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Om forfatteren

Ronald Grigor Suny is the William H. Sewell Jr. Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan and professor emeritus of political science and history at the University of Chicago. His books include "They Can Live in the Desert but Mo-where Else": A History of the vis mere Armenian Genocide (Princeton). vis mindre
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Værker af Ronald Grigor Suny

Stalin: Passage to Revolution (2020) 71 eksemplarer, 1 anmeldelse
The Making of the Georgian Nation (1988) 50 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser
Becoming National: A Reader (1996) — Redaktør — 45 eksemplarer
Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity (1994) — Redaktør; Bidragyder — 16 eksemplarer

Associated Works

The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik victory, why and how? (1960)nogle udgaver95 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser
Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921 (1997) — Bidragyder — 28 eksemplarer

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There are lots of points where I'm desperately wanting him to explain further where he glosses over something that seems very major in terms of the development of Soviet politics/culture/economics in a sentence or two but it's hard to complain too much about that in a 1 volume history of the whole USSR.

I feel like this is a very subjective thing but although he's not vitriolically hostile to the Bolsheviks and the Soviet state, it feels like even the more mundane things his starting point is that the Bolsheviks were usually doing things for no good reason with a nonsensical ideology behind it.

So for example to be pedantic he talks about class in the NEP-era and says things like "In some ways such party ideologues thought of class as racists think of race, as an essential characteristic that determines consciousness, loyalty, identity, and activity." and "Though many scholars reject entirely the concept of class, it is useful to employ a more fluid, historically contingent, and less economically determined idea of class." In fact, this introduction to the chapter includes no discussion at all of class as an economic relation, something both objectively important and ideologically important in Marxism. Suny only talks about class as an identity, treating the Soviet attempts to identify people with a class as essentially arbitrary.

There's a paragraph then discussing the class situation among peasants that's worth quoting in full because it illustrates my issue here

The poor peasants were seen by the Communists as true “rural proletarians.” They were either paid agricultural laborers, peasants without land, or those with so little land that they were forced to work for others to supplement their income. Perhaps as many as one-third of Russian peasants
were poor, without livestock or even a horse, unable to support their families from their farms. Middle peasants made up the majority of the peasantry, or about 60 percent. They were able to eke out a bare subsistence on their farms and usually had some livestock. At the top of peasant society were the kulaks, the richer peasants who possessed livestock, perhaps even some farm machinery, and were able to hire labor. While they were the best-off peasants materially, they had certain disadvantages. In Soviet Marxist theory they were class enemies of the working class and the poor peasants. From 1918 until 1936 they were denied the right to vote and burdened with special taxes. Poor peasants, on the other hand, received various privileges, and like urban workers were freed from most taxes. The 90 percent or more of the peasantry labeled poor or middle produced three-quarters of the marketable grain, while the kulaks made up about 3 to 5 percent of the peasantry and produced fully one-quarter of all the marketable grain.

After discussing how poor peasants were unable to eke out a subsistence living, he describes how their being freed from most taxes is a "privilege" while kulaks being taxed extra due to producing proportionately far more marketable grain is a "burden". It speaks to a failure to take the Soviets seriously in terms of their ability to understand objective reality and even in terms of being able to administrate things in the same way as a Western state. In Western society describing someone who can pay more paying more taxes as being "burdened" and those who have nothing paying less taxes as "privileged" is the sort of thing that could only come out of mask-off right wing capitalist ideologues. In this context it may only be a small thing but is reflective of a broader issue that rarely comes across so blatantly but is a constant subtext and reflects how he describes Soviet society.

In a different way his discussion of Collectivisation is surprisingly short given how massive a role it plays in the image of the USSR in the West and in Ukrainian histography. It's given a total of 15 pages. The section "famine in Ukraine" is 1 and a half. "the per-capita population loss in Kazakhstan, where the government forcibly settled nomadic tribes, exceeded that in Ukraine" is a half sentence that's not expanded on. He gives the 5 million dead figure for Ukrainians who died in the famine but skims over 3 whole years of issues with grain requisition in half a page. It just strikes me as a really strange choice.

In general the book is heavily weighted in page count to the time of the actual revolution and then gets scantier and scantier as it moves forward. There's a decent "afterword" sort of section on the years of Yeltsin but it receives about the same amount of text as the whole of the Brezhnev era. It's again understandable given that it's such a broad scope and it's an introductory text but so much of the why and how and broad changes get skimmed over or referenced and unexplained.

Overall I'd say it's a decent introductory text for the USSR and its immediate before and after but the issues of omission are consistently frustrating. It's not constantly gratingly hostile to communism even though it's also not supportive and outside of omissions most of my issues with tone can be read past - and it's certainly better in this respect than many, many other writings on the USSR. I'd also consider it pretty accessible and there's clearly thought in making it readable relatively easy at a sort of first year college student minimal context level.

I sort of wavered between 3 and 4 because like I say it IS a useful introduction just with some frustrations. Call it a 3.5 I guess haha. I'm not sure that there's really any other books that fill the niche of "introductory book to the history of the USSR that fit academic consensus but without being cold warrior style" so if you're looking for a book like that you may as well go for it. The other annoyance is no footnotes for any of his claims which limits its usefulness but it does have a very broad bibliography with a survey of the subject from all the major perspectives at the end of each chapter which is cool.
… (mere)
tombomp | 3 andre anmeldelser | Oct 31, 2023 |
I was hoping to learn more about Stalin and about the evolution of the Russian revolution. This lengthy book is excellent on both counts. I did not find repetitive or boring. It is well written. But don't open it from idle curiosity. Wikipedia has good articles on the revolution and on Stalin.

My view of Stalin from wide reading is changed considerably; he was more clever, talented and widely read than I knew, and importantly was willing consistently to work long and hard for the Marxist-Leninist cause with no immediate reward and under continual threat from the Tsar's police. He was jailed and exiled to Siberia several times. There were hints of his potential for cruelty and vengeance, but there was limited opportunity for those until after the October 1917 revolution, which is where this volume ends. He had also an excellent memory, later to the detriment of anyone who had ever crossed him.

You will see the genius of Lenin at work and his excellent perception of political and popular currents, timing, and iron focus. It appears quite possible that the October revolution itself, comprising events involving mostly one city, St. Petersburg, may never have come about without the war and the revulsion it finally engendered among the soldiers and populace. And the soldiers had guns.

Prior familiarity with some of the Russians is helpful with their many names. I did not keep track of all of them (many of whom came and went), which was not troublesome, but recognized the more important ones who were significant after the revolution. Names like Kamenev and Zinoviev, not to mention Trotsky and Molotov. Stalin had three of these murdered after 1935, Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940 with an ice ax.

There were complicated and evolving cross-currents and alliances coursing through Russia leading up to the revolution: for example among social classes, political parties, labor federations, and the various territories such as Ukraine and Georgia, where Stalin was born. The author handled the difficulties well.
… (mere)
KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
Great overview of the USSR. I found the first half more interesting than the second, as I guess I was was more familiar with the breakup and aftermath. A must read for a macro-understanding of the issues impacting the current ex-USSR.
karatelpek | 3 andre anmeldelser | Jul 21, 2020 |
This is a narrative of Soviet history from the late Czarist era through the early 21st century by a recognized expert on Soviet history. It is generally well-written and easy to follow and provides a good survey of the topic.
quizshow77 | 3 andre anmeldelser | Aug 8, 2011 |



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