The Archives of Evil

Malia, Martin
November 2004
New Republic;11/29/2004, Vol. 231 Issue 22/23, p34
The article outlines several themes of Soviet studies. Now that Soviet communism is at last" history," what do we understand about its workings that we failed to grasp when it seemed a permanent fixture of modernity? Before 1991, writing Soviet history was thus a game of guessing the" experiment's" third act by giving different readings of the first two acts, the answer to the riddle of course hanging on whether Stalin was an" aberration" or the" fulfillment" of Lenin's heritage. Historians of the Bolshevik revolution are therefore only now starting to catch up with the efforts, a full generation earlier, of Francois Furet to take the French Revolution back from the Marxists, and of Bernard Bailyn to substitute an ideological reading of the American Revolution for the economic interpretation of the Progressive School of Charles Beard and company. The purpose of these professions of faith (similar to the conversion testimonies of reborn Christians) was to give proof of a level of political commitment sufficient for party membership, or later, in the ritual of" self-criticism," to show repentance for lapses from" correct" party positions. Profiting from the war-induced disintegration of society, a small band of ideologues took over the Russian Empire and amid its ruins, in less than twenty years," built socialism" for the first time in history, a feat that mesmerized and polarized the planet, and whose impact was immeasurably reinforced by victory in World War II, a triumph that also made the Soviet Union a superpower.


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