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Changing Interpretations of Soviet Russia: The Redeemer Cometh

John Claydon analyses the increasingly rich profusion of writings on the nature of the Bolshevik Revolution and of subsequent Soviet rule.

The last ten years has been a dramatic time for anyone interested in gaining a balanced understanding of the history of Soviet Russia. Alongside the exhilaration felt by opponents of communism across the world, and by most Russians, at the collapse of Communist rule in Russia in1991, historians had good reason to be excited too. From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 until the beginning of the period of glasnost, or greater openness, under Gorbachev from 1985, Russia had largely been a closed society, and although outside observers found the politics and history of Soviet Russia fascinating, they had little access to tangible evidence. The only significant exception to this came as a direct result of Russia's invasion by Germany in the Second World War when a huge collection of government and Communist Party records was left behind by the retreating Russians in the important city of Smolensk. The Germans captured Smolensk in 1941 and took the records back to Germany where they were seized by the Americans in 1945. The archive does not tell us a great deal about the major issues of Soviet history to that point, and no one knows whether the Russians took the most sensitive documents with them, but there is a wealth of detailed information on how the Soviet system of government operated.

From the mid-1980s onwards historians felt an immense sense of anticipation at the prospect of the records of the Communist regime becoming available for detailed scrutiny, especially the presidential archive in Moscow, which was eventually opened up to scholars in 1993. They have leapt upon this newly available information with great relish, and the fruits of their investigations are beginning to change and adapt accepted views, though research is inevitably still in its infancy.

Early Interpretations

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