FROM SOVIETOLOGY TO SOVIET HISTORY:
THREE TRENDS IN WESTERN HISTORIOGRAPHY

Summary

DALIA MARCINKEVIČIENĖ

       The article analyses three trends in historiography, on the basis of which occur the essential methodological polemics of Western historians and political scientists in interpreting the Soviet period, i.e. the so-called totalitarian, revisionist, and post-revisionist trends. The aim of the article is not only to present Western Sovietology and different opinions of Western authors but also tries to expand the possible perspectives of Lithuanian Soviet historiography. The article focuses a good deal of attention on highlighting the methodological differences of three historiographical trends. The author stresses that the totalitarian model (Merle Fainsod, Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Pipes, etc) did not and does not have the goal of explaining the interaction between ideology, the state, the power structures and society. Soviet society itself also never became an object of these scholars. Communist ideology and the power structures remain the most important objects of analysis within the framework of the Western totalitarian model. Totalitarian theorists also use ideology, as a decisive factor, to explain the collapse of the USSR. In the opinion of Martin Malia, communist ideology was not sustainable in society, did not have any grounds to exist, and was doomed in advance to fail sooner or later. According to such a historian, the entire Soviet period can be considered as a profound ideological error. Thus, after the fall of the erroneous ideology, the empire itself also fell.
       The so-called revisionist trend in Soviet historiography (Robert C. Tucker, Ronald G. Suny, Lewin Moshe, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Gail Warshofsky Lapidus, etc) was formed during 1970–1980 and sought to refute the principle scholarly assumptions as well as conclusions of the totalitarian theorists. Instead, revisionists focus the most attention on an analysis of Soviet society and its classes. In this regard, revisionists employ the Marxist view about the influence of socio-economic factors on the functioning of Soviet system, and formulate an idea about support for the Stalinist system ‘from below’. Unlike the theorists of the totalitarian trend, the revisionist historiographical model includes an issue of gender in its field of investigation.
       The third, post-revisionist trend (Stephen Kotkin, Julie Hessler, Peter Holoquist, Jochen Hellbeck, Yuri Slezkine, etc) in Western Soviet historiography began to develop at the beginning of the 1980s. From the perspective of methodology, it differs fairly distinctly from both models of Soviet historiography discussed above. The historians of this trend concentrate on a new theoretical approach with the essential question being: what do specific manifestations reveal about everyday Soviet life? At first glance, the question seems more anthropological. Nevertheless, in analysing everyday life, the post-revisionists give ideology and its influence an especially large significance. In other words, in the post-revisionist model, both an ideology and its manifestation in everyday life become equally significant objects of study.

 

© Lithuanian Institute of History, April 27, 2005