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The Stalinist Revision of History: The Case of Brest-Litovsk

  • Raymond L. Garthoff (a1)

The events leading to the rise of Stalin to sole prominence in the Soviet Union and the general political picture of the totalitarian Stalinist regime are now familiar, but specific forms of the evolution of “Stalinism” are often not adequately understood. Evolving Soviet historiography is an unusually informative mirror of these developments, since it not only attempts to describe them, but implicitly embodies them as well. The present article is an analysis of one theme from early Soviet history, treatment of which in Soviet historiography exemplifies both the trend of Soviet historiography as a whole, and the trend of Stalinism as an emergent totalitarian ideology based on Bolshevism.

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1 For an analysis of this “calculation of the relation of forces” in Soviet policy-making, see Gartholf, R. L., “The Concept of the Balance of Power in Soviet Policy-making,” World Politics, VI (October 1951), pp. 85111.

2 Lenin, , “‘Left-wing’ Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality,” Selected Works, New York, n.d., vu, p. 354.

3 Lenin, in Sedmoi S'ezd Rosiiskoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii [Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party], stenographic account, March 6–8, 1918, Gosizdat, Moscow-Leningrad, 1983, p. 126 (hereafter cited as Sedmoi S'ezd).

4 Lenin, , Selected Works, vii, p. 355; italics mine.

5 Sorin, Vladimir, Partita i Oppozitsiia [The Party and the Opposition], Part 1, Moscow, 1925, p. 71. Sorin, incidentally, like many other early Soviet historians, had been a “Left” in 1918.

6 Ibid., p. 170.

7 See Bubnov, A., “The VKP (B),” Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia [The Great Soviet Encyclopedia], 11, 1930, cols. 446 and 448; Yaroslavsky, E., Istoriia VKP (B) [History of the CPSU(B)], iv, Moscow-Leningrad, 1929, p. 318; Rovinsky, L. and Slepkov, A., Partita Protiv Oppozitsiia [The Party Against Opposition], Moscow-Leningrad, 1927, pp. xv–xvi (from the Foreword by E. Yaroslavsky); Tanin, M., Desiat' Let Vneshnei Politiki SSSR (1017'1027) [Ten Years of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917'1927], Moscow, 1927, p. 12; Mints, I. I., “The Brest Peace,” Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, Moscow, 1927, cols. 437–62; and Popov, N., Outline History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, New York, International Publishers, 1934, 11, p. 17 (this is a translation from the fifteenth or sixteenth revised edition of a work first appearing in 1925). Both Bubnov and Yaroslavsky, like Sorin, had been prominent “Lefts” in 1918.

8 Knorin, V., Communist Party of the Soviet Union: A Short History, Moscow-Leningrad, 1935, pp. 242–43. (This official English translation was made from the second Russian edition, also of 1934.)

9 “Historical Science and Leninism,” editorial, Bol'shevik, No. 3 (February 1, 1936), pp. 1–9; “On the Front of Historical Science: In the Sovnarkom of the USSR and C. C. of the CPSU (B),” ibid., pp. 60–62; J. Stalin, A. Zhdanov, and S. Kirov [written August 8, 1934], “Observations on the Line of a Textbook on the History of the USSR,” ibid., pp. 63–64; and Stalin, Zhdanov, and Kirov [written August 9, 1934], “Observations on a Conspectus for a Textbook of 'New History,' ” ibid., pp. 65–66.

10 Stalin, J., “On a Textbook on the History of the CPSU (B),” Bol'shevik, No. 9 (May 1, 1937), pp. 810; and V. Knorin, “On the Study of the History of the CPSU (B),” ibid., pp. 11–24.

11 Yezhovshchina is the pejorative of Yezhov, then head of the NKVD and chief executor. Early in 1938, Yezhov was replaced by L. Beria. Beria, incidentally, had not only been NKVD (GPU) chief in Georgia, but had written the History of the Bolshevik Organizations in Transcaucasia (in July 1935) which “remolded” the image of the early prerevolutionary role of Stalin.

12 Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,” verbatim report, People's Commissariat of Justice of the USSR, Moscow, 1938. PP. 377–78.

