Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The TLS in Fragments

Since I don't regularly read the Times Literary Supplement I thought I'd pick through a couple of issues to see what coverage of Russian literature and history the magazine offered. So here are a couple of fragments.

Lewis Siegelbaum’s short review of Claudia Verhoeven’s The Odd Man Karakozov: Imperial Russia, Modernity, and the Birth of Terrorism is entitled “Spectral Enemies.” Verhoeven’s book analyzes a failed attack against Alexander II, the Tsar-Liberator who freed the serfs in the 1860s and was assassinated for his troubles by Karakozov in 1881. Karakozov is less famous than Herzen, Bakunin, Chernyshevsky, Nechaev, and many other opponents of the Old Regime.

On the face of things, the attack led nowhere. Yet although Karakozov’s attack was unsuccessful, the author believes that this violent incident elucidates a new dimension of modernity. For the first time, criminals believed they were capable qua individuals and citizens to shape the very fabric of society through an act of protest. Siegelbaum intimates that Verhoeven over thinks the Karakozov attack but does accept the basic premise that the state and its terrorist foes are paradoxical partners: as the state tightens surveillance over citizens in the interest of security, the citizenry becomes increasingly paranoid and this ultimately reinforces the argument in favor of violent resistance to the state. Clearly, the literature on Russian terrorism—including books such as Russia’s Road to Revolution and the Roots of Revolution--tells us something about our current predicament, and indeed the predicament of Putin’s Russia.

Neal Acherson’s “They’re Just Not Ready” reviews four books, including Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, There is No Freedom without Bread: 1989 and the Civil War that Brought Down Communism, and 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe. As Acherson points out, thinks look good now but looked extremely bleak twenty years ago when economies were in ruins and the Yugoslavian war was raging. These books examine the meaning of the 1989 revolutions.

It seems that it’s still too early to explain them, but Uncivil Society advances the interesting if controversial thesis that Communism did not allow for civil society, with the notable exception of Poland. Mass mobilization did not topple the Soviet Union and its erstwhile allies; rather, the system collapsed and there was what amounts to a “run on the bank” of the system’s remaining political capital. The overall impression of this explosion of historical accounts of 1989 is that we’ve already managed to forget what might have happened at the time. Even Bush and his advisers sometimes worried that Gorbachev might possibly re-invent the Eastern Bloc, making it more dangerous than ever to the Western democracies. And Gorbachev was proposing radical alternatives to the current European system of states with its reliance on NATO and the common market. Was anything possible in 1989 or was nothing but what happened possible? And will archival research reveal contribute to an answer to what amounts to an epistemological question?

There’s also a commentary by Michael Wood on Nabokov’s unfinished novel, The Original of Laura: A Novel in Fragments. Is it more than a pale imitation of Lolita? Would it have been?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Worst War

Military history has gotten a very bad rap. For a while it seemed as if no respectable historian would touch the subject for fear of being lumped in with Civil War re-enactors. Then came revisionists who, quite rightly, argued that even military history could be treated with some of the tools of women's history, cultural history, and social history. When it comes to modern Russia, it's obvious that World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, deserves a great deal of attention--however it is practiced. For Russia was affected by war with Nazi Germany in countless ways. The conflict was enormous, on a scale that hasn't been repeated anywhere, before or since.

The death toll--some 20 million or more perhaps--continues to influence Russian demographic patterns to this day. With this in mind, I thought I would take a stab at reading Chris Bellamy's comprehensive history of the war entitled Absolute War. Told from a decidedly British point of view, Absolute War does provide readers with a review of all new research on the subject of the war. Sadly, one doesn't, perhaps apart from military strategists, learn anything that forces one to think about this conflict differently. Of course, just to review the Moscow-Ribbentrop Pact, Operation Barbarossa, Moscow, the Siege of Leningrad, Stalingrad, the Battle for Berlin, and all the rest helps to remind readers how difficult it would be for contemporary Russians to forget the tragedy and heroism of brutality of this unprecedented conflict.

