Friedrich Engels

Operation Rewrite

The Agony of Soviet Historians

FOR over two decades, Soviet historiography has been in steadily deepening crisis. Histories succeed each other as if they were being consumed by a giant chain smoker who lights the first volume of the new work with the last of the old. Historians appear, disappear and reappear; others vanish without a trace.

Originally, only party history was subject to rigid prescription. Then Soviet history was added. Latterly, the area of command performance and commanded conclusions has spread outward to America and Asia and the wastes of Antarctica, backward to the Middle Ages, to Byzantium, to the shadowy origins of the Slavs and the pre-dawn of the Kievan state, to China's earliest culture. One day a given statement of events or interpretation is obligatory. The next it is condemned in words which seem to portend the doom of the historian who faithfully carried out his instructions. If it is a pronouncement of Stalin which he is following, all the more severely must he condemn himself--of course, without involving the Leader in his "self-criticism."

Often the central personages of an event become unpersons, as if they had never existed. The Civil War must now be rewritten as if there never had been a War Commissar named Leon Trotsky. The Soviet theatre, once the subject of so many histories, is historyless once more, until somebody contrives to write a new version without a trace of the great innovator-director, Vsevolod Meierhold. On February 15, 1951, Pravda accomplished the feat of "commemorating" the tenth anniversary of the Eighteenth Party Conference, in which Voznesensky delivered the main report, without so much as mentioning the name of the reporter!

Today the Balkarians are missing from Volume "B" of the new edition of the "Great Encyclopedia;" the Volga Germans have become an unpeople; and the Crimean Tartars, having been expelled from their centuries-old home to a region under the Arctic Circle, have had the place names of their former habitations extirpated, and are now being subjected to the shrinking of their

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