INTERPRETING RECENT events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is like sorting through jigsaw puzzle boxes in search of pieces that can be combined to create a finished picture. Four of this fall's plethora of books dealing with the region command the attention of readers intent on completing the puzzle. Missing pieces from the past can be found in studies about Stalin by eminent historians Robert C. Tucker of Princeton and Walter Laqueur of Georgetown's Center of Strategic and International Studies. The present is canvased in University of Glasgow political scientist Stephen White's analysis of Gorbachev in power. And from his ivory tower in St. Anthony's College, Oxford University, Sir Ralf Dahrendorf reflects on what the Soviet bloc revolutions of 1989 portend.
STALIN IN POWER
The Revolution From
By Robert C. Tucker
Norton. 706 pp. $29.95
"A TYRANT," according to Camus's Caligula, "is a man who sacrifices a whole nation to his ideal or his ambition." Robert Tucker convinces readers that this definition fits no one better than Joseph Stalin.
Attaching the tyrant label to Stalin is, of course, hardly new. Nor is Tucker's argument that the Soviet system took shape under the impact of two revolutions: the first, from 1917 to 1921 when the Bolsheviks under Lenin seized and maintained power; the second, from 1928 to 1941 when the Communist Party became a servile instrument of terror used to forcibly collectivize 25 million peasant families in support of the nation's rapid industrialization.
Rather, Tucker's contribution is to document how Stalin became a "revolutionary of the radical right" by consciously turning to history, not to communist ideology, for his model of the state as the agent of change. Czars Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great had attempted with only partial success to transform Russia into a military power able to protect itself from unfriendly neighbors and to expand its borders as opportunity allowed. Tucker argues that in 1928 Stalin began a "revolution from above" aimed at succeeding in the state-building enterprise that the czars had tried and failed at.
Tucker's analysis of what motivated Stalin rests heavily on psychoanalytical theory familiar to readers of his 1973 study, Stalin as Revolutionary. Tucker disagrees with Western biographers who dismiss Stalin as primarily a power seeker. Tucker posits that Stalin's supreme goal was not power, but fame and glory; Stalin's "life in politics was a never-ending endeavor to prove himself a revolutionary hero, as Lenin did before him, and receive again as Lenin had before him, the plaudits of a grateful party for his exploits as a leader." To fulfill this hero-script, Tucker explains, Stalin fashioned a social revolution whose millions of victims were casually rationalized on the altar of national defense.
Yet Tucker shows that when the time came to defend the nation, this man who fancied himself a great political and military genius was unable to perform the most rudimentary leadership functions. Tucker justly labels Stalin's refusal to mobilize against Nazi Germany in June 1941 as "one of the most monumental acts of folly in human annals." This second volume of a projected trilogy concludes on June 22 of that year, with German troops pouring unopposed across the Soviet frontier while the self-proclaimed hero of history hides at his dacha in his pajamas, trapped into confronting the reality of himself as a "colossal bungler of high policy and, as such, as enemy of the people."
Tucker's ability to turn such neat phrases prompts the reader to keep plowing to the end of this massive tome. No doubt this is history as it should be written: compelling narrative, intriguing detail, bold thesis. The book's one obvious weakness is that only three of the nearly 150 Russian titles in the extensive bibliography have been published since 1982. Tucker's claim that recent revelations did not necessitate any interpretive changes in his text would be more persuasive if he referenced glasnost sources.
By Walter Laqueur
Scribners. 382 pp. $24.95
HISTORY is written and rewritten, according to Walter Laqueur, until a certain period ceases to command interest -- something he contends is not likely to happen for a long time in the case of Stalin and Stalinism. So Laqueur set out to assess the impact of evidence released in the glasnost years on rewriting the history of the Stalinist era. To this end he combed the scholarly literature on Stalin published by Soviet historians and social scientists between 1987 and 1989, paying particular attention to the 1988 Politburo Commission on the purge trials of the 1930s.
Following an overview of Stalin's life, Laqueur offers chapters on such standard topics as Stalin's rise to power, the Bukharin alternative, collectivization, the purges, World War II, the Cold War and Stalin's legacy. Behind the traditional format lies a text that is definitely not for beginners. Most of the glasnost revelations Laqueur details would be lost on the generalist unfamiliar with the intricate debates that have consumed Stalinist-era scholars for decades.
Laqueur openly concedes that the glasnost scholarly outpouring has produced little that is wholly new. Instead, Stalinist-era archival material has been used to corroborate what has hitherto been mere rumor and hearsay. For instance, we now know that in October 1941 Stalin was willing to give Hitler the Baltic republics, Moldavia, and parts of White Russia in a separate peace; that industrial growth during the first Five Year Plan was times 1.5, not times 5; that executions of the Red Army's high commanders did not stop in 1938, but continued throughout 1941; and that writer Isaac Babel was executed as a spy.
