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Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 8. April 2011


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Cohen offers us a lesson, and a solution that is at once simple and of priceless value. -- David A. Andelman World Policy Blog 9/14/09 [George] Kennan's understanding of the Russian state... has proved to have enormous currency over time. Cohen's views should be given similar credence. -- William W. Finan Jr. Current History 10/1/09 Provocative and insightful. -- Amy Knight New York Review of Books 2/11/2010 Well written and vigorously argued. -- Archie Brown Russian Review VOl 69, No 2 Cohen... brings his study of Soviet and Russian political developments to the doorstep of the White House, to powerful effect. The Nation An extraordinarily rich book... an absolutely vital beginning point for anyone interested in a serious study of political and foreign policy developments involving Russia. Slavic Review Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives finds its stride in Cohen's ability to challenge conventional wisdom on the causes and consequences of major turning points in Soviet and post-Soviet history. -- Rehanna Jones-Boutaleb Foreign Policy in Focus 9/16/2011 this is one of the first books I would put into the hands of someone who wanted to get a good sense of what the Soviet Union was all about. -- Lars T. Lih Montreal Review January 2012 Cohen's book is a superbly informed, astute and thought-provoking analysis of late Soviet politics and history. -- Denis Kozlov Slavonic and East European Review April 2012 Among the many strengths of Soviet Fates is not just Stephen Cohen's longtimedepth of expertise but his unrivalled storytelling ability and, perhaps above all, hisrazor-sharp insider observations based on personal exchanges, interviews, and experienceswith key actors... -- Nanci Adler Journal of Modern History March 2012

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Stephen F. Cohen is professor of Russian studies at New York University and professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University. His other books include Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography; Rethinking the Soviet Experience; and Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.

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The Road(s) not Taken 22. Juni 2009
Von T. Kunikov - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Stephen F. Cohen's latest publication, "Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism To The New Cold War," deals with a variety of events within Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history while outlining missed opportunities/roads not taken within each specific event. He does not so much deal in 'what-if' or 'counterfactual' scenarios as set up and explain existing alternatives that could have been pursued. Simply showing that alternatives within Soviet society existed inevitably puts into question much of the reasoning behind the idea that the Soviet Union was unreformable, especially when put into context with the sustainability of the Soviet Union through, for example, Khrushchev's reforms.

The text is made up of seven chapters; the first is devoted to Nikolai Bukharin, someone Cohen has written about in the past. While I do not think Bukharin could have been a rival to Stalin, in the full sense of the word (perhaps as Trotsky was), I think Cohen's real point within the chapter is encompassed in his discussion of NEP (New Economic Policy) which lasted some eight years, until the five year plans began. This phase of the Soviet Union is viewed by many as a 'golden' time, a time of at least some opportunity when state owned enterprises existed along side privately run companies/trades. But Cohen stops short of guessing what the Soviet Union could have become had NEP policies been pursued rather his point here is solely to show that an alternative to Stalin's five year plans existed, had been implemented and accepted by both the government and its citizens, and could have continued and evolved for years to come.

The next chapter discusses the GULag returnees during Khrushchev's administration. It was only after Khurshchev's condemnation of the 'cult of personality' in 1956 that millions of those convicted and imprisoned under Stalin were exonerated. Cohen then covers how these former zeks were treated by Soviet society as well as their impact on Khrushchev's administration and the reforms of his era. Some died in tragic or lonely circumstances while others rose through the ranks of their respective professions. Cohen does point out that while no former prisoners acquired positions in the highest rungs of power, many became local leaders and were able to play a role in the future policies Khrushchev would become responsible for. This was also a time period which saw accusations by Khrushchev and his allies against the likes of Molotov, Kaganovich and Malenkov, who were soon expelled from the party. Many often wonder why there was no Soviet equivalent to the Nuremberg trials, this was probably as close as the Soviets came. Other initiatives were begun against former Communist party higher ups, but the problem is that Khrushchev himself had blood on his hands and if he began to seek out those responsible for the previous crimes of the Soviet state against its own population, most likely more people would have been imprisoned than were being rehabilitated and released.

