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  • Российская историография государственного террора в стране 1917–1953 by А. Л. Литвин
  • John M. Romero (bio)
А. Л. Литвин. Российская историография государственного террора в стране 1917–1953. Москва: Собрание, 2019. 364 с. ISBN: 978-5-9606-0172-6.

The nature and scope of political repression under Lenin and Stalin are among the most widely discussed and debated topics explored by Russian scholars of the Soviet Union. Contemporary scholarship on these issues has been influenced by the legacy of Soviet ideological narratives, engagement with Western historiography, and the Russian political landscape. This edited volume, composed of pieces written from as early as 1993 and up to the present, provides an excellent exploration of the efforts of Russian scholars over the past three decades through the perspective of the historian Alter (Aleksei) L'vovich Litvin. Trained in the ideological environment of the 1950s and 1960s in Kazan, Litvin emerged as a prominent revisionist scholar in the 1990s with work focused on the Russian Civil War and Soviet political repression writ large. Since 1985, Litvin has been a professor at Kazan University. His perspective as an insider in the various debates concerning Leninism, Stalinism, and Soviet political violence is invaluable, particularly for Western English-language scholars.

Litvin opens the volume with an extended essay titled "This Should Not Have Been, but It Was," in which he offers his thoughts on the broad issues related to the historiography of political repression in the Soviet Union. Many of these themes are explored in further detail in the various essays included in the text: the numbers of those repressed, the role of Lenin, the differences between White and Red terror, the nature of Stalin's reign, the falsification of investigative reports, and so forth. Litvin argues that on certain topics a general consensus has emerged among scholars, such as on the idea that "Stalinism emerged from the soil of Leninism" (P. 23), whereas on other topics, such as Stalin's role in Kirov's assassination, opinions vary widely. Other subjects, according to Litvin, have not yet been explored in a comprehensive manner, such as the issue of Red terror during the Civil War. The most complex issue, however, remains Stalin himself. Litvin asserts that the incomplete process of de-Stalinization under Khrushchev, which itself was partially reversed with the Brezhnev-era commemoration of Stalin's industrial and wartime accomplishments, has made the discussion of state terror tantamount to "unpatriotic" criticism of the significant achievements of the twentieth century.

The first of the volume's republished essays is a 2009 piece [End Page 225] in which Litvin summarizes the sources and archives available for scholars interested in Soviet state repression. Litvin makes note of archival guides as well as some published collections of documents, which is especially helpful for archives and fonds that are not generally accessible to scholars, including the personal files of Stalin himself. He also suggests that although local and departmental archives on the Stalinist period exist outside of Moscow, scholars' reliance on the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History and the Federal Security Service archives have overshadowed these other resources. These smaller archives, along with the ample memoir and autobiographical literature that Litvin highlights, are resources that scholars should seek to use to further our understanding of this period.

The next essay, originally given as a talk in 1999, focuses on investigative files of the Soviet Union's security organs. Many of these files were declassified in the 1990s, although many have since been reclassified, with a 2014 law extending this protection to a number of documents for another thirty years (P. 139). In Litvin's estimation, this attempt to provide cover for the whitewashing of the Soviet past makes the edited volumes of such documents published in the 1990s more significant. At that time, although "no method for working with these sorts of sources" had developed, Litvin nevertheless asserts that the simple reproduction of investigative files and reports from the various troikas represents a significant achievement of Russian scholars since the end of the Soviet Union (P. 134).

Lenin's role in the origins and development of the Bolshevik regime occupies an important position in the Russian historiography of political violence. Litvin argues that the recognition of Lenin as the unquestioned leader of the Bolshevik movement first came from abroad...


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