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  • Foreigners' Historical Research and Life in the Soviet Union
  • Dietrich Beyrau
    Translated by Georg Wurzer
Sheila Fitzpatrick, A Spy in the Archives: A Memoir of Cold War Russia. 346 pp. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2015. ISBN-13 978-1784532956. $29.95.
Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Stuck on Communism: Memoir of a Russian Historian. 202 pp. Ithaca, NY: Northern Illinois University Press, 2019. ISBN-13 978-1501747373. $27.95.

As a rule, historians do not lead a very exciting life in comparison with other professions, inasmuch as they do not suffer from censorship or other reprisals or become witnesses of interesting events.1 It is more, if anything, about intellectual adventures, about the thrill of researching in archives and libraries, and sometimes about controversy and interpretive authority.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, born in 1941, and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, born in 1949, are contemporaries of the Cold War. They developed very different attitudes for dealing with this political constellation, in spite of sympathies for the Soviet Union, or respectively for some Soviet milieus. While the memoirs of Siegelbaum provide a retrospect of his entire life till 2018/19, those of Sheila Fitzpatrick concentrate on her study years in Oxford and her research in Moscow on the topic of the People's Commissariat for Enlightenment under A. V. Lunacharskii (1918–29) at the end of the 1960s. She tells about her life in Moscow in the circle of Igor´ A. Sats, a former collaborator of Lunacharskii, who was on the editorial staff of the journal Novyi mir in the 1960s, and under the care of a daughter of the people's commissar, Irina [End Page 420] Anatol´evna Lunacharskaia. They both helped her with her research into the people's commissariat.


To remain "stuck on communism" more than 30 years after its downfall, one must be pretty devoted. Siegelbaum underlines this by referring to himself as a "Russian" historian. (Sheila also calls herself "a Soviet historian" on several pages in her book.) However, Lewis Siegelbaum is a US citizen, and his father Martin was born in New York in 1915 as well. His grandparents were originally from the Pale of Jewish Settlement in Russia and Austrian Galicia. His Jewish origin is of negligible importance for the author: he calls himself a "non-Jewish Jew" following Isaac Deutscher (33). His interest in (Soviet-) Russian history stemmed less from his family's origin and more from his admiration for the Russian Revolution. It was a remote love. This love cannot necessarily be linked to the witticism of Moshe Lewin: according to Lewin, the American Left knew what it disliked—American capitalism; it liked what it didn't know—communism (15). This may be valid for Siegelbaum's teenage years but not for the decades in which he devoted himself to Soviet and Russian history and got to know the reality of communism.

His love of communism was closely connected to his lifelong attachment to his father, who was a member of the Communist Party of the United States and was made to pay for this. In the McCarthy era he was dismissed from his position as a schoolteacher and stayed afloat as a sales manager for computer firms. Even after his retirement, Lewis felt dedicated to the ideals both of his father and of Rosa Luxemburg, despite his privileges as a "white male" (168) and scholar, notwithstanding some reservations against the Soviet Union.

His leftist orientation meant participation in anti-Vietnam demonstrations in his young years. He was a member of the radical SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and participated actively in demonstrations at Columbia University. The end of Siegelbaum's revolutionary activities was largely due to Stephen Cohen, whom he admired as his mentor and who remained in dialogue with the leftist students. His system-critical and leftist attitude coincided with his later antipathy to the upper-class attitudes of the dons at Oxford University. He had this in common with Sheila Fitzpatrick, who hid her difficulties of adaptation as an Australian and leftist by learning to "mimic the Oxford style" (103). She also descended from a family that was embedded in the leftist milieu in Australia. For Fitzpatrick, this was an obligatory legacy...


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