The third chapter deals with "Soviet conservatism" and the figure of Yegor Ligachev. Undoubtedly conservatives in the US differ markedly from those in the Soviet Union but, as Cohen explains through the lens of Ligachev, they are not simply neo-Stalinists bent on terrorizing the Soviet population and hording power at the top. On the contrary, after examining Ligachev's history Cohen attempts to show that "Soviet conservatism" in this case signified a yearning to reform the Soviet Union and keep it in tact. This type of conservatism has to be understood vis-a-vis the policies Gorbachev implemented during the late 1980s. Men like Ligachev aimed to have Soviet policies improved upon not reinvented.

Building on the previous chapter the fourth chapter goes into detail about whether the Soviet system was reformable. Of course, following how Cohen views NEP, the answer is that he believes it was. Today many in the west, with exaggerated egos, believe that the Soviet system was doomed to failure, even though none predicted its end. If a nation like America can exploit the system of slavery for centuries and then turn around and champion their emancipation followed a century later by the civil rights movement, why is it that the USSR, and Russia in general, is forced to carry the stigma of an empire beyond redemption? On the contrary, from the early years of the revolution the Soviet state modified itself to suit the needs of its government, ideology, and population. From creating war communism, to NEP, to five year plans, the destruction of Stalin's 'cult of personality' together with Khrushchev's reforms, a movement of what some label 'neo-Stalinism' under Brezhnev, to a reform minded Gorbachev who instituted Glasnost and Peterstroika, considered by some to have been the most 'democratic' period of recent history. Are these the actions of an unreformable empire?

Chapter five works off the previous chapter and takes on the fate of the Soviet Union, specifically, 'Why did it end?' While there are many figures one can point to, I believe Cohen is quite candid in placing his blame on the shoulders of Yeltsin and perhaps to a lesser degree on Gorbachev. While Gorbachev seems to come out as partly realistic and idealistic in his outlook, Yelstin was simply a man bent on acquiring power, no matter who he had to go through, lie to, or manipulate. An interesting argument is made regarding Gorbachev's reforms and their 'destabilizing' of the Soviet Union. In retrospect, his reforms were not meant to stabilize a system that was not working, rather they were supposed to destabilize it and propel it forward via new initiatives and policies. Even so, it was Gorbachev's "promarket policies" that initiated the rapid grab for assets, in both legal and illegal means, through which today's Russian oligarchs were created. Yeltsin eventually used these same oligarchs, and they him, in helping curb democratic principles throughout the 1990s. Personally, I viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union as inevitable, there just seemed to have been so much going wrong all at once. Specifically, I saw nationalism as playing a large, if not the largest, role. Cohen, however, argues to the contrary. The demonstrations and protests by various ethnicities, which many quickly attribute to ideas of self-determination or "nationalist revolution-from-below" were in fact organized to redress grievances "within the framework of the Union" or directed against other ethnicities, but not that of the USSR. The rest of the chapter deals with all the other usual suspects in the collapse of the USSR (economy, reforms, etc) and Cohen puts them into a coherent and understandable context which has made me rethink what happened and what an alternative might consist of.

The next chapter goes into the legacies of Gorbachev. While he failed in his reforms, obviously he was not aiming at the dissolution of the USSR but rather an improvement on the model before him, what came after under Boris Yeltsin was another step in the wrong direction. Cohen adheres to the idea that it was Gorbachev rather than Yeltsin who ushered in democracy, contrary to what many specialists believe today. Cohen believes this "historical amnesia" was inspired by US ideology which after the breakup of the Soviet Union rewrote the history of the Cold War's end to include a "US Victory" rather than the agreed upon "end" between the two sides with no victors or losers. Throughout the 1990s Yeltsin began to use the oligarchs that Gorbachev's policies first created in cracking down on democratic liberties. The mass media began to be used for manipulation purposes which has continued to this day. Journalists reminisce about Gorbachev's reforms, a time when they were able to pry into Soviet history and spark debates about taboo topics, while during Yeltsin the public was kept in the dark about corruption, human rights abuses, and crime. For Cohen there is a real similarity between 1917 and 1991. In both instances small groups were ushered into power based on promises of "evolutionary progress" but in the end struggles over property and territory tore the nation apart and standing economic institutions were done away.