The main import of Absolute War is to review the fact that the Soviet Union won the war but only after losing intolerable amounts of troops, civilians, and economic assets. The author's first chapter is his best. Here, Bellamy argues that the Soviet Union sacrificed much of its future in winning the war. Additionally, Bellamy seems to be making a case for Stalin as generalissimo. It's not that Bellamy thinks Stalin was right, especially when it came to the timing of Hitler's invasion. It's that Bellamy believes that Stalin made a pact that was useful to the Soviet Union and tried to maintain that pact in the face of real uncertainty about his "ally's" intentions.

According to Bellamy, Stalin understood that Hitler was an enemy but thought an invasion wasn't imminent for logical strategic considerations. Moreover, despite innumerable intelligence reports about German activity on the frontier, Stalin made a not unreasonable assumption that Hitler was at this point only attempting to make an ultimatum to the Soviet Union regarding further economic or territorial concessions. Of course, it's obvious in hindsight that Stalin got it wrong. Even so, Bellamy believes that, contrary to books such as Stalin's Folly, Stalin never lost control. And while Stalin clearly had undermined Soviet military readiness as a result of his purges, he also helped to ensure Soviet success via the brutality of his security apparatus which made very real (if ethically dubious) contributions to the Soviet victory.

The slightly ironic but not entirely illogical component of Bellamy's geo-political analysis of the war--or at least the implicit implications of that analysis--is that somehow both Hitler and Stalin look smarter than is commonly assumed. Clearly, Hitler and Stalin each made some strategic decision that involved the destruction of whole armies. Yet the decision to invade Soviet Russia seems slightly less absurd after reading Absolute War. First, the Germans were wildly successful at first, inflicting causalities or "irrecoverable losses" at the rate of ten to one across a wide front. Second, the USSR's military effort very nearly collapsed, even though its army dealt with disaster much more effectively than anyone--Hitler included--could have supposed. As one German general put it, "the Russians don't seem to know that they've been beaten." Third, Hitler knew that the Soviets had lost their military leadership to the purges, had performed poorly against the Finns, and controlled a number of hostitle populations such as those in the Baltics who actively aided advancing German troops.

It's easy to say that Hitler should have learned from Napoleon's mistake. However, should Hitler have known that the USSR would, by and large, remain loyal to its despotic regime (or afraid of that regime) and interested in counterattacking despite absurdly enormous causality rates? Perhaps Bellamy's book will make historians a little less smug than they've previously been on this score.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Today's Cursed Days

Soviet Roulette doesn't often analyze contemporary Russian politics. Yet, if the reader can forgive me a bit of melodrama, Anna Politkovskaya voice cries out from the grave. She was gunned down, killed in the line of duty as so many other Russian journalists have been killed in recent years. Politkovskaya made no pretence to objectivity, but her crusade against Putin's Russia was grounded in integrity, courage, and unrelenting intelligence. Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Acount of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, which sometimes resembles Bunin's Cursed Days in its apocalyptic but journalistic portrayal of Russia, is a series of staccato bulletins about Russia's amoral and degenerating political climate. Putin is Politkovskaya's bugbear. His brand of politics is authoritarian, cynical, illegal, jingoistic, and corrupt. As a former KGB officer, he represents a return to Russia's sinister past. According to the tough journalist, Putin grossly mismanaged Russia's response to terrorism, plunged Russia into a second brutal war in Chechnya for no good reason, and routinely manipulated the public by pretending to be all things to all people. Only during the election did he learn to properly cross himself, she maintains.

But Putin is no ordinary Russian politician: he and his United Russia party represent the beginning of the end of Russian liberalism and democracy. Under Putin, the press is subverted, the legislative and executive branches of government are merged, human rights are undermined, votes are stolen, truth is obscured, other parties are coerced or bribed to conform to Putin's political strategy, and oligarchs are protected--but only if they bow down to the Putin's administration.

Is this the real Putin? Even in Politkovskaya's book, Putin's political gifts are manifest. He knows how to craft an image of strength and efficiency while simultaneously appealing to Russia's poorer classes. Even so, Politkovskaya's critique is impossible to ignore. Whomever killed her did not silence her: A Russian Diary makes the convincing case that all is not well with Russia and the United Party.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Interview with Paul Gregory on new Bukharin Book

Soviet Roulette recently reviewed Paul Gregory’s new book, Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Russia: The Story of Nikolai and Anna Larina. As our readers know, Gregory made a guest appearance on this blog. Gregory also kindly agreed to discuss his book with me by phone.

