Richard Pipes - Career - Writings On Russian History

Writings On Russian History

Pipes has written many books on Russian history, including Russia under the Old Regime (1974), The Russian Revolution (1990), and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (1994), and has been a frequent interviewee in the press on the matters of Soviet history and foreign affairs. His writings also appear in Commentary, The New York Times, and The Times Literary Supplement. At Harvard, he taught large courses on Imperial Russia as well as the Russian Revolution and guided over 80 graduate students to their PhD's.

Pipes is known for arguing that the origins of the Soviet Union can be traced to the separate path taken by 15th century Muscovy, in a Russian version of the Sonderweg thesis. In Pipes' opinion, Muscovy differed from every state in Europe in that it had no concept of private property, and that everything was regarded as the property of the Grand Duke/Tsar. In Pipes' view, this separate path undertaken by Russia (possibly under Mongol influence) ensured that Russia would be an autocratic state with values fundamentally dissimilar from those of Western civilization. Pipes has argued that this "patrimonialism" of Imperial Russia started to break down when Russian leaders attempted to modernize in the 19th century, without seeking to change the basic "patrimonial" structure of Russian society. In Pipes's opinion, this separate course undertaken by Russia over the centuries made Russia uniquely open to revolution in 1917. Pipes has strongly criticized the values of the radical intelligentsia of late Imperial Russia for what he sees as their fanaticism and inability to accept reality. The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has denounced Pipes' work as "the Polish version of Russian history". Pipes, in turn, has accused Solzhenitsyn of being an anti-Semitic Russian ultra-nationalist, who seeks to blame the ills of Communism on the Jews rather than to admit to the Russian roots of the Soviet Union. Writing of Solzhenitsyn's novel, August 1914 in the New York Times on November 13, 1985, Pipes commented: "Every culture has its own brand of anti-Semitism. In Solzhenitsyn's case, it's not racial. It has nothing to do with blood. He's certainly not a racist; the question is fundamentally religious and cultural. He bears some resemblance to Dostoevsky, who was a fervent Christian and patriot and a rabid anti-Semite. Solzhenitsyn is unquestionably in the grip of the Russian extreme right's view of the Revolution, which is that it was the doing of the Jews". Pipes explained Solzhenitsyn's view of Soviet communism: " said it was because Marxism was a Western idea imported into Russia. Whereas my argument is that it has deep roots in Russian history." According to Pipes, this argument offended Solzhenitsyn, who described Pipes as a "pseudo-scholar."

Pipes has stressed that the Soviet Union was an expansionist, totalitarian state bent on world conquest. He is also notable for the thesis that, contrary to many traditional histories of the USSR at the time, the October Revolution was, rather than a popular general uprising, a coup foisted upon the majority of the Russian population (and national minorities) by a tiny segment of the population driven by a select group of intellectuals who subsequently established a one-party dictatorship which was intolerant and repressive from the start, rather than having deviated from an initially benign course. In Pipes's view, the Russian Revolution of November 1917 was a total disaster, as it allowed the small section of the fanatical intelligentsia to carry out policies that were completely unrealistic.

Pipes is a leading advocate of the totalitarian school that sees Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as being fundamentally similar regimes pursuing similar policies that, in fact, collaborated in a few essential respects. Citing the work of such historians as James Gregor, Henry Ashby Turner, Renzo De Felice, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Ernst Nolte, David Schoenbaum, and Hermann Rauschning, Pipes argued that there is no such thing as generic fascism, and that the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and Fascist Italy were all totalitarian regimes united by their antipathy to democracy, in a chapter in his book Russia Under The Bolshevik Regime.

In what was meant to be an "off-the-record" interview, Pipes told Reuters in March 1981 that "Soviet leaders would have to choose between peacefully changing their Communist system in the direction followed by the West or going to war. There is no other alternative and it could go either way - D├ętente is dead." Pipes also stated in the interview that Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany was susceptible to pressure from the Soviets. It was learned independently that Pipes was the official who spoke to Reuters. This potentially jeopardized Pipes's job. The White House and the "incensed" State Department issued statements repudiating Pipes's statements. However, with President Reagan's backing Pipes stayed on for two more years, after which he returned to Harvard because his leave of absence had expired.

In 1992, Pipes served as an expert witness in the Constitutional Court of Russia's trial of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

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