Should We Fear the Past?
No. 2 2010 April/June
Alexander Barsenkov

Alexander Barsenkov has a Doctorate in History and is a professor in the History Department at Moscow State University.

Stalinist Socialism in 20th-Century Russian History

The full version of this article was published in Russian in the Politicheskiy Klass journal, No. 12, 2009.

A meaningful conversation about Joseph Stalin makes sense only in the context of Russian history. However dramatic and intricate the latter might be in the 20th century, there is no way to cross out the industrial and cultural breakthroughs of the 1930s, the victory in World War II and the country’s reconstruction from postwar ruins between 1945 and 1953 amid conditions of a new threat. Whether anyone likes it or not, Stalin cannot be torn away from these obvious achievements. It was he who steered the country’s course at that time and no sane person would ever venture to claim that all of this happened contrary to Stalin’s will. That is why a rehabilitation of Socialist-related issues is inevitable, without which it would not be possible to study post-October 1917 Russian history.

A social and political demand has appeared for unbiased coverage of that historic breakthrough. Following the revolutionary overhauls of the 1990s, Russia entered a stabilization phase of the new system of social relations in the 2000s. Stabilization is inconceivable without the consolidation of society. Society has a demand for civic consensus based on the responsibility of all political forces. The endorsement of state symbols unifying the three periods of Russian history over the past century reflects this tendency. At the same time, consolidation does not eliminate diversity of positions – a diversity grounded in patriotism, which cannot be either “red” or “white.” Patriotism either exists, or else it does not exist. The powers that be are interested in realizing the actual laws of the country’s development, as they cannot build efficacious policies otherwise. Nor can they resolve any sizable tasks without discarding the syndrome of historic inferiority.

The topicality of Stalin’s epoch also arises from the specificity of public perception of the country’s current reality. The achievements of young Russian capitalism can barely stand a discussion in positive terms, while the losses brought about by the drive towards “the bright tomorrow” are all too obvious. Strategic state property has been squandered; the defense industry and the high levels of science and education, which were quite on a par with international standards, are gone. Social gaps are hair-raising; the Armed Forces have been reduced to a humiliating existence and homelessness among children has hit Russia again. All of this is unfolding against the backdrop of a propaganda of hedonism, unashamed luxury, sweeping corruption and total impunity. This makes the years of Stalin’s rule look attractive. In 1994, Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin called for launching a search for a national idea for the New Russia. First, it was “reforms,” then “the doubling of GDP,” then Russia’s transformation into a “competitive power,” and now it is Russia’s “modernization.” Stalin proposed a national idea that was clear to all – the country’s industrialization on the basis of “socialist patriotism.”

External circumstances, too, require taking a position on the Soviet legacy. Elites in most post-Soviet states are building new nations on the basis of a radical renunciation of the Soviet identity, thus giving rise to “ethnic historicism,” which moves the ethnic factor into the limelight, instead of class, social or political factors. It is now widely argued in those countries that their ethnos had been developing freely prior to contacts with Russia, but then the aggressor came to grab the territory and its riches. In the final run, the ethnos lost the main features of its self-identity – language, culture and traditions – and was almost driven to the brink of extinction. The Soviet period is receiving the harshest criticism. It is characterized as a “historic collapse” and a time that “brought irreparable damage” to the ethno-political and ethno-cultural progress of the nation in question. These claims are typically seasoned with big portions of overt Russophobia, which simply cannot go unnoticed.

In July 2009, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe passed a resolution saying that 20th-century Europe had faced “two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” European MPs proposed declaring August 23 “European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Nazism and Stalinism.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on August 23, 1939. It was also proposed considering August 23 the first day of World War II. Moscow reasonably described the OSCE resolution as an insult and a “desecration of history.” Efforts to substantiate the concept of “occupation” may result in demands for compensation to all its “victims,” which may include not only the former Soviet Baltic republics that have already “filed applications” but, quite possibly, the whole of Eastern Europe.

The history of Soviet society is becoming more than simply topical; it is turning into a crucial instrument of an acute political struggle that the contemporary Russian state has to wage – something that scarcely anyone would have imagined in the early 1990s.


How did our notions of Stalin’s rule transform after March 1953? It was already in the spring of that year that timid references to a “cult of personality” as a phenomenon completely alien to Socialist society appeared in newspapers. These references did not mention Stalin’s name, but opposed the “cult of personality” to the party’s “collective leadership.” Much was written about “the decisive role of the masses of people in history” and “the unity of the Party and the nation.” Stalin did not disappear from history altogether, but his name was mentioned far less frequently than before.

