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. She is working on a biography of Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya.

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...

‘Quelle est cette odeur agréable/Bergers, qui ravit tous nos sens?’ In the old French carol, the shepherds to whom the angel announces the birth of Christ are first struck by a ravishing scent they can’t identify, then by a great light, and finally by heavenly sounds. This introduction of a smell to the Annunciation story has no biblical justification, as far as I can...

To King’s Cross Station: Lenin’s London

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 7 January 2021

Lenin​ liked London. He arrived in April 1902, not long after his release from Siberian exile, and spent about a year in the city before moving on to Geneva, returning for several briefer visits over the next decade. Like a good tourist, he explored the East End on foot and investigated the rest of the city from the top of a bus. He went to local workers’ meetings he had found out...

Whatever Made Him: The Bauman Dichotomy

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 10 September 2020

Do we need​ biographies of public intellectuals? Is knowledge about a scholar’s life relevant to an understanding of their work? The Polish-Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman thought not, and sedulously avoided the personal in his books and essays. His biographer, Izabela Wagner, obviously disagrees: she seems to find Bauman’s life more interesting than his books, which are...

Which Face? Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 6 February 2020

Peter Reddaway wasn’t surprised by the Soviet Union’s collapse or, for that matter, by any of the twists and turns of Soviet policy and fortunes over the previous thirty years related in his memoir. Good was bound to win out in the conflict with evil. Joshua blew his trumpet bravely for a few decades, and finally the walls came tumbling down. The collapse of the Soviet Union was – apparently – a victory for the dissident cause. That moment, 1991, is indeed the right one for Reddaway’s memoir to end on. Carry the narrative any further – to 2001, 2011 or even in prospect to 2021 – and it would have to stop being a story of dissident triumph and become yet another story of defeat, given the virtual obliteration of the dissident cause and even memory in the post-Soviet Russian Federation. But then again, does that really matter? Perhaps Soviet dissent was always less remarkable as an actual political movement in the domestic context than for the magnified reflection it gained in international media.

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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