13 Ibid., p. 773.

14 Ibid., p. 774; italics mine. See ibid., pp. 367–512 and 767–79, for the full trial discussion of the Brest period.

15 Bol'shevik, No. 5 (March 5, 1938), pp. 60–73.

16 Ibid., p. 65; see also p. 72.

17 “The Short Course of History of the CPSU (B)—The Great Weapon of the Ideas of Bolshevism,” editorial, Bol'shevik, No. 17 (September 15, 1948), pp. 1–14.

18 Stalin, , The History of the C.P.S.U. (B): Short Course, New York, 1939, pp. 216–18.

19 Poskrebyshev, A., “Beloved Father and Great Teacher,” Pravda, December si, 1949, p. 11 (written on the occasion of Stalin's seventieth birthday anniversary).

20 Concerning the theme of the Brest-Litovsk debates, see Mints, I. I. and Gorodet-sky, E., eds. Dokumenty po Istorii Grazhdanskoi Voiny v SSSR [Documents on the History of the Civil War in the USSR], 1, Moscow, OGIZ, 1940, pp. 7897; Alexandrov, G., et al., Politicheskii Slovar' [Political Dictionary], Moscow, 1940, passim; VI. Potëmkin, , éd. Istoriia Diplomatu [History of Diplomacy], Moscow, 1945, 11, pp. 319–57 (no mention of the intra-Party struggle); Pankratova, A. M., Istoriia SSSR [History of the USSR], Moscow, 1946, III, pp. 210–21; “The Brest Peace,” SSSR [The USSR]; supplementary volume to the Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, Moscow, 1948, cols. 639–42; Mints, I. I., Istoriia SSSR, 1017–1925 [History of the USSR, 1917–1925], Moscow, 1947, passim; Korovin, E. A., Osnovye Printsipy Sovetskoi Vneshnei Politiki [Fundamental Principles of Soviet Foreign Policy], Moscow, 1947, passim; Rubinshtein, N. L., Tridtsat' Let Sovetskoi Vneshnei Politiki [Thirty Years of Soviet Foreign Policy], Moscow, 1948, passim; and Deborin, G. A., Pervye Mezhdunarodnye Akty Sovetskogo Gosudarstva i Ego Vneshniaia Politika v Gody Inostrannoi Interventsii i Grazhdanskoi Voiny (1017–1922) [The First International Acts of the Soviet State and Its Foreign Policy in the Years of Foreign Intervention and Civil War, 1917–1922], Moscow, 1947, passim.

21 Štěpánov, V., “Volume xxvn of Lenin's Collected Works,” Pravda, February 17, 1950, p. 2.

22 Lenin, , in Sedmoi S'ezd, p. 129.

23 Trotsky, , in Sedmoi S'ezd, pp. 7980.

24 Mints, , in Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, II, 1927, col. 454; italics mine.

25 Yaroslavsky, , op.cit., p. 300.

26 Ibid., pp. 303–4, 311, and 313. (This was a view held by some “Lefts.”)

27 Knorin, . op.cit., pp. 245–46.

28 Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, VII, 1927, col. 454; and see Shub, D., Lenin, New York, 1948, p. 298.

29 Bol'shevik, No. 5 (March 1938), p. 62.

30 Stalin, , History of the C.P.S.U. (B): Short Course, p. 216; italics mine.

31 Popov, , op.cit., p. 17.

32 Ibid., pp. 19–20 and 28–29.

33 Trotsky, L., My Life, London, 1930, p. 326.

34 Bol'shevik, No. 5 (March 1938), pp. 61–62.

35 Stalin, , History of the C.P.S.U. (B): Short Course, p. 216.

36 Stalin, , Sochineniia [Collected Works], IV, 1947, p. 27. Even in this support of Lenin, Stalin incurred Lenin's displeasure and criticism for his remarks on the lack of a revolutionary movement in the West (see Lenin, , Sochineniia, 2nd éd., Moscow, 1929, XXII, p. 202). Needless to say, this has passed without notice in Stalinist historiography.

37 Sedmoi S'ezd, p. 186.

38 The only exceptions are one appearance of Stalin's name, on a diagram-poster of the voting on peace at one session, in Yaroslavsky, , op.cit., p. 303, and two mentions of his name in voting and election lists in Bubnov's Encyclopedia article of 1930.

39 Knorin, , op.cit., p. 245.

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