Dr. Gregory, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1969, holds an appointment at the University of Houston’s Department of Economics, and is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is one of the country’s foremost experts on Soviet economics, transition economics, comparative economics, and economic history.

Gregory is also the prolific author of books that range from the Political Economy of Stalinism, Before Command: The Russian Economy From Emancipation to Stalin, Russian National Income, 1885- 1913, to Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Soviet Secret Archives.

Below is my rough attempt to summarize and synthesize a wide-ranging conversation with Paul Gregory about his new book into a few short paragraphs. It is not a literal transcription of the conversation in any sense. I take responsibility for any errors that might appear.

Fur Coat: What is the relevance of Bukharin, qua economist, today?

Paul Gregory: Nikolai Bukharin offered “socialism with a human face.” This approach was naturally attractive to Gorbachev as he attempted to salvage some form of socialism while rejecting command economics. Bukharin offered an alternative to planned socialism, an economy that integrated a market economy with a state that controlled heavy industry. This approach has some relevance to China today, since Bukharin accepted a one-party system and state control of key sectors, but also embraced markets, especially in the large agricultural sector. In fact, Bukharin is better known in China today than he is in the United States.

Fur Coat: Does Bukharin have any relevance to Putin’s Russia?

Paul Gregory: Bukharin is not often discussed in Russia today. However, the current economy is analogous in some ways to the political economy Bukharin described. After all, Russia is a market economy, but the “commanding heights” are firmly controlled by the state or state-friendly oligarchs. Thus, some businesses exist to serve the state rather than vice-versa. And of course Putin is operating in a electoral context which might suggest a single party like the one Bukharin supported.

Fur Coat: Bukharin was originally a Left-wing economist but eventually moved over to offer a “Rightist” economic critique. How are we to reconcile these two different economic philosophies? Are they both relevant today?

Paul Gregory: They really were two different approaches. If was as if there were two different people. At first, Bukharin offered a very radical road to economic development. He rejected the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, wrote the ABC’s of Communism, and supported international revolution. However, after War Communism, and the introduction of Lenin’s N.E.P. economic system, Bukharin had a conversion experience. He was relatively silent for a couple of years but then came out strongly in support of the logic of N.E.P. In my book, Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin, you can still see some of the lasting effects of Bukharin’s conversion. That he, he gained a reputation for being inconsistent and untrustworthy. But this was essentially Bukharin’s only major economic shift and one could have just as easily seen this as evidence of his adaptability.

Fur Coat: How did Bukharin’s supporters or constituents take this change of heart in economic policy?

Paul Gregory: This is isn’t entirely clear. More research could be done in this area. One or two prominent Bolsheviks broke with Bukharin, but the majority of his adherents seemed to have accepted the wisdom of Bukharin’s peasant-friendly policies.

Fur Coat: The interesting thing about Bukharin’s debates with Stalin is that Stalin seems ultimately to take the position that even if Bukharin is right to say his mixed economy will encourage higher overall growth rates for the Soviet economy, it is unacceptable for the world’s only socialist state to allow such a large component of the economy—namely the peasantry—to remain outside of the planned economy.

Paul Gregory: Yes. This is one of the most remarkable things I discovered in the Hoover Institute’s archives. Stalin only admitted this afterward, but it’s true that he eventually conceded that socialist politics outweighed purely economic discussions based only on the Soviet Union’s economic growth rates.

Fur Coat: Changing course a little bit…Your book is about Bukharin and his third wife, but Stalin appears on the cover and is a presence throughout. What emerges from your story is a man who somehow combined an exterior veneer of fairness and moderation with a bloodthirsty and vengeful nature. How does one come to grips with this apparent paradox?

Paul Gregory: Whenever he appeared in public, Stalin tried to appear as the most moderate person in the room. In my book, you’ll see that he tried to be less strident and less radical than his allies. He would say, in effect, that he believed that it was important to be careful and moderate when dealing with people who had wronged the party. That is to say, Stalin would say that he knew that the party was, for the most part, made up of good, loyal Bolsheviks. Of course, by this time, people such as Bukharin understood the technique. Stalin had used this method again and again, and to good result.

