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The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 23. Juli 2009

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Almost twenty years after the Soviet Unions' end, what are we to make of its existence? Was it a heroic experiment, an unmitigated disaster, or a viable if flawed response to the modern world? Taking a fresh approach to the study of the Soviet Union, this Very Short Introduction blends political history with an investigation into the society and culture at the time. Mike Lovell examines aspects of patriotism, political violence, poverty, and ideology; and provides answers to some of the big questions about the Soviet experience.

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende


Stephen Lovell is a Reader in Modern European History at King's College London.

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Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
„We have not the slightest chance of understanding the 20th century – or the early 21st – without giving the Soviet contribution its due.“

Dieser Satz der letzten Seite von Lovells Einführung über die Sowjetunion fasst blendend zusammen, warum ich dieses Buch in die Hand genommen habe: Die UdSSR einigermaßen zu begreifen ist unerlässlich, wenn man sich mit dem 20. Jahrhundert beschäftig – und auch ich habe das Gefühl, mehr von James-Bond-Klischees und Hörensagen in meinem Bild dieses Staates geprägt zu sein, als von Faktenwissen. Also habe ich beschlossen, diesem Staat mehr Aufmerksamkeit zu widmen und habe mir als Startpunkt eine kurze Einführung gesucht – dafür sind die ja da.

Das Lovell-Buch ist dabei ein Glücksgriff. Er distanziert sich gleich zu Anfang davon, den immer gleichen Parabelflug der chronologischen Klischees durchzugehen, sondern will mit einer alternativen Struktur den Leser dahin bringen, ein Gefühl, einen Geschmack dieses Staates zu bekommen: My primary analytical aim in this book will not be to show when and how the USSR wentg wrong, or to speculate on when exactly its collapse became inevitable, but rather to explain the workings of a society , economy, and political system very alien to the Britons and Americans of the early 21st century. I want to characterize the Soviet Union, not to pronounce sentence on it.“ (S.4)

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Format: Taschenbuch
There are few countries that loomed as large over the history of twentieth century as did Soviet Union, and none had done more to maintain a sustained threat to the Western countries and institutions. However, during most of its history, Soviet Union was largely a mystery for all those who wanted to know more about this vast country. This was due mostly to its own system of secrecy and disinformation, with tight control over the information that it permitted to get out to the public. Now, almost two decades after its collapse, we are finally starting to get a much more detailed and nuanced picture of this state. Thanks to this, scholars like Stephen Lovell have been able to produce very frank and detailed accounts, and this very short introduction is certainly one of the best on the subject. The chapters of this book are grouped thematically rather historically, along dichotomous topic. The author is very frank about the brutality of the Soviet regime, and almost every page mentions some of the more outrageous aspects of the Soviet life. This, however, is not the product of any anti-communist ideological bias - Lovell merely reports the facts as they are. In fact, there is hardly any mention and explanation of the communism and Lovell certainly doesn't try to make an apology for the Soviet regime along the lines that Marxism was a good theory that had been poorly implemented in practice.

No single book on such a vast subject can ever hope to do it full justice, and certainly not one that purports to be a very short introduction. However, as far as introductions go, this one is as good as they come. It will keep readers interest and provide a well-flowing narrative. It can also serve as a guide to further study on the topic, thanks to the well organized bibliography at the end.
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HASH(0x92762234) von 5 Sternen Not Very Good at Being Introductory 6. Dezember 2011
Von Jarrod Brown - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Lovell is an excellent scholar of Soviet Russia, and I hold him and his scholarship in very high regard. However, his Very Short Introduction to the Soviet Union seems not to understand the audience of this sort of text. I read this as a light break between volume two and three of The Cambridge History of Russia, 3 Volume Set (v. 1-3), a preface, so to speak, to the third volume. As a Russian history enthusiast, I was not an introductory reader of his text. Its failures are not in his scholarship or understanding of the Soviets, its history or idealogies, but in his ability to translate this into an introductory text.

First, he provides only the barest historical sketch, providing a bare timeline of Soviet leaders and critical events. Then he almost immediately moves to examine the future-oriented projections of Soviet ideology. His use of a thematic organization rather than a chronological organization is certainly not a problem in itself. However, my impression was for a first-time reader the failure to provide a more robust framework to put these themes in perspective is potentially confusing. It makes it more difficult to organize information particularly if you come into the text not knowing your Chernenko from your Brezhnev. An introductory chapter that more clearly laid out the history or the Soviet Union might have allowed more access to the thematic arrangement for most readers.

