Russia

When I was a graduate student in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s, Russian friends used to talk a lot about World War II. Their stories were of hardship and suffering stoically borne by the population and finally vindicated by victory in 1945. This was not dissimilar from what was published in the Soviet press on the subject, but without the press’s obligatory references to the wise leadership of the party. Wendy Z. Goldman and Donald Filtzer tell basically the same story as my Soviet friends. Invoking the image of a ‘levée en masse spirit’ in the wartime Soviet Union, they admit that ‘strict discipline and repression certainly played a role’ in the state’s ‘unprecedented feats of mass mobilization’, but they put their interpretative emphasis elsewhere: ‘without the support of the vast majority of people and workers in particular, the great achievements on the home front would not have been possible’.

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The invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941 caused massive destruction over a huge area. The number of deaths is uncertain, though a figure of around twenty-seven million is now widely accepted. The lives of many more millions were affected – as soldiers, as workers in war-related industries, as civilians in besieged and occupied territories, as refugees – and the experience of hardship and self-sacrifice in what is widely referred to in Russia as the ‘Great Patriotic War’ or the ‘Great Fatherland War’ continues to dominate the Russian historical narrative.

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Ivan Vasilevich Ovchinnikov defected to the Soviet Union in 1958. After three years in West Germany, he had had enough of the West with its hollow promises. He was a farmer’s son, and his family’s property had been confiscated and the family deported as ‘kulaks’ during Stalin’s assault on the Russian village in the early 1930s. Ovchinnikov managed to escape the often deadly exile, obscured his family background, and made a respectable career. Brought up in a children’s home, then trained in a youth army school, the talented youngster eventually entered the élite Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow. In 1955, now an officer and a translator, he was sent to East Berlin as part of the army’s intelligence unit.

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Joseph Stalin wanted this wartime correspondence published, and one can see why: he comes off best. As the authors comment, ‘the transcript of the Big Three meetings demonstrates Stalin’s careful mastery of the issues and his superior skill as a diplomatist, regularly keeping his silence but then speaking out in a terse and timely manner at key moments’. He is ...

Letters to the Editor: Tony Kevin from Gordon writes on Jeff Sparrow's Trigger Warnings; John Lowe from Ormond on D. H. Lawrence; and some comments on Behrouz Boochani and his poem 'Flight from Manus' ...

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Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater

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May 2018, no. 401

On its first appearance in Russia, Dostoevsky’s novel 'Crime and Punishment' was the hit of the season. It was serialised throughout 1866 in the journal 'The Russian Messenger'. Nikolai Strakhov, Dostoevsky’s first biographer, described the novel’s effect on the reading public as spectacular: ‘[A]ll that lovers of reading talked ...

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‘Heroes, hero worship, and the heroic in history’: so did one observer describe the essence of Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940). A series of portraits of ‘great men’, the book culminates with Lenin’s arrival on a German train at Petrograd’s Finland Station in April 1917, shortly after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas ...

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The centenary of the Russian Revolution has just passed, leaving a rather eerie silence, as Vladimir Putin’s Russia decided not to hold any official commemoration. In the current climate of what has been called a ‘new Cold War’ with Russia, people in the West often forget that the Soviet Union and its communist regime ...

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Winston Churchill once famously said of Russia: ‘It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ The aphorism is still cited regularly today by analysts and commentators confused by the opaque Russian state. Regrettably, the sentences that followed have been largely consigned to history ...

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It is now widely believed that Russia and its agents interfered with the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump get elected ...

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