Fur Coat: I’m curious if your research seems to undermine or support the notion that Stalin operated under some kind of intellectual or theoretical handicap when dealing with brilliant rivals such as Bukharin and Trotsky.

Paul Gregory: Stalin was very smart, and capable of holding his own in these debates. He was, however, extremely jealous of Bukharin’s pretensions to theoretical primacy. Stalin wanted to be known as the party’s theorist and in later years he chided his followers, implying that he alone was equipped to interpret Marx. Stalin was also extremely good at summarizing discussions and debates and he always used Marx effectively. But as the book argues, Bukharin could often digress into very arcane and technical discussions of Marxism that did not help him politically.

Fur Coat: Your book seems to highlight a period of time in which party leaders knew what was expected of them, knew the political rules of the game so to speak. On the other hand, one would expect great fluidity in a system that was as novel as the Soviet political system was. In your research, were you more impressed by the stability or the fluidity of the Politburo’s concept of collective rule?

Paul Gregory: There was a system. Lenin had invented it and people knew that system fairly well. Party member behavior was well-defined. There were standards of collegiality and methods for the arbitration of disputes. But as General Secretary of the Party, Stalin had become the rule-maker. At any rate, Bukharin unwisely followed Lenin’s rules, while Stalin did not.

I think your question also related to the issue of how collective rule works in general. Under Mao as well as Stalin, you start with a system of collective rule that degenerates into an absolute dictatorship which does very bad things. The dictator dies and there is a return to collective rule. And then, somehow, the revived concept of collective rule is much more robust. This is because the new oligarchs feel that that they only narrowly escaped death under the original dictator. This is why Beria was killed: because the other oligarchs felt that he offered a personally dangerous return to one-man rule. Read Khruschchev’s memoirs. They reveal a leader with very real restraints. The party leader becomes the tie-breaker but not a dictator.

Fur Coat: This book is also a love story and Anna Larina, Bukharin’s third wife, comes across as a remarkable woman. What else does her autobiography tell us about her?

Paul Gregory: Anna was remarkable. Her memoir makes for excellent reading. And she was clearly an extremely intelligent woman, capable of following complex political debates when she was only 10-13 years old, and capable of holding Bukharin’s attention in the midst of a very busy political life. Anna’s relationship with her father was very close as well. I should say that Anna’s memoir always puts Bukharin in the best light. Bukharin was heroic, but he was flawed as my book demonstrates, and Anna doesn’t dwell on this. She doesn’t, of course, mention that Bukharin, despite his brave recantation at his trial, often disappointed supporters by fawning over Stalin or sacrificing his former allies and friends. She also doesn’t spend time talking about his first two wives. On the other hand, almost everything we know about Anna comes from her autobiography. And this shows that she was loyal to her husband despite two decades of suffering in the gulag. Hopefully someone will do more historical research on Anna’s life.

Fur Coat: Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. I hope to read many more of your books and articles in the future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Historian Paul Gregory's Guest Blog on New Bukharin Book

Soviet Roulette would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to Paul Gregory for this gracious guest blog related to his new book on Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina. The book is well-written, well-researched, and offers new insights into Bukharin, Stalin, and early Soviet politics. It's also a tragic love story.

Re-Examining Nikolai Bukharin: Forty Years Later

By Paul R. Gregory

Author of Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Press, 2010)
Available on Amazon

My Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Press 2010) follows Stephen Cohen’s Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography (1973) by almost forty years. Cohen reintroduced Bukharin – a figure whom Stalin wished eradicated from memory -- to students of Russian history. It contributed to memorable events, such as Anna Larina’s autobiography and Gorbachev’s rediscovery of Bukharin’s ideas. Written before the archival revolution, Cohen captured Bukharin’s finest hour in his final statement to the court in March of 1938 and the essence of Bukharin’s economic thought and his political career. We hope to look forward to a new edition from Cohen.

My Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina is not a biography. Rather, it tells of the love affair between the 26-year older Nikolai and Anna against the backdrop of the power struggle. The reader learns much about Stalin through his treatment of his friends and enemies (Bukharin was both). I tell their story in a series of scenes taken from memorable moments in their lives, and in many instances I use their own words as extracted from transcripts, letters, interrogation protocols, and Anna’s autobiography. The Soviet party archives, which began to be released for scholarly use in the early 1990s, offer a rare opportunity to write history using the very words of those who made history. An example of the use of verbatim dialog is the brutalization of Bukharin before the Central Committee, where Bukharin, weakened by a hunger strike, tries to defend his hunger strike before a jeering mob at the February-March 1937 plenum:

Bukharin: Comrades, I plead with you not to interrupt because it is very difficult for me to speak. In my letter I described my psychological condition as it should be understood as a person. If, of course, I am not a human being, then there is nothing to understand. But I consider myself a human being and that I have the right to write about my psychological condition in this particularly difficult moment of my life. And in this regard, there was no attempt to frighten or deliver ultimatums.

Stalin: And your hunger strike?

Bukharin: And I’ll continue my hunger strike. I wrote to you, because I, in despair, grasped at this option. I wrote to a narrow circle because, with such accusations hanging over me, it is impossible to live. I am not able to shoot myself because then they’ll say that I committed suicide to harm the party; but if I die, as from a disease, what would you lose from this?

Voice: Blackmail!

Bukharin: But understand how difficult it is for me to live.

Stalin: And is it easy for us?

The love story of Nikolai and Anna is one of the great romances and political intrigues of the twentieth century, yet most educated readers no longer recognize Bukharin’s name. Their story is a combination of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Pasternak’s Zhivago, as Anna disappears into the Gulag and exile before reemerging to fight for his rehabilitation. As Robert Conquest writes in the foreword, the book “works as a romance or even thriller.” Indeed it has all the elements of a thriller – mock and real executions, spy-mistresses, threats, intimidation, blackmail, romantic jealousy, torture, pleas for mercy, while introducing the fundamentally different visions for Russia that Bukharin and Stalin expressed in their own debates and in their own words.

We cannot examine the life of Nikolai Bukharin without asking two questions: First, did he have a good chance to win the power struggle? Cohen suggests that Bukharin had powerful allies and could have won had he been willing to go public early with his disagreements with Stalin. E. H. Carr, on the other hand, dismissed Bukharin as a relatively insignificant figure, romanticized by his tragic fate. My own view is that a Bukharin-like figure was unlikely to win in the rough-and-tumble of Bolshevik politics, whereas the worst is likely to rise to the top. Politics, Murder and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin shows Stalin consistently outwitting Bukharin and his allies, not by chance but by his willingness to do anything and everything to win.

The second question is whether Bukharin was guilty of the charges for which he was executed. In this regard, it is clear that after his political defeat in 1929, Bukharin retired from politics. He cut off relations with his former allies and students. He hoped that by keeping his nose clean he could survive. He miscalculated. For Stalin, anyone who had opposed him earlier or might oppose him again was too dangerous to leave alive. Stalin, however, could not openly sentence potential opponents to death on such grounds. He therefore had to force his victims to confess to horrendous crimes that even Western journalists would consider worthy of death. We must remember that in an absolute dictatorship, the dictator is free to define what is a capital offense. Stalin’s definition was very broad.

Stalin was purported to have remarked that the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic. In my previous work on Stalin’s terror, I indeed focused on the statistic. Yet Stalin continues to have considerable appeal in Russia despite widespread knowledge of his incredible brutality. My book focuses on the tragedy of one man, his wife, and child. Perhaps the tale of one man, who experienced personally Stalin’s brutality, will have a greater impact on the way Stalin is viewed than the statistics of his cruelty.

Paul Gregory
Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
Cullen Professor of Economics, University of Houston

Gregory, Cohen, and Laqueuer on Bukharin

Let's talk about Nikolai Bukharin, shall we? And let me say up front that my wordiness on this topic isn't merely sparked by the review copy of the newly published book, Politics, Murder, and Love: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina in Stalin's Kremlin, that Paul Gregory's publicist was gracious enough to send to me (Hoover Press). No, I also happened to be thinking about Bukharin as a result of reading an essay by one of my favorite Sovietologists, Walter Laqueuer, entitled "War Against the Peasants; The Bukharin Alternative," found in his essay collection, Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations.

