Archives and Historical Writing: The Case of the Menshevik Party in 1917
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The agenda for the seminar on Archives, Documentation , and the Institutions of Social Memory, much like the questions being asked nowadays in so many academic discussions, reminds us of the uncertain place of archival records in historical writing and in social memory . We are asked to face the notion that the preservation and accessibility of such records are contingent on a wide array of political, cultural, and technological factors and that these factors as well as the ideological stance inherent in both historical writing and the practice of social memory affect every aspect of our usage of archival documentation. All this can hardly be contested, certainly not by historians of Russia. After all, the Soviet experience provided the very image of a historical record manipulated for ideological and political purpose, of political leaders, movements, and events airbrushed out of history, and of historical processes and forces relabeled to at an openly doctrinaire view of history. It is no secret that for many decades in Soviet history large bodies of archival material remained outside the purview not only of the public but of professional historians and that in certain areas of research documentation was made available to historians only selectively, thus distorting and implicating the histories they produced. Today, access to Russian archives remains uneven for a variety of reasons ranging from the political to the technical and budgetary.1 And while the strictly political suppression and distortion of archival record we had suspected in Soviet times had a discernible logic (and was therefore, presumably, correctable), the new factors affecting archival access are more random and thus more difacult to map. Scholarly output in the aeld of twentieth-century Russian history during the past decade also provides vivid examples of historical writing and rewriting generated by processes of political and ideological change rather than mere archival access. Indeed, the political transformation of Russia in the last twelve years or so has produced both greater archival access and a considerable body of historical rewriting that was only tangentially, and in some cases tendentiously, based on newly found documentation. The arst rewriting, occurring already during the relaxation of the late Soviet period, was driven by the political agenda of a reforming leadership, though the outcome was not wholly predictable. A good example of this was present in the plan for a new ofacial history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). A group of historians, some of them relegated for the previous two decades to marginal academic positions , were assembled in a villa outside Moscow, provided with almost any document requested from the archives , and allowed to discuss openly questions of Soviet history hitherto mentioned only in private conversations if at all. Though this ofacial history never saw light, it brought into circulation documentation and information that historians then used in the public discussions they were now part of, discussions that played a political role not originally anticipated. During the last two to three years of the Soviet Union, personalities, events, and eventually parties that had been entirely absent from Soviet history (though not entirely erased from the social memory of certain groups, including historians) gradually came back into history in ofacially sanctioned or tolerated discussions. Still, access to archival holdings for the most part followed rather than led these forays into forbidden historical terrains. 443 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Archives and Historical Writing The Case of the Menshevik Party in 1917 Ziva Galili ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ The dramatic end of the Soviet period affected historical writing in more divergent ways, but again not wholly dependent on archival access or new documentation. In the West, a wave of triumphalist histories, still operating within the frameworks of the old ideological debates, used the collapse of the Soviet Union to re-anchor some of the old cold war historiography and to play down the value of a whole generation of historical works produced by the “social historians” from the 1960s through the late 1980s. Other historians, both within and outside Russia, have responded to the passage of the “Soviet period” into history—one chapter of it, with a more-or-less clear beginning and ending—by recasting historical writing in a fundamental way. The questions these historians ask— whether they concern the place of the Soviet chapter within the larger patterns of Russian history or examine the varied and changing ways in which the “Soviet system ” worked and Soviet life was lived—often come from outside the ideological and political discourse that dominated in Soviet times. Some historians have found...


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