The Structure of Soviet History:
Essays and Documents

Ronald Grigor Suny

Oxford University Press 2014
A book review by Danny Yee © 2017
The Structure of Soviet History consists of eleven chapters, chronologically arranged, each containing a brief general introduction, a selection of essays and extracts from books, and a selection of source documents. (The chapters are grouped into five parts, but these add nothing except their titles.) Suny includes an engrossingly broad range of material. The essays span political, social and cultural history, with only a slight emphasis on his own special interest in nationalism and "the national question". The documents include agreements, laws, speeches, official letters and reports, but also extracts from memoirs, letters, newspaper stories and other less formal material.

Despite the "Structure" of the title, there's no attempt to convey any general framework for Soviet history. The individual chapters are self-contained and while in some cases their introductions offer historiographical surveys — for example the longest chapter "The Stalin Revolution", where "no other period of Soviet history has been as fraught with historical controversy" — in most they just give a rapid overview of the period and introduce the essays. And the final "Summing Up" chapter consists of pieces written in the 1990s which now seem too focused on the implications of the Soviet Union's collapse to offer a long-term perspective on its history.

Updating a 2002 first edition, this 2014 second edition adds a few essays to the earlier chapters and an entire new chapter "Russia and the Former Soviet States in the Twenty-First Century", following "The Second Russian Republic and the 'Near Abroad'". So a full fifth of The Structure of Soviet History is now about post-Soviet history. And the inclusion of older essays makes some of the material seem more contemporary than current: those in the Brezhnev-era chapter "Stagnation", for example, date to 1980 (John Bushnell's "The 'New Soviet Man' Turns Pessimist" and 1985 (James Millar's "The Little Deal: Brezhnev's Contribution to Acquisitive Socialism"), with the addition in this edition of Lewis Siegelbaum's 2008 "Cars, Cars, and More Cars".

There are brief introductions to the documents, which help to place them in their broader historical context, but they and the essays succeed one another without a break in a completely uniform typesetting. This feels a little strange when there are shifts between radically different kinds of documents: "The Code of Laws on Marriage and Divorce, the Family and Guardianship" of 1926, for example, is followed by a transcription of part of an exchange between Kamenev and Bukharin in 1928. It would have been nice to have a few pictures of original documents, or at least more about their sources than bare bibliographic information, to give a feel for the variety of forms the original texts came in.

This is really just nit-picking, however. It wouldn't make sense to use it as a reference — and the absence of an index would complicate that — but The Structure of Soviet History is an excellent resource. Its most obvious audience is students of Soviet history, offering a feel for the breadth of the topic if read in its entirety and an entry into specific periods if the chapters are used individually. It should also be accessible to lay readers with some historical sophistication, perhaps wanting more than single perspective books will give them.

March 2017

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%T The Structure of Soviet History
%S Essays and Documents
%A Suny, Ronald Grigor
%I Oxford University Press
%D 2014
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780195340549
%P 717pp