- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 14, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691095434
- ISBN-13: 978-0691095431
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,116,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution
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"[Weiner's] slice of the story focuses on the nature, process, and ontology of the regime's prewar, wartime, and postwar purges. He does this by tracing in painstaking, revealing detail the way these phenomena unfolded."--Foreign Affairs
"As [Weiner] rightly observes, the second world war was a defining moment in the history of the Soviet Union and its ideology . . . The power of totalitarian regimes to fashion new prejudices out of old is a subject that fascinates with horror; and it reminds us that the ancient hatreds which caused so much bloodshed and misery in the post communist world have often been quite carefully constructed, or at least revived, in relatively recent times."--The Economist
"[A] difficult and disturbing but ultimately rewarding book."--Lewis H.
Siegelbaum, Slavic Review
"Making Sense of War is an impressive study based on a broad reading of secondary literature and copious amounts of archival research in several countries. . . . The greatest benefit of this new work is that it rightly foregrounds World War II in Soviet history and will cause many scholars to reflect on the meaning of 1917. . . . Every scholar of the Soviet Union should read Making Sense of War."--Karl D. Qualls, The Russian Review
"Weiner's work is rich in information and implications."--Ronald Grigor Suny, Journal of Modern History
"A brilliant book. . . . Weiner's insights into the impact of the war on Soviet ideology and the Soviet polity are often ironic and always valuable."--Jacob W. Kipp, Journal of Cold War Studies
Amir Weiner returns us to the real, unadulterated Soviet Union. In Making Sense of the War, he indeed takes us into a new and little-known segment of its history, namely the country's wartime and postwar internal development. Until now, this subject has been ignored by Western historians."--Martin Malia, The New Republic
From the Inside Flap
"I know no other book that systematically relates World War II and postwar Soviet experience to the whole of Soviet history. The book's originality and its exhaustive research make it truly interesting. Making Sense of War will be an important contribution to the field not only of Russian and Ukrainian history but of European history in general. In a word, this is a tour de force of new scholarship on the Soviet Union."--Hiroaki Kuromiya, Indiana University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The result is an important, uneven, book. The best part of the book is the third part in which Weiner discusses the failure of Ukrainian nationalists and the internalization and triumph among Eastern Ukrainians of a Soviet Ukraine nationalism. The pages on Ukrainian Integral Nationalism are grimly amusing as nationalist intellectuals appear wildly out of their depth demanding ethnic cleansing and permanent strife against Russians, Jews, and Poles. (In May and June 1943 several thousand Poles were murdered in the Rivne region alone. The Poles soon responded in kind.) Also interesting is the disillusion of the nationalists as Eastern Ukrainians did not come up to their expectations. Ukrainians in the pre-1939 Soviet Union did not share the nationalist's hatred for Russians, did not define themselves as Ukrainians oppressed by Russians, became increasingly less and less religious, and notwithstanding the horrors of the famine in 1932-1933 were not even unequivocally opposed to collective farms. (The Nationalists ended up arguing that what should be done with the collective should be left to the peasants.) There follows a nuanced account of the Holocaust in the Ukraine, which shows the spectrum from assistance to anti-Semitism in a context of merciless terror. This leads to the final chapter in which Weiner discusses how Ukrainians internalized Soviet ideology in the context of a Soviet Ukraine nation. Trying to discuss Soviet popular opinion as opposed to Soviet government propaganda about that opinion is not easy. Weiner's account is not perfect, but it is fruitful. There is a discussion of the iconography of the liberated Ukraine. There is a less successful attempt to discuss popular reaction to the Doctor's Plot from a sample of 40 letters to Pravda. But there is also the surprisingly glum accounts from nationalist intellectuals, and there are interesting samples from emigres (in one sample 83% of former collective farm workers supported state control of heavy industry.)
