The economy became a blank slate, without markets, prices, even without money - for a time. Government had to rediscover fire - learning basics of economics over again. This historical laboratory of social science should be exploited for the lessons in basic economics that it offers. Many view Lenin as a dictator who exploited the peoples of the Soviet Union, betraying the hopes and dreams of socialism for his own benefit. Yet, Lenin wrote hundreds of books on Marxist theory, and the policies he enacted were those he promised. Despite the wealth of information available on the Soviet experiment, few have closely analyzed why it produced results different from those intended and what these lessons might mean for market economies.
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Illustrations, maps, bibliographical references and index. As Ronald Suny states in his Introduction, "that turbulent tale now has a beginning, a middle, and an end" p. In joining the list of scholars attempting an overall view of the seventy years of the Soviet Union, Suny brings with him some thirty years of research experience on Soviet history. The book is divided into five sections. The first, "Crisis and Revolution," looks at the Imperial legacy and the two revolutions of In the second, "Retreat and Rebuilding," Suny sees retreat not as starting with the introduction of the New Economic Policy NEP , but with the rolling back of the grass-roots democracy of and the signs of the formation of an authoritarian state.
Parts Three through Five, "Stalinism," "Reform and Stagnation," which ends with the death of Brezhnev, and "Reform and Revolution," covering the Gorbachev years, contain a number of chapters dealing with particular themes. In the terms of detail, however, it is the Stalin years, which receive the greatest attention, comprising about one-third of the text. Within this structure, Suny covers a wide range of themes, from foreign policy to a discussion of art and culture under Stalin.
The final chapters on more recent times tend to focus more on political change, with less material on economic and social aspects than in the earlier parts of the book. Each chapter has suggestions for further reading at the end. In a book such as this, which seeks to survey a long period and many issues, authors always face a fundamental problem.
Do they concentrate on "telling the story" in their own terms, or seek to pay full attention to the debates which surround many of the issues discussed? In some cases, Suny presents the variety of views without coming down strongly for one or other explanation. In discussing the origins of the Cold War, he sets out both sides of the debate and then goes on to report that the opening up of the archives in the s has not radically clarified the issues.
Elsewhere, his own opinion comes through more strongly with a briefer note of the debate about an issue amongst historians. When looking at the rise of Stalin he makes it clear that he does not support the view that Stalin changed his political views cynically to gain political control.
He simply calls him "infamous" and notes that he "proposed an erroneous theory of environmental influence on heredity" p. For example, he supports the view that NEP still had a future at the end of the s. He sees the Purges of the s as very much a top-down phenomenon, with Stalin "turning on his own administrative elite" and being "not content with the efforts of his police" p.
In his brief concluding remarks, which come at the end of the final chapter which deals with the Yeltsin years, Suny looks at the impact of the USSR in terms of "modernization".
For him the "great achievement of the Soviet experiment was the rough modernization of a backward, agrarian society" p. Picking up on the use of the adjective "rough", he sees the Soviet Union at its fall as "an incompletely modern society" p. In this respect, he sets the Soviet experience against the background of s western modernization theory. Soviet modernization excluded such aspects as democratic institutions and "a consumer-driven economy" p.
The absence of the latter can be set against W. Previously in his discussion of the Gorbachev years, Suny had included the nationality question as a third problem area-- "the decolonization of the non-Russian republics" p. In his view the system wasnot able to survive an attempt to handle all these issues at the same time.
He does, however, raise the possibility that the adoption of a pattern of sequential reform on the Chinese model, or better economic conditions might have enabled further modernization to take place under the Gorbachev model. In a general book of this type each specialist reader is likely to find areas which he or see considers not to have been thenecessary fullness of treatment. Thus for this particular reviewer, who is primarily an economic and social historian, there is too little on the problems of the Soviet economy in the s and the effect of the Purges on economic performance in these years.
The quotations from a variety of sources, such as speeches, decrees and memoirs, which Suny used liberally, contribute much to the liveliness of the text. However, it is frustrating that he does not give us detailed references to these quotes; it makes it difficult for the interested reader to pursue these materials further, or for the lecturer to get his students to do the same.
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The Soviet Experiment
Michael C. Hickey, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania" "The Soviet Experiment is well-written and accessible, fully appropriate for undergraduates. If I was teaching an entry-level course on Soviet history, I would consider assigning it. Fundamentally, this is an excellent text which is now almost 10 years old and hence needs to incorporate the work of historians over the past decade. Doubtless nobody knows this better than Ron Suny.
The Soviet experiment : Russia, the USSR, and the successor states
The Soviet Experiment