stage? The multi-media extravaganza of Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s DAU—a controversy-courting product of the largesse of Russia’s oligarchic class—provides an instructive case study.
Fine-grained reading of the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, from the abstract allegories of his earlier work to the unsparing portrayals of contemporary Russia in Elena and Leviathan, exemplary of a new social turn in post-Soviet cinema. Reflections of class polarization and fables of power, with Orthodoxy as its prop.
Capitalisms After Communism
A leading Hungarian sociologist revises Weber’s notion of prebendal and patrimonial regimes to classify the new capitalist orders of the former Second World. Are governments from Budapest to Beijing now converging on the same models of politicized economy?
On Re-reading Life and Fate
Against conventional comparisons with War and Peace, Fredric Jameson offers a path-breaking formal reading of Vassily Grossman’s great fiction of the Battle of Stalingrad. The war against Hitler as crucible for a new collectivity, in which freedom finds itself, or as grounds of social—and thus narrative—totality.
With the collisions over Ukraine, the contradictions in Russia’s relations with the West have been sharpened by sanctions and economic crisis. Perry Anderson on the spectre of Great Power status that still informs the post-multinational nation—and why, despite all the Kremlin’s attempts at integration with the US–EU, the country remains indigestible.
Antecedents and aftershocks of the Maidan protests. A Ukrainian sociologist discusses the riven political and ideological landscape laid bare by the fall of Yanukovych, and the tensions being stoked in the country’s east by Russian interference and Kiev’s ongoing military assault.
After decades of connivance with territorial seizures from Palestine to East Timor, the West rediscovers the principle of state sovereignty in Crimea. The actual record of 20th-century land grabs, and the cross-cutting geopolitical pressures bearing down on Ukraine.
Collapse as Crucible
While Russia’s anti-Putin demonstrations have prompted talk of a civic awakening—led by a flat-pack middle class—the country’s overall social landscape remains largely unmapped. Tony Wood surveys its shifting structures since the Soviet collapse, and the consequences of marketization’s advance through the USSR’s ruins.
What are the differences, and the commonalities, between the states that broke away from the USSR in 1991? Russia’s leading expert on the CIS analyses the range of regimes in the Caucasus and Central Asia, on the Baltic and the Black Sea, with a sharp comparative gaze.
A screenplay from 1935, previously unpublished in English, by arguably the greatest Soviet writer. Amid far-reaching social transformation, notions of love, family and desire are also recast—with serious consequences for the simultaneously innocent and world-weary protagonists.
Against Historical Realism
Within the epic sweep of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Hayden White argues, three genres are braided together: historical, novelistic and philosophical. If the former two—and the battles, loves and deaths they recount—continue the line of European realism, in the third Tolstoy presents history as a force beyond human control, in a bid to dismantle ideologies of progress.
A balance-sheet of Russia’s post-Soviet fortunes, placing the devastating collapse of the 1990s and recent revival under Putin in comparative context. Vladimir Popov warns of the dangers—overvalued currency, oil dependence, crumbling infrastructure—on the road ahead.
The Case for Chechnya
Eager to embrace Putin, Western rulers and pundits continue to connive at the Russian occupation of Chechnya, as Moscow’s second murderous war in the Caucasus enters its sixth year. Traditions of resistance, popular demands for sovereignty and Russia’s brutal military response, in Europe’s forgotten colony.
What do the West’s belated plaudits for Putin’s gage to the war against terrorism—the Caucasus as proving-ground for the Hindu Kush—signify for Russia’s future in the world-system? Georgi Derluguian looks at the longue durée, from the Golden Horde to the IMF.
Time Unfrozen: The Films of Aleksei German
Virtually unknown in the West, Aleksei German is regarded by Russians as their most radical and original film director. Tony Wood considers his techniques of disorientation, and the craft of induced paranoia in his latest movie about the Doctors’ Plot of 1953—its title taken from Beria’s triumphant shout to his chauffeur.