One problem is Weiner's emphasis on ideology. His approach meets the marriage of more traditional anti-Communists such as Martin Malia, and the more post-modern approaches of Stephen Kotkin, with his debt to Foucault. Weiner is intrigued with the concept of "the gardening state" (the term is Zygmaunt Bauman's) and he plans to publish a collection of essays on this topic. The totalitarian and proto-totalitarian regime is called the gardening state because it treats its racial, class and political opponents like weeds. Weiner and Bauman treats this as an expression of modernity and the Enlightenment. Here one has reservations. That modernity has a dark side one cannot deny, but one can trace ethnic cleansing back to the last gasps of the Tsarist and Ottoman empires. Alexander II was responsible for the massacre of perhaps hundreds of thousands of conquered tribesmen in the 1860s. And what about slavery? American slavery was far more successful in eradicating its victim's religious beliefs than Stalin, yet slavery was both pre-and post Enlightenment, crucially influenced by the Liberal Enlightenment of Jefferson and the authoritarian Burkeanism of Calhoun.
Another problem is that Weiner's emphasis on ideological purity papers awkwardly over the many actual ambiguities he so skillfully relates. At one point he argues that Soviet ideology had even fewer inhibitions than Himmler did in his infamous Posen speech, though in fact one can find all sorts of reservations in private Soviet debates. (See the recent biography of Romanian communist Anna Pauker for her reservations about collectivization for example. And there is of course the Secret Speech.) Perhaps the key weakness of this approach can be found in the chapter on anti-Semitism. Weiner notes the ambiguities, the fact that the Soviets publicized Nazi atrocities against Jews, that Jews received their fair share of decorations, that they were not specifically purged from the party in the immediate post-war period, and that the Soviet Union took a militant stand against eugenics and other biological paradigms. He also notes the well known facts of increasing post-war anti-Semitism: the refusal to specifically refer to Jewish suffering, the Doctor's Plot, the widespread and quite false belief that the Jews had spent the war safely behind line, the talk of deporting the Jews to Siberia. What he does not explain is why this occurred. Is it popular anti-Semitism, Stalin's personal prejudices, spite of the upwardly mobile towards the literate and urban minority in their midst? Weiner does not really explain this ambiguity and emphasis on ideological purity only hides the problem. (He also does not discuss the extent to which Soviet Jews internalized Stalinist ideology.) Still Weiner's approach is an improvement on the us vs. them approach of earlier studies of totalitarianism. The comparative insights of the gardening state, eugenics, and ethnic cleansing really are helpful and should be complemented nicely by Terry Martin's upcoming An Affirmative Action Empire.
Research should be drawn upon to support, reinforce, and develop an overarching thesis -- or so, at least, a reader might expect from a work of history. Reading Weiner's book, however, is like reading two entirely separate works: the first an exhaustively detailed exegesis of Weiner's archival research; the second a treatise on ill-defined concepts such as "Soviet," "totalitarian," and "modernity" that bears very little connection to his sources.
The archival material he draws upon often undercuts his arguments, especially his dogged attempt to see everything in black and white terms that smack of the Cold War historiographic tradition, a rather blunt tool for analysis. He depends greatly on Hannah Arendt, whose contributions to the field are vast but, alas, somewhat outdated.
Weiner owes a great debt to the current great lights of Soviet history, namely Sheila Fitzpatrick and Stephen Kotkin, in the selection of his topic: how ordinary people, surrounded by omnipresent "Soviet doctrine" created within its strictures space to live their lives -- to adhere,to dissent, to slip between the cracks. It's a fascinating research program, and an application of this approach to the so-called "Great Patriotic War" has the potential to be a brilliant book.
Unfortunately, this is not that book. While Kotkin and Fitzpatrick used their studies of "life on the ground" to show how being "Soviet" was a shifting, multivalent concept, Weiner's study takes his data and applies a monolithic understanding of being "Soviet" or "modern" or "totalitarian" that is as lacking in relevance as it is in nuance. In its best moments, the book is either highly derivative or utterly banal; in its worst moments, it proves well nigh unreadable.