Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is a historian of the Soviet Union and modern Russia. Her books The Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-31 (1978), Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-34 (1979) and The Russian Revolution (1982) were foundational to the field of Soviet social history. She taught for many years at the University of Chicago, before returning to Australia, the country of her birth. She is the author of two volumes of memoir, My Father's Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood and A Spy in the Archives, part of which was first published in the LRB. Lost Souls: Soviet Displaced Persons and the Birth of the Cold War is due in November.

‘I’m needed there’: Gulag Medicine

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 9 May 2024

‘Born of the devil and filled with the devil’s blood’ was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s typically over the top dismissal of the Gulag medical system, which he had encountered at first hand in his years as a prisoner. In his view, the doctors, however good their intentions, were powerless in a system whose raison d’être was to maximise labour extraction without...

Bertie Wooster in Murmansk

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 25 January 2024

‘Areally nasty, dirty little war … Waste of time, money and everything else’ was the way Christopher Bilney, who served as a seaplane pilot in the Caucasus in 1919, remembered it in old age. He was one of many British veterans whose memories of Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War of 1918-20 were ‘uneasy, with guilt and a sense of failure lurking beneath...

Black Bear Park: Border Crossings

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 2 February 2023

Russia is fighting Ukraine about borders. This means that, as well as dodging bombs and getting used to living in the dark, residents of the border zone have to decide if they are ‘really’ Russian or ‘really’ Ukrainian. Some will no doubt be keeping the non-chosen identity in a trunk in the attic, to be retrieved in case of future need. But the logic of war is stern: those who choose to be Ukrainians are also opting to hate Russians as the enemy invader, while those in Ukraine who choose to be Russians are contemplating the possibility of having to move east. Wherever the border ultimately settles, there will be fortifications and troops stationed on either side and a series of tightly controlled crossing points. Villages and families will be divided and the normal commerce of economic and social life disrupted. Schools will teach in the language of the victor. Roads that used to lead somewhere will end abruptly.

Diary: File-Selves

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 22 September 2022

‘Man lives in the real world; but there’s also a parallel world: a paper one, a bureaucratic one. So the passport is the person’s double in this parallel world.’ The comment comes from a Russian woman in her thirties interviewed as part of a study in St Petersburg in 2008. She might have been channelling the philosopher Rom Harré, who called these bureaucratic...

Get your story straight: Soviet Nationhood

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 2 December 2021

It’s​ a puzzle to know how to think about the Soviet Union, now that it is gone. Was it a Russian empire in disguise, which broke apart when its oppressed colonies finally liberated themselves? Was it a benevolent federation in which the Russian big brother generously subsidised its younger siblings and paid for their education? Or was it, perhaps, a multinational state in which the...

The Nazis were less harsh: Mischka Danos

Mark Mazower, 7 February 2019

In​ 1989, the Soviet historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, well known to readers of the LRB, was on a plane when the passenger next to her struck up a conversation. She’d been watching him write...

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We were​ ‘milk-drinkers’ by comparison, Vyacheslav Molotov, for many years Stalin’s deputy, said of Stalin’s inner circle. ‘Not one man after Lenin … did...

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At the climax of the last of the great Stalinist show trials in the late 1930s, Andrei Vyshinsky, the Soviet prosecutor general, declared that the ‘masks’ had been ‘torn...

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Palaces on Monday: Soviet Russia

J. Arch Getty, 2 March 2000

It was not until the 1970s that ‘Soviet studies’ evolved into ‘Soviet history’. The totalitarian model, with its focus on government control of an inert population, gave...

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Comparative Horrors: delatology

Timothy Garton Ash, 19 March 1998

I recently received a letter from a German theatre director, objecting to a passage of my book The File in which I wrote that, back in the Stalinist Fifties, an East German friend of mine had...

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