Russia over the 20th century according to Andrei B. Zubov et al.
In 2009, Dr Andrei Borisovich Zubov and some 40 co-authors published a two-volume history of Russia (Istoria Rossii. XX vek; Tom I: 1894-1939 gg., Tom II: 1939-2007 gg.). It was launched as a complete break with Soviet historiography, offering a focus on society and humans instead. It represents a most welcome and thorough enlightenment effort in my assessment. The historiography of Zubov and his co-authors is not flawless, but the very organization of their analysis merits attention as well as their data, anecdotal evidence etc. and, last but not least, their specific interpretations. For instance, they begin by arguing the lack of solidarity among citizens in pre-20th century Russia as setting the scene for what they term a disaster hitting Russia in the 20th century, namely the years from 1917 until 1954. The seminar will focus on how they analyze this decisive and, indeed, tragic epoch.
As for the time before the Bolshevik seizure of power in late 1917, Zubov et al. realize that czarism was doomed, but highlight reformers like Stolypin as well as Kornilov as people who represented an alternative scenario. They detail the German aid to Lenin and portray him and other Bolsheviks as brutal and deeply immoral in their atheism crushing religious belief. Moreover, their chapter on The Russian Civil War carries the title “The War for Russia – October 1917-October 1922”. Here they display sympathy for the cause of the Whites and cite the data of the well-respected Rudolph J. Rummel about the terrible toll of the war. They insist that the famine accompanying the war was a planned “golodomor” like later in Ukraine.
The analysis of the post-Lenin era begins in 1923, when Stalin emerged as heir apparent. Zubov et al. downplay NEP as a “false Thermidor” and highlight the development of the repressive apparatus and draw comparisons to both Mussolini, Hitler and fascism. They turn the year 1928 into the watershed for the “Onslaught on peasantry” (Razgrom krestianstva). They argue Stalin’s responsibility for the genocidal measures that followed, yet do admit the need for investment while also using Solzhenitsyn’s term the “Second Serfdom” about forced collectivization.
Zubov et al.s material on 1930s is rich. They stress the stifling of society amidst the onset of The Great Terror and highlight the amateurism and cynicism of many vydvyzhentsy. They portray Stalin as responsible for barbarism, spymania and hysteria throughout society, and detail his stunt of counterfeiting dollars. They engage themselves in the drama surrounding the Civil War in Spain, and their chapter on Soviet armament makes it clear that Stalin did not abandon the cause of the world revolution. They contrast the spiritual freedom and enlightenment among Russians in exile with the enslavement of Russians living inside the Soviet Union as their balance sheet for the year 1939.
Zubov et al. invent the controversial term “The Soviet-Nazi War” for The Great Fatherland War of 1941-1945 while also stressing the dilemma of decision-making behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. They perceive a genuine change of foreign policy during the World War II and go into Lend-and-Lease aid. Unsurprisingly, they detail the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, but also – and to the shock of Russian reviewers – write approvingly about Vlasov and his anti-Stalinist Vlasovites.
Equally controversial, Zubov et al. analyze the post-war era in terms of “Stalin’s preparation for a World War III”. They go into the famine of 1946-47 and argue a change from a “sub-Soviet” to Soviet society amidst the onset of the Cold War. The entire post-Stalin era 1953-1991 carries the headline “The Degradation of Communist Totalitarianism”.
Mette Skak is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University. She holds an MA degree in Russian language and history and a PhD in political science from Copenhagen University. Her research interests are strategic culture, Soviet and post-Soviet Russian affairs. Dr. Skak is a visiting fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute from mid-February till mid-March.