Courtesy Reuters

Soviet Second Thoughts on Tsarist Colonialism

In the endless campaign for ideological purification which goes on in the Soviet Union, the "historical front" is accorded high priority. No academic discipline has received such constant attention and supervision from the Party as that called "historical science," and no group of scholars has been so frequently out of step.

Since 1934 Russian history has been extensively rewritten to serve the Party in several ways: 1, to show that the Marxist laws of history have been working in the past; 2, to inculcate a new Soviet patriotism which will act as a counterweight to the nationalism of non-Russian subjects; 3, to prove the correctness of Party decisions, past and present.

To a Soviet historian who disappeared in Stalin's purges in the middle 1930s, and who returned to Khrushchev's Russia two decades later to resume his work, the new Soviet histories must have seemed to be caricatures concocted by some "bourgeois falsifier." In no field would he have encountered more surprising changes of interpretation than in the history of tsarist colonialism. He would have remembered the Russian conquests of the Caucasus and Central Asia as particularly brutal campaigns carried out by generals called by Soviet scholars "tsarist satraps." In the new histories-some of them by the same authors-he would find that many of the conquests did not take place at all, but that annexation to Russia came about peacefully with the consent of the inhabitants. In other cases he would find brief accounts of hostilities, subordinated to discussion of the progressive results of annexation. As for the Russian generals, they were now more remembered as benevolent administrators and civilizers than for their military skills.

Not only had the villains become heroes, but the heroes had become villains. The resistance movements against tsarist expansion had earlier been typed "national liberation" movements and were characterized as just and heroic efforts of the masses to preserve their freedom. The leaders of these movements were among the greatest heroes and martyrs in Russian history. But now our returning historian

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