The Soviet Communist Party’s 20th Congress set a new format to the problem. First and foremost, Nikita Khrushchev publicly linked the “cult of personality” to Stalin, tying up the emergence of the cult and the ungrounded repression predominantly to the specificity of Stalin’s personal character. Secondly, the term “personality cult period” was introduced, which came to designate the period of Stalin’s stay in power. Post-October 1917 history began to be divided into a good, or “Leninist,” and a bad, or “Stalinist” period. And since the “personality cult period” was a time of repression, a tendency emerged to view the main features of the years from the 1930s to the early 1950s through the prism of their violent manifestations. In essence, the June 30, 1956 Resolution of the Communist Party Central Committee’s Presidium ‘On Eliminating the Personality Cult and Its Aftermaths’ received the status of the Party’s only document that determined the contents of school and university textbooks on Stalin-related issues up to the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Developments in the Soviet Union after 1985 greatly influenced the perception of these issues. The departure from the social class-based approach in favor of “common human values” – which implied liberal values – was a real methodological revolution that drastically changed attitudes to Soviet history, primarily towards the time from the 1920s through the 1950s. The emphasis on the “human dimension” of history and politics dictated the need to focus on a separate personality and the impact of the epoch on his or her life, rather than on social classes and the state. The numbers of victims of the Communist regime in the period from 1917 to the mid-1950s became known only during the perestroika years. Even the exact number of people killed in World War II was made public only in 1985, when discussions sprang up about the price of human life that was the cost for the scale and span of changes in the post-October 1917 years.

The new approach sidelined the issue of the Bolsheviks’ motivations in 1917 through the 1930s and the historical conditions (economic development, the social structure of society, the level of its culture, the elite’s mindset and the external situation) in which some or other destiny-making decisions were made. While previously the meaning and significance of events would be linked to the construction of Socialism in the specific conditions of Russia that had been poorly prepared for the task, now the accent was shifted to the illegitimate seizure of power for imposing the Bolshevik dictatorship as an instrument of conducting “the socialist experiment.” The very selection of terminology predetermined the vector of assessments. The tune of discussions was set by the 1960s generation of shestidesyatniki (members of the intelligentsia who became involved in the cultural and political struggles of the 1960s), many of whom were the children and relatives of Bolsheviks purged at the end of the 1930s. They did not accept “Stalinist socialism” and also had a highly negative perception of pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia. It was not accidental that there were many pro-Western liberals among them. At the end of 1989, Gorbachev dropped the term “real socialism” as applied to the Soviet Union.

Interpretations of Soviet history at the time experienced a strong impact of political struggle between those who stood for reforming Soviet society and those who claimed that the system was not good enough for an overhaul and should be demolished. The August 1991 revolution signaled that the latter group had won. Quite like other revolutions, it sparked a wave of nihilism regarding the previous political system. The radical changes of the 1990s, which went hand-in-hand with heated political battles, brought up a demand for an extremely politicized version of Soviet history, which proved to be as anti-scientific as the Communist one.

Russian historical science had begun to overcome the crisis by the beginning of the new millennium. Serious monographic works appeared spotlighting new problems and exploring new sources. Most importantly, their authors rid themselves of the old Communist and new liberal dogmatism as they reconstructed a multi-dimensional picture of the real historical process. It is not surprising that society, nourished by the mass media, is parting with the black-and-white vision of history – and especially its Soviet part – though very grudgingly.

Anyone analyzing a phenomenon as complicated as Soviet society should take account of several quintessential methodological moments:

First, an explanation is not tantamount to justification. The process of explaining helps historians translate into life one of their most important functions – forecasting, albeit in a reversed or retrospective version. A scholar does not answer the question of “Who is to blame?” in this case; he or she explains “why it happened.” The objective in this case is to unveil the cause-effect relationships between certain facts and preceding circumstances; that is, the continuity of the country’s historical development at each new stage. The theme of “historic alternatives of 1917” is now in vogue in Russia, but the people expounding on it avoid discussing the issue of resources for and the feasibility of a course that might have been chosen, which makes these discussions a naive play of mind. An analysis of the past through the application of today’s moral benchmarks is unacceptable too, since no one can predict the trajectory of multi-component historical processes at their very outset. Morality as such is a fluid category – it changes over time, differs from one social group to another and has country specific peculiarities. Applying contemporary ethics criteria to an entirely different historical environment does not help in understanding the actions of politicians in the first half of the 20th century.

