Robert C. Tucker, 92

Robert C. Tucker, 92, dies; scholar of Soviet-era politics and history

Robert C. Tucker, right, poses for a photo in 1958 with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and Adlai Stevenson in Khrushchev's Kremlin office.
Robert C. Tucker, right, poses for a photo in 1958 with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, left, and Adlai Stevenson in Khrushchev's Kremlin office. (Family Photo)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2010

Robert C. Tucker, 92, whose early State Department assignment in Moscow launched a distinguished career as a scholar of Soviet-era politics and history, notably tracing the enduring impact of Joseph Stalin's reign, died July 29 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He had pneumonia.

His death was confirmed by Princeton University, where he was a professor of politics from 1962 to 1984 and the founding director of the university's Russian studies program.

Blair A. Ruble, who directs the Washington-based Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, said that before Soviet archives opened after the collapse of the Communist system in 1991, Dr. Tucker was for decades one of a "very small number of scholars who were able to give an all-encompassing view of the Soviet system."

Virtually no other American-born Sovietologist of Dr. Tucker's generation combined high-level scholarship with his depth of experience living under Stalin's rule, Ruble said.

Dr. Tucker arrived in the Russian capital in 1944. His two-year assignment at the U.S. Embassy stretched into nine years because of his marriage to a Russian he had met at the opera.

Soon after their wedding, in 1946, a Soviet decree prohibited marriage with non-citizens. His wife was denied an exit visa.

Dr. Tucker stayed on, too, overseeing a translation service run cooperatively by the U.S., British and Canadian embassies to monitor the Soviet press. While he later wrote that he was "serving an indefinite sentence in Moscow," his extended time in Russia proved valuable to his career in government and academia.

He befriended George F. Kennan, the second-ranking diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and assisted in research for Kennan's influential cable back to Washington insisting on a persistent and patient containment strategy toward Soviet expansion. Kennan, a leading architect of Cold War policy toward the Soviet Union, held Dr. Tucker in high regard.

Kennan once recalled that Dr. Tucker's years reading Russian periodicals "could scarcely have been a better intellectual preparation for the tasks that he was destined to confront in later life."

"They were, by necessity, analytical exercises," Kennan said, "unique in nature because of the unique purpose they were designed to serve: which was to identify and to distill out of the great masses of this highly propagandistic, ritualistic and repetitive journalistic material the evidences, sometimes artfully disguised, sometimes involuntarily revealed, of the evolution of policy in the mind of a single great and crafty despot and the men closest to him."

Stalin died in 1953, and Dr. Tucker's wife received her visa. The Tuckers left for the United States, where he completed his doctorate in philosophy from Harvard and began his career as a scholar.

He was influenced by the writings of the American psychoanalyst Karen Horney. Her 1950 book "Neurosis and Human Growth," which Dr. Tucker spirited into Moscow in a diplomatic pouch, had a crucial impact on his interpretation of Stalin's destructive mind.

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