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NEP Era Journal - Russian History Special Issue - Guest Editor's Statement

Russian History / Histoire Russe



I write not only to introduce this special issue of Russian History/Histoire Russe devoted to NEP, but also to introduce a new journal that will begin publication soon to be entitled, The NEP Era, 1921-1928.

The past several years have seen an explosion in interest in the first decade of the Soviet Union. Russian attention, arguably, has exceeded that of scholars in the West, but not by much. To take the journal Voprosy istorii, for example, a trickle of articles on the 1920s began to appear from 1990 to 1992. From 1993 to 1999 an average of six articles per year devoted to the NEP era was published in the journal. In 1994 alone eleven contributions focused on the period. Such articles, whether about NEP itself or events of the era, tended to deal with political issues.

In the Russian monograph literature, one can see the same emphasis on the politics of the 1920s. For example, in the past decade there have appeared important works devoted to the opposition, such as B. N. Zemstvo, Oppozitsion. novye gruppirovki 20-30kh godov i samorazrushenie revoliutsii (Moscow: Iz­datel'stvo MGTU, 1992); V. Nikulin, Viast' i obshchestvo v 20-e gody: poli­ticheskii rezhim v periode NEPa: stanovlenie i funktsionirovanie, 1921-1929 (St. Petersburg: Izdatel'stvo "Nestor," 1997); and from a Trotskyist perspective there is Vadim Rogovin, vlast' i oppozitsii (Moscow: "Zhumal Teatr," 1993).

There has been another exciting addition to work on the politics of the NEP era with the publication by V. A. Shishkin of the diplomatic dispatches of the Czech plenipotentiary in Moscow, Iozef Girsa. Similarly, the recent publication of volumes containing the stenographic reports of the Central Committee plenums of 1928-1929 under the title of Kak lomali NEP (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo "Materik," 2000) provides still more invaluable source material on the politics of the era.

The Russian works attempting to provide a systemic framework for the period such as E. G. Gimpel'son, NEP i sovetskaia politicheskaia sistema 20-e gody. (Moscow: Rossiiskaia Akademiia nauk. Institut istorii, 2000) and NEP zavershaiushchaia stadiia. sootnoshie ekonomiki i politiki, edited by V. P. Dmitrenk, et al. (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999) have, as their titles indicate, also emphasized politics.

Other publications such as Voprosy istorii KPSS and Izvestiia Tsk KPSS in the late 1980s and early 1990s published important material, both documents and analysis. Istoricheskii arkhiv continues to publish critical documents for the period. The focus of the first two, by their very nature, has been politics.

A clear pattern emerges from the Russian publications on the NEP era in the past ten years. They are concerned with the politics of the first decade in the his­tory of the Soviet Union.

In contrast, Western scholars in treating the Soviet 1920s have focused on society. Richard Stites began his now classic Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) with the words, "The present work of history is rooted in the intuitive belief that what large numbers of people want to know about a society of the past is actually what is important about that society." (p. 3) That work has been followed by others that have likewise made major contributions to the social history of the NEP era. To name a few I would pair David R. Shearer, Indus­try, State, and Society in Stalin's Russia, 1926-1934 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996) and Wm. J. Chase. Workers, Society, and the Soviet State. Labor and Life in Moscow, 1918-1929 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989). Closer to Stites's work have been Eric Naiman's Sex in Public (Princeton. NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997) and Stephen Hanson's prize­winning Time and Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). I would also include in that category Laura Philips's Bolsheviks and the Bottle: Drink and Worker Culture in St. Petersburg, 1900-1929 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000).

A clear distinction appears to exist so far between Russian and Western treatments of the NEP era. Russian scholars focus on politics. Western, particularly American scholars, focus on society.

A harbinger of the division can be found in the collection, Russia in the Era of NEP: Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), compiled from a seminar series at Indiana University in the mid 1980s. The end of the collection contains an intriguing account of a discussion between Wm. G. Rosenberg and Sheila Fitzpatrick. Rosenberg notes Fitzpatrick's opinion on the inclusion of politics "within our analytic purview." (p. 319) "Fitzpatrick maintains, the 'familiar political questions, have been run into the ground.'" (ibid). Rosenberg closes with the observation that "the problem of leaving politics out. . . is that it leads us to a distorted vision of our cultural or social subjects. . . ." (p. 320) Western scholars in the ensuing decade, while not entirely eschewing political issues, sooner took their cue from Fitzpatrick than from Rosenberg.

David Ransel in the fall issue of Slavic Review for 2001 ("Single Research Community: Not Yet," vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 550-57), notes the same division arising in reaction to Boris Mironov's work, Sotsial'naia istoriia Rossii. Russian critics, Ransel observes, condemn Mironov for his use of American models, i.e., "the centrality of social strata as historical actors" in his work (p. 556). In other words the historiography of NEP is not alone in dividing Western from Russian historians, the one emphasizing "social strata," the other politics.

The foregoing is relevant to the present journal and the new one to follow for several reasons. Given the intensive scrutiny devoted to the NEP era in the past decade, a journal devoted to the period in all its aspects is warranted.

The one before you, curiously enough, attempts to bridge the gap noted above. It contains work by Western scholars that addresses the politics of the 1920s. Clayton Black and I explore the relationship of major political figures to their constituencies and the social issues they felt compelled to address in response to them. Kamenev devoted attention to the peasant question and to sup­port of NEP, in part, because his Moscow power base demanded it. Prof. Black has previously shown a similar relationship between Zinoviev and his power base in Leningrad. (See his "Party Crisis and the Factory Shop Floor: Krasnyi Putilovets and the Leningrad Opposition, 1925-26;" Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 46, no. 1 [1994], p. 107). In the essay included here, Black again places "the drama of the succession struggle" in the context of social unrest outside the Kremlin walls.

Lars Lih offers an intriguing new interpretation of Bukharin in his analysis of Bukharin's article "Velikaia rekonstruktsiia," which appeared in Pravda, February 19,1930. Dr. Lib argues that by late 1928, Bukharin had become a supporter of Stalin's harsh peasant policy and in the Pravda piece makes a "Bukharinian" defense of Stalin. I have asked Dr. Lib to expand on this interpretation in the new journal.

Prof. Ulf Brunnbauer addresses one of the important manifestations of the "cultural engineering" of the NEP era, namely how in the new Soviet state to make effective workers out of backward peasants. His work complements that of Richard Stites and Stephen Hanson on the same subject.

It is possible that the coming decade will see a resurgence in interest in the politics of the 1920s among Western scholars. Contributions to this issue suggest such a beginning. The great work of Robert Tucker, Leonard Schapiro, Robert Daniels, and Stephen Cohen remains to guide us. But new sources make possible not only new questions, but fresh answers. They also make possible bridging the gap between "social strata" and those who made the politics of NEP.

The following individuals have agreed to serve on the Editorial Board of The NEP Era, 1921-1928: Gregory Carleton, Robert V. Daniels, Edythe C. Haber, Stephen Hanson, John Klier, Lars Lib, E. Arfon Rees, Richard Stites, Irina Takala, Timo Vihavainen. The board will consider submissions on all aspects of the period. Submissions should be sent to Dr. Alexis Pogorelskin , Editor, The NEP Era, Department of History, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1121 University Drive, Duluth MN 55812, USA. University of Minnesota Duluth


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