When the Party Commits Suicide
“Finally, in the deluge of the conservative-liberal ‘Black Books’ on Stalinist ‘totalitarianism’, a work which not only meets the highest standards of historical research, but also enables us to grasp the unique social dynamics that culminated in the great purges of the 1930s: J. Arch Getty’s and Oleg . . .” read more
Che Guevaras in Turbans
“On 7 August 1999, caravans of well-armed and bearded men, wearing camouflage fatigues and Islamic skullcaps or headbands, crossed from Chechnya into the mountains of Daghestan. They were led by the two most famous field commanders of the recent Chechen war of independence—Shamil Basayev and Khattab. Basayev had . . .” read more
Changing Cities in Post-Soviet Russia
“Since at least 1992, successive Russian governments have been pressed by the imf to cut public spending, and, in particular, to eliminate the large public subsidy to housing inherited from the Soviet-era ‘communal economy’ of housing provision. Indeed, the Yeltsin presidency has witnessed a steady erosion of the . . .” read more
The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia, and China
“The official end of the Cold War, marked by the growing incapacity and then the collapse of the Soviet Union, inevitably meant a reduction of us military expenditure. This had long been regarded as essential from a strictly economic point of view: the extraordinary prodigality of the . . .” read more
The Unfinished Revolution
“On the topic of the Russian Revolution, it might appear that everythingworth saying has already been said. Both critics and defenders of the revolution repeat again and again what was already being said and written in the 1920s. Throughout the Soviet decades leftists repeatedly cited the pronouncements of . . .” read more
Stalin’s Victims: A Reply to R. W. Davies
“Professor Davies asks me to withdraw estimates of the casualties under Stalinism which I advanced over a quarter of a century ago. I am happy to do so—having done so already on several occasions; but I must also reply to his own re-misstating of those estimates.” read more
Reply to Robert Conquest
“I have looked again at Robert Conquest’s writings of the 1960s and 1970s and I remain of the opinion that at that time he claimed figures for excess deaths amounting to at least 17 million in 1930–38. The section in The Great Terror headed ‘Death in the Camps’ . . .” read more
Nikita Mikhalkov and Burnt by the Sun: A Monarchist Film-Maker Confronts Humane Socialism
“Despite the deep hostility of present-day Russian film-makers to the concept of socialism, a considerable number of films about the Soviet past have been made in Russia during the past decade. For the most part, the directors of these films have sought to outdo one another in depicting . . .” read more
Excess Deaths in the Soviet Union
“I am sure that R.W. Davies, usually a rigorously accurate presenter even of facts which tell against his views, would wish you to correct some of the errors he presents in his article ‘Forced Labour Under Stalin’. I have a reasonable claim to this, for he gives my . . .” read more
Reply to Robert Conquest
“1. Regarding Conquest’s pre-perestroika estimates of excess deaths in the 1930s, in The Great Terror Conquest estimated that 3,500,000 people died during collectivization, 3,500,000 in the camps up to 1936, two million in the camps in 1937–38, and that in addition there were one million executions. These . . .” read more
The Other Mediterranean
“Since the Neolithic agriculturalist revolution, the shores of the Black Sea have been continuously inhabited by linguistically and culturally diverse peoples. In some places ethno-historical continuities are truly staggering, as in the inaccessible valleys of the Caucasus, sheltered from invasions, where natives can make credible—as well as totally . . .” read more
Why Gorbachev Failed
“At the height of perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev had a dream. The familiar system of one-party rule would smoothly open up to allow for the free play of other political forces, and, in the strange new world of electoral competition, the Communist Party would remain the voters’ favourite. Faced . . .” read more
Russia: The Rout of the Neo-Liberals
“For most analysts, including the authors of this brief study, the Russian parliamentary elections of December 1995 brought few surprises. The success of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (kprf), headed by Gennady Zyuganov, was expected. Analysts had also anticipated that the left-wing—more precisely, social-chauvinist—centre would . . .” read more
The Russian Parlimentary Elections: Results and Prospects
“In the weeks after the Russian parliamentary elections of 17 December last year, the view of the results that prevailed in official and businesscircles could be summarized as follows: ‘Nothing terrible has happened, and there won’t be big changes.’ Evidence that this view was shared by the Russian . . .” read more
