Recent Posts

Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism


Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

Stalin’s Iron Fist

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I usually don’t cheerlead the work my adviser and friend, J. Arch Getty, but if you have any interest in his new book Stalin’s Iron Fist, read Simon Sebag Montefiore‘s review in the Telegraph. If you’re not familiar Getty’s work, over the last two decades he has single handedly rewritten the history of the Terror as we know it. In Stalin’s Iron Fist, he explores the meteoric rise of the modest, hardworking Nikolai Ezhov from a worker in the famed Putilov factory to the head of the NKVD.  In many ways, Ezhov’s rise and fall is an archetype of the inner dichotomies of the Stalinist new man: he was a benefiary, shaper, power player, perpetrator, and victim of the very system that created him.

But I’m hardly an impartial critic of Getty’s work, so instead I’ll let Montefiore sing its praises:

J. Arch Getty, an American professor, and Oleg Naumov, deputy chief of Moscow’s Communist Party archive, have produced this fascinating and essential biography, which tells us more about the Kremlin and Soviet Russia than most history books.

The authors show how personal politics was in the 1930s; how responsibility and power was greater than we realised; how a form of real politics continued even under the dictatorship. If you want to understand how Stalinist Russia worked, read this book.

Yezhov was, in fact, an impressive and indefatigable bureaucrat, not a secret policeman: tiny, genial, hardworking, ruthless, shrewd.

By about 1930 he was the leading personnel expert in the Bolshevik Party Central Committee. By 1934, he was hugely important, one of the Party Secretariat under Stalin, a member of many of the overlapping Party organs.

He was liked, regarded as honest, he sang nicely and had good manners but as one of his patrons remarked: ‘If you want something done, no one can do it better than Yezhov. The only trouble is he doesn’t know when to stop.’

If that’s not a ringing endorsement from a well respected researcher of Stalin, then I don’t know what is.