Second, the historical process is indivisible, and society is a sophisticated system where everything is interrelated and intertwined. The incompleteness of historical materials now available and the tendentious selectivity towards facts are the most widespread forms of falsification in the history of Soviet society. The relative availability of individual elements of historical knowledge creates an illusion of their easy usability and drives various kinds of self-declared historians to seek sensations and “discoveries.”

Third, the completeness of the facts drawn up for analysis presupposes their definite subordination and the singling out of the ones that exerted the biggest influence on society’s development. This makes one recall the importance of the principle of historicism. This principle is implemented through research of the historical situation, which sets the framework for the interaction of objective long-term tendencies in society’s development with a broad spectrum of momentary internal and external circumstances (wars, crises, coups d’etat) in the behavior of different social groups and individuals. The ability to become immersed in a historical situation is one of the main criteria for professionalism in history as a science.


Stalinist socialism had twelve clear characteristics:

First, Stalin as the bearer of supreme state power and the highest arbiter. He embodied the moods of the masses that were consonant with those of a considerable number of party members. Stalin managed to push away his rivals from the helm of power within the framework of accepted intra-party procedures. He had a set of charismatic qualities that were in line with people’s idea of a proletarian leader (simple manners, brevity in the expression of thoughts, uncompromising assessments, and a clear formulation of objectives).

Second, the formation of a mono-ideology – a unified system of universally mandatory views about developments inside and outside the country – and the teaching of Marxism-Leninism, an assortment of theoretic and political ideas written by Marx, Engels and Lenin and interpreted by Stalin, who became their only interpreter and natural successor.

Third, the rise of a type of political structure that was called the “party-state.” The party had a special role of solving the contradiction between the momentous tasks it set and the extremely low level of culture among the bulk of the population. A relatively sparse group of “conscientious party members” was supposed to ensure a breathtaking – in historical terms – transition from backward Russian capitalism to a society of justice and affluence. This task set special requirements for the party itself – it was structured as a paramilitary organization.

Fourth, the setting up of an economy based on planning and directives. It was based on the assumption that economic life should be determined by the ability and readiness of the proletarian state to identify economic priorities, rather than by chaotic market forces. An economy of this type allowed for a concentration of resources in vital areas, but it did not send impulses of self-development.

Fifth, a sweeping modernization of the Soviet Armed Forces, which kept pace with the modernization of the entire economy. This factor increased the share of the military-industrial complex in the economy, militarized the economic system and affected people’s moods.

Sixth, a radical upgrading of the cultural levels of the entire population. Illiteracy was eradicated when the government introduced compulsory elementary education. The overhauled system of secondary technical and higher education enabled the country to mend the acute shortage of personnel in new branches of the industry. It became a crucial element of social mobility and raised the status of considerable sections of the young.

Seventh, priority attention to science. The authorities tapped a new form of organizing research – they set up specialized research institutes that acquired the function of brain trusts for steering intellectual breakthroughs. The government earmarked sizable centralized funds for this. Researchers enjoyed prestige and their work was well paid for.

Eighth, administrative regulation of labor relations, where hardships and costs were portioned out to all social groups.

High-ranking party, government, economic and military leaders had the opportunities for consumption that stood in dramatic contrast to the vast majority of the population. On the other hand, they had unlimited working hours, bore strict personal responsibility and ran a high degree of risks. A disruption of production plans, a dubious past record, or doubtful loyalty could provide a pretext for repression against these people and members of their families.

Another group consisted predominantly of urban dwellers (engineers, employees and workers) whose work was compensated for in compliance with a government-enforced wage rating scale. The earnings were not large, and wage-leveling was commonly practiced. The introduction of employment record books and a system of residence permits restricted the possibility of changing jobs.

The next group of the able-bodied population, collective farmers, received wages that did not cover all their expenses. Collective farmers mostly lived off their vegetable gardens, which one could get only on condition that one worked on a collective farm. Collective farmers were de facto pegged to the villages where they lived. Village dwellers did not have an internal passport, which all adult Soviet citizens were obliged to have, and therefore could not freely move from one place to another.

