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The Soviet Century

Overview

The USSR may no longer exist, but its history remains highly relevant—perhaps today more so than ever. Yet it is a history which for a long time proved impossible to write, not simply due to the lack of accessible documentation, but also because it lay at the heart of an ideological confrontation which obscured the reality of the Soviet regime.

In The Soviet Century, Moshe Lewin traces this history in all its complexity, drawing widely upon archive material previously ...

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Overview

The USSR may no longer exist, but its history remains highly relevant—perhaps today more so than ever. Yet it is a history which for a long time proved impossible to write, not simply due to the lack of accessible documentation, but also because it lay at the heart of an ideological confrontation which obscured the reality of the Soviet regime.

In The Soviet Century, Moshe Lewin traces this history in all its complexity, drawing widely upon archive material previously unavailable. Highlighting key factors such as demography, economics, culture and political repression, Lewin guides us through the inner workings of a system which is still barely understood. In the process he overturns widely held beliefs about the USSR’s leaders, the State-Party system and the Soviet bureaucracy, the “tentacled octopus” which held the real power.

Departing from a simple linear history, The Soviet Century takes in all the continuities and ruptures that led, via a complex route, from the founding revolution of October 1917 to the final collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s, passing through the Stalinist dictatorship and the impossible reforms of the Khrushchev years.

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Editorial Reviews

Eric Hobsbawm
“Probably no other Western historian of the USSR combines Moshe Lewin's personal experience of living with Russians from Stalin's day - as a young wartime soldier - to the post-communist era, with so profound a familiarity with the archives and the literature of the Soviet era. His reflections on The Soviet Century are an important contribution to emancipating Soviet history from the ideological heritage of the last century and should be essential reading for all who wish to understand it.”
From the Publisher
“Probably no other Western historian of the USSR combines Moshe Lewin’s personal experience of living with Russians from Stalin’s day—as a young wartime soldier—to the post-communist era, with so profound a familiarity with the archives and the literature of the Soviet era. His reflections on The Soviet Century are an important contribution to emancipating Soviet history from the ideological heritage of the last century and should be essential reading for all who wish to understand it.”—Eric Hobsbawm

“Rich in its insights and original in its perspectives, Moshe Lewin’s superb new book provides a master-class in understanding the structures and intricate workings of the Soviet system.”—Ian Kershaw

“The Soviet Century is an original and stimulating survey, packed with insights and information, by an outstanding historian. It will enlighten both specialists and general readers about a crucial aspect of the modern world.”—R. W. Davies

“Moshe Lewin ... has written a book of gripping scholarship. In The Soviet Century he shows that the world cannot turn its back on Russia’s past, and neither Russians nor anyone else should try to do so. As Lewin writes, the Soviet system may be dead and buried but it lives on in Russia’s search for a national identity. This search needs to be based on the truth, good or bad, about what happened under Communism. The Soviet Century is an excellent place to look for it.”—Mark Harrison

Eric Hobsbawm
“Probably no other Western historian of the USSR combines Moshe Lewin's personal experience of living with Russians from Stalin's day - as a young wartime soldier - to the post-communist era, with so profound a familiarity with the archives and the literature of the Soviet era. His reflections on The Soviet Century are an important contribution to emancipating Soviet history from the ideological heritage of the last century and should be essential reading for all who wish to understand it.”
Ian Kershaw
“Rich in its insights and original in its perspectives, Moshe Lewin's superb new book provides a master-class in understanding the structures and intricate workings of the Soviet system.”
R. W. Davies
“The Soviet Century is an original and stimulating survey, packed with insights and information, by an outstanding historian. It will enlighten both specialists and general readers about a crucial aspect of the modern world.”
Mark Harrison
“Moshe Lewin... has written a book of gripping scholarship. In The
Soviet Century he shows that the world cannot turn its back on Russia's past, and neither Russians nor anyone else should try to do so. As
Lewin writes, the Soviet system may be dead and buried but it lives on in Russia's search for a national identity. This search needs to be based on the truth, good or bad, about what happened under Communism.
The Soviet Century is an excellent place to look for it.”
Foreign Affairs
Lewin asks a metahistorical question: What was the Soviet Union all about? The answer, he says, is in the essence of the system. With the benefit of hindsight and new archival sources, he strips the Stalin and subsequent Khrushchev-Brezhnev eras down to their defining nature. Our original lens, fashioned from anticommunism and the misleading frame of totalitarianism, failed us by blurring the fundamental difference between the original Bolshevik order and the "agrarian despotism" of Stalinism, and by distorting the dramatic change underway from below. In stressing (quite rightly) the capricious, paranoid, unconstrained tyranny of Stalin the man, that view underestimated both the system's accomplishments and the paradoxes that transformed it into a debauched "bureaucratic absolutism," existing only for its own sake. The Soviet Union ended as its Russian predecessor did, and for much the same reason. Because Lewin's description of the Russian and Soviet deformation parallels what Putin's Russian critics say is happening again today (albeit in milder form), history, if they are right, may be more "present" than even Lewin imagines. And if they are wrong, his account is still much more than just an acute, resonant echo of the past.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844670161
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 2/17/2005
  • Pages: 407
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Elliott is a member of the editorial collective of Radical Philosophy and author of Althusser: The Detour of Theory and Labourism and the English Genius: The Strange Decay of Labour England?.
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Table of Contents

1 Stalin knows where he wants to get to - and is getting there 12
2 'Autonomization versus federation' (1922-3) 19
3 'Cadres into heretics' 32
4 The party and its apparaty 39
5 Social flux and 'systemic paranoia' 52
6 The impact of collectivization 66
7 Between legality and bacchanalia 73
8 How did Stalin rule? 84
9 The purges and their 'rationale' 98
10 The scale of the purges 106
11 The camps and the industrial empire of the NKVD 113
12 Endgame 127
13 An agrarian despotism? 143
14 'E pur, Si Muove!' 153
15 The KGB and the political opposition 178
16 The avalanche of urbanization 202
17 The 'administrators' : bruised but thriving 217
18 Some leaders 236
19 Kosygin and Andropov 248
20 Lenin's time and worlds 271
21 Backwardness and relapse 292
22 Modernity with a twist 310
23 Urbanization : successes and failures 317
24 Labour force and demography : a conundrum 334
25 The bureaucratic maze 342
26 'Telling the light from the shade'? 361
27 What was the Soviet system? 378
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