- Martin Malia (1924–2004)
Almost three years ago, in these pages, Martin Malia inveighed against revisionism's insidious hold on scholarship on the Soviet Union, calling upon a generation of historians to acknowledge its mistakes and conceptual failures.1 For the last decade and more, Malia had played a visible role as polemicist and gadfly, challenging a new generation's disregard for what he saw as the tragic dimensions of the recently defunct Soviet regime. Obituaries appearing in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times have presented Malia as a Soviet-watcher and author of the sensational "Z" article that "predicted the fall of the Soviet Union."2 I would like to take advantage of the present opportunity to look behind both Malia's sharp conflictual pose and his role as political commentator to draw some attention to his evolution as a historian—after all, his primary and most significant role throughout his life. His political stance was anchored in a profoundly considered historical vision.
On a sunny afternoon in Berkeley, probably in 1984, I remember a session of Malia's seminar in which a student, charged with a presentation on an eminent German historian, despaired of describing the scholar's life, which seemed to have few high or low points. Malia's comment: "Of course, he was a professor." Martin Malia was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1924. Contrary to the speculations of some of his future colleagues (based on the perfection of his linguistic accomplishments), his parents were neither French nor Russian. Malia subsequently remarked on the positive intellectual environment of his early youth in New England. We meet him next in 1943, as an undergraduate at Yale, in a Russian class with Hugh McLean, who in later years became his colleague at Berkeley. Both studied Russian as part of the Navy V-4 program. Malia received his B.A. in French from Yale in 1944 and went on to the Navy School of Oriental Languages in Boulder, Colorado; a brief stint as a translator in the Russian Far East followed. In [End Page 447] 1946, he was demobilized, and he entered graduate school at Harvard. A student of Michael Karpovich—part of a generation that included Nicholas Riasanovsky, Richard Pipes, Marc Raeff, and others—Malia graduated in 1951. During his time as a graduate student, he spent two years at the École normale supérieure in Paris—a formative experience, and one that was to shape his personal and intellectual life for the duration. Upon graduation, Malia stayed on at Harvard as an instructor and then as assistant professor, losing out to Richard Pipes for the Russian history chair in 1958. From that moment on, Malia's career developed primarily around the twin axes of Berkeley—where he won a professorial appointment—and Paris—where he consistently lectured, lived, and participated actively in the political and intellectual scene.
It seems to me that Malia's career falls rather neatly into three distinct periods. The first, from the 1950s through the 1970s, marked his formation as an intellectual historian. In 1961, he published his magisterial study of Herzen, Alexander Herzen and the Birth of Russian Socialism.3 Now a classic in the historical literature, Herzen drew on an extraordinary depth of sources that included most notably the German Romantics (Schelling and Schiller in particular) and the French utopian socialists (especially Saint-Simon) to construct a polyvalent picture of Herzen as a gentry revolutionary, a brilliantly educated intellectual whose focus on the Russian commune as the potential germ of liberty set the terms of debate for the rest of the 19th century, and arguably well into the 20th. Not the least of the work's strengths is a brilliance of writing—a compactness of expression and complete accuracy of turns of phrase. In this work, the major concerns of Malia's entire career as an historian also emerged. These were: (1) the phenomenon, and the history of, socialism; and (2) Russia in its relation to Europe. In Herzen, Malia was concerned with the formative stages of a doctrine that he saw as central to the Soviet Union as he knew it (although the book could...