According to Laqueur, who is never anything but clear-headed and trenchant, Bukharin did not in fact offer a serious alternative to Stalin or to Stalism as an economic philosophy or indeed political creed. Of course, Bukharin was a much more humane and urbane man than Stalin or Stalin's cronies, whether or not they survived the purges (and very few did). Although he was at first a Bolshevik Leftist, he made exceptions and eventually came down fairly firmly in favor of a more moderate policy toward the peasantry.

On the other hand, Laqueur reminds us that Bukharin's economic philosophy did not break in fundamental ways with either Lenin or Stalin. All leading Bolsheviks accepted the basic economic tenants that squeezed the peasants and transferred wealth to the cities. Moreover, whereas Soviet economics can hardly be divorced from Soviet politics, Bukharin was the first to denounce Trotsky and his allies, and was often more shrill in his denunciations of political rivals than his early ally Stalin.

It's a truism to say that Bukharin suffered from the Original Sins of Bolshevism. That is, he believed in Lenin's economic policies as well as his political intolerance, and eschewed political pluralism and democracy. Even so, Bukharin is a sympathetic and tragic figure. Steven Cohen's famous biography overstates the case but does a great deal to illuminate the positive aspects of Bukharin the man and thinker. (And Gregory and Laqueur both point to that work's enormous influence inside Russia 40 years previously). Bukharin was, to be sure, intelligent, witty, creative, well-liked (by Bolsheviks), and even courageous in his own way.

Even so, Laqueur and Gregory are right to point out that Bukharin was not a serious alternative to Stalin as a politician. Notwithstanding his fans in the late Soviet period, Bukharin had no real constituency or even important governmental post. He had no great instict for intrigue. He didn't possess the requisite ruthlessness demanded by Soviet-style "collective rule." Bukharin was also known, as Gregory also points out, for a certain personal unsteadiness or emotionalism. He was never a serious competitor for power.

All that being so, Bukharin remains a fascinating story. Paul Gregory's biography reveals all of the pathos of Bukharin's downfall, which was a mixture (almost necessarily under the circumstances) of courage and cowardliness. In the end, it was almost impossible to be courageous in Stalin's Russia, so Bukharin's intermittent resistance deserves a good deal of praise. More interesting, is Gregory's incorporation of Bukharin's love life into this downward spiral from the Politburo and Pravda to jail and execution. Anna Larina, younger than her new husband by decades, supported her husband every step of the way, and sacrificed her youth by spending the next twenty years in the gulag. She was lucky to have lived. After Stalin, in the spirit of the Decembrist wives, Anna maintained a campaign to rehabilitate her husband, yet this rehabilitation didn't happen until much, much later.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I'm contemplating future posts. Here are a few topics I'd like to say something about.

1) What does it mean to say 1917 represents the birth of a new age? Is 1917 the center of something?

2) What is history often seen as the most boring of all subjects? Is the study of Soviet history the antidote or the disease when it comes to the history's public relations problems? How far away is Soviet Roulette from doing something akin to Civil War reenactments?

3) Was the Soviet Revolution a male fantasy, a la Klaus Theweleit's two volume book on fascist sexism, Male Fantasies?

4) What light does Dominick LaCapra or Freud shed on the Revolution? Did Russian society suffer from an inability to work through trauma? Was it doomed to act out this trauma in an endless cycle of fatal brutality?

5) What does Lynn Hunt's work on the French Revolution tell us about the Soviet Revolution? Did Russians need to kill the tsar for oedipal reasons?

6) In what sense was 1917 a modernist aesthetic production? Would Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring suggest useful comparisons between Lenin and Stravinsky?

7) How exactly do revolutionaries become bureaucrats?

8) William Burroughs once said, to speak is to lie. To amend this, it can definitely be said that teach is to lie with conviction. Teachers iron out complexity, avoid areas of unfamiliarity, present false paradoxes, and generalize with abandon. What lies do teachers tell most frequently about revolutionary history, and why are these particular lies so prevelent, as opposed to others?

9) What did the Soviet Union get right? And is it even fair to ask this question of an tyranny?

