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Understanding the Terror


There is little doubt that in many of its aspects Stalin’s period was brutal and harsh, but so was Russian society at large. The Bolsheviks had inherited from the tsars an overwhelmingly peasant country, populated predominantly by a backward semifeudal mass—the “dark people”—surviving into the dawning of the modern era.  

Moreover, as a result of the harrowing experience of the First World War overlapping with acute social conflicts of the 1917 revolution, then followed immediately by the brutal fratricidal civil war, the popular consciousness had been badly upset. It combined, in a paradoxical way, the belief in a radiant Communist future with the blind conviction in effectiveness of violence as an instrument of modernizing society. The revolutionary romanticism of the masses was blended with total disregard for human life. The Bolshevik leaders themselves had not been raised in a test tube but reflected all the flaws and imperfections of contemporary society.

It is against this background that certain negative phenomena, including high levels of state terror under Stalin, should be assessed: not to condone such developments but to see them in their historical context. Modernizations across the globe have given examples of great human achievement, elevating to the status of national heroes individuals as different as Henry Ford, Yuri Gagarin, and the founders of the Sony Corporation. But modernizations were also fraught with brutal and bloody conflicts, wars, colonial aggression, acute social antagonisms, and so on.

Coercion and repression, jail and penal labor existed everywhere and are part of Western, Russian, and other nations’ experience. The important thing in the study of history is to distinguish between those developments that were justified and necessary and those that do not easily lend themselves to interpretations on the basis of present-day wisdom and common sense.

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The Soviet Period


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

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