Forced Labour Under Stalin: The Archive Revelations
“The forced-labour system was developed on a mass scale in the early 1930s, and expanded remorselessly until Stalin’s death in 1953. At first the Soviet press gave it a certain amount of publicity—albeit very selective. In 1931–33 the construction of the White Sea canal by prison labour was . . .” read more
Ice Empire and Ice Hockey: Two Fin de Siecle Dreams
“At the beginning of September 1939, the Reichswehr invaded Poland from the West; two weeks later the Red Army invaded from the East. On September 28, Hitler and Stalin signed a partition agreement which gave each tyrant half of a sad country which had only twenty-one years of . . .” read more
China in the Russian Mirror
“When people all over the world think about the collapse of the Soviet Union they draw a certain picture in their minds. According to this picture, modern societies developed along two different paths: the market economy and the command economy. Countries that took the path of the command . . .” read more
The Nature of the Depression in the Former Soviet Union
“Several years ago, the Soviet economy reached a point where (1) the command economy system had been fatally damaged while (2) the minimal institutions required for a private sector market economy to function had not been put in place and (3) the state had made almost no progress . . .” read more
The Economic Basis of Russia’s Politicial Crisis
“The struggle between the Russian executive and legislature seems unhinged from the world around and dancing to its own tune. Each side accuses the other of betraying democracy and plotting the restoration of totalitarian rule. The population looks on, bored by political brinkmanship as it tries to survive . . .” read more
Privatization and the Development of Capitalism in Russia
“The almost universal assumption, at all points of the political spectrum, is that Russia is in the throes of a painful transition to capitalism. Privatization is seen as the key to this transition, and resistance to privatization is accordingly seen by the Western Left as the essential basis . . .” read more
Can Democracy Survive in Russia?
“During a visit to Moscow in January at the invitation of the Russian Party of Labour to help counter threats to abolish Moscow Council, it was confirmed to me that, in the aftermath of August’s attempted coup and the break-up of the ussr, Russian politics is rapidly . . .” read more
Russia on the Brink of New Battles
“When, in August 1991, the world heard the news of the failure of the attempted coup d’état, millions of people across the globe rejoiced at the victory of democracy in Russia. The inhabitants of the country, however, were in a rather less euphoric frame of mind. Although the . . .” read more
Russia Should Be Looking East, Not West
“It is difficult not to feel one has seen it all before as one watches the Western response to the request of the new Russian and Union governments for economic assistance. The ‘grand bargain’ has been dusted off the shelf on the Russian side and the more impressionable . . .” read more
A Usable Past?
“In a well-known passage in What is History?, E.H. Carr addresses the perennially perplexing issue of historical inevitability. Seeking to ridicule the ‘“might-have-been” school of thought—or rather of emotion’, Carr contrasts the treatment of more chronologically distant events from the more recent. ‘The historian,’ he tells us, ‘writes . . .” read more
Incomplete Revolution: National Movements and the Collapse of the Soviet Empire
“Early in September, less than a month after the abortive coup in Moscow, Soviet ethnographers gathered in Bishkek (formerly Frunze), the capital of the newly independent Kyrgiz republic, for their annual national conference. Confronted by the radically transformed political situation in what was repeatedly referred to as ‘the . . .” read more
Fin de Siecle: Socialism after the Crash
“As we enter the last decade of the twentieth century, the ruin of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Communism has been sufficiently comprehensive to eliminate it as an alternative to capitalism and to compromise the very idea of socialism. The debacle of Stalinism has embraced reform-communism, and has brought no benefit to . . .” read more
Scenes from the Future: Komar & Melamid
“‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ Gramsci’s famous dictum, written in his prison notebook in 1930, seems to describe two apparently disparate situations—the Soviet Union, plunged . . .” read more
The Revenge of the Past: Socialism and Ethnic Conflict in Transcaucasia
“At the beginning of the twentieth century, when Social Democrats agonized over the emerging ‘national question’, Russian Marxists sought at one and the same time to win allies among the non-Russian nationalities and to combat the project of the nationalists to splinter the unitary state. Secure in their . . .” read more