Finally, convicts constituted a very special category of people whose labor was used to resolve the tasks of industrialization. The Chief Administration for Labor Camps (Gulag) was organized within the OGPU (the Soviet secret police) in 1930, and state organizations started factoring convict labor into their production plans. These people were used to develop remote areas, log forests, work in mines, or do labor-intensive excavatory work. This “sector of the economy” also included secret research and development laboratories, called sharashkas in Russian slang.

However, fear was far from the only stimulus for labor. The success of the first five-year plans was inseparable from genuine labor enthusiasm of the late 1920s-1930s. It was grounded in a persisting romantic idea of social transformation through the assimilation of the principles of universal equality and justice that were for the first time ever being implemented in Russia. People’s readiness to sacrifice their efforts voluntarily and to withstand hardships enabled the authorities to plan rates of transformations that would have been inconceivable in other circumstances.

This enthusiasm was fuelled from above. Support of udarnichestvo (the movement for super-productive work) during the first five-year plan and the Stakhanovite movement during the second grew into sweeping propaganda campaigns. Udarniks (super-productive workers), Stakhanovites (those who assimilated the production methods designed by miner Alexei Stakhanov), and the “foremost workers” were greatly respected and their names could be heard all over the country. The authorities awarded the most productive workers with “Certificates of Merits” and honorary titles. Also, they established orders and medals that were awarded for impressive industrial achievements.

Ninth, a special role was imparted to ideological instruments, the scope of which included social sciences and the arts in addition to agitation and propaganda. All of these were regarded as elements of a united ideological front that did not admit to any retreats. Seeking ideological unity among creative professionals, the authorities established unions of writers, composers and architects. Political censorship was introduced in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The government put restrictions on all kinds of information except for the official source. For this purpose it purged libraries and removed scientific publications, fiction and publicistic works that did not meet its directives to “special storage” depositories (or spetskhran).

Tenth, blocking out the outside world. Information about life in capitalist countries was given scantily and only in official versions.

Eleventh, the cult of modesty and personal asceticism. The authorities always stressed the priority of collective interests over private ones.

Twelfth, aggressive atheism, from which the authorities had to depart only during World War II. The new Communist creed was to replace the religious faith.


Contrary to some contemporary writings, the Bolsheviks’ ascent to power was by no means accidental. It was prearranged by a deep social and cultural split that was evident in the real – not phantasmal – Russia of the early 20th century. A huge mass of impoverished and illiterate people stood in opposition to a thin layer of the Europeanized elite. War aggravated the contradictions. Peasants-turned-soldiers who were starving in battlefield trenches were hardly allies of industrial capitalists and thieving government officials who were making profits at the time. The social and political forces that came to power after the revolution of February 1917 showed an extreme form of political insensibility. Four consecutive cabinets did not have enough political will to address the acutest problems that worried the majority of the Russian population then. “Is there a fool in the world who would have resorted to revolution if you had really begun social reform?” Vladimir Lenin asked Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks rhetorically in 1920.

The profound crisis in Russia and the Bolsheviks’ readiness for violence predestined the harshness of the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the ensuing Civil War. The term “enemy of the people” appeared much earlier than 1937. It was in 1917 that the idea of collective responsibility for entire social and political groups was formulated: the Kadets (members of the Constitutional Democratic Party) were declared a “party of enemies of the people” in November of the same year.

From the very beginning the Bolsheviks made public their plans to rule the country by dictatorship, which (in one or another form) was spearheaded at suppressing all the non-proletarian sections of society, including the peasantry, the biggest section of Russia’s population at the time. These plans plus the Bolshevist vision of Socialism were mirrored in the Bolshevist Party’s program of 1919. The document promulgated ideas which Stalin translated into life later.

To build a “kingdom of freedom and justice” in a country that was unprepared for this economically, the Bolshevik leaders were ready to resort to the most resolute measures, including violence. “Proletarian coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding communist humanity out of the human material of the capitalist era,” Nikolai Bukharin wrote in 1920. Stalin put it in a more delicate way later. “There are people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves. That is a very gross mistake […]. Those people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves are grievously mistaken.”

After October 1917, Bolsheviks began to practice “preventive repression” in order to break the will for resistance among individuals and social groups that the Bolsheviks suspected of opposing Socialism and the Soviet government. The policy of repression went through three stages.

