from Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century:

Scholarly work on the Soviet Union has to confront widely held and fervently defended opinions--a highly stuctured 'public discourse' that does not exist in other fields of knowledge . . .  271  available on Google Books


There is a deep similarity between McCarthyism in the U.S. and Stalinism in Russia: both were dependent upon and expressed the most archaic features of their respective societies, and both were deeply hostile to Enlightenment values. (1)

It is common nowadays within the world of popular punditry to talk about how Stalinism was the logical outcome of Marxism and Socialism.  This is not only a profound error.  It is a reflection, ironically enough, of the same forces of primitive reaction in the West (and especially in the United States) that made Stalinism possible.  One has only to consider the political geneology of anti-Communism in the United States, its character as a mode of politically motivated demonization, and its social roots in the most provincial, reactionary, and violent parts of American society.  A consequence of this was the adaptation by liberal society to the terror embodied in McCarthyism, an adaptation that took the form of a desperate embrace of anti-communism, as if that would shield them from the fundamentally anti-cosmopolitan crusade of the Right.  (See Ressentiment and the Mechanisms of Defense.)

1.  On Russia, see Moshe Lewin.  On the United States, see Miles
from Moshe Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System (Pantheon Books, 1985) p. 16

The direct and indirect impact of rural religiousity (or for that matter, religious beliefs in society at large) on Soviet politics and culture is not easy to show convincingly, although some broad phenomena are well know and their religious origins obvious.  A culture so deeply imbued with different creeds, inherited from ages of cultural experiences and preserved in different stages of integrity or decomposition (sometimes even recomposition[new right]) until the most recent times, must have colored the feelings and thoughts of people reacting to the tremendous changes that occurred around and to them. . .   A mentality still strongly addicted to the trappings of magic, a Manichaean view of the real and the imaginary worlds--Christ and the saints versus the Devil and his countless hosts of lesser spirits--coupled with remnants of older cults, must also have an impact in many still unexplored ways on the polity itself, however secular and committed to rationalism.  At times of crisis and tremendous tensions, the rational is under strain, too, and neither modernizing states nor modern individuals are that immune to the less rational springs of power and of political strategems, if they are available.  Even if the problem, as conceived by the state, is simply to counter backward influences and superstitions, the idea of combatting a cult by some countercult is already an example of a real impact of the very object to be exorcised.

from Moshe Lewin, Russia/USSR/Russia: the drive and drift of a superstate (The New Press, 1995)

 . . .  Stalinism recreated in Russia, although just provisionally, the last model of a sui generis "agrarian kingdom. (p. 13)

"Because of the destruction of so many previous cultural, political, and historical advances, the country and the new state became more open and vulnerable to some of the more archaic features of the Russian historico-political tradition and less open to the deployment of its forward-looking and progressive features." (p. 69)

from S.A. Smith, Revolution and the People in Russia and China: A Comparative History (Cambridge Univesity Press, 2008)

if one does not give due weight to the resilience of 'tradition', it becomes difficult to explain the apparent resurgence of 'traditional' values and orientations during what Crane Brinton called the 'thermidorean' phases of revolution, i.e. high Stalinism in the Soviet Union and high Maoism in the People's Republic of China . . . " (p. 21)
Cultural-Historical Context of Stalinism

Boris N. Mironov, "Peasant Popular Culture and the Origins of Soviet Authoritarianism," in Cultures in Flux: Lower-Class Values, Practices, and Resistance in Late Imperial Russia, Stephen P. Frank and Mark D. Steinberg, eds. (Princeton University Press, 1994)

The cognitive model of socialization set forth by Piaget and other psychologists suggests that the development of the cognitive, emotional, and moral structures of personality occurs during the process of schooling.  In particular, the adult, "mature intellect"--which is capable of deductive reasoning and of constructing hypotheses, in contrast to the incapacity of the "childlike" intellect for formal operations--is formed in the concrete and situational learning process that occurs up to the age of fifteen.  As the research of A. R. Luria indicates, a person who does not go through the instructional process in school will continue to possess a childlike intellect throughout life.  This has a strong influence on personality and behavior, especially in a realm where authoritarian relations function.  Perhaps it was from this shortcoming that the peasantry's "infantilism" stemmed--a characteristic occasionally referred to by scholars of the Russian countryside.  (68)

Leonid Heretz, Russia on the Eve of Modernity: Popular Religion and Traditional Culture Under the Last Tsars (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

The development of modernity into materialism in the ninetenth century has intensified our difficulties in understanding religion-based traditional cultures.  For the various materialist schools of thought, religious ideas have no existence in themselves, but are merely reflections  of socio-economic realities, and they represent an inferior mode of comprehension or a "false consciousness."  Although interpretations based on this assumption have reached new heights of subtlety and insight, in the Russian case the results have usually been more meager and crude.  Present-day Western scholars might be tempted to lay all the blame for "vulgar materialism" on now-discredited Soviet Marxism and to minimize the extent to which we are all living "in an age in which the understanding of anything that surpasses the material level has practically ceased to exist." [P. Sherrard, The Greek East and the Latin West, p. 50]  If anything, Marxism, with its fundamental humanism, does not even approach the utter materialism  of present-day Western trends such as neoliberal economic theory, "rational choice" political science, neurochemical psychology, and reductionist Darwinist/geneticist sociology.  Given the pervasive materialism of our contemporary worldview, we must make a great effort of empathy to understand the culture of people vitally concerned with things which mean nothing to us.  (p. 9)

The material presented in the following pages constitutes an attempt at enhancing the historical picture by highlighting the persistence of traditional modes of thought and behavior among the Russian peasantry and townsfold in 1905.  This will, in turn, support the notion that the revolutionary events of that year were primarily the work of active, organized elites and not the result of a broad popular movement.  (p. 157)

The goal of this chapter . . . [is] to demonstrate the continued vigor of tradition in a time of revolutionary turmoil, and to show the ways in which the traditional worldview could maintain its coherence even when under assault by drastically new and unsettling developments.  In particular, we will focus on the following issues: (1) the persistence of Tsarism, even in the context of what would appear to be new, modern forms of political activity, (2) the cultural /linguitic chasm which separated the oppositional parties from the traditional elements of the population, (3) the traditionalist reaction which ensured when the anti-Tsarist and anti-religious aspects of the revolutionary movement became apparent, and (4) the means by which the traditional mind could explain the frustration of its hopes while at the same time maintaining its faith in the Tsar. (p. 157-8)

the ancient motif of treason  (p. 160)

The breakdown of order  in 1905 opened, at least in principle, the possibility for modern political conepts to enter into the consciousness of the Russian peasantry, as socialists with their dream of democracy and liberals with their faith in constitutionalism were able to take their messages to the people.  The introduction of new ideas that might have undermned traditional Tsarism was greatly hindred by the lingusitic/conceptual chasm tha tseparated educated society from the mass of the population. (p. 170)