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Best known in this country for his book on the Stalin period, Let History Judge, Medvedev has developed a reputation as the foremost dissident historian at work in the USSR today. If the obstacles for westerners trying to do research in Russia are merely difficult, they are mind-boggling for a critical Soviet citizen; and the consequences can be seen in Medvedev's work, which suffers from an inadequate acquaintance with the latest western scholarship. Medvedev is not out to write a simple narrative; rather, he wishes to confront and refute various interpretations of the Bolshevik Revolution and the immediate post-Revolution period. The core of his polemic is the rather archaic question, was the Revolution and its aftermath inevitable? To answer it, he constructs an elaborate theory of historical ""laws"" that allows room for a variety of particular manifestations; while it was inevitable, he says, that political and economic reforms would come to Russia, it was only because of specific actions taken by the Bolsheviks that the political configuration worked out the way it did. Similarly, once the Bolsheviks were in power, their implementation of an overly ambitious economic program--which grated against ""objective conditions""--created structural weaknesses in the Soviet economy that enabled the state to dominate everyday life and opened the door to a Stalin. As always, Medvedev's hero is Lenin, though here he acknowledges a certain utopian strain in Lenin's thought. Medvedev's analysis is overly rigid in its categories and overly abstract in its formulation. Both Alexander Rabinowitch's 1976 The Bolsheviks Come to Power and Jerry Hough's recent revision of Merle Fainsod's treatise, now titled How the Soviet Union is Governed, present a more nuanced view than Medvedev's. He will continue to be important as a dissident figure, but his new book is only of documentary value.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press