Laqueur fills his book with such anecdotes, which are of undeniable interest to Soviet specialists. Unhappily, many mysteries of greater consequence remain unsolved. Glasnost has yet to reveal how many peasants died during collectivization, to unravel Stalin's complicity in Kirov's assassination, to uncover the fate of many purge victims or to determine the extent of Beria's crimes. Thus, this book is a useful opening salvo in what will undoubtedly be many rounds fired before the task of rewriting the history of Stalinist Russia is complete.
By Stephen White
268 pp. $39.50
POLITICAL scientists have the difficult task of picking the best moment to publish an analysis of a contemporary movement. Writing prematurely can lead to omission of unforeseen developments that can render a book obsolete within months of publication. Writing too late transforms what was intended as political analysis into history. Searching for a solution to this conundrum, Stephen White proposes that the five years' experience of perestroika -- the equivalent of a full parliamentary term in England -- makes this a logical moment to offer an interim analysis of the Gorbachev administration.
Gorbachev in Power is not a biography, but rather an analysis of the process of reform. Fortunately, White provides ample historical and political context to Gorbachev's administration for the lay reader to follow the detailed analysis of the changes occurring in the past five years. Particularly intriguing is White's interpretation of the relationship between economic reform and the democratization of Soviet society. White argues that Gorbachev set out in 1986 to secure the acceleration of economic growth as a way to build Soviet socialism. Within a year the secretary general realized that economic reform was conceivable only in conjunction with a fundamental democratization of the political system. Gorbachev's desire to unleash a "revolution from below" was a dramatic departure from the Russian precedent -- czarist as well as Soviet -- of the state controlling all change "from above." The success of Gorbachev's revolution will result in Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Lenin and Stalin joining Trotsky in the "trashbin of history."
White devotes separate chapters to the nationality question, international affairs, economic reforms, and intellectual life. The superb concluding chapter contains White's assessment of the problems the Soviet president must overcome if perestroika is to remain on track: Gorbachev's first "parliamentary term" has brought undeniable success in democratizing society, but the empowered common people will grant a full second term only if an improved standard of living is forthcoming.
REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN EUROPE
By Ralf Dahrendorf
164 pp. $17.95
TWO hundred years ago Edmund Burke took his place as the spokesman for European conservatives by penning his Reflections on the Revolution in France in the form of a letter to a friend in Paris. The revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe have stirred many interpretations, but none more evocative than Ralf Dahrendorf's (with apologies to Burke) Reflections on the Revolution in Europe in a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Warsaw.
The title, it seems, is the only thing Dahrendorf borrowed from Burke. In 1790 Burke argued eloquently against not only the violence of revolution, but also against moderate avenues to change such as parliamentary reform. In contrast, Dahrendorf trumpets that "what I believe in above all else is liberty." He claims that his intellectual debt is not to Burke, but to those classic Liberals (with a capital "L") he labels the "children of Kant and of Hume and of Locke before him" -- to John Maynard Keynes, William Beveridge, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay and Max Weber.
Dahrendorf's message is as simple as it is eloquent. He regards the revolution of 1989 as a victory for neither capitalism nor socialism: "The countries of East Central Europe have not shed their communist system in order to embrace the capitalist system (whatever that is); they have shed a closed system in order to create an open society, the open society to be exact, for while there can be many systems, there is only one open society."
Dahrendorf has no doubt that what died in the streets of Prague and Berlin, Budapest and Bucharest, was not communism, but the idea that any government can hold a monopoly on truth. Hence he cautions the world's intellectuals against using the nations emerging from behind the torn Iron Curtain as models for some "third, or middle way" between capitalism and socialism because "thinking in terms of systems lies at the bottom of illiberalism in all its varieties."
To those who fear that the revolutions have brought only a dismantling of old, admittedly dismal structures, without creating anything to take their place, Dahrendorf holds out the hope of a future in which the need for capital is balanced with the desire for social justice. That the change will not occur overnight is axiomatic. Liberty, he argues, does not just happen. It has to be created through hard work, trial and error and luck. It is only fitting that at the end of this learned, lucid and humane essay Dahrendorf promises his unidentified friend in Warsaw that he will keep his fingers crossed and hope with all his heart for the best. Few among his readers will be able to resist joining him.
Jane E. Good, a teacher of Russian history, is assistant dean of the United States Naval Academy.