The first stage spanned the period of the revolution and the Civil War. The revolutionary terror was targeted at “class enemies” – the former bourgeoisie, landowners, Tsarist Army officers, intellectuals associated with the fallen regime, clerics, Cossacks and their families. This took the form of “Red Terror” (executions of hostages or putting those arrested in special camps).

The second stage of repression lasted from the late 1920s to the early 1930s. In addition to the former “class enemies,” the preventive repression was now targeted against those who openly rejected or who had doubts about the correctness of the course towards rapid industrialization and collectivization. Passive demonstrations of loyalty were not sufficient anymore, as the authorities demanded people’s active involvement in the implementation of their audacious plans. Thus, there was a series of show trials of intellectuals and “old-regime specialists”, as well as the persecution of those who opposed collectivization and “dekulakization.”

The third stage began in the mid-1930s when members of the Bolshevik Party, especially those who had joined its ranks before the revolution and who were dissatisfied with Stalin personally, fell under the roller of “political rationality.” The tough party discipline established by Lenin himself drove real political life in the 1920s and 1930s into the underground and any opposition movement took the form of a conspiracy with all the predictable consequences. By forestalling his political adversaries, Stalin eliminated a group of his former associates that he had found to be the most dangerous to him. His personal harshness affected the character and scale of the repression, too. His strikes at “enemies” were anything but precisely targeted. The German threat served as a pretext for the drastic measures. The same idea underpinned the Great Terror. The latter victimized groups that the authorities feared might constitute “the fifth column” in wartime. Stalin would admit nine years later at a meeting of the Politburo: “The war has shown that this country didn’t have as many internal enemies as reports to us had indicated and we ourselves had believed. Many people have suffered in vain. The nation should have kicked us away. We must repent.”

The exclusive role of coercion as an instrument for the rapid construction of socialism gave a special status to law enforcement and repression agencies (the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, courts, and prosecutors’ offices) in the political system of the Soviet state. Apart from ensuring internal and external security, their scope of duties also encompassed the mobilization of human resources for resolving tasks set forth by the Party. They warranted the fulfillment of occupational duties by employees of state organizations, factory workers, collective farmers, and workers in the Gulag system.

Importantly, all the elements of the Stalinist system were closely interconnected and interdependent. The loss or weakening of even one element would have cast doubts over the functionality of the entire system. Also, one should not forget the main objective this system was built for: “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries,” Stalin said in the early 1930s. “We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.”


The question arises then of what kind of society had taken shape in the Soviet Union by the end of the 1930s? Some would say what we had built at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s was not “Socialism or even early Socialism;” it was “barracks-type pseudo-Socialism or totalitarianism,” “bureaucratic socialism,” “mutant Socialism,” and “a marginal pathway of development” imposed on Russia. If one ignores the political nerve of these epithets, it should be said that today’s understanding of socialism has at least four aspects. In the first place, it is a dream and an idea about a society of fairness that will be free of violence and oppression and where relations between people will stand firmly on the track of solidarity. These ideas are reflected in all world religions and are widely known from the utopian teachings that appeared in different epochs and countries. Second, socialism is a social and economic formation that comes into existence after capitalism runs out of its resources for an upward progressive development. Socialism crowns the part of human society’s history that is based on exploitation. This interpretation of Socialism was invented by Marx and is called “scientific Socialism.”

The third and fourth interpretations involve various ways and methods of building a Communist system.

A school of thought appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century that was always considered opportunistic in Russia because it rejected violent struggle and proposed pressing for improvements in the position of workers within the existing capitalist system. The struggle of workers to bring more justice to society was expected to impart a new quality to the latter over time, in which case the issue of a transition to a Communist system lost any practical sense. In essence, this was the path that the European Social Democrats chose after World War I. This was also the third interpretation of Socialism.

The fourth interpretation links the notion of “Socialism” to the system of social relations that was built in the Soviet Union after 1917. Since this country was the first one – and for quite some time the only one – to build the new system, the system of state institutions that arose in it eventually came to be considered universal, truly Socialist and fiducial. As the postwar successes in the construction of a social state in the West grew and as stagnation increased in the Soviet Union, the term “Socialism” began to invoke unfavorable associations when applied to Soviet society. It was exactly in this sense that it has been used in the ideological and political practice in Russia over the past twenty years.