On the way, Lovell seems to assume a much greater knowledge on his reader's part than should be expected from someone reading a "very short introduction." For example, on page 55 he talks about some "dekulakized peasants" being involved in revolts. I'm not sure someone reading this text as an introduction is going to have any idea what a "kulak" is, nor does Lovell pause to explain the term. While we might forgive this once or twice, this is typical throughout the work. Given his own intimate familiarity with the subject, he forgets that what might seem common knowledge to him (or his Slavic Studies graduate students) will be obscure and unknown to his general audience. Another example of such oversights is his providing both classic and "new style" dates far before he explains to the reader the shift from Julian to Gregorian calendars. Readers who aren't aware of this beforehand may be puzzled as to why they are being given different dates for evens, ones that are 13 days apart.

Here is another example. I quote this paragraph in full from page 20 of the text.

"Yet such futuristic visions were undermined by the fact that the
Bolsheviks, according to their own terms, had taken a step back
from historical progress. By making concessions to the peasantry
in their `New Economic Policy' of 1921, they had put the brakes on
the proletarianization and economic development that were meant
to be preconditions for Russia's leap to communism. Furious
debates raged among the Bolsheviks about the desirability of this
policy. What if it was just a backward step?"

What the "New Economic Policy" of 1921 is, what its concessions to peasants were or why it might be debated is not mentioned. We don't hear another word about it again until 50 pages further into the text (page 76). It might be asking too much even from attentive readers to recall, once reaching the discussion of the New Economic Policy, why it was important to the futurist orientation of the Soviet state discussed in the first chapter.

What one expects in a well-written introduction, when a new concept is introduced, is that the concept is adequately prefaced or explained so readers understand why it has been introduced at that point and is pertinent to the discussion. This is a good practice even if the concept will be discussed in more detail later on. Knowing that the "New Economic Policy" exempted small enterprises from nationalization and permitted some private trade--therefore, wasn't a direct step towards the classless, cashless collective society of idealized Marxist-Leninism--would have gone a long way to helping the reader understand this paragraph. As it is, the paragraph will be completely lost on most readers looking to this as an introduction.

I thought this book read well and quickly. Lovell is, despite his problems in writing a truly introductory text, an excellent wordsmith, and this text can be read in a single setting. He is also an excellent scholar of the period with many other scholarly articles and books to his credit. It is excellent as a refresher, or as a light read for someone familiar with the era/nation, but as I've indicated (and hence its three stars) I do not think it accomplishes the task of providing a "very short" introduction. While the first-time reader will come out of this with some general impressions about key concepts and discussions in Soviet historical scholarship, I think many readers will be disappointed with this as an introduction.
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HASH(0x9276f7ec) von 5 Sternen The Successful Intro of an Important Era 24. September 2012
Von Cody Dye - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Prior to reading Steven Lovell's book The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction I did not have much knowledge about Soviet Russia, other than the stereotypes that were made during the Cold War and Rocky IV. With that being said, the book was extremely insightful and fairly easy to read. The shortness of the book, roughly one hundred forty pages, made it seem like a lot of progress was being made as each page was effortlessly turned.
Lovell's main point, in my opinion, was to point out the series of extensive contradictions that existed during the Soviet period. Of course Lovell did include smaller points throughout the entirety of the work, but none was as clear and numerous as that. The layout of the chapters helped to see the distinct separations in the paradoxes. Lovell would compare, for example, the future and the past or coercion and participation. Lovell greyed the areas that are considered, for the most part, black and white.
Some of the more "basic" contradictions that were made evident by Lovell include: wanting the citizens to look to the future by being encouraged from the past, pushing for nationalism then forcing everyone to view themselves as Soviet after the fact, and trying to create a classless society that still has its fair share of elites. I say these contradictions are "basic" just because they were spelled out at various points in the book and no paradox is ever truly basic, especially one on this level.
Despite Lovell writing an exceptional book, I did feel that there were some parts that I didn't care for. Since I had no previous knowledge of the Soviet era I found it confusing trying to keep up with some of the history near the end of the book. I was also disappointed that he did not cover the athletic portion of the USSR because that was something that nearly everyone could relate to in someway or another. Despite those minor complaints, I walked away from the book with a basic knowledge of the Soviet Union and that is all that could be asked of a book that proclaims it is a "very short introduction."
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HASH(0x92762d98) von 5 Sternen More than a timeline 25. Februar 2016
Von Rachel Wydra - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
In his book, The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Lovell introduces the reader to important topics in Soviet history. After beginning with a brief overview of the main events of Soviet history, Lovell urges the reader to embrace the complexity of the Soviet Union. He warns against trying to label the Soviet Union as a success or failure and instead focuses his book on characterizing the Soviet Union. Instead of presenting ideas chronologically, Lovell organizes the chapters through paradoxes. Throughout the book, Lovell argues that in order to understand the Soviet Union, one must first understand the fundamental paradoxes that existed within it.

