Posted by Tory Historian Sunday, November 01, 2009 ,

Sometimes one finds definitions of what history is in unexpected places. Well, not that unexpected, as Oleg Khlevnyuk's Master of the House: Stalin and his Inner Circle is a history book that describes the way Stalin gradually and often violently imposed his control on the Politburo while conducting a policy of terror against the population of the Soviet Union.

In his Introduction Dr Khlevniuk discusses the various theories of how Stalinism came about and whether it was inevitable given either/or Russian history and the character of Bolshevism. He clearly does not like the theory of historical inevitability:

But for the historian, it seems to me, the concept of the "iron march of history" is, at the very least, uninspiring. Chronicler of the inevitable - why would anyone wh has read and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of the most diverse documents, who has learned the fates of faceless millions, not to mention hudreds of flesh-and-blood individuals, many of who desperately fought
for their interests and ideals - why would such a person agree with such a characterization?

The idea of inevitability comes when we try to arrange history into some kind of orderly progression. Specific knowledge complicates the picture, revealing the diversity of factors involved in any human endeavour, the complex interplay between historical traditions and the logic governming events as they unfold, between political conflict at the top and social pressures at the bottom, and, in the end, the role of chance.
A long way from the soft Marxism favoured by so many of our academics.


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