Russian history and culture, from a historian in Cambridge

Post-Soviet Eurovision and the singer in the wheelchair

Held in Kiev in May, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is an international incident waiting to happen. From selecting the Russian and Ukrainian entrants to calibrating the crowd’s response to … Continue reading

March 16, 2017 · Leave a comment

John Steinbeck invents ‘late Stalinism’

John Steinbeck visited the Soviet Union in 1947 when it was going through its post-war purgatory. What an encounter: between the author of The Grapes of Wrath (later to win … Continue reading

January 15, 2016 · Leave a comment

Being a man in the Soviet Union

Choose your favourite stereotype: leather-coated commissar; overweight bureaucrat; heroic warrior against the Nazis; indolent drunk; well-paid miner with no interest in housework. The Soviet Union, like all societies, generated various … Continue reading

December 2, 2014 · Leave a comment

Gulag outpost, welfare city

Terror and welfare collided in the Soviet Union, and you can read it in the landscape. Before 1953, and especially before 1941, welfare and terror coexisted, shaping each other. Later, after … Continue reading

November 28, 2014 · Leave a comment

The end of the Soviet Union: the end of social citizenship?

Who can doubt that social welfare was at the heart of late Soviet citizenship? Being a Soviet citizen was partly defined by the unique web of benefits to which one … Continue reading

November 26, 2014 · Leave a comment

September 1937: Stalin’s welfare-terror state

The core fact of Soviet history is the Great Terror, the semi-judicial murder of almost seven hundred thousand people between 1936 and 1938. It was the high point of Bolshevik … Continue reading

November 10, 2014 · Leave a comment

Russia in 1914: the welfare state that never was

The great anniversary is approaching. In a few weeks, it will be one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. A century on, the catastrophe of 1914-18 … Continue reading

May 20, 2014 · Leave a comment

The Soviet seventies: stability, subversion, stagnation?

The years of Brezhnev, associated above all with the 1970s, are for most people irrevocably typecast as the era of stagnation. Read Western visitors’ accounts of that time and you … Continue reading

May 5, 2014 · Leave a comment

The landscape of the welfare state: Vladimir Province in the 1950s

The industrial revolution created the welfare state, the wide-reaching and impersonal bureaucracy that keeps people’s heads above water, or launches them upwards. Why? Because the bosses had to keep the … Continue reading

April 28, 2014 · Leave a comment

Risk and danger in the Soviet dictatorship

Confronting danger is part of human life. The most acute large-scale dangers have come at moments of great social stress: when land and weather played grotesque tricks on people, when … Continue reading

March 21, 2014 · Leave a comment