R.I.P. Moshe Lewin (1921-2010)

Just two weeks ago, August the 13th 2010, saw the death of famous socialist historian Moshe Lewin in Paris. Lewin was particularly known for his works on the history of the Soviet Union, specifically his relatively recent classic The Soviet Century, which earned him a wide readership. Nonetheless, the Soviet Union was not the country of his birth. Lewin’s life itself was a representation of the vagaries of 20th century history: born in Wilno when this city was still a regional center in Poland (it is now as Vilnius the capital of Lithuania), he fled the invading armies of Nazi Germany to the USSR in 1941. Adopting the ‘bulwark of socialism’ as his new fatherland, he joined the Red Army and attended its officer training school, serving in the last years of the war that was more destructive than any in history and more in the USSR than anywhere else. Possibly the experiences of this destruction as well as the Stalin government, which he from the start seems to have disliked, caused him to attempt building up yet another life in Israel after the war. Lewin left Israel during the period of its first structural turn towards militarism and fascism, in the 1960s, to move to France to finally receive some formal higher education. Continue reading “R.I.P. Moshe Lewin (1921-2010)”

An Outline of the Economic Problems in the History of the Soviet Union

The eventual downfall of the USSR has often been seen as a self-evident example of the failure of central planning, both as a principle and especially in practice. The critics of the USSR also point to the low standard of living of the population during its existence, the prevalence of famines, the low availability and shoddy quality of consumer goods, and its continued lagging behind the United States in production as more proofs of the failure of ‘socialist construction’. Although these criticisms are not entirely without merit, they need to be contextualized and qualified strongly to be properly understood. It is therefore important to provide a rough outline of the economic history of the collapse of the USSR and its meaning. Because the focus of this article is on the economic problematic, more detail than is usual will be presented about these issues, whereas some political, cultural and social developments of importance will be largely avoided. Continue reading “An Outline of the Economic Problems in the History of the Soviet Union”

Edward Hallett Carr on History and Revolution

This is a transcript of an interview with the famous British historian E.H. Carr as done by New Left Review in the year 1978, under the title “The Left Today”. Carr, one of the early serious specialists in Russian and Soviet history (a little outdated now but still very useful and readable) was at the time 86 years old. Although he was never a Communist, he clearly identified with the political left, and spent much of his academic efforts combating conservative and liberal (Whiggish) historiography. Nonetheless, for a significant of his career he was not an academic, but worked at the Foreign Office, and later as assistant editor of The Times, neither of which are exactly known for being left-wing. This gave him a broad and nonsectarian perspective on events. Continue reading “Edward Hallett Carr on History and Revolution”