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Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War Paperback – July 5, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231148976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231148979
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Cohen offers us a lesson, and a solution that is at once simple and of priceless value.

(David A. Andelman World Policy Blog)

[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)

Provocative and insightful.

(Amy Knight New York Review of Books)

Well written and vigorously argued.

(Archie Brown Russian Review 1900-01-00)

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)

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 1900-01-00)

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 1900-01-00)

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 1900-01-00)


Stephen F. Cohen is far and away the most original, creative, informed, and insightful observer writing on Russian affairs today. A pioneering historian and a fine political scientist and journalist with a tireless commitment to ferreting out elusive evidence, Cohen has had extensive, first-hand experience in both Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, close contacts among contemporary Russian leaders, and a unique following among Russian intellectuals. Known for his bold, independent, passionately held, and often provocative ideas, he is respected even by many who strongly disagree with him. Cohen writes with clarity, elegance, and power.

(Alexander Rabinowitch, author of The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 24 customer reviews
This is a book that serious students of Russia will want to read more than once.
Lars Gyllenhaal
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.
M. Hyman
Cohen presents interesting perspectives that transcend purely academic hypothesis.
Robert Rogers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 94 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Gwinn on November 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. L. Huff on July 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
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.
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