A definition of Socialism proposed by Alexander Buzgalin presents definite interest. He believes that “Socialism can be characterized much rather as a process of transition from the era of alienation to the ‘kingdom of freedom’ (or Communism), than a stage of a social and economic system.” Buzgalin believes that this process includes revolutions and counter-revolutions, the first offshoots of a new society in separate countries or regions, their withering away and re-emergence, social reforms and counter-reforms in capitalist countries, surges of progress and declines of various social and socialist movements. “The non-linear, contradictory and international character of these shifts makes up the specificity of Socialism as a process of the birth of a new society on a global scale,” Buzgalin says.

This explanation of Socialism prompts us to turn back to a previously rejected notion of “real Socialism.” Circulating now are notions like “Swedish Socialism,” “Austrian Socialism,” “Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and “Soviet Socialism.” All of them reflect the special features of movement towards materializing the socialist idea by peoples at different stages of social and economic development and having important socio-cultural factors that differentiate them from other peoples. It would be worthwhile in this case to introduce the notion of “Soviet-type Socialism” as a neutral research category. It could be used to describe a complete stage in Russian history (from 1917-1991) and to explain the causes and specificity of the establishment of a certain type of social relations in the context of Russia’s development in the 20th century. In this sense, “Stalinist Socialism” can be viewed as the crucial phase of molding “Soviet-type Socialism.”


It was initially believed that the period of strenuous exertion would not last forever, although no one directly set the deadlines for its completion. There was an understanding that after the “leap into Socialism” economic motivations for work would replace coercion and the state would have to pay its “social debts.” The 1936 Constitution recognized the need to renounce the dictatorship of the transitional period, but history did not make it possible to take such a step. The unleashing of a new global armed conflict at the end of the 1930s forced the government to tighten the screws instead of loosening them, and the subsequent war with Nazi Germany took the issue of changing the instruments of governance that had been established in the Soviet Union by the late 1930s completely off the agenda.

The victory over Nazism yielded mass hopes for a liberalization of the entire system of social relations; for a turn away from the policy of addressing solely nationwide tasks towards a course aimed at improving the lives of ordinary people, for whose benefit Socialism had been designed as such. Peasants harbored hopes for changes in the countryside (up to the disbandment of collective farms); intellectuals hoped to gain greater freedom of self-expression; while notable personalities in the Party and state elites believed the economic policy should be made much more socially oriented.

However, the world’s slide into the Cold War in 1945-1947 – a situation that was unavoidable at that time as shown by contemporary research – again moved the tasks of mobilization to the forefront. The implementation of the nuclear project was viewed as crucial for bolstering national security and maintaining sovereignty. This task needed to be solved within the shortest imaginable term, which brought back to life the former economic administration methods of the 1930s, with all their political, ideological and social aftermaths.

The testing of the atomic bomb and, later, the hydrogen bomb, and successes scored in the development of missiles and missile defense systems meant the fulfillment of the main tasks of a new round of mobilization development. At the same time these achievements dried up its social resource. The crisis of the mobilization system showed up in an extremely low labor productivity in the early 1950s, while the decline of agriculture reduced to naught all the assertions that living standards were improving.

A question arose about how to move to a new economic policy paradigm that would pursue the goal of really improving living standards in all sections of society, rather than merely laying down prerequisites for improvement. For objective reasons the solution of this task had to be postponed to some period after Stalin’s death. It hinged in many respects on whom his successor (or successors) would be. The period after March 1953 was especially dramatic for the destiny of the system created in the Soviet Union.

The history of Soviet-type Socialism ended in Russia in 1991 and that fact gave grounds for assertions that the Soviet system had been doomed and could not be reformed. However, new nuances have recently surfaced in the discussion of the plight of Socialism in the Soviet Union. The experience of the systemic transformations of the 1990s in Russia and other countries of the former socialist camp has prodded researchers to ask if some alternatives might have been lost at the historical crossroads at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Research by experts in Oriental Studies has given new impulses to a retrospective analysis of the causes behind the unsuccessful reforming of Socialism in the Soviet Union. Experts writing on China single out the role that the Chinese political system has played in mobilizing the country’s socialist society for creating a mixed economy (with a role given to large amounts of private capital), which operates on the market basis but is competently regulated by the state.

Talleyrand once said that politics is an art of interaction with the inevitable. Each generation of politicians has to tackle inevitable things of its own, while their successors should try to understand them. Incidentally, how should we Russians feel about our nuclear weapons, without which Russia would most likely have vanished long ago? Are we not right to be proud of Yuri Gagarin, even though the foundation of Russian space exploration was laid in the years of repression?