Many westerners used to call the Soviet Union "Russia." Russians too regarded it as their country, but that did not mean they were entirely happy with it. In the end, in fact, Russia actually destroyed the Soviet Union. How did this happen, and what kind of Russia emerged?
In this illuminating book, Geoffrey Hosking explores what the Soviet experience meant for Russians. One of the keys lies in messianism--the idea rooted in Russian Orthodoxy that the Russians were a "chosen people." The communists reshaped this notion into messianic socialism, in which the Soviet order would lead the world in a new direction. Neither vision, however, fit the "community spirit" of the Russian people, and the resulting clash defined the Soviet world.
Hosking analyzes how the Soviet state molded Russian identity, beginning with the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war. He discusses the severe dislocations resulting from collectivization and industrialization; the relationship between ethnic Russians and other Soviet peoples; the dramatic effects of World War II on ideas of homeland and patriotism; the separation of "Russian" and "Soviet" culture; leadership and the cult of personality; and the importance of technology in the Soviet world view.
At the heart of this penetrating work is the fundamental question of what happens to a people who place their nationhood at the service of empire. There is no surer guide than Geoffrey Hosking to reveal the historical forces forging Russian identity in the post-communist world.
Geoffrey Hosking distills a deep knowledge of Russian history and blends it with fresh research in his best book to date. He deftly weaves together politics, religion, and culture, and is unmatched in his analysis of Soviet society under Stalin. Rulers and Victims is an outstanding contribution and a pleasure to read.
[Hosking] provides a learned introduction to understanding the complex character of Putin's Russia, where the passing of the Soviet Union is mourned, but its resurrection not desired.
Hosking makes a strong argument for his thesis that Russians were just as victimized as the other ethnic groups within the former Soviet Union and in some cases more so. Quoting scholars, memoirs, and letters, he presents a picture of the Soviet Union that is somewhat different than what most people in the West had believed...A valuable addition to the history of the Soviet Union.
For all they have suffered, far-easterners [in Russia] are umbilically attached to the motherland. Geoffrey Hosking's patiently compassionate account of the Russian experience of the Soviet Union explains how this mysterious, atavistic feeling both survived and was exploited by the Soviet Union's rulers...He combines a due sense of humility, when writing about the agonies of war and famine, with a fine ear for a vignette...He is good on what Russia did to communism, as well as vice versa: how old pathologies--attitudes to law and to rulers--warped and undid the experiment. Russian "Messianism," the old conviction that Russia was and is a light unto the nations, is a leitmotif throughout the book. He makes unobtrusive reflections on the subtler legacies of the Soviet experience: the incivility bred by the civil war, and the habits and manners shaped by breakneck urbanisation.
Hosking successfully reveals how the Soviet "modernizing" project hamstrung the creation of a Russian national identity, illuminating the identity crisis that Russia is experiencing today. This challenging, rigorously academic study is highly recommended.
Rulers and Victims is a comprehensive and nuanced book that will startle many readers who might otherwise have assumed that Russia's dominant place in the Soviet firmament had protected it from the predations of a system that professed to revolve around its language and culture. Mr. Hosking also helps us to grasp the paradoxical outlook of Russia's current ruling class.
[This is] a uniquely rewarding overview: not history in the formal sense, but a profound look at the whole of the Russian phenomenon...Hosking expertly examines and illustrates all aspects, past and present, of Russia's and Russians' behaviour, thought and feelings. What emerges is the big picture achieved through smaller brushstrokes, as he considers and often reconciles the contradictory views of the Russian experience.
Hosking's analysis of the failure of the internal Soviet state is peerless...Hosking has always been a deeply thoughtful historian. Here he delivers a beautifully written, profound and brilliant analysis not just of the USSR but of Russianness itself: anyone who wants to understand Russia today or who wonders why the Russians are special should read this outstanding, sensitive book.
Westerners have often equated Russia with the Soviet Union, though it was only one of 15 republics in the USSR. Non-Russian citizens of the Soviet Union similarly had little doubt that Russians were the dominant--and privileged--national group. Yet despite Russians' seemingly favored position in the Soviet constellation, for a good part of the 20th century they were forced to stand by as their nationhood was subverted or suppressed to meet the needs of the state. That experience, which continues to affect Russian politics today, is magisterially and chillingly documented by the British historian Geoffrey Hosking in Rulers and Victims...A penetrating account...Hosking's important and timely book provides an in-depth look at the forces shaping Russian identity, illuminating the aftershocks of the Soviet experience that are likely to reverberate for years to come.
Hosking takes a rather sympathetic view of a highly talented and complex nation infused with a deep conviction that it bears a special mission, whether as a spiritual "Third Rome," to counter the consumerism and shallowness of the West, or as master of an immense and enormously rich domain...Drawing on extensive scholarship and voluminous primary sources, Hosking builds a strong and authoritative argument that the Soviet Union "was both Russian and anti-Russian"...The evidence Hosking marshals is extensive.
Hosking traces the turbulences of the Soviet century to the clashes between the incompatible messianic ideas of Orthodoxy and socialism, their uncomfortable sit with the "the community spirit of the Russian people," and the traditional authoritarianism of the Russian Empire that reasserted itself under the Bolsheviks...[He] makes an engaging and rich argument, illustrating his monograph with examples drawn from a wide range of literary, political, and historical sources.
- 496 pages
- 5-7/8 x 8-15/16 inches
- Belknap Press
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