Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Soviet History: More enigma than you can shake a stick at

If I might make a generalization of Soviet History, and bear in mind that I am a man who hates generalizations unless they are poetic or get at the essence of the human experience.

Soviet history is an enigma, an enigma wrapped in a cipher, and smothered in secret sauce.

However, we are still invited from time to time to contemplate it in a manner which defies Mr. James' assertion.

And so I did some time ago in an essay about Soviet foreign policy between the end of the Russian Civil War and the beginning of World War II. However in the brutal process of editing (it is a brutal, brutal business, editing is), I had to shave off a very elegant block of text. However, I have this alternate forum just for such elegant blocks of text and so I thought I might share it with you:

In the Preface to his book, The Soviet Tragedy, Martin Malia writes “With the collapse of 1989-1991, the world that Lenin and Stalin build was no longer even a secret. The intimate record of seventy-four years of utopian experimentation is an open book for all to read.”1 Given that many records have been destroyed and many eye-witnesses killed without note, Malia's assesment is questionable, but it is undeniable that the fall of the Soviet Union unleased a tidal wave of new historical material for Western scholars to page through. However even if we are to assume that the new material constitutes the whole of the “intimate record” of the Soviet Union, understanding the history of the Soviet Union is still a challenging task. Soviet history might now be an “open book” but it is a book written in the language of opaque personas, official and unofficial lies, self-deception and hidden truths, and above all else the intense relationship between the state and the Communist ideology. This language is not translatable by mortals, even if we can see the lines that make up its symbols.
Thus even if the history of the foreign affairs of the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1939 is mostly known, and even if the history of the domestic policies of the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1939 is mostly known, deciphering the relationship between the two is a matter of speculation rather than fact. Still speculation can be made. What need not be speculated is that the Soviet Union was built on the idea of war between capitalism and communism. The USSR was designed to be the first in the world revolution. This precept can be found publicly in all the ideologies of the Soviet leaders, and more privately in their planning and geopolitical thought. However, what is less certain is whether this war was a matter of immenent conflict or far away victory for the Soviet leaders.

A nice little paragraph or two non?

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