THE SOVIET COLOSSUS: A History of the USSR by Michael Kort


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This is a general history of the Soviet Union with a thesis, but not a new or unusual one. Prof. Kort (Boston U.) argues that Soviet history has to be seen as the continuation of the history of Russia--i.e., as another chapter in the story of a people trying to make their way in a world of limited resources, harsh climate, and constant threat. The autocracy of the tsars is thus an understandable development; a necessary one given the country's natural, political, and ethnic problems. Kort differs from some others who have followed this course: he thinks that by showing how little meaning Western ideas of democracy have for the Russian-Soviet experience, he's also showing that we should accept them for what they are. (This puts him closer to George Kennan than Richard Pipes.) The secret po. lice, bureaucratic centralization, restrictions on individual movement within the country and abroad, and public political apathy are all legacies of the tsars. (Indeed, it was the tsars who began the practice of keeping families at home, while individuals traveled abroad, to make sure they returned.) These practices got the better of Lenin, who sought bureaucratic solutions to political problems, despite his anti-bureaucratic ideals. Lenin thus laid the foundation for Stalin, albeit unwittingly. With his program of crash modernization from above, a replica of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, coupled with the disintegration of the country's pre-revolutionary social order, Stalin set the country on a cataclysmic course. Kort is thus able to conclude that, while Stalin's personality ""certainly loomed large as a catalyst. . . he got his chance to play such a major role because greater forces first prepared the historical stage."" Kort's narrative covers most of the bases and is easy to take, though there are no new insights or scholarly researches. Capable and serviceable--for students especially.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Scribners