The last chapter, and by far the most interesting of this book, deals with who was/is responsible for the cooling of relations between the Russian Federation and America. In this case Cohen is not afraid to utilize the expression 'Cold War' to define the attitudes of the US and Russia toward each other, and, perhaps, in a way he is right. But Cohen is also not afraid to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of whom he thinks is in the wrong, Washington. From announcing to the US that the Cold War was won by the US in 1992 (by George H. W. Bush) to the failed policies under Clinton, which seem solely to have plunged Russia into an ever expanding economic hole and let NATO expand its influence to Russia's proverbial doorstep, to the presidency of the second Bush who moved away from arms treaties and provided new impetus for Russia to feel threatened and again seek to find friends among the likes of Iran, Venezuela, etc. Even with the current Obama administration many of those responsible for the initial policies and activities vis-a-vis Russia are still in place, including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The double standards and hypocrisy of the US government, mass media, and even academics is clearly laid out. Another opportunity lost for the US, especially at a time when Russia could have contributed greatly to many American initiatives, including the "war on terror." The largest problem, for Cohen, in how the US deals with Russia is that some parties seem to encourage a destabilization of the current regime. How helpful is that if Russia still possesses stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons? Not very. But apparently showing off a US with the ego and arrogance of a sole superpower means more to Washington's power elite than trying to help Russia and encourage a friendly, open, and reciprocal relationship that will undoubtedly pay off in the long run more so than antagonizing Putin and his country to the point of creating an atmosphere akin to a "cold war."
19 von 22 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Destroys the Myth of a Monolithic "unreformable" USSR/Russia 24. November 2010
Von J. Gwinn - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Cohen argues Foreign Relations with the former USSR and Russia have been misguided with a Grand Chessboard Mentality. US academic hacks/mainstream foreign policy analysts fail to see the complexities of the Soviet & Russian experience. Cohen contends Putin should be viewed more as a moderate than an extremist within Russian politics. Putin supserseeding Yeltsin was in part a reaction to a power grab by the U.S expanding NATO'S border to traditional spheres of influence/former Soviet Republics. Putin's angst should be understood by the Golden Rule "do unto others"..So how would the US feel if Russia pursued military alliances with Canada and Mexico? ..Proposing to install missle defense shields across the border like the US has with Czech/Poland etc? Most of Putin's so called "extremist" responses are in reaction to US agressive postures. Yeltsin's wholesale give away of Russian natural resource/plant and equipment/Real Estate & creating ultra rich oligarchs was a an excercise in shameful dirt bag politics. Gorbachev's reform proposals of a mixed capitalist/social democratic polity were lost alternatives. The majority of Russian/former Soviet people associate market reforms with the incredible inhumane conditions crated by "shock therapy" which resulted in massive poverty/pain and suffering. Meanwhile the Western press is uncritical of many of the Oligarchs which swindled the average Russian during marketization

Far more to Cohen's work. Cohen focuses on Nicholi Bakharin & how his ghost lives on as a lost alternatives to Stalinism and his methods of terror to modernize the Soviet Union. Bukharin continues to surface throughout Soviet/Russian history as new movements for genuine reform gain credence only to be partially buried again. This is seen through Khruchev & Garbachev era.

Cohen work is incredibly rich with insights both as an academic & personal friend of Gorbachev and Bakharin family heirs. His writing is balanced as he walks the tight rope between the distance of being an academic along with deep understanding of Russian/Soviet culture through genuine friendships with Russian/former Soviet citizens. It is hard to believe Cohen is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Evidently no one listens to his insights/wisdom.
9 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Makes good points, misses others 13. Juli 2012
Von R. L. Huff - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
In this collection of articles, revised and assembled for this book, Professor Cohen demonstrates that he's still a notch above the general run of Western Kremlinologists. I've always enjoyed Cohen's use of logic and analysis over the latter's ideological polemics. But in raising some issues he bypasses others: were the alternatives he outlines really credible as such? He rightly tasks the cold war "inevitableists," but there is also nothing inevitable about the alternatives he suggests might have been.