Farewell to the Communist Party in Latvia
“During its 25th Congress, the 86-year-old Communist Party of Latvia split in two. A third of the Congress delegates walked out, and several days later, on 14 April, the founding congress of the new Independent Communist Party of Latvia was held. A small group of people, headed by . . .” read more
Perestroika from Below: The Soviet Miners' Strike and Its Aftermath
“In the wave of social activism that has washed over the Soviet Union in recent years, the strike by some 400,000 coal miners in the summer of 1989 may be the most poorly understood of events. Inter-ethnic conflict in the Caucasus, the movements toward independence in the Baltic, . . .” read more
Gorbachev’s Socialism in Historical Perspective
“Perhaps one, or several, of the present or future leaders of Soviet communism may develop the will, the courage and the political ability eventually to break through the tangle of obstacles, to revitalize the forces of liberty without stimulating them to the point where they would exhaust themselves . . .” read more
Soviet Power Today
“I would like to begin by asking you about Gorbachev’s political development. Whatever happens in the future, he has become someone considerably more important in the history of the Soviet Union, and the history of the world, than Khrushchev. When did this qualitative change in his role take . . .” read more
The Importance of Being Marxist
“I hope that the almost Wildean title of my lecture is not misleading. I intend to be totally serious. If there is a place for irony in today’s talk, then it is as one of those ‘ironies of history’ about which Isaac Deutscher wrote so prophetically. I have . . .” read more
Perestroika: The Dialectic of Change
“To Western observers, Soviet society at the end of the 1970s seemed hopelessly conservative and arguments over the ‘unreformability of Communism’ became commonplace among dissidents and the liberal intellectuals who sympathized with them. Pessimism reigned even among official experts, many of whom, on their own admissiom, ‘had fallen . . .” read more
Introduction to Aganbegyan
“The Soviet Union is going through its most radical transformation since the 1930s or, arguably (indeed, as argued by its leaders), since the 1917 Revolution. Many ‘impossibles’ become possible overnight. There has been a rapidly broadening political involvement of different social forces: administrators and officers, artists and writers, . . .” read more
New Directions in Soviet Economics
“Perestroika in the Soviet Union is a revolutionary renewal of the whole of Soviet society. It is not confined to economic change. That is, of course, my special interest as an economist, but the economic restructuring that has already begun cannot be separated from all the other . . .” read more
The Intelligentsia and the Changes
“When, in the spring of 1985, the third ceremonial funeral in three years took place in Moscow, most of the intelligentsia were in a state of apathy and pessimism. This was due, not to regret for the passing of the cpsu general secretary, Konstantin Chernenko, but to . . .” read more
War and Peace in Stalin’s Russia
“Vasili Grossman’s massive novel has rightly been compared with War and Peace. The author himself makes it obvious that Tolstoy’s masterpiece not only inspired him but served as a model for his saga of a great country fighting against enormous odds for its very existence. Both artists chose . . .” read more
War of the Worlds?
“A ‘Tolkien view of the world’, an image of two empires alone on the map ‘engaged in a global military, economic and ideological struggle for control over all the rest of the world’, seems to reign supreme in the West. On the political Right this view is deliberately . . .” read more
Soviet Theories of Ethnicity: The Case of a Missing Term
“All through the twentieth century the significance of ‘ethnicity’ in the structuring of social life and in setting patterns of political action has been extensive and usually unpredicted. Neither its treatment by 19th-century ‘rationalists’ as a retrograde piece of barbarism nor its biological-racial explanations by their ‘romantic’ foes . . .” read more
International Communism in the Heyday of Stalin
“Serious scholarship on the history of Communist Parties has been experiencing a major upswing. Literature was never exactly in short supply. But its value was invariably vitiated by the ingenuousness of its bias, in which the official apologetics of the Communist Parties’ own accounts was matched by the . . .” read more
Innovation and Conservatism in the New Soviet Leadership
“May we begin by discussing the Chernobyl disaster, which has been at the centre of attention in the recent period. Implicit in Western official and much press reaction is the idea that everything is entirely different over there. More specifically, there are charges that the Chernobyl type . . .” read more
The USSR and China: Confrontation or Detente?
