The Drive and Drift of a Superstate
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 At a time when a whirlwind has demolished the Soviet Union, a musty smell of old academic disputes pervades these essays and lectures by a veteran Sovietologist. Lewin (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Gorbachev Phenomenon, 1988, etc.) seeks to describe the changes that transformed Russia from a rural to an urban country, and in particular to account for the rise of the bureaucratic state, which achieved its apogee after Stalin's death. He has many useful insights: He believes that, just as Hitler's worldview was shaped by his experiences in the First World War, so Stalin's view of state coercion as the secret of success--with its use of mobilization, propaganda, military might, and terror--was derived from the Civil War period. He believes that the Civil War dealt ``a severe blow to the libertarian aspirations of the makers of the 1917 revolutions,'' although recent discoveries in Moscow's archives seem to show that Lenin was prepared to use the most draconian methods right from the start. Lewin's insights are diminished by his repeated claim that what happened in the Soviet Union was neither ``socialism,'' nor ``communism,'' nor ``Marxism'' and by his insistence that what happened in other communist countries doesn't really fit such a description either. Throughout, Lewin seems hesitant to call things by their proper names. We read of Stalin's ``whimsical despotism'' and of the ``regrettable loss'' of the pre-revolutionary leadership. Most disappointing is his failure to explore the reasons for what he declines to call the fall of communism. It would have been useful to have had more insight into why the system died ``from natural causes.'' A pity that, with a brand-new car more or less on the road, Lewin has been content to tinker with the old model.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56584-123-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994


NonfictionBEARS IN THE STREETS by Lisa Dickey
by Lisa Dickey