Seeing Bukharin and the New Economic Policy as such an alternative, posing the question of the USSR's "reformability," only begs the answer. The NEP, like Roosevelt's New Deal, Tito's "self-management" - or Gorby's glasnost - are "third way" strategems which always infer polarities, and lose meaning once the polarity dissapears. Without the ideology of class struggle, why have a Communist Party? And without that, why a USSR? In deconstructing the USSR's ideology and institutions, by neutering the CPSU, its state fell into the same trap as its predecessor in 1917: without the monarchy as the anchor of state, Russia became "the freest country in the world," in Lenin's phrase. Ambitious, driven radicals saw their chance for power, took it from the reformist intellectuals like candy from babies, and then threw them out with the residual bathwater. By having no real base than his own "state authority," Gorby became a provisional figure like Kerensky; while "conservative" Yegor Ligachev looks so much like Pavel Milyukov, who tried to halt the slide toward state dissolution and civil war in 1917, yet did so much to incite it.

One can best answer Cohen's question by asking its counterpart: Is the United States "reformable?" And the answer is, up to a point. The New Deal could never have broken its systemic base in capitalism, and continues to provoke strong reactionary backlash. Civil rights never addressed the basic class questions that lock minorities into poverty and marginality. Just so did those attempting "Leninism with a human face" run against the same wall that always stymies reformers: how to preserve and transform simulatenously. At best Bukharin and Stalin could have co-existed in a pluralistic system, but that was precisely the Achilles heel of Leninism and Russia's state tradition. The "lost alternative" could never have held center stage long, any more than the Constituent Assembly of 1918, because of its very ambiguity. The USSR could have dissolved fifty years earlier or morphed into the corrupt confusion of modern China.

Cohen is spot on in outlining the West's opportunism as spoiling the chance for a new post-cold war order. Russia's geopolitical "lag," as Trotsky called it, brought the same neo-colonial tensions Russia has always held with the West. Putin is merely the symbol of them. Cohen tasks those who decry Putin but cheered Yeltsin for the same, or worse. Putin may not need to send tanks against the Russian Parliament, as its democracy poses no threat; but that again just begs the question, doesn't it?

Despite my criticisms, Professor Cohen's book still stands leagues above its competitors and will remain among the most enjoyable, thought-provoking of post-Soviet mortems.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Very interesting view point 24. November 2012
Von M. Hyman - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
This is a very interesting book that takes a look at various movements within the Soviet Union that could have led to different historical outcomes. Was the Stalinistic system an inevitable outcome, or were there viable alternatives throughout? The twists and turns of history are fascinating, and when it comes to Soviet history, both the US and Soviet narrative tend to be fairly conformist. This book looks at other options -- for example, could the warming Khrushchev ushered in post-Stalin have extended? What if Brezhnev wasn't as reactionary... were there other politicians and movements that could have had other results. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Gorbachev, which looked at the critical reforms that he put in place, the supporters and challengers and how revolutionary his movements were, as well as the reaction to him and Yeltsin from the West. He takes this further to look at the Bush Jr and Obama interactions with Russia, and the incredible opportunity we have squandered for better world relations. In the epilogue the author comments that he has gotten much criticism for these views, but frankly, i felt he didn't go far enough.

A very interesting book, and worth reading for any one interested in Soviet and post-Soviet history.
5 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Beyond the Stereotypes 13. April 2012
Von Douglas Doepke - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
No need to repeat textual details outlined by fellow reviewers. I'm a general reader with no particular expertise concerning the Soviet Union or its successors. Nonetheless, I've long valued Cohen's observations, particularly as they appeared in the Nation magazine. His expertise there as elsewhere, I believe, is well established. More importantly, he's long been one of the few sovietologists without ideological preconceptions to grind. Coming out of the Cold War period, that's a particularly valuable asset.

Here, he's at pains to show that Soviet institutions were not the unreformable behemoth our side made them out to be. A lesson I take is that collectivized economies, even the more rigid `communist' kind, are more flexible than usually credited. That Gorbachev's reforms ultimately failed appears more the result of personalities than of the system itself. One of the book's main burdens is to show how this happened. At the same time, readers accustomed to Cold War stereotypes should be prepared for surprises. One possibly controversial area of research is the extent to which Cohen relies on testimonials from deposed party head Gorbachev. The book does in fact do much to restore his reputation as a reformer, and at the occasional expense of his frequently lauded successor Boris Yeltsin.

All in all, anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union and its post-Soviet period should pick up the book for a clearer-eyed view than Americans are customarily presented with.
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