10) Is the history of the Revolution out of fashion or in fashion, and for what reason? (Note: This blog's intention was to single out something that was outrageously out of fashion, but floods of new revolutionary monographs and articles suggest an error in the author's premise, no?).

11) What other titles might I have used to encapsulate the themes of this blog?

12) What's the significance of the Stakhonvite movement? How much light does it shed on the Soviet Union's differences from, or similarities to, Western incentives to work?

13) How is that highly centralized planning turned into unprecedented economic chaos?

14) What are the best American movies about Russia or the revolutionary tradition? I've put Reds, Hunt for Red October, and Doctor Zhivago into the DVR queue in preparation for this one. Suggestions welcomed.

15) Do the history of other forms of socialism, including that of St. Simon, Owen, and Proudhon shed any light on the Soviet experience?


What do we really know about Siberia? What is there to know,other than the fact that it constitutes three fourths of contemporary Russia? Is Siberia a place or a state of exile and disenfranchisement? Ian Frazier's 2009 New Yorker articles, Travels in Siberia, seems to suggest that a massive road trip across its massive expanse will shed some light on the problem. According to Frazier, Siberia is made up of the following: permafrost, 4600 miles of taiga, eight time zones,mud and dust, massive but lazy rivers, the remote Sakhalin Island, Lake Baikal, the Arctic, the Urals, Vladivostock, 400 year old cities, 38 million people, Russians and aboriginal peoples, 5,771 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway, prisons, military outposts, Chinese borderlands, refineries, concrete architecture, mosquitos,Admiral Kolchak beer, Irkutsk, memories of Rasputin, Lenin, Mandelstam, Stalin, and the Decembrists (e.g., Volkonsky and Trubetskoy) and raw materials, especially cobalt, zinc, oil, gold, diamonds, copper, lead, mercury, and nickel. It's also home to travel writers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eastern Europe

Russian police corruption is out of hand. Latvia’s economy is recovering nicely. Poland’s economy is surprisingly strong. Bulgaria’s relationship with Turkey is gradually improving, despite the uncomfortable position of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority—10 percent of the country’s 7.6 citizens. Bulgaria’s president, Boyko Borisov is unpredictable. Eastern Europe doesn’t make sense as an economic or political description anymore, given the diversity of post-communist experience. Kyrgyzstan is unsafe for journalists. Kosovo is corrupt. Russia and Putin behave as American behaves in terms of throwing its international weight around but somehow doesn’t engender European anger. Russian is no longer capable of building first-class ships but is now buying from France. Tartarstan will continue to be ruled by strongman, Mintimer Shaimiev, despite Moscow’s technical ability to appoint a replacement. Moscow’s mayor was at war with a neighborhood called Rechnik, which was supported by the Kremlin. Croatia is the richest nation in the Western Balkans but its economic is victim to unemployment, stagnation, and widespread corruption; on the positive side, the new Croatian president is cooperating with its erstwhile enemy, Serbia. Russia is unable to stop terrorist attacks. Kazakhstan is attempting to become integrated with Europe but maintains a horrendous record with respect to voting, human rights, religious freedom, and freedom of the press. Russia and America have entered into a new age of arms control, with smaller numbers but new types of strategic complexity brought on by the advent of terrorism and Russia's problems with modernization. Russia is raising excise taxes on beer, but leaving vodka taxes alone; Russians drink twice the amount of other Europeans, and six times more hard liquor. The European Union's report on the Russian-Georgian war finds fault on both sides, with Georgia opening hostilities but Russia overreacting and supporting illegal succession movements. Medvedev, perhaps hypocritically, critiques Russia, citing over reliance on raw materials, a shrinking population, oil-dependence, weak democratic institutions, and a troubling situation in the Caucasus. Putin could theoretically return to power as president in 2012 and rule until 2024, at which time he would still be younger than Italy's Berlusconi. Chavez followed Russia's lead and almost immediately recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's once burgeoning car market (and car industry) collapsed more rapidly than any other, with credit completely evaporing in the economic downturn. The Anna Politkovskaya trial ended with aquittals but was apparently as transparent and fair as Russian trials can be, according to the New Yorker's Keith Gessen.