In the first chapter, “Future and past”, Lovell presents the Bolsheviks as both forward-looking and backward-looking. Lovell writes first about Soviet fixation on the future. The Bolsheviks justified their use of coercion by urging the population to look “forward to a time when the need for coercive measures would recede and the state would ‘die out.’” (18). The Bolsheviks also looked backward to both legitimatize their origins and foster Soviet patriotism. Lovell concludes that, “The need to point simultaneously forwards to a radiant future and backwards to a heroic past led to ideological contortions” (36). This was especially problematic for the Soviet Union because it was an experiment and was constantly urging its citizens to look ahead to great times while simultaneously celebrating the glory of times past.

“Coercion and participation” is the title of the second chapter. Lovell presents the Bolsheviks’ use of terror and the popular participation of the people. Lovell emphasizes that while coercion was heavily used under Lenin and Stalin, it greatly subsided after Stalin. Lovell writes, “Soviet people were expected to be active participants, not slaves,” (43). Coercion certainly played a role in the high level of participation but after the terror subsided, the mechanisms for participation were still present. Towards the end of the Soviet Union, Lovell writes that, “participation finally came out from under the shadow of terror” (57).

Lovell’s third chapter focuses on “Poverty and wealth”. He writes, “The Soviet order ended as it had started: with food queues,” (77). Throughout its history, the Soviet Union struggled to meet the demand for food. Distribution of food was dependent on profession. This led to the creation of informal networks alongside the formal, state-run economy. Yet even as much of the population lived in poverty, visions of abundance appeared in Soviet media. Both poverty and an aspiration to greater wealth came to characterize the Soviet Union.

Chapter 4 covers “Elite and masses”. Lovell highlights the recruit and purge pattern of the Bolshevik party and the development of a middle class and an elite. At the end of the chapter, Lovell writes, “The lines of social hierarchy were clearly drawn, and status was now strongly hereditary,” (93). The Soviet Union went from favoring the proletariat to a society with a clear hierarchy.

The fifth chapter, “Patriotism and nationalism” discusses complexities within the multiethnic Soviet Union and internationalism, as the Soviet Union looked to spread its ideology. Lenin promoted “self-determination” and “indigenization”. Later on however, this policy was reversed and many ethnic and national groups became the targets of terror. Ultimately, though, the Bolsheviks (accidentally) helped nationalities and ethnic groups build a greater sense of identity. The Bolsheviks “made national allegiances far more meaningful than class,” (116).

The final chapter is titled “West and East”. Lovell points out that the Soviet Union did not simply hate the West. Many leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution spent years in Western Europe, including Lenin. Lovell also writes that, “America was practically synonymous with modernity for the Soviet people in the 1920s,” (123). The Soviet Union borrowed many ideas from the West. Beginning in 1927, however, the Bolsheviks stopped tolerating foreign cultural influence. The Soviet Union did much to define “East” and “West”. Yet, Western influence eventually reemerged after the Cold War.

Overall, I think that Lovell’s choice to cover topics in Soviet history thematically rather than chronologically was smart. At first I was disoriented, trying to match up events that happened in each era of Soviet history, but by the end of the book, I felt I had a much greater understanding of the Soviet Union. His structure was particularly smart for an American reader because it introduces the reader to the complexity of the Soviet Union through paradoxes. This helps to break stereotypes and forces the reader to think more critically about the Soviet Union. It is impressive that he manages to do this in only 142 pages. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an introduction to the complex society that was the Soviet Union.
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HASH(0x927799c0) von 5 Sternen Stephen Lovell’s book is a great read. The Soviet Union 18. Februar 2016
Von Ashlynn - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
For those who have a lot of knowledge on the Soviet Union and those who are first learning about the Soviet Union, Stephen Lovell’s book is a great read. The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent introduction into the complex paradox that was the Soviet Experiment. Lovell excels in his dissection of the Soviet Union through the set-up of his chapters, which are categorized in paradoxes, “Future and Past, Coercion and Participation, Poverty and Wealth, Elite and Masses, Patriotism and Multinationalism, West and East,” which is his main argument given in his book (Contents). These paradoxes allow the reader to understand the of the Soviet Union and to accept that they exist.