“Difficulties in relations between the cpsu and the Chinese Communists existed before Mao Tse-tung came to power in Peking and they were apparent in the first negotiations in Moscow with the Party-Government delegation of the Chinese People’s Republic. At the time, however, the existence of these difficulties . . .” read more
Trotsky’s Interpretation of Stalinism
“Trotsky’s interpretation of the historical meaning of Stalinism, to this day the most coherent and developed theorization of the phenomenon within the Marxist tradition, was constructed in the course of twenty years of practical political struggle against it. His thought thus evolved in tension with the major conflicts . . .” read more
The Death of the 'Chief Ideologue'
“Many Soviet politicians have attracted the attention of the world’s press over the last ten years but very little has been said or written about Mikhail Suslov. He kept himself to the shadows, shunning all publicity. He served neither as a minister nor as Deputy Chairman of the . . .” read more
The USSR and the Arms Race
“In face of what Edward Thompson has called the ‘present war crisis’, we welcome the invitation from our comrades in the peace movements and anti-nuclear campaigns of Western Europe to join in a cooperative project of dialogue and action. We want to reassure them that despite the barriers . . .” read more
Bolshevism and the USSR
“The nature and deficiencies of Soviet society have been hotly debated by Marxists more or less continuously since 1917. Marxist polemics over Bolshevism go back even further. It is therefore wise to begin by indicating where we think we have anything new to say. It is not at . . .” read more
22 June 1941
“Eight months have passed since the fateful date of 22 June 1941 when Hitler began his march on Russia. From that day the two most powerful armies in the world have been locked in epic combat from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Although the German Panzer divisions . . .” read more
Presentation of Deutscher
“The essay which follows is the first that Isaac Deutscher wrote in Polish (under the pseudonym ‘Ignacy Niemczycki’) after leaving the country of his birth in 1939. It appeared in February 1942 in the Polish literary weekly WiadomoŚci Polskie (Polish News) which was published in London by a . . .” read more
Beyond Actually Existing Socialism
“‘Communism is not only necessary, it is also possible.’ The quiet words carry a major historical irony. For what has now to be proved, before an informed and sceptical audience, is indeed possibility. And this not only in the reckoning of strategic or tactical chances, which in these . . .” read more
Problems and Prospects of the Soviet Economy
“It has become customary on both right and far left to stress the weaknesses of the Soviet economy. The French book market is well stocked with works such as Emmanuel Todd’s La Chute finale, picturing the USSR as a land where nothing works and everything disintegrates. Senator Jackson’s . . .” read more
Russia under Brezhnev
“When Khruschev fell in 1964 it was widely believed in the West that the rule of his successors Brezhnev and Kosygin would be a short one—an interlude in the political development of Soviet society. Isaac Deutscher, for example, thought that it was likely to prove little more than . . .” read more
Literature of Revolution
“Are we sensible enough of all the sources of our own literary heritage? The question is suggested to me by some of the writings of the young Trotsky. Upon reading them, it is quickly evident, even from the accessible fraction of a much larger output belonging to the . . .” read more
The Russian Revolution and the West
“You have now completed ‘A History of Soviet Russia’, which covers the years from 1917 to 1929 in fourteen volumes, and commands the whole field of studies of the early experience of the ussr. In the widest historical retrospect, how do you judge the significance of the . . .” read more
Kollontai and the History of Women’s Oppression
“Between April and June 1921, on the eve of the Third Congress of the Communist International, Alexandra Kollontai delivered fourteen lectures at Sverdlov University on Women’s Labour in the Evolution of the Economy. These were intended for women workers and peasants who were either members or close sympathizers . . .” read more