RETHINKING THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE: Politics and History Since 1917 by Stephen F. Cohen
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RETHINKING THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE: Politics and History Since 1917

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Princeton Sovietologist Cohen (Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution) has set his sights on the mess his colleagues have made of interpreting Soviet politics--but these five essays (four of them previously published) deserve more than an academic readership. Cohen particularly regrets the decline in Soviet studies in England and the US. Fueled by enormous government and foundation funds, research institutes at major universities flourished during the 1950s and 1960s, only to hit on hard times in the 1970s. (Ford Foundation outlays for the field dropped from $47 million in 1966 to slightly over $2 million in 1979.) Part of the decline was due to budgetary woes, but Cohen points as well to a decline in quality that set in earlier--from Cold War influences, he asserts. Proper historical studies were eschewed in favor of the simplistic formulas of the totalitarianism model, which established such a hold that consensus reigned in Soviet studies--and consensus, Cohen notes, is deadly for scholarly inquiry. The totalitarian thesis holds, in part, that Soviet history represents a single development from the Bolshevik Revolution to Stalinism. Cohen attacks this claim throughout the essays. Bukharin and the policies of the NEP period of economic relaxation represent, he rightly says, a real alternative to Stalinism; and he traces that alternative through Khrushchev's attempted economic reforms and on to the rehabilitation of Bukharin's memory. But the forces of Stalinism are still alive, tied to a conservatism rooted in the state bureaucracy. Reformists appeal to unfulfilled aspects of communist ideology; Stalinists to a defensive nationalism. Thus US demands for reform prior to a relaxation of relations aid the Stalinists, meanwhile cutting off the reformists whom the totalitarian thesis refuses to acknowledge. Readers should not let themselves be deterred by the gripes about Sovietologists in the early chapters: this is one specialists' argument that's not just for specialists.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0195040163
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press