The chapters are set up in a way that theme dictates the topic of the chapter and they follow the chronological order for each subject. This is an interesting take on the subject as it allows the reader to see cycles that existed. The most obvious cycle is that of food queues. When the Bolsheviks took power in November 1917 they established “a ‘food dictatorship’ of centralized distribution,” which basically meant that the government took over and decided that they were going to systematically hand out food to the peoples of Russia, and they took power after a year of revolts associated with food shortages (58-59). On the other end of the Soviet Union, “by 1989-1990, the Soviet population was suffering shortages even of basic foodstuff,” thus coming back in circle of not having enough supplies for the peoples of the Union. The use of themes also allows for a larger view of the Soviet Union to be formed. For example, in the first few years of the creation of the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, citizens were encouraged in “the key attributes of nationhood: teaching and publishing in the national languages, training up and promoting indigenous elites, and fostering national cultures” aptly named “indigenization” (100). However, starting in 1927, under the leadership of Josef Stalin, the Bolsheviks “without ever renouncing indigenization, took several steps back” and started working towards patriotism of the Soviet Union (103). This switch in policy demonstrates the volatility of the law in regards to the opinions and desires of the leadership, which can only be traced further through the book with Khrushchev’s transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian Tatars that had been removed from their homelands by Stalin (107) and Gorbachev’s glasnost that suddenly allowed “national issues [to become] a very public matter” (112). This one chapter of the book allows readers to get a glimpse of the contradictions of the Soviet Union in a larger scope than a book that went only chronologically.

Additionally, the chapters are a subtle reminder that the Soviet Union was a complex system that can only be understood through understanding its contradictions. Lovell states that “to say that [the Soviet Union] ‘failed’ is meaningless: complex societies and civilizations are not amenable to one-word assessments” (142). This argument is an undercurrent for the entire book, indirectly making its way into each chapter encouraging readers to comprehend that the only way to understand the Soviet Union is to accept the paradoxes.

In conclusion, as an undergraduate student of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies who has read many books on the history of the Soviet Union, Lovell’s book is a succinct, well-written, well-organized introduction to the Soviet Union. I wholeheartedly believe this not because the book is necessarily the easiest to understand, because there are moments when searching unfamiliar terms in required, but because the book highlights the struggles of the Soviet Union in a way that complements the experiments shortcomings and competencies, and bolsters the notion that the Soviet Union is more than a pass/fail experiment but a system that people lived and died in for 74 years.
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HASH(0x92779b58) von 5 Sternen Seeing Red: a composite characterization of the USSR 18. September 2012
Von Jacob Thien - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Stephen Lovell's The Soviet Union: A very short introduction is not about the rise and fall of the Soviet state, but rather the culture, economy, and world views that united an amalgamation of contradictions and paradoxes. The original revolutionaries attempted to unmake Russia and remake the nation into a force of the common man, in which Socialist paradise would be in reach. The result was a country fraught with administrative incompetence and ignorance and a populace kept out of starvation by black markets and hope. It's truly "remarkable in the sense that it held together for so long despite so many sources of external threat and internal unease (pg 4)."
The lack of chronology in the book gives greater credence to the idea of analyzing the USSR as a whole, though the history of the USSR was dominated by the political views of its leaders. The only serious fault with Lovell's book is its glossing over the greatest achievement of the Soviet people - the unbelievable and heroic defeat of the Wermacht, a war of literal extermination, and "the closest that the interests of the state and the population came to converging in the Soviet era...despite [the] ruthless military discipline that brought the execution of more than 150,000 Red Army soldiers (pg 87)." Tens of millions died and the entire system of government and geopolitics changed from an internationalist expansion to a nationalist bastion.
Ultimately, it is an incorrect statement to say that the West won the Cold War - it was the removal of the terror system that bound the various nationalities of the USSR, combined with attempts to fix the multitude of inefficiencies and nationalist revivals in the borderlands and, most tellingly, complete and utter political apathy spelled the end of the greatest prototypical state ever to have existed.
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