Robert Service

Robert Service teaches at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies. He is completing the second volume of his trilogy, Lenin: A Political Life.

Leader-Bashing

Robert Service, 24 January 1991

The coalface of Soviet politics is collapsing; among the long-term miners, the professional Sovietologists, this has had a salutary effect. Two separate work-gangs had emerged over previous decades. One drove its picks into history; the other into politics, economics or sociology. This division of labour was caused both by pressure on researchers to choose a single discipline in the humanities and social sciences, and by the global increase in researchers – although the British Government in the Eighties shamefully diminished the national commitment to Soviet studies. The transformation of the Soviet political scene under Gorbachev has ended such bifurcation. A reversion to the traditions of the earliest Sovietology has occurred. Founding figures such as E.H. Carr and Leonard Schapiro were renowned for their ability to write as knowledgeably about 1917 as about the latest political developments. Once again it is thought absurd to hold the Soviet past – which is only seven decades old – and the Soviet present in separate analytical boxes.

Unfair to Stalin

Robert Service, 17 March 1988

Since 1956 it has been official policy in the USSR to criticise the abuses of power by Joseph Stalin in the period of the so-called Cult of the Individual. It is a widely-held misconception in the West that such criticism ended in the Brezhnev years. In fact, party textbooks continued to castigate Stalin. The negative comments became less specific, however, and many people who weren’t old enough to learn about the purges from Khrushchev’s revelations in the late Fifties and early Sixties were unaware of the scale of the human carnage that Stalin had perpetrated in the Soviet Union. Brezhnev, moreover, allowed the textbooks to counterbalance anti-Stalin commentary with plaudits for Stalin’s domestic and foreign policies. Stalin was never rehabilitated, but his name ceased to be anathema. Gorbachev, coming to power in 1985, has done more than any Soviet leader since Khrushchev to restore the critical side to dominance in treatments of the Stalin question. New projects on Stalin, especially since the January 1987 Plenum of the Central Committee, have been described in the historical journals; and Abuladze’s film Repentance and Rybakov’s novel Children of the Arbat, with their undisguised attacks on Stalinism, have already indicated the direction which may soon be taken by the Gorbachevite Communist leaders.

The Old Man: Trotsky

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 22 April 2010

When Isaac Deutscher was writing his great three-volume biography in the 1950s, Leon Trotsky was a name to conjure with. The first volume came out in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death and...

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Has 20th-century Russia a history? The problem is that Russia – or, to be precise, the Russian Federation – became a nation state, or something approximating to it, only after the...

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The firm went bankrupt

John Barber, 5 October 1995

‘Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!’ Mayakovsky’s words became one of the most quoted Soviet slogans and remained so for decades. And they were not entirely devoid of...

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