1980 should have been a good year for the Soviet Union.
Black Inc. has been publishing books in their Shortest History series since 2012. The Shortest History of the Soviet Union by Shelia Fitzpatrick is the sixth book to be published.
My studies (at school and university) focused on Russian history leading up to and including the revolution of 1917. What happened next has always been a bit of blur for me. At uni I remember reading Richard (Ryszard) Pipes’ books on Russian history and at some point I also read Fitzpatrick’s The Russian Revolution (1982). I was the kind of student who didn’t just read the required chapters to complete the course work, I read the entire book because I was genuinely interested. Or a ‘conscie-swat’ as some people called me!
Fitzpatrick is considered to be a social historian, writing revisionist ‘history from below’. In other words, she focused on the historical narrative as viewed by ordinary people, the marginalised, oppressed, poor, or disenfranchised, as opposed to the leaders. Soviet history and social identity under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin has been her field of expertise.
She has had an impressive career. Born in Melbourne in 1941, she completed a BA in Soviet music (she played violin for the Australian Youth Orchestra, 1957-59) and history from the University of Melbourne in 1961 followed by a PhD from Oxford in 1969 on Soviet education. From 1969 -1972 Fitzgerald was a Research Fellow at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
Over the next 40 years, she lived, taught, lectured and carried out research in universities in Birmingham, New York, Chicago and Texas as well as spending some time in Moscow. She moved back to Australia in 2012 where her research has focused on displaced persons after WWII.
In light of current events in the Ukraine, the arrival of this ARC at work a couple of weeks ago, was very timely. Trying to untangle the various states within Tsarist Russia and then again during the time of the revolution and into the creation of the USSR is not easy. Loyalties were divided, not necessarily along racial or ethnic grounds either. Rural peasants did not feel that the Bolsheviks understood them or their needs and during the Civil War, the Ukrainian peasant army led by Nestor Makhno, was one such group, where they fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites.
The famine during Stalin’s first Five Year Plan that included collectivisation, devastated rural areas, including the Ukraine. According to Fitzpatrick, “the present day Ukranian government claims this famine, known in Ukraine as ‘Holodomor’, was the result of a conscious plan on Stalin’s part to kill Ukrainians.”
During WWII the Germans found many collaborators in places like the Ukraine, Belorussia and southern Russia.
This is all to say, that despite many Soviet leaders trying to tell us all otherwise, the Soviet Union and Russia both before and after, has never been a unified whole.
The Shortest History of the Soviet Union is probably more focused on the leaders of the Soviet Union and the various main dot points in history along than way, than is usual for Fitzgerald, but embedded in everything she reports is her consciousness of the social history surrounding these events or the impact they had on everyday citizens.
Her conclusion brings the reader up to date on what happened in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the rise of Putin.
This is a bite-sized taste of Soviet history. It’s fascinating, enlightening and bursting with tangents, or jumping off point, that I would love to go off and explore when I have more time. The Further Reading section at the back is a tantalising smörgåsbord of possibilities.
Highly recommended for anyone wanting to dip their toes into Soviet history.
Black Inc. according it’s About page was founded in 2000, as “an independent Australian publisher of quality non-fiction, fiction and poetry, based in Melbourne.”
#ReadIndies2022 with Kaggsy and Lizzy
It is a truth universally acknowledged in the West that a Sovit Politburo in possession of power must be in want of a leader.
Title: The Shortest History of the Soviet Union Author: Sheila Fitzpatrick ISBN: 9781760643072 Imprint: Black Inc. Published: 1st March 2022